My husband and I have recently started church-hunting. As a part of that process, we – like so many others of our generation – turned to the Internet first. We used Google maps to identify the churches nearby, and then to narrow down the prospects we started visiting websites: some good, some bad, some incomprehensible.
In light of that, I thought it might be useful to offer up a list of things I, and most seekers (believers or otherwise), might be searching for when we find your church on the web:
- Denomination: For some reason lately it seems de rigeur for churches to elide or avoid naming their denomination on the website at all. I understand that many believe we shouldn’t get too hung up on denominations when searching for a church, but it’s also true that many denominations are defined by their stances on doctrinal issues. In light of that, it only seems fair to be honest and direct.
- Core beliefs: What does your church believe about Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, the crucifixion and resurrection, and the Trinity? What do you believe about the Bible? About salvation and sin? It’s impossible to list out everything on a website, but it’s helpful for churches to include a “belief statements” of sorts so that seekers can determine whether the church will suit them or not. ‘Core’ beliefs, of course, include most of what I mentioned above: the fundamentals of Christianity. But you get bonus points if you include a link or a reference to your denomination’s (or church’s) beliefs on other, less significant issues, as well.
- Dress code: Most churches include this on their website, and unintentionally lie in doing so. On most sites I read something cheerful like, “Come as you are, whether that means wearing jeans or a dress!” The sentiment is appreciated, but not always accurate. Recently my husband and I attended a church that articulated something similar on its website, and arrived at the early service to find almost everyone in Sunday dress clothes! Fortunately we had dressed up, but we would have felt awkward if we hadn’t. Be honest about your congregation and welcoming at the same time: “Although most of our members wear Sunday dress to church, we don’t have a dress code and love to welcome people in jeans and hoodies!”
- Service type(s) and times: There’s no guarantee any more whether or not a church will have traditional services, contemporary, or both, but elaborate which your church offers along with when and where they are held. Bonus points if you explain what the services might entail or how they differ, if you offer both. Bonus bonus points if you make it clear that you do or do not have Wednesday or Sunday night services. (I find most churches in our area are abandoning the Sunday night services, but many do not make it clear on their websites and so I’m never really certain until I ask).
- Other offerings: Are you a small group church? Make a note of that. What ministries does your church most often engage in? Write ’em down. Where will believers have chances to participate and grow? Give believers a list of their options for engaging with the church when you attend.
- Contact info: Whether this is a phone number, an email, a small pastoral care directory, or a contact form, make sure people have a way to get in touch with you!
- Directions: Put up a Google maps widget, text directions, a screenshot, anything. Yes, people can look it up on their own. Yes, it will help them infinitely more if you give them something to glance at so they can see exactly how far you are from their house and whether or not you’re worth the trip!
Next time: Seven things you absolutely do not need on your church website!