So you have a church (or ministry). It can be a new church plant, an established thriving ministry or a ministry that has seen better days and needs to to be revived. No matter which category you fall into, you probably recognize the need to reach out to your community and to bring in new families and grow your church. If you haven’t yet, maintaining an Internet presence is something you need to consider!
You might have a bus ministry, a soul winning program, a street preaching program or any number of other tried and tested programs to reach out to your community.
We live in the age of the internet today but it is still amazing to me how many ministries do not fully understand the importance of creating and maintaining an internet presence for their ministry.
According to faithlife.com (a tech company of Logos Bible Software fame) the number one way that people will find your church today is by your church website.
According to Pew Research (pewresearch.org), a new Pew Research Center study has found that younger adults were more likely than older Americans to turn to the web (or to other people) when looking for a new house of worship. It might not be surprising that young adults are more likely to look online for information about a congregation, given that younger Americans in general are more likely to use the internet than older adults
As older churches lose members, younger members are becoming a necessity for survival. Lack of “fresh blood” is one of the reason many churches are simply closing their doors and/or need to be “reseeded.”
There are many reasons I hear for not having a website – from no money to no expertise. If you don’t have a website, have no money, have no expertise or any other excuse, call me today and we will get you online, probably today, at no cost to you!
Now that you have no excuse to not have your ministry online, lets move forward with talking about your ministry’s presence on the net… maintaining an Internet presence is not as hard as you thought it was.
If you currently do not have a website:
If you do not have a website yet and you are convinced you need one, lets talk about the first steps.
The first item you need to give serious consideration to is the domain name for your ministry’s website. The domain name (URL) is how people will find you on the web.
Many Pastor’s seem to think a domain is a disposable item. While domains are relatively inexpensive (a .com domain is currently less than $10 per year on our http://ekklesia-online.org resale website) and in many cases comes free if you purchase web hosting from a vendor (more on that later).
I hold to the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle. The simpler the domain name the easier it is for someone to type it in, the easier it is for you to give it out over the phone, or for someone to write it down without making a mistake. Depending on the name of your ministry (Lets say your church is Gospel Light Independent Baptist Church in Fredericksburg West Virginia) you can come up with many ways to make the domain simple. Believe it or not there are people that would consider a domain like “gospellightindbaptchurchfredericksburg.com” as a domain name. A quick search right now turns up glibc.info, gli-bc.com, gospellightwv.com, lightinwv.com even gospellightibc.com is available. There are numerous options avalable. If you really want the city glibcfredericksburg.com would be an option as well.
You can also choose a non-church related name such as “heartforfredericksburg.com” or a name that indicates what the ministry stands for.
The reason this is critical is that the domain should be considered as a permanent asset of the church, similar to your church bus for example. It is out in public. It has your name on it. It represents your church. You may invest a large amount of money to place it on your signage, on the side of your bus, in your bulletins and on your printed materials and advertising materials. It should be protected. The website should not be dumped on a church member that has an urge to set up a website, and then has a falling out with the church and takes the website and domain with them when they leave (I can’t tell you how many calls I get asking if there is anything I can do to help get a domain back from someone that left the church on bad terms – sometimes yes many times no). This includes, sorry to say, ex pastors who are supposed to be men of God!
Now you HAVE a website:
You should make sure the domain does not expire! Your domain may be linked to by many other directories and other ministries. The more links your domain has to it, the more it is worth. If you let the domain expire, ANY ONE CAN REGISTER YOUR DOMAIN. You no longer own it. (This is also why I would recommend that you be careful who YOU link your website to!)
This is the worst case scenario. Your domain expires. It is registered by someone who turns it into a porn website. You now have 20 other Fundamental Independent Baptist Ministries that were linked to your ministry linked to a porn site! Your bus is driving around town advertising a porn site. All the literature you have handed out in the past and you have now has a link to a porn site! Pastor, this is not a joke! This can happen to your ministry.
This can also happen if you get web hosting through a third party and let them either provide you a free domain, or register the domain for you and you stop paying for the hosting service. When you sign up for these services, ask them who owns the domain. If you terminate the hosting service, take ownership of your domain back!
In some cases you may decide you want to change your domain name (this is why I suggest you really take a good look at the initial choice of the domain when first starting out). You can change change your domain name and still keep your old domain name “parked” so that both domains will keep functioning. At $10 per year it probably would not break your budget, and it will protect the people that are linked to you.
Can you imagine a child on a church’s website clicking on a link to another ministry website and ending up and a porn site? I have to believe the Lord will be holding us accountable for our actions.
When you register a domain you will provide contact information. It is important you keep the contact email address up to date so you will get emails when your domain is about to expire! This is also a requirement from the domain registry company ICANN that can suspend your domain (and your website) if the contact information is not kept up to date.
Back to the Basics
I want you to search for your ministry in a search engine (I will use Google for an example). If I search for Bethel Baptist Church La Plata Maryland (one of the ministries we host), their website comes up in the top four search results in Google. Where does your ministry place? While maintaining an Internet presence is good, it is better if people can find your website!
Also – what does your website say about you? I have been to church websites that did not even identify what city and state the church was in. Your church website should make it easy for people to find your church. My recommendation is to provide the address on the Home (or landing page) in search engine readable text (this should also boost your search engine rankings). Some ministries put a graphic up with the contact information on it. A search engine cannot read information from a graphic and as such cannot use that information to identify your website with that ministry listing which can result in your website not even being attached to a search for that ministry. A phone number (which many church websites don’t show) would also help, and some place on the website put the service times so visitors know when to show up.
Bethel Baptist Church’s website has their address on the front page along with contact numbers and a welcome message from the pastor.
The basic information should be kept up to date. It takes very little time and effort to update the website with correct service times, address (especially in the case of a new church plant if you are in a temporary meeting place that keeps changing) and phone number if the information changes. How likely is a person to return if they show up at an address and find no church meeting there? It is also not a good sign for a visitor to dial the church’s contact phone to find it is disconnected! Why should they assume the church is still operating?
When my wife and I are traveling we look up the address for a church, along with the service times and show up at the address on the website at the appointed time. We have received several suprises over the years!
Once you have a basic website up it becomes a personal choice as to how much information you want to share with potential visitors. There is a lot you can do to let visitors know about your church and feel comfortable before they even visit. You also may wish to intentionally be vague to have visitors come to the church to experience your church first hand.
Some of the items you can consider sharing might be your Statement of Faith, a list of your ministries, do you have a nursery, what kind of outreach programs does your ministry offer?
You can place your sermons online, you can offer live streaming of your services from your website. (as well as archived copies for later listening). The internet has offered the small rural church many of the benefits some of the larger big city churches enjoy as the cost to provide services has come down through the years. Services can now be streamed via a cell phone. Shut ins in rural areas can attend their small church’s services online.
To sum it up, I think you should seriously consider maintaining an Internet presence for your ministry if you do not already have one. While it does not demand daily attention, it should be seriously considered an integral part of the ministry, and not just be set up and forgotten about. It can be a valuable asset and an inexpensive outreach tool in the internet generation. On the other hand you can spend hundreds of dollars a month to have the best, flashiest website on the internet, that does nothing to represent your ministry, has no information about your ministry and that is of no use to anyone trying to find information about your church. The website in many cases is the first impression you will make on potential church members. There is no second chance to make a first impression.
I have a website set up at http://online-church.org with links and resources to help you get your ministry online. Maintaining an Internet presence is within your reach!