Making Church Sites into Evangelistic Tools

Series: Improving your church website

Improving Your Church Website
Check out all the articles in the series...

[This is my Web Wise column from the May 2005 issue of Good News Etc.]

I want to introduce a guest columnist for this month. His name is Tony Whittaker with the Web Evangelism Guide. He’s based in England and has been central in creating an interest in evangelizing on the Internet. There is no better resource on the Web than his site on this topic.

In fact Tony helped spearhead the first worldwide Internet Evangelism Day last month to help raise awareness of the Internet’s effectiveness as a tool for reaching out.

Think about it: The church’s mission is to reach out, but how many times do we forget to do that on our own websites?

Tony’s advice below is excerpted from an exceptional list of 60+ tips for effective church websites. I’m only listing his section specifically on making your church site into an evangelistic tool:

1. Most church websites are designed entirely for their members, or exclude non-Christians because of their choice of language and content. This is the main reason why church websites fail to reach into the community.

2. A church site must communicate with three very different target groups:

  • the church members
  • Christians moving to the area who are looking for a new church
  • non-Christians in the community

3. This three-way stretch is a challenge, but can be achieved. If you wish your site to reach non-Christians in the community, make a conscious decision that this is to be an over-riding priority for every aspect of the site.

4. Take time to consider the needs and viewpoints of non-Christians. We cannot reach those we do not understand. The first task of an overseas missionary is to learn the surrounding culture. Although we are immersed in our own culture, we may not understand it, or the needs and pressures that most non-Christians in our society are facing.

5. Avoid all churchy jargon and Christianese language throughout the site, especially on the homepage. Non-Christians, almost by definition, do not like or understand these words. This even applies to the navigation menu. Many churches have a menu link called ministries. This is actually a jargon word meaning ‘what we do’ or ‘what’s on.’ Much better to use neutral alternatives like this

6. Non-Christians may have negative images of Christians: boring, killjoys, judgmental, etc. A light-hearted, informal, witty website may help to counteract these misconceptions. Opinion polls show that evangelicals are increasingly perceived in a very negative light, in almost all countries.

7. Christian outreach often fails because Christians do megaphone proclamation from behind the protecting walls of their ghetto. A church website should not aim to be an impersonal electronic cut and run tract distribution system. Its primary aim should be to draw people in the community towards real relationships with real people within the fellowship. Most conversions result from relationships.

8. A primary task of the website is to convince non-Christians of these things:

  • our church is made up of ordinary real people
  • we understand their life problems
  • we are community, family, and there is an unconditional welcome waiting for them
  • in that context, God can meet them and help them

9. Church is people: the home page should have at least one photo of a church member. This is absolutely foundational to good communication, yet infrequently done. Although you can also use a photo of the church building on the home page, this is impersonal - however attractive your building may be. So use people too. Inside the site, include more photos of real people. Make sure you have permission to add these pictures to the site. Do not include full names or personal information about children and young people.

10. Internal pages on the site can include photos of both the outside and inside of the church building. But, again, include people. If potential visitors feel themselves to be familiar with the building and the people, they are more likely to make the quantum leap of visiting the church.

11. Include some meet our members pages. These may well not be full-blown testimonies, but brief informal first-person profiles, with real information about their lives: jobs, places of study, likes, hobbies, pets.

12. If testimonies are used, they should be completely free of religious jargon, exaggeration and sentimentality. Non-Christians can see through religious veneers easily! “Everything in my life is now permanently wonderful” does not ring true. Such well-meaning statements do not honor God.

13. Games and fun stuff are attractive. It is possible to include online games within a children’s or teen area of the site! (Incidentally these are two areas of a site that can have a different, almost stand-alone, design style, in order to achieve their purpose.)

14. Consider adding some bridge strategy topics. You can create pages about secular topics, of local interest, which will draw people into the site. These might include local history, events, pictures, or a page of best secular community links.

15. Involve your church members in praying and supporting the web design team and owning the site. Encourage your church members to understand the purpose of the website and make it known to others.

16. Demonstrate a welcome for people with disability. Explain what facilities are available for mobility-impaired people: level access, lifts, etc. Is there a loop system for hearing-disabled?

Summing up: The overall impression of the site must of a gentle, loving, enticing welcome. But, of course, people who visit the church must actually receive a welcome! There are many shocking stories of first-time visitors being only spoken to by an usher as they enter, if they are lucky. It should be self-evident, but all churches should train their members to speak first to someone they do not recognise, after (and indeed before) any meeting.

I highly recommend you go to Tony’s list of complete tips. He has many links to articles with more great advice from some of the tips.

Check out the website for Mike’s company at (helping your organization succeed on the web); and read his blog on Internet strategy, usability, and more.