The Barna Group Reports that “Despite widespread efforts to increase church attendance across the nation, the annual survey of church attendance conducted by The Barna Group shows that one-third of all adults (34%) remain “‘unchurched.’” They go on to say “That proportion has changed little during the past five years. However, because of the nationï¿½s population continuing growth, the number of unchurched adults continues to grow by nearly a million people annually.” (Hat tip to Mundy’s Musings on Christianity.)
Mega Church Muddle
Rowland Croucher, the Director of John Mark Ministries writes:
“But why are evangelical or conservative or charismatic/Pentecostal churches – particularly ‘megachurches’ – holding their own or growing? Simple: musical chairs – ‘church hopping growth’. One survey in the U.S.: ‘more than 80%’ is transfer growth; another in Canada: only 5.5% of church attenders come from an unchurched background.”
While the emphasis on ‘unchurched background’ is mine, the point is clear – the 21st century Church is failing to fulfill the Great Commission, and part of the blame has to do with the Body’s emphasis of style over substance, both from the pulpit and via the HTTP protocol.
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” – Hebrews 5:11-14
The warning of the above passage is a warning to the modern day church, mega or otherwise. Consider this snippet from the aforementioned Barna study:
“The belief profile of unchurched Americans veers from mirroring the beliefs of most Americans to differing substantially. The unchurched are similar regarding their contention that Satan is a symbol of evil but not a living entity (67% believe this); that if people are good enough they can earn their way into Heaven (61%); and that Jesus committed sins during His time on earth (51%).”
Then combine that with a past study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project which finds:
“Nearly two-thirds of online Americans use the Internet for faith-related reasons The 64% of Internet users who perform spiritual and religious activities online represent nearly 82 million Americans … The survey provides clear evidence that the majority of the online faithful are there for personal spiritual reasons, including seeking outside their own traditions, but they are also deeply grounded in those traditions …”
In Other Words …
Putting this all together, it is my assertion that the Body has stopped growing because the Church has forgotten a simple tenet of good web design – that is Content is King – both online and in the pews.
Style over Substance
“The internet is a place where absolutely nothing happens. You need to take advantage of that.” – Strong Bad, Email #51.
Just as some argue that part of the problem with getting unbelievers in the door has to do with “Church Growth Movement‘s” wrongly focused on counting heads – I think a large part of the problem with church websites is that they incorrectly focus on either ‘looking good‘ or hit counts.
Not convinced? Let’s go back and take a look at JesusIsLord.com. For all the ‘love notes’ I received over my original review of this site, it still remains as an uninvested talent in the form of a domain name that might as well be hidden in a tin-can on the ground because it remains focused on leading people to Christ – leaving them to their own devices once they’ve prayed the prayer. There is nothing here that answers the tough questions, just a few hyperlinks that ‘hand-off’ a would-be disciple in the fashion of Jack Chick.
Here’s another example from our archives, Montrose Baptist Church Rockville Maryland – who has overcome their ‘under construction‘ issues only to push a home page “Jesus Junked” with fluttering flag animations and a mission statement that might as well be Greek to someone who’s unchurched. Instead, what this particular church needs to do is offer some solid expository to the exploding South American/Hispanic community moving in about their premises. I’m sure that community has specific spirital needs – why not address them with some onlin sermons and or Bible studies?
One other sampling from the great cloud of witlessness that is the church online – the recent spait of angry emails incoming from fans of the ‘McClean’ Bible Church, McLean VA. Among the most irate of emails is the continuing theme that “God doesn’t care if you use Flash ineffectively, so long as you use it sincerely …” To those folks, I suggest they go back and read both the recent Barna report and Pew study.
What This Means for Your Church Website?
Folks, I’ve been commanded by God to chant this mantra until the cows come home (or until I run out of metaphors, whichever comes first). The purpose of your church website design isn’t to look cool, isn’t to get listed as ‘the best church web site’ or the ‘coolest church website’ as indicated by the number of Google queries to this site using those key words:
|Selected 2004 Stats
|search key phrase
|cool church websites
|cool church website
|cool church web sites
|coolest website ever
|coolest church websites
|cool church sites
|coolest church website
|the cool church
|Selected 2004 Stats
|search key phrase
|good church websites
|good church website
|good church web sites
|good church web design
|good church web site
|best church websites
|great church websites
|best church web sites
|awesome church websites
Rather, the purpose of your church web page design is to convey the Christ that is in your congregation to the World by addressing their needs AND by discipling them with the solid food of the Gospel.
If you do both these things then I can guarantee that you will not have to spend $5k on a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) expert, nor will you have to worry about justifying your church’s online marketing expenditures.
personally think know from measurable successful personal application of SEO-related study, this is done by getting enough compelling content in the form of upcoming events, ministry explanations and sermons to get them in the door – while others argue in favor of a more ‘Virtual Church.’ Like all good debates, the answer is probably somewhere in between.
In short, if you write it they will come … so get busy!