Why do churches have Web sites? To connect with their congregation? To inform their church members? To attract non-church goers to their church? To disciple others? All of those are probably reasons why your church either wants to or has built a Web site. However, most churches, even the large and prominent churches with great-looking Web sites, are drastically missing their goals. Even worse, most pastors don’t understand the huge opportunities for ministry that an effective Web site can provide for them and their churches.
I am currently the president of a ministry called Reach Your City, which serves churches in their efforts to reach their cities for Christ. This entails a lot of things, but one huge part of this ministry for me is to help churches stay up to date with technology so they can more effectively fulfill their mission. As of today, the most important starting point for any church looking to build on the growing number of people using the Web, e-mail, blogs, YouTube, Facebook, etc. is to tear down their current Web site and start an effective “blog.” Yes, you heard me. Forget what you heard yesterday. Today is a new day.
What is a blog? Surely you’ve heard of these things. It is the way people are getting the news, sports commentary, music, etc. today. People connect to their favorite blogs and sign up to receive e-mails whenever new blogs are posted. Authors, actors and music artists are all getting them to better connect with their fans and, of course, to sell more books, movies and CDs (excuse me, digital downloads). But if that doesn’t help…. go look it up on Wikipedia. Or, here, I’ll help. Wikipedia.com says that, “A blog (a contraction of the term “Web log”) is a Web site, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video.”
You may have heard about a famous blog site called Facebook. Facebook is simply a free blog site that is set up the exact same way for everyone with special functions that people like for social networking. But a blog does not have to be so huge and expansive that it overwhelms you. In fact, for a church, a blog can be your current church address at www.yourchurch.org. The blog itself can have a lot of functionality or be as simple as the one used by author Jarrod Jones: http://www.jarrodjones.com/. The great news about a blog is that you control the content. You decide what your blog site will say every day, what links it will have, what categories it will show, etc. No two blog sites are the same.
Now what do you, the pastor, need to do? Well, believe it or not, you heard me right. Tear down your flashy, expensive, cool, amazing Web site that took six months to build and start a plain, simple and easy-to-manage blog site. Why? Because the goal for a church’s Web site is not to “look cool.” Or at least it shouldn’t be. A cool Web site is expensive, difficult to update and does not encourage people to come back time and time again. Therefore, the visitor is not building a connection to a “cool” site. Even sites that are updated monthly do very little to connect and engage the visitor (assuming they can even find your Web site in the first place). Churches of all sizes (even tiny ones out in the country) should have a Web site that can be easily updated on a daily basis with the information needed to meet the long-term strategic goals of your church. But why a blog site you ask?
It is simple, blog sites have become the No. 1 way for people to find you on the Web because Google came in and changed everything about how the Web functions. Before Google, that great-looking Web site might have been the best idea for your church. But since Google has grown its market share to over 80 percent of all online searches and changed the way people look for information on the Web, all bets are off. What this means is that all of those cool “flash” Web sites are worthless. Sure they look good. Most people visit them once or twice; but once they’ve seen them, that’s it. Google doesn’t rank sites based on how cool they are. It can’t find key words in a Flash site during a search. Google ranks sites based on (among other things) links, key words and the volume of information. Even most html sites that churches use and update weekly are still fairly static. They cannot be updated easily by the secretary or pastor; and, even if they can, they don’t let you easily add tags, links and other things that Google will use to generate more hits to the site. This means when someone searches for “Churches in Your City, USA” or “help with spiritual issues,” your church won’t be in that top spot where you want to be.
Blog sites, thanks to Google, are rapidly growing in popularity. Pastors can update their sites daily with new blogs, news about the church, a calendar of events, links to important articles, etc. It’s so easy to update that churches won’t need to pay a Web person to manage this for you. Pastors can actually give their congregation a reason to not only come to their Web site daily, but also to forward links and information to friends on a daily basis. What a great way to connect with people who do not attend your church!
These blog sites are so simple to set up and maintain that medium-sized to larger churches don’t need to just create one. In fact, if your church has a youth pastor, then train him to create a blog site entirely for the youth! Every day, the youth pastor can type onto their site news, information, devotionals or other things for the students and their friends to look at and access. Each staff member or department in your church can have his or her own blog site and keep a specific group of people well informed and connected to the life of the church.
The point of all of this is to encourage pastors to realize that Web sites are a huge part of their ministry whether they like them or not. Instead of avoiding it, embrace it. Go to wordpress.com or typepad.com and start a free blog site today!
Gresham Hill is President of Reach Your City and G. Hill Creative and currently resides with his wife, Josie, in Nashville, Tennessee. You can e-mail him at Gresham@greshamhill.com.