Making the Most of Technology for Churches

September 21, 2005 by

The body of Christ has traditionally been slow to implement technology to further kingdom objectives. Fear of change as well as fear of the unknown have definitely hindered work in this area. Even a recent post about how churches use technology set off a debate about the place of technology in churches.

But technology is simply a tool. Like any other tool, it can be put to good use or it can be abused. So then, what are the best ways use the web, blogging, and other technologies as effective tools?

Enhance and Support Ministry
Tech tools, the web in particular, should never supplant ministry. Rather, they should provide expanded opportunities for connection (online forums, small group sites, blogs), outreach (electronic content designed to allow people to explore Christ and your community of faith on the periphery) and empowerment (tools that empower people in your congregation to share their faith and the church with their circles of influence). But in no way should our technology supplant opportunities for personal connection in small groups or other interpersonal approaches.

Focus on Outreach
After looking at the web sites of the top 100 churches in the US, I was struck by how internally focused they were. Trying to view their sites from the perspective of a non-believer left me wanting, nay turned off. It is time to stop being organizationally focused and start reforming our web content to speak to those who are desperately seeking transformation. Church web sites should speak primarily to the seeking in terms that they understand while providing all the necessary info and vital stats for your internal audiences as well.

Foster Creativity
God is the ultimate creator, and we have been made in his image. Our people, both followers of Christ and pre-followers, must be empowered in their technical and creative gifts and set free to propagate the kingdom. Use of technology should espouse a deep understanding of our partnership with God in bringing life change to the world.

Honor with Relevance
When I go to Amazon.com, I have a great experience. I find what I want, can buy it easily, and have a pleasant and fun experience in the process. Why is it then that many church web sites are so ill-conceived? Should they not be at least as useful and valuable as the best of the marketplace sites? Striving to employ the best features of the best of the web drives relevance. User-focused design honors those that visit our church web sites.

Expect Excellence
Technology in carrying out church mission cannot be an afterthought. People’s expectations are just too high. In using tech, we must strive to do everything as unto Christ. As for myself, when I go to a web site that is poorly designed, it irritates me and I generally leave (a giveaway of a free Ferrari or a new backyard smoker might induce me to hang around for a while though). What are people seeing when they come to your church web site? Does it compellingly reflect Christ through its production values? What is your level of quality saying about the type of church you are? Are you communicating mediocrity, inward focus, lack of attention? It may be time to make a difficult re-evaluation.

My belief is that if we as a church focus on the above areas, we can use technology to its highest form. We may even set the bar for the rest of the web world. I’ll tell you that my church is working hard through the above issues right now, and we have a ways to go. It is tough, but I believe our focus on the above will make our fervent efforts well worth it, leading to many new changed lives in Christ.

Post By:

Alex Seidel


Alex Seidel develops web, video/film and branding strategies in Redmond, Wash. He reads four books at a time and enjoys being with his lovely girlfriend and her rambunctious boys.
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26 Responses to “Making the Most of Technology for Churches”

  • Shawn Wood
    September 21, 2005

    I would like to take issue a little with this post. I think that as the Creative Pastor of one of those top 100 we are extrememly aware that our website is internally focused.
    Here is what we have found…and I will use your Amazon.com anaology as well…
    People do not go to amazon.com who are not readers. For example, my mom has not read a book in over 40 years in its entirety and has not bought a book in that same amount of time. She would be a “lost” reader. She will not descide tommorrow to go to amazon to see if that experience helps her get “found”. Now what might happen is this…A friend of hers that is wired the same way as her might “invite” her to read a book said friend already owns that she bought on Amazon.com. And, wow, my mom really likes it.
    So, my mom might then ask…where did you find such a unique and great book…So she might say to my Mom, you know, I really like the experience I have at amazon.com…why dont I show you how it works…and then give her a first hand frinds-to-friend tour – maybe even buy her a book.
    Now my mom is hooked and when she goes by herself to Amazon.com it better be a good experience where she can get what she needs and not have to weed through a lot of people trying to convince her that reading is great. It needs to help her learn what she needs to know as a “new reader”.
    Our website has the same purpose as our church : To help people become fully devoted followers of Christ.
    We believe that for us – it is not an entry point – that is our weekend service and 90% – that is word of mouth invitation. But our website can be a living resource. Stay tuned to Seacoast.org for a really cool online discipleship enviroment almost a year in the making to be released soon….


