Walter Wilson, former CEO of Exclaim Technologies, Inc., is founder and chairman of Global Media Outreach, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ that uses Internet-based communication technologies for outreach and personal response. He is also author of The Internet Church.
Should we design our website for our community or our congregation? The answer isn’t an either/or. An effective church website that makes an impact requires both an external and internal strategy.
Community and Congregation Focus
What do I mean by external and internal as they relate to your church’s site? Simply put, the external strategy is to be obedient to the Great Commission—to present Christ to those who don’t know Him.
Think about a church’s true mission and purpose. It’s not about advertising the location or the number of programs offered. Ultimately, church is, or at least should be, about introducing people to Jesus. And that initial step can be accomplished with your website. Ask yourself, “How can we develop an external strategy using the Internet?”
The internal strategy is about forming a sense of community among your own congregation. How can you provide them with daily devotionals, a church events calendar, a secure email system behind a firewall? And how do you communicate to worshippers from Sunday evening until the following Sunday morning? Using the Internet, a community of faith can socialize, connect for prayer requests and Bible studies, and even set up dinners and entertainment outings. The Web offers a diverse array of features and ideas that can cultivate a sense of internal community.
My experience tells me that while the vast majority of U.S. churches have websites, unfortunately most don’t use them effectively. I’ve even seen some church sites that have nothing more than a map and a phone number.
Yet, the Internet offers churches a powerful tool to reach your congregation, local community and world with the Good News.
Through the numerous websites from Campus Crusade for Christ’s Global Media Outreach ministry, we touch a person somewhere in the world with the Gospel every five seconds. That’s the power of the Internet. Each year, we see 12 million visitors from more than 190 countries come to our websites, 50,000 emails from people in enormous pain and seeking help, and more than 20,000 decisions to accept Christ a year. The numbers indicate a tremendous thirst for God in this world.
Based on those numbers, any church that puts a well-designed and thought-out website out there can and should expect to make an impact both locally and globally, touching between 30 and 50 countries. But unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of pastors who understand and grasp that potential. Most tend to think that everything revolves around their own congregation. If reaching those who don’t know Christ is part of your church’s DNA, that focus will be played out in all of your communication channels, including your website.
On one of our interactive sites for Crusade, we allow people with spiritual questions to submit their questions online. Then trained volunteers respond to those questions. We consistently hear from people who appreciate the fact that they can explore the claims of Christ without necessarily having to go to a church.
Does your website give people that freedom, either interactively or by posting a list of FAQs about the Christian life? Today’s postmodern culture does everything by the Internet, even spiritual and church exploration. It’s up to the church to make their search a pleasant and easy experience.
So yes, your website should create internal community and strengthen those bonds in your congregation, but don’t forget about an external strategy for those outside church walls. You can—and should—reach both.
FROM THE BEST OF OUTREACH: This article appeared in the November/December 2004 issue of Outreach magazine.
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