There are lots of things for the church to sort out as regards the Internet and one of them it the difficult question of whether it is possible to have an online church. Here is a report about one online church that seems to be doing well in its outreach.
My own feeling is that we shouldn’t see church online as something separate to church offline. We would be wrong to think that we can do everything online that we can do offline but equally wrong in assuming that online means a weaker version of what we do offline. I have a feeling that the online church is here to stay.
There is always a temptation to add more features to a website. After all, if you like the Internet and the many features you find on other peoples sites then you will probably feel that you should have them on yours. The other problem is that when you work on a website for a while you start to think that your site is getting old fashioned and needs spicing up a little.
Please try to avoid this disease because it can be fatal to a church website.
Only add features that are necessary to meet your website aims and only if they are not distracting from those aims.
You have thought about the main aims of your website haven’t you? If you haven’t then you need to because without aims your site will become bloated and unusable.
If you need some help thinking this through then I’ve attempted to make a list of all the different kinds of Christian websites are and what some of their aims might be here.
I think most church websites fall into the kingdom supporting category and this means that they primarily help other Christians and church members find out what is happening at the church. The sad truth is that very few people who are seeking faith will come directly to a church website – unless they are trying to find out about your church and how to attend it. Of course there is opportunity to encourage people who come to your website to explore the Christian faith through the many good websites that exist. You can easily give links to that information from your website.
So focus on your aims and only add the absolute minimum features that you need to meet that aim. I say absolute minimum because the more features you add the more choices people have and when people have too many choices they simply choose not to.
In the last local elections in my area I have to vote for 3 people and I had a choice of about 40 names (or at least it felt like 40). I did vote but only because my convictions made me – given a choice like this without a good reason to choose I would simply have walked away.
This is exactly what people will do if they are given too many choices. Only the dedicated will bother to try and find the choice that suits them.
Also too many features are a distraction from the main content of a website. Did you know that peripheral vision is as important as where your vision focuses when you navigate a website? If you have things flashing or moving or more exciting on the edges of your content then people will want to look at them and not the content. Of course this makes the content pointless and content is what a website is all about.
So keep the features down to what you need.
Don't do this
Here is a news story published on Christian Today about a scholar who says that we should harness new technology to reach out to people who are not yet interested in finding out about Christianity.
To me this seems pretty obvious really although I’m glad Dr Fischer-Nielsen has confirmed this to the church.
In particular he talks about the Internet and Social networking. The church has always known that most people come into the church through friendship with another. Social networking is simply another way of making friends. The problem would then be to get people from being friends on the Internet to get them to going to church. There is quite a move from an e-relationship to physically going somewhere.
And. of course, there is the problem that not all people who meet on the Internet are honest about who they are. I would strongly recommend that anyone considering this form of evangelism (especially young people) should take sensible precautions and never arrange to meet someone you have never physically met before on your own. I have to add this warning – and it seems from the news this morning that someone has been murdered by someone they met online. My thoughts go out to the family.
Getting back to online evangelism, taking the psychologists view of change they would fall into the pre-interested group. Those with no interest in finding out about God at all. These are quite possibly the smallest group in society and may be the toughest to work with. Yet they deserve to hear the gospel as much as anyone does. Personally I think the church spends too much of its effort (proportionally) on trying to engage people in this bracket and often neglects those who are seeking. This becomes pretty obvious when you see the rise in interest in alternative forms of religion and in my area the JWs are doing very well with lots of young families attending.
Sorry I’m getting off point. So how do you engage people who have no interest in Christianity. My idea would be this:
- Befriend them. Listen to them and ask them questions about themselves. Be genuinely interested in who they are and don’t do this just to try and convert them you have to genuinely want to befriend people.
- Offer to pray for them. Don’t talk about Jesus at this stage and don’t say anything more than offering to pray. When they say they have an issue to get over just simply offer to pray. You’ll find most people will welcome the offer. Also don’t assume you’ve lost your chance to evangelise them if they say no. Be patient and keep listening. If another problem comes along try again. You’ll have to be sensitive to their mood.
- If you are using a social network you may like to post the occasional message about going to church events, etc. Your e-friends will get to know that you are a Christian and will appreciate you not banging on about it or telling them they should find Jesus.
- Suggest they visit some of the Christian sites. But only when they have shown an interest. Let them initiate any conversation. If they ask you about your faith then be prepared to answer. It would be wise to have worked something out in advance (and something that will fit into 140 letters). When they ask don’t just fire off a quick response even if you have thought it through but instead leave a sensible pause so they can know that you are thinking about it. People are suspicious of those who fire off rapid responses to questions. And anyway you should pray before responding and give yourself some time to make sure your response is the right one. Then let them have a link to a good Christian website (I’d suggest my site about Jesus at http://www.jesuscourse.info if modesty didn’t stop me ) and offer to talk about if with them. Or why not offer to look at it with several of your friends at the same time? You don’t have to be an expert or agree with everything you read – you can always plead ignorance and offer to get a better response.
- When the time seems right – ask them if they would like to go to church. You will then have to look for a good church near them and possibly warn the church in advance that you are asking someone to attend. This will need to be your judgment call but some churches have special services for non-Christians that might be more appropriate that this Sundays service. Also you might look out for a church doing the Alpha course so you know there is another way for them to find out about Christianity.
Ultimately its going to be about friendship and sensitivity.
I personaly think that email addresses should be on web sites and if this means that you get some spam then you just have to put up with it (I get loads). However there are things you can do to help reduce/stop the problem.
1. Don’t use obvious names like webmaster@ or info@ for email addresses and only allow names that you set up (e.g. don’t use a system that sends all email to your web address to you – commonly known as a catch all). Spammers get your address and stick the obvious names on the front and then test to see if they can get a response.
2. Use an image instead of text. I don’t really like this but at least your address is visible to those who can see it.
3. Use spam filtering software. I use stuff that sits on my server as well as one on my computer. The only trouble with this is that you occasionally get a genuine email that gets stuck. Make sure you train your systems well and this will not be much of a problem.
5. Use a form – I really hate this way of getting around the problem. I like to use my email system because it keeps a record of what I’m doing and who I’ve sent messages to and when. Some spammers also use forms to send their spam anyway so it doesn’t stop the problem.
I’d also like to add a personal note that you can’t assume that the email address spam comes from is actually the spammer. I have a very good url for my business and spammers are forever using my address to send their spam – this really ticks me off but I can’t stop it. It then is upsetting when I get messages from people who are angry at me because they think I’ve sent them spam – I understand their position but it wasn’t me that sent it. Even worse I then get blacklisted on spam systems and my emails sometimes get blocked. I really don’t like spam but I still think it is better for a Christian site to turn the other cheek and take the spammers abuse for the sake of being available to those who who need your response. I know what they send is often offensive but sometimes we just have to live with that for the sake of the gospel – there said my peace, sorry if you disagree.