  • Shawn Wood
    September 21, 2005

    BTY – I moved my blog…last link does not work – sorry…


  • Alex Seidel
    September 21, 2005

    Shawn, first off, thanks for your comments. I reviewed your post and I guess I don’t see where you take issue. In fact, I think your analogy is very in line with the thoughts I presented. To take it a step further, I feel that, because churches are so internally focused in their messaging, no one that is a non-church attender would ever come to many church sites. My contention is that this is what is wrong with church web sites (including our current site, BTW).
    Because the web is such a public face to our communities of faith, and because it is a tool so easily leveraged, I feel that the focus should be on non-churched people, at least on the top levels, with deeper levels of involvement interactively as people drill down. Otherwise, most people will not find value in the web site, might never find it, and may not be compelled to come back if they do. Thus, this extremely compelling opportunity to reach people that has been squandered. Traditionally the church has been real good at the building of disciples, but not necessarily so good at communicating the truth as relevantly to those that don’t know Christ as Christ did.
    Also, it is extremely important that the web is a support of ministry and an enhancement to it. This means that it is a tool that people can use in the process of inviting their friends since you are right, most people come because they are invited.
    But this does not mean that we should not attract tons of new people to our site that may not have a connection with anyone in our faith community. In fact, I contend that church sites should give so much value to users that they make it a daily place to visit for good resources to encourage their spirits and help their productivity.
    Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss this further. I would be more than happy collaborate on this for the kingdom.


  • Mark Howell
    September 21, 2005

    Like where you’re going with the ranking! Make sense and draws attention to a great question: can the web be used as a first experience?
    As much as Shawn wants to use the amazon analogy, not sure that’s really the right one. With all the evidence that an interest in spiritual things is a very high felt need today, a creative and relevant website, done with excellence could provide a very important glimpse from a safe distance for people who are investigating. At the same time it can be a tremendously helpful and safe opportunity to find out more for people who check out the weekend service but aren’t ready to step out of comfortable anonymity and approach the guest information kiosk.


  • Strategy Central
    September 21, 2005

    Technology and Churches

    Great post today over on Church Marketing Sucks. What place does technology have in the church? Are we taking advantage of the tool? Check it out! Makes a lot of sense and has a link to the websites of the


  • Wp
    September 21, 2005

    Well, I supose my question would be if anyone has seen any numbers or asked any “lost readers” out there if they actually have frequented church websites before?
    As a Christian, minister, and designer, I have the odd (although probably not so odd with this crowd) habit of surfing around and finding websites that I really like (for either good IA, ease of use, or general aestethetics). I expecially like to find good church sites because I myself will soon be doing the missionar church planter gig and like to see what others are doing.
    All that rambling to say this: if we – as church design folks – were really on the ball, perhaps it would make sense to design two different websites (heck even use two domains for them) to cater to these two very disparate groups? See where I’m going with this?
    Visitor site could have lots of general info, easy to read maps, welcome letters from the pastor(s) and staff folks, etc. On the other hand, Member site would have more “mundane” info such as cell group info, theology and spirituality articles, the pastor’s blog, etc.
    Granted some of the info would be on both sites – but it would be easy enough to do that via subdomains and php.
    I just think it might be a good marketing move. As a member, I don’t need to be “sold” on the church – I just need to find where this event is happening or easily locate the office fax number.
    As a potential visitor, I need to get a good feel on the church – what it’s like, what they believe, who leads it, etc.
    Aaaand… I’m rambling. I’m stopping now.


  • Alex Seidel
    September 21, 2005

    WP – I am with you. In fact, we are toying with having two versions of our web — one for skeptical inquirers (allowing them to “be” online before belonging, believing and becoming) and one for “church insiders”.
    And we are also working on two versions of a statement of faith and two versions of our mission/vision.
    All that to say that our web will reflect the truth and our culture. Everything will be inextricably linked together.


