Read the series.
The “sharp axe” proverb in Ecclesiastes 10:10 highlights the importance of keeping our technology “honed” or “up-to-date.” Not only is an iron or steel axe head preferable to a stone axe head, but the edge of the axe must also be sharp if we want to increase our productivity and success. Just as the woodsman should keep his axe sharp in order to increase his productivity, so we who are engaged in church ministry should keep our technology in good working order and, as much as possible, current and up-to-date. Of course, we shouldn’t assume that the latest technology is always the best technology. We may need to wait until a new technology is “tested” before making the investment. Moreover, having “cutting edge” technology may not be absolutely necessary or feasible for every church.
But I fear that some of us are trying to do church ministry with a “stone axe,” metaphorically speaking. Our technology is either dated, or we’re not keeping it sharp. As a result, our church’s ministry is not as efficient and productive as it could be. Of course, we can still do church ministry with older and less efficient technologies just like a woodman can bring down a tree with a sledge hammer if he hits it long enough. But why should we pray God overrule our lack of applied wisdom? Why not make use of the best and most efficient technologies that are consistent with our ministry objectives and within our budgetary grasp?
With these thoughts in view, I’d like to suggest some modern technologies that may serve and facilitate our church ministry. My suggestions will focus primarily on mediums of gospel communication since that’s what church ministry is primarily about. Some of you may already use these technologies. My encouragement will focus primarily on keeping the “tool” sharpened and up-to-date. My plan is to look at various modern technologies under four categories of the church ministry. As we’ll see, there will be overlap as some technologies can be used in each of these areas. The examples I give are by no means exhaustive.1 Some of you may be aware of technologies I don’t address below. Moreover, I offer these examples as suggested technologies you may want to consider using. My purpose is not to imply that you must employ all these technologies for church ministry.
Technologies for Outreach
Here I’m thinking about reaching out to your community and beyond with two objectives: a more immediate objective and a more ultimate objective. The immediate objective is to introduce yourself—who are you, what do you believe, and what do you do. More specifically, I’m speaking of advertising your church’s identity, beliefs, values, and mission. The more ultimate objective is to introduce people to Jesus Christ and the gospel. What are some technologies to help your church accomplish those objectives.
1. A Good Website
In past decades, churches made the community aware of their presence primary through the Yellow Pages of a phone book and by means of a church sign that was visible. The ad in the Yellow pages usually conveys basic information like the church’s name, contact information, and service times. The church sign could be simple or more elaborate in design. In addition to the church’s name and other basic information, it might also include the church’s branding (i.e., logo and/or motto) and sometimes a concise, catchy, and/or corny (!) message. The phone book and church signs are still technologies used by churches today. But with the advent of the Internet, the former is quickly become passé and the latter is becoming less significant.
The Internet is increasingly becoming the place where people will often first encounter your church ministry. Indeed, as Mike Atkinson remarks, “If you’re not on the Web, you don’t exist.”2 And unless people already know something about your church, they’re usually looking for more information that what the Yellow Pages or a church sign can provide. What they’re looking for is a church website. Pastor Kevin DeYoung underscores this point:
I have never been one to encourage churches to chase the latest trends…. But increasingly, if your church does not have a decent website you’re uninviting a lot of people who might otherwise have plodded, persevered, and sat under good preaching with you. I am out of town on sabbatical for most of this summer. That means I’ll be a church visitor again. And like most people under the age of 40 (or is it under 70?) when I check out churches I do most of my checking online. More often than not, when I meet a visitor at our church, they’ve already been to our website. Having a decent website is not about being hip or pursuing relevance. It’s about being welcoming and hospitable. Your website is the front door of your church for many, many people.3
It’s important to note that DeYoung isn’t just urging churches to get a website. The title of his article is “Be Welcoming, Get a Good Website” (emphasis added). Most churches understand the value of a website, but what many fail to appreciate is the importance of a good website.
What constitutes a good website? From what I’ve gleaned in researching that question, the marks of a good website can be classified under content, functionality, and appearance.
With respect to “content,” the website should obviously include the church’s name, location, service times, and contact info. But just as important, if not more so, are the church’s core beliefs, values, and mission. Moreover, the church should include information pertinent to first time visitors: childcare and/or youth ministries, leadership and staff, sample audio sermons, the church’s style of worship, and so on.
