First reason: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” Too many churches operate on the assumption that they should be like the comfy little restaurants where you stumble across them, fall in love with them, get to know the regulars, and hope no one else discovers them because that would ruin the ambiance.
The church should be all about standing out where it can be seen. Some of the people who might come to your church will only look online. Now, that’s good enough reason for having a website right there. (And to the dour parish expert who says, “Oh, no one around here would do that,” the correct response is “By not making the parish perceptible online, you’ve already guaranteed that no one will.” Online access and broadband access are both increasing at a rate that itself indicates that someone you want to reach is looking for your parish online.)
Not only that, but (a) these are visitors who have already set out to find your parish in one way or another. They’re not just passing by, they aren’t getting up to go to the bathroom while your expensive cable-access commercial is on TV, they came looking for your church. And (b), many people who set about looking for a church online come from a body of our neighbors who are disproportionately underrepresented in church (in Episcopal churches I know of, anyway).
So by taking the simple step of putting a web page on an ISP somewhere, with directions, service times, and a non-repellent design, a church will significantly increase the likelihood of being available to a would-be visitor when that visitor comes looking. (Which would our hypothetical visitor prefer to encounter: a simple web page, or a voice mail phone chain?)
Second reason: Because part of the value of a web page is its constituting a public self-definition of a congregation. “This is who we are, and what we stand for.” That definition serves not only to invite (or fend off) visitors, but also to help the congregation recognize its own reflection in the mirror of the culture. Of course, that works better if the self-identification is clear and honest, which can’t be said of every website. But even a deceptive site plays that role to some extent, since it communicates to parishioners the message that their congregation is living a lie, even if that’s the way (uh huh uh huh) thye like it.
Third reason: The attention that an effective web site requires grows from, develops, nourishes, articulates, and extends the very energies that contribute to vital parish life. A web site should be all about communication, quite public communication. A good site helps a congregation with an overview of what’s going on. It provides visitors with a sense of what kinds of people and interests they’re likely to meet. Whether you make available recorded selections from your music life or not, you can signal a lot that your visitor may care about by how you characterize a parish’s music life.
More reasons: An easily-constructed, frequently-updated web site expresses, generates, reflects, and encourages a conversational sense of what the congregation is about. A living congregation partakes of many of the characteristics of a good, long, satisfying conversation; why not permit those positive characteristics to show online?
I haven’t used the word “rural” yet — but I think all these apply to rural churches at least as much as (if not more than) suburban or urban churches. The need for deliberate information-spreading increases as the likelihood that you’ll spontaneously bump into another parishioner (or potential newcomer) on the street.
I’ll think of more reasons when I’ve had a good night’s sleep, and when I read the comments. Till then, that’s at least a start for my in-laws. Tomorrow I’ll try to look at my friend Holly’s church website and see whether I have anything useful to say about it. Goodnight, now![AKMA’s Random Thoughts]