  • Jon Livingston
    September 21, 2005

    Thanks for the post Alex.
    “I feel that the focus should be on non-churched people, at least on the top levels, with deeper levels of involvement interactively as people drill down.”
    I couldn’t have said it better. It’s amazing how so many churches miss this opportunity. While developing a site (or two) to meet these different audiences is difficult we as the Church really need to start thinking outside of the box. Our goal isn’t to steal members from other churches, it’s to reach out to the vast majority of the country that doesn’t go to church.


  • Josh
    September 21, 2005

    Admittedly, I’m not much of a “reader”. Therefore, I read about half-way through Alex’s first comment to Shawn. So this may have already been brought up; but, if not, here it goes…
    Church websites are one of the most difficult to do. I say this because, not only do they have to be appealing and informative to new visitors, but they also have to “service” the church members as well. It’s a difficult task to handle this mix. I think there is a very fine line to walk, concering church websites.


  • Glenn Kelley
    September 21, 2005

    We are also playing with the option of using 2 different domains to have
    those who want to find out more about our church and why they should come to our
    church, come to Christ – as well as minister to those who already are in
    attendance. We have yet to set up the second domain – as we are shooting video
    and such for the "Visitors Site."

    Years ago our churches mission statement was "To Maintain Ongoing Worship." 
    ~ To me that is a fancy way of saying "keep things status-quo"  our
    original website reflected this mission – told visitors about the church
    history, but was far from evangelical in any sense of the term.

    Under new leadership our church changed the mission statement. "To
    Introduce Others To A Deeper Relationship With Jesus Christ
    ."  We are
    in the process of rebuilding our website using the Web Empowered Church Content
    Management System from VineHosting
    We are currently using the Beta Version – but are very very very pleased with
    the system to date.

    What is important – is that we need to remember no matter what the focus –
    the online church cannot give a hug, cannot pass a warm smile.  Churches
    like Ginghamsburg and
    Church of the Resurrection  are using the
    web to help connect people together, no its not the hug, the handshake ~ but
    they are moving towards the goal to connect people together with the church.

    I believe that a website for a church should offer both missions – Maintain
    Ongoing (but Growing) Worship, as well as to Introduce others to a deeper
    relationship with Jesus Christ.   One is focused internally and one
    externally. I believe both of your points of view are important.  The
    website needs to speak to the masses – to become the one of the tools to witness as well as a road sign to “market” the church. 
    However, once the people are coming to the church it is equally important to
    harness the power of the Internet as one of the tools a church uses to make disciples.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on where the website for our church (now
    only 4 weeks into production) is ~ and where this ministry can go please
    preview:

    http://www.njfaith.com and send me your thoughts in
    email.

    Thank you .


  • Shawn Wood
    September 22, 2005

    Mark Said “a creative and relevant website, done with excellence could provide a very important glimpse from a safe distance for people who are investigating.”
    Let me make sure and say we believe that everything we do at Seacoast should be creative (thus my title) relevant and ‘done good enough’. (we actually think excellence is sometimes counterproductive –i.e. Microsoft crushed IBM by being good enough and better not in a constant ‘search for excellence’ but that’s another post on another day…)
    But what we have found is although as a web-evangelist I would love to write books and blog posts on how people find our church on the web – it just is not the case for us…we have just found that the web is a hub of communication -thus our use of blogs for departmental and leader communication – mostly for our existing people.
    Now on that same note – we still plan for the “stumble across” factor amd design a front end friendly to seekers web page…I think you will see that at http://www.seacoastchurch.org, but I would love your feedback!


