Archive for July, 2009

Conforming Outreach

July 27th, 2009

One of the many ways that Christians have attempted to reach out to non-Christians is through conforming. The basic premise is that the less the gap between Christian and non-Christian the easier it will be for the non-Christian to become involved with the Christian faith. On the surface there is a lot of merit to this idea because one of the most difficult problems that Christians face is the big culture gap that often exists between those who go to church and those who don’t. If we can create an atmosphere that is familiar to the non-Christian then there is going to be less resistance to hearing what Christians have to say.

However this approach has resulted in some pretty disastrous attempts at outreach.

The worst that happens is that the message itself becomes compromised in an attempt to appeal to non-Christians. For some reason Christians have always had problems understanding the difference between the Christian faith and Christian culture. We either mistake our traditions for what we believe or we think that everything (even what we believe) is simply dependant on culture. So either we lose the message or we mistake the practice for the message. In my opinion both are disasters.

The other thing we often see is where well meaning Christians try to become something that they are not. Christians will sometimes attempt to playact at being ‘in the world’ by dressing or behaving as though they aren’t really Christians but just one of the lads. At best this ends up being a little bit embarassing and at its worst Christians with no discernable difference to non-Christians (including the bad language and drunkeness that goes with it).

How does this all apply to the Internet?

Well I think this approach does have a lot of merit – at least when it comes to the design. Christian web sites need to look and feel like everyone elses web sites. One of the problems with a lot of Christian sites is that they turn people off before they even get started. There are many Christian websites that I feel uncomfortable viewing and I’m a Christian!

The problem is though that we must have something to offer that others don’t – otherwise we just become one more web site. If we conform too much then what can we really offer?

models for online ministry

Does the attraction model of ministry work for the Internet?

July 23rd, 2009

Table of contents for Models of online ministry

  1. Models for online ministry
  2. Does the attraction model of ministry work for the Internet?
  3. Conforming Outreach
  4. Social Interaction Model

Everyone who is interested in models of ministry seems to have their own names for things – often because they want to redefine what each one means. Because there seems to be no one definition for anything I guess I’m going to have to do the same thing. I’m going to take a look at some of the models I’ve come across (feel free to tell me about others) and see how they relate to online ministry.

The attraction model works on the basis that people will be drawn to that which they find attractive. So by making the Christian faith attractive people will be drawn into exploring it and joining it.

This model has a lot going for it because it has been proved to work on more than one occasion. Let’s look at its merits:

  1. It works. This is a model that works for everything, people really are drawn to what they find attractive. This works for the precontemplaters as well as those already committed so we can start to draw in those who are not even interested in the first place.
  2. It’s simple because it works on some basic human instincts and you don’t have to get too carried away with being clever.
  3. It works for everyone. Even those people who are in the church find that it works to keep them interested and engaged.
  4. It self perpetuates. People are willing to tell others about things that they find attractive (well most of the time anyway) and so it helps to spread the message.

However, there are some serious problems with this approach as well:

  1. It only works if you can make something attractive. One of the problems that the church in the U.K. has had to face is that often it isn’t very attractive. Small numbers of people in a crumbling old building, keeping old traditions alive (I like some of these old traditions so don’t misunderstand me) is very hard to make attractive to others.
  2. It only works if you have a number of people already interested. This is perhaps were it becomes unstuck for the Internet. To draw people in by attraction you have to have a group of people who already think something is attractive. Without a following there is no growth.
  3. There is a temptation to cheapen the message in an effort to keep things attractive. This is especially true when there are a small number or a very large number of followers. If attraction becomes the focus instead of the gospel things start to go wrong.
  4. It’s primary job is only to draw people in. There is rarely a time when this is all that a website would want to do.

So it can work in certain circumstances but is limited and dangerous.

It is possible to present the attractive side of something to get attention and then use the interest to get a message across. In fact this is how I became a Christian myself. I was a young man and I encountered a church where there were lots of young women. However on the Internet things are a little different than in a church. In a church meeting you have a somewhat captive audience. Once they are in the building they will give the church a chance to say something, they will also come back. On the Internet there is no compulsion to stay. If someone comes to a website and they don’t like what they read then they will simply click away. There is the added problem that unless they have bookmarked the site or come from a site they often visit there is a fair chance you will never see them again.

So in my opinion the attraction model doesn’t really work very well. It is an appealing model because you can persuade yourself that if something looks good then people will come without you having to go out and find anyone but it has too many problems to be a simple cure all approach.

The conclusion is that whilst it is important for a website to look attractive, it is unlikely to make a site successful on its own.

models for online ministry ,

Church Pews on the Web?

July 8th, 2009

I like church pews – as long as the preacher isn’t long winded – because they offer flexibility when you are trying to get more people into the building. However these days perhaps the only time it’s needed is when the local school are using the church for their Christmas play for mums and dads. Any of my friends will tell you that I have made the suggestion to remove the pews in more than a few churches. Whilst I like pews I also like flexibility and having something comfortable to sit on.

The Internet has the reputation of evolving at the kind of pace that no one can really ever keep up with. However I think a lot of the evolution of the web is down to getting rid of stuff that should perhaps never have been invented in the first place.

Here are some of my ideas about things on church websites that are a little like pews in a church building – I see what they were trying to do but perhaps it’s time to move on:

  1. Jesus Saves banners – in your face evangelistic messages on web sites are a recipe for sending people somewhere else, even most Christians get put off by them.
  2. Splash pages – those annoying pages that get in the way when you are trying to view a web site. They still sometimes sneak in on the pretense of sending people to the right web site but personally I’d rather see a web site and then choose where to go.
  3. Hidden navigation – when the only way to find out how to navigate is by hovering over every image on a page to find out what goes where. Horrible!
  4. Visitor numbers signs – there is nothing more depressing than visiting a web site that says 20 people have visited this site in the last 10 years. Even if the site has something good to offer it just puts you off. It also doesn’t work if you have large numbers visiting – just because people get to your site doesn’t mean the site is any good.
  5. Last updated in 1896 – you know what I’m talking about. This is especially true for blogs that last had an update in 2005. If you don’t have lots to add then get rid of the dates that show your site to be out of date. Let the content speak for itself and not the date.
  6. Sites crammed with all the latest web gadgets. Unless you have a very good reason for a gadget leave it alone. Please never, ever put in some Javascript that changes the cursor on your site!
  7. Sound on web pages – this is still happening too often. By all means use video and sound that people can control but if your page comes up with some sound playing people will go elsewhere very quickly. When I personally get this I tend to click away before I ever read anything on a site – like the majority I like to browse in peace or with something else in the background. You also never know what that shouting person is going to say from their web site and if others are listening it could get embarrassing so people just go elsewhere.
  8. Intrusive adverts – do people really think we are more likely to buy something because they have annoyed us? Some churches still use free hosting that uses popup adverts etc. Sometimes the adverts are also a little inappropriate for a church site. It’s better to pay for hosting even if you can only afford the very cheapest.

Sorry I’ve run out of time. Why not add a comment with your own personal pew suggestions?