A friend of mine was staying in a Somerset village last year over the weekend of Palm Sunday. He wanted to go to a service so looked up the website of the local church. It told him the service that Sunday started at 10.30am.
Except that the website was wrong. The service did not start at 10.30am. In fact, the service started at 10.15am. And it did even start at the church, but on the village green. They had a donkey and everything!
My mate was gutted. Not only did he arrive at the wrong time, he was in the wrong place. And he didn’t just miss half the service, he missed the donkey.
In contrast, another church I know this Christmas paid a small amount for targeted adverts on facebook to promote their services. The adverts worked – and a number of local families came along to carol services who previously have not been before.
Some churches have great websites. But many churches have websites that are out of date, inaccurate or look like they were created in the mid-nineties. Some don’t have any form of online presence at all.
Earlier this year The Independent reported that the average Brit checks their phone 28 times a day and more than 10,000 times a year. These stats are a reminder that ‘online’ is where people are today.
Billions of us are using millions of websites everyday, looking for answers and information that influence our thoughts and actions. Online social media is the marketplace of the 21st Century. If the Church is to live out her calling she must venture into to this marketplace and learn how to communicate there.
Like all effective missionary endeavours, this is not just a pragmatic move for survival. Rather, good communication is a key expression of core Christian theology of incarnation and mission.
God comes to meet us
Incarnation is at the heart of the Christian story. However far we wander from Him, God has not rejected us. Nor has he merely waited passively for us to come back to him. No, He came to meet us in his Son. Jesus came to us, into the very midst of our humanity: ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ The Son of God became human so that humans could become children of God.
Jesus said to his followers ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ Christians are ‘sent’ people. Sent to the nations to proclaim this love of Jesus in word and deed. Something of the Incarnation continues. The Church is the body of Christ. We are God’s hands, his feet, his mouthpiece in the world. Incarnation is about ‘moving towards’, ’showing up’, ‘being there’ where the people are.
In the New Testament, Paul’s practice in his missionary journeys was to first go to the synagogue, and then the marketplace. Why? Because these were the places where people were. These were the centres where people congregated to seek answers and information that would then influence their thinking and living.
If Paul were with us today he would asking us, ‘Where is the marketplace? Where are the people gathered? Where are they asking their questions? That’s where we need to be.’
Of course, the Church needs to be active in its actual neighbourhoods, but we also need to have a credible online presence. The two are inseparable.
Of course many churches have challenges to create a decent website. Sometimes the people with the skills don’t have the time, and the people with the time don’t have the skills. But help is available.
One of my oldest friends, Giles Fouhy, has set up a business called church-connect which helps churches establish affordable and sustainable websites. He specialises in migrating old fashioned, difficult-to-update websites into a contemporary, affordable and attractive format.
He also provides simple training which means even the most tech-phobic vicar or volunteer can easily update and develop the site going forward.
Giles has 20 years-experience of church leadership, so he understands the challenges and the realities of managing tight resources and over-stretched volunteers. Watch this 3 film film about what they offer:
Social media can feel overwhelming. But this is a key place where we can connect more deeply with our local communities and meet people where they are. Sorting out your church website is mission. And for both your church and your community it could be virtually liberating.
church-connect offer a free consultation to anyone interested in improving their church website. Please share this with anyone you think may benefit.