  • Mark Howell
    September 22, 2005

    Here’s the thing: while at Fellowship of The Woodlands we regularly used a show of hands to find out how people attending our CLASS 101 (membership class) how they had heard about FOTW. Out of every hundred it was consistently this way: 2 got our direct mail,2 saw our cable ad, and 96 were invited by a friend. Does that make direct mail and other advertising irrelevant? No. It increases the name recognition and makes them more likely to attend. What can the web do? It can give them more info before and after their first visit. Could it deter them from coming…say if was too oriented to the already convinced? Or, what if it was too hard to navigate or used language that you needed a lexicon to understand? What if the front end focus was on things that really don’t matter to a new person? Could it prevent them from trying it out? I think so. What do you think?
    The web can be a safe way to check out “what I’m hearing from my neighbor…before I come for the first time.” All I’m saying.
    mark


  • Dawn Nicole Baldwin
    September 22, 2005

    There’s some great thoughts circling here, and I’d like to share a perspective that hopefully adds some value.
    Website design for ministries is one of the core capabilities we offer & I’ve run into many of the same questions you guys are raising. Here’s what I’ve learned:
    More often than not, your website is the first place people go when wanting to learn more about a church. This applies to both believers as well as potential “guests.” People are wanting to get a feel for what the church is like–the culture, characteristics, values–in addition to the basics such as when & where the services are. Often times they’re asking themselves, “Is this a place I’d be comfortable and could fit in?”
    For people who don’t typically attend church, stepping foot on campus can be pretty intimidating the first time. Ensuring the website is an accurate reflection of your church is critical so people know what to expect.
    I think the question of whether to have two separate sites or not is an interesting one. If the goal is to reach people and introduce them to Christ, my view would be to keep everything in the same place. Create an experience that meets people where they’re at, compels them to want to learn more, and is truly an accurate reflection of your church. This also ensures new visitors know what to expect, avoids the risk of a “bait and switch” and minimizes segregation of guests and believers, although I’m sure there’s ways to manage around those things.
    My experience has been that believers primarily use the website as an information source more than a tool to go deeper in their faith. So creating a site primarily designed to meet the needs of people wanting to learn more about the church doesn’t distract believers from getting the information they need, or talk over the heads of someone new.
    And I agree with Mark, this is just one of many “touch points” people interact with. But understanding the goals of the church and the intended role of the website will help guide the content and structure. So having a plan in place before jumping into the creative process will help things to go a bit smoother.
    Look forward to hearing the thoughts of others


  • Frank Johnson
    September 22, 2005

    Great conversation!
    I would suggest that the reason we don’t get a lot of people telling us that they first heard about us through our church websites is that the vast majority of church websites today don’t have anything on them that would interest an unbeliever.
    When talking about church websites, I often tell pastors that the average unbeliever doesn’t care about our service times because they don’t plan on attending our services. They don’t care about our staff biographies because they can’t foresee a time when they would have much interest in meeting anyone on our staff. Etc., etc.
    I advocate using church websites to profile believers within a congregation, highlighting their life interests and experiences (more than their religious testimonies, although I want profiles to include references to how their faith integrates with their life interests and experiences). These profiles (which would include life summaries, interview transcripts, hopefully video clips, favorite web resources, etc., along with tell-a-friend functionality) would become bridges through which unbelievers are introduced to believers around common life experiences and interests. Through this, our church websites become a tool to introduce unbelievers to authentic Christian community (which I see as foundational to all effective outreach – cf. John 17:21-23). In today’s world when more and more people are relying on the web for information, I think there is a vast opportunity to use the web strategically to make these types of connections, if only the church will take advantage of it.
    I have more information on the concept here on my website, if anyone’s interested.


  • Strategic Digital Outreach
    September 22, 2005

    New Guest Columnist At Church Marketing Sucks

    Church Marketing Sucks has a new guest columnist, Alex Seidel, the Director of Communications for Timberlake Christian Fellowship in Redmond, Washington. Alex's first article, Making The Most Of Technology For Churches is a fantastic start. Wha…


  • kevin
    September 22, 2005

    I think part of the issue is the difficulty with web sites that you often don’t know who is coming to your site, where they came from and why they came.
    It seems like Seth Godin’s recent free eBook, Knock Knock has an interesting perspective on this. Godin encourages making a very singular web page focused on exactly what people are looking for. He doesn’t really reconcile that with a homepage, but it makes a lot of sense, especially if you’re doing search engine advertising or any promotions especially for visitors.
    You could direct people to a section of your site specifically targeted to visitors, and that’s where Godin’s advice could be helpful.