Also, remember that a “picture is worth a thousand words.” So include quality photos that depict different aspect of church ministry and life. You need important written content, as noted above. However, keep the written content concise. Furthermore, make sure that pictures and the written content communicate authentic information. In other words, avoid using “stock photos” except for special graphics or for conveying generic concepts.4 Most of the photos on your website should communicate who you are, not who you used to be or what you hope to be.
“Functionality” largely pertains to the website’s architecture and structure. A website with good functionality is one that’s easy to navigate. As one website designer observes, “Good church websites make it easy to find that information quickly in a way that makes sense.”5 This usually entails a menu bar at the top (or left side) of the website with drop down windows and simple labels such as “About Us,” “Church Life,” “Events,” “Media,” “Directions,” “Contact Us,” etc. It may be especially useful for visitors to include some obvious button or link entitled “New Here?” And make sure your links, buttons, and fonts are sufficiently large and obvious. In the words of another website designer, “They should be staring people in the face everywhere they navigate on the site.”6
Finally, the website must have an aesthetically pleasing appearance. Quoting again from a reputable church website designer,
The church bears a responsibility to create beautiful things all for the glory of God. If the website is the first interaction someone has with your church, make sure it’s a positive interaction. At the same time, the design of a church’s website won’t be engaging if it doesn’t communicate effectively. Users want information, not flash. Good and engaging design doesn’t distract from the user’s goal.7
Here are a few things to keep in mind with respect to aesthetics. First, make sure your design is up-to-date and current. If your website was created more than five years ago, it’s probably time to update the design. Most people below the age of 40 can date sites and if your site’s dated, they’ll take note. Second, choosing the right color combinations for the basic theme of your site is important.8 Third, remember your home page is usually the first and most important page people will see. In addition to the menu bar, you’ll want to include your church’s branding (i.e., logo and motto). Moreover, a “featured slider” with rotating banners can serve not only as a helpful navigation tool but also as an attractive eye-catching feature of your home page—provided that the graphics of the banners are well done!9 Moreover, avoid too much clutter. More graphics and less words are preferable for the home page. Yet too many graphics aren’t good either. On the one hand, you don’t want your site to appear overly bland and barren.10 On the other hand, you want to avoid a look that’s too gaudy or flashy.
Your best course of action is to look for a skilled website and graphics designer. Sometimes, a person may be good at both. If not, you may need more than one person to bring the skill sets together. Professionally designed church websites will cost a few thousand dollars. Personally, I think a good website is worth the investment. Most churches hire professionals to build their church sign. Today your website is as important if not more. But if you don’t have lots of money to spend, you can utilize a church website template like those designed for WordPress.11 You’ll still need a good graphics designer and someone with a little IT (“Information Technology”) experience who can upload content and manage the site. I recommend that you try to stay within the skill sets God’s given to your church or that you can afford to procure from outside the church. A simple and unsophisticated website that’s simple and attractive is better than a more complex and overly “sophisticated” website that’s poorly designed. In some cases, it may be better to hold off on a website until God provides the human and financial resources. No website is better than a really bad website that may reflect negatively on your ministry.
1 Won’t discuss technologies for the pastor and his study such as Bible software, productivity software, e-books and e-readers, and so on. Dr. Mark Ward Jr. discusses these in his lecture “Technology Giveth,” which he gave in January 2012 for our pastoral theology course (PT 610). Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears devote an entire chapter to the topic of technology and church ministry in Vintage Church: Timeless Truth and Timely Methods (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 267-85. The reader should keep in mind that they’re suggesting technologies that they’ve found helpful in their context but that may not be helpful (or wise) in every ministry context. In addition to the resources above, the reader may find some helpful, though in some cases dated, advice in Quentin Schultz’s High Tech Worship? (2004) and John P. Jewell’s Wired Ministry (2004). Len Wilson’s The Wired Church 2.0 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008) addresses many practical issues related to using technologies for church ministry. Finally, one may find useful articles on technologies for church ministry on the Internet. For example, see the following resources (as of January 2013): Church Tech Today: Technology for Today’s Church; Technologies for Worship Magazine (online); ChurchMediaDesign.tv; ChurchMarketingSucks.com; