The ability to receive seekers at our doorsteps is essential. “People, get ready!” is what I said in my last blog. I truly believe that because so many of us are inwardly focused — prepared to deal with potential abusers but woefully incapable of talking to skeptics — the Holy Spirit isn't encouraging people to come our way.
Prepare, and I honestly believe that they will come.
Part of that is prepping our virtual entrances. Before seekers pluck up the courage to enter our doors, they do a Google search. I'm living proof. On those Sundays off when I want to worship somewhere new, I will sniff out a congregation online. If there's no website, the chances of my attending are slim to none. I'm not alone in that.
Hard to believe, but some congregations simply do not have a website or even a Facebook page, or they have something that hasn't been updated in a year or where I cannot find the worship time. I have to wonder where their heads are at.
What I'm looking for is a statement of faith, an order of service, a sermon text, staff bios — anything to get a feel for the place — service times especially. If there's a Facebook presence, bonus.
There's really no excuse not to have an online presence, because they're free. Check out pccweb.ca and follow the steps. Presbyterian Sharing dollars are at work.
If you have a website and you keep it current — great! But is it aimed at your own people or at visitors? I spent a few hours recently searching for really good PCC websites designed to be appealing to the unchurched. I started on Vancouver Island and worked my way east. It wasn't scientific and was somewhat random. What I found was underwhelming.
I won't shame those whose websites are outdated, inwardly focused, awkward, or just plain boring. Rather, let's focus on what's good:
- Knox Spadina, Toronto ON, has a wonderful home page: knoxtoronto.org. Then click on the “Visit” tab and select “New to church“. Beautiful. Exactly what a welcome page should be.
- The home page of St. Andrew's, Moncton NB, is almost entirely focused on visitors: standrewsmoncton.net.
- Westminster, Barrie ON, has a great Q&A section: westminsterpc.ca/im-new.
- St. Andrew's Islington, Toronto ON, goes out of its way to welcome people who aren't even sure if they have faith. Check out the Q&A section: standrewsislington.org/visiting.
- St. Andrew's, Lindsay ON, conveniently puts links not only to its YouTube sermons but also its kids' messages: standrewslindsay.com.
- Calvin, North Bay ON, is proof you don't need to be a large multi-staff congregation with a warm and inviting web face: calvinnorthbay.ca
Some of them are clearly designed by professionals — nothing wrong with that — and all have their own domain.
Does that mean the poor folks who cannot purchase their own real estate have to suffer? Not at all. Check out what my small-town congregation does at absolutely no cost using PCCWeb: pccweb.ca/standrewsdresden. All it takes is a bit of motivation and patience as you figure it out. You don't need a lick of expertise and I'm living proof. Think of it as paint-by-numbers, but with a handy help desk at 50 Wynford Drive. Granted, not every congregation has a minister with a working knowledge of news photography, but there's a shooter in every family.
Here's a few tips from a former Page 1 news editor: take photos of actual people in your congregation and crop them so that their faces leap out from the page. It's the first rule: faces, faces, faces. Don't get discouraged. Keep trying. The beauty of digital is that you don't run out of film: delete and try again. And do not be tempted to post professional stock photos of beautiful strangers heading to worship. It won't wash and will probably work against you. Be real.
There's no excuse for no website or a lousy website. We've got it — use it.