  • LB
    September 22, 2005

    Two sites or one?
    Not being a web designer, I’m not sure of the correct terminology to use. I view it as a “taxonomy” issue since you have one entity with multiple “facets” depending on the user’s relationship and/or interest.
    So one home page would make sense to me, but from that single page you have easy-to-identify categories to allow users to branch off to their particular area of relationship/interest.
    Having two different “sites” (I’m not sure what that means technically) would seem to me to: 1) create unnecessary complexity for the developer (the simple issue of maintaining two; maintaining or ‘enforcing’ the stylistic and “voice” distinctions of each for every posting, event, etc.; practical user issues – would each user be informed they are on “site A” or “site B” and the differences are between the two?),
    and 2) create a source of potential confusion for users (“I looked at the website of the church you mentioned, but I didn’t see what you told me about.”). Most of us have stumbled into website areas of an organization that weren’t intended for the general public; it can be humorous, or embarassing, or enlightening, or…
    So, as a user, I prefer one entry point, with clear directions on branches available based on relationship/interest. This includes having the ability on virtually each page to “jump” to whatever other point the user needs, such as through an unfolding side menu, for example.
    Since I’m not a designer, I don’t have to worry about it, but I do have to live with what you give me. :)


  • Anna
    September 22, 2005

    I am one of the 1% or less who would look at your website first, by looking in the newspaper or yellow pages to find churches nearby and then googling them to decide which ones to visit first. You might get visited anyway if I run out of others without finding a good fit, but a good website may get you visited first or second (even if I don’t agree with you on every little issue of doctrine or belief) just to see what you are about. If I feel comfortable once I get there, I might be tempted to stay around and not visit so many others. So to me a website is an important part of getting me in the door.
    I have found my last 2 churches by using the web. I have moved twice in the last 5 years and now am looking for a church in my new area using the web. I like sites that tell when the services are, what to expect at services, logistics of getting there, the beliefs of the church, any outreach or mission projects, and probably opinions on hot-button issues such as homosexuality or abortion or interfaith cooperation, even if the church says that there is no official position on these issues and they allow freedom of thought in non-essentials. These are what tell me what I need to know. Pictures of members having a good time together (not models or clip art) make me feel like I could fit in that picture.
    Now I am at seminary and am getting more info by word of mouth, but every one I had screened by internet, I still plan to visit in the next month or two, just to see what they’re doing. As a student of different worship styles if nothing else. But the first one I picked out to visit, that no human ever told me about, is the one we keep having to fight to stay away from as we do “research” at these other churches. If I wasn’t a seminarian, I would have started the membership process almost immediately, but professors keep telling me to visit, visit, since I’ll never be new to the big city without a church ever again.
    Hope that helps.


  • Mike Batley
    September 27, 2005

    It’s funny when things on a blog converge and people don’t even notice…but we have taken the word “technology” and decided in the the flow of the blog that it only meant “web.” Then we talk about how the web must be positioned more for seekers but on the website for the blog a poll showed the vast, vast majority of seekers come to church because of the invitation of someone at that church! The web only had a miniscule role to play. I think we need to major on the majors. Let’s encourage, train, mentor, disciple our folks to fall in love with Jesus and then the invitations will happen organically–and guess what? They’ll be far more effective!
    On to the real technology issue…two critical things in churches drive work. But they are just tools. Sexy, sexy tools but they drive work: Money and Technolgy.
    If your church is going in a poor direction then money and tech is just going to drive it there faster. Mission, vision, and values must be agreed upon aligned and be supported by proper strategy and tactics–THEN apply money and tech. Usually you then see significant accerleration.
    Finally, in church, tech does not just equal web. We need to look at the whole organization and ask where tech can help us work smarter not harder. Or at least help free us up from “busy work” of admin, operations, and mundane HR issues so most of our focus and energies can be on people. The “real” work of the church is with people.
    Operational processes mapping, cost control technology, Activity Based Budgeting (where you measure your budgeting on the activity of your church not just on programs) are all technology that will help you see where limited valuable resources are being expended and you can actually measure that expenditure off of stated goals, values and mission to see if you are making progress.
    At my organization (www.cmat.org) we help npo’s align around “SMART”
    How would your church do?
    S=Strategy
    M=Management
    A=Analytics
    R=Reporting
    T=Technology
    Is your church “SMART?” Is technology being used and leveraged to support all those areas in a balanced way? Is is bigger than the web and word and excel?


  • Peter Edman
    September 27, 2005

    I generally like this site, and I am the webmaster at my church and so am certainly on board with technology (just got a new couple in the doors via the website). However, I want to take strong exception to your comment that technology is “simply” a tool. It is NOT JUST a tool. Read Neil Postman’s Technopoly (available via Amazon, appropriately enough). Technology changes the whole conversation and environment of church. For a church-based view, see Jacques Ellul, The Technological Bluff (Eerdmans). Christians must be aware of the assumptions that technology brings along with it. No, we cannot avoid it. But we can perhaps use it more mindfully.


  • Alex Seidel
    September 27, 2005

    In response to Mike Batley, it is key to remember that I maintain that the web should enhance and support ministry, and thus drive invitation. But it is key. We are getting 4-6 new families per week that heard about us through the web and nothing else. Invitation?? The web did the inviting. And others can use it as they invite as well.
    While tech may not entirely equate the web, it is sure increasingly being driven by the web. Within a year, we will have implemented CRM (for member and vistor relationship management)and Electronic Content Management (to easily facilitate the ministry of our web site). And we are already using web-based resource management. Hmmm, that means that about 80% of our back office will be web-based. Our Total Cost of Ownership will decrease, and we’ll have important data that did not exist before to make decisions by (all without custom programming). Additionally, we’ll be using our typical PC’s, a network, QuickBooks, and MS Office. The machinery and Office apps are moot anymore.
    I think it is important to realize that the web is quickly taking over where boxed software and huge internal IT resources left off. Witness Google, they are slowly co-opting the desktop with web apps. I am sure business apps are not too far around the corner.


  • Alex Seidel
    September 27, 2005

    Technology as a Tool
    Tech is a tool, and then some. Peter above had a good point. The printing press is a technology that changed the face of the church, as well as the world. But we still use books as just one tool to communicate. The web and networked culture are still shaking out. The question is: Will the church drive its use to impart redemptive change in the world? Or will we let it sit idly by while other less postive, nay even evil, forces use it.


  • Mike Batley
    September 28, 2005

    Alex, (and Peter )
    You guys make excellent points (and yes I’ve read Postman’s Technopoly) but the key is the technology being applied in order to free up and inhance human-to-human contact? My larger point is that we desire tech to take the place of the hard, dirty, scary work of interacting with sinful people. (Which, as you know, when it works and community breaks out is heavenly…)To often churches pursue technology and then scratch their heads when it creates no significant momentum (much less movement).
    And Alex… good to hear you are leveraging the web to accomplish all those critical tasks. By far you are ahead of the curve. My comment was much more to the blog at that point being that tech=the public “outreach” face of the web. A very small part of what is possible.
    Mike


  • Alex Seidel
    September 28, 2005

    Mike – Your points are well taken. Face to face interaction is where the messy work of redemption takes place. Technology can never entirely supplant the human connection in our partnership with God in changing hearts. My goal? Use what God has blessed us with through the ingenuity he has endowed us with to reach every heart wherever possible. If we remain strategic in this (using everything within the context of the whole), I am more than certain that we have tremendous leavening impact in the world.


  • mattesonweb
    October 9, 2005

    If you’re looking for something to help your church internally and externally on the web, look to Church Community Builder (CCB for short)(http://www.churchcommunitybuilder.com).
    Our church (7,500 TWA) found this solution better than the other high-cost FellowshipOne. First, CCB will do everything F1 can, but it is made for church community not just church administration. It’s made so you can get content on your website fast and keep it accurate (it has a built in content management system as web site builder. and no, you don’t have to use their templates – you can make your own).
    check it out. I’d be happy to talk to anyone about it! There are MANY other reasons we chose CCB as our main CMS (vs. F1)….
    -j


  • My Mind to your Monitor
    November 28, 2005

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    As I enter this world of blogging I thought today would be a great to begin. I want to start by giving thanks to all of you who I have learned so much from and one day I hope to be a help to others as you have been to me. I have listed some of my favor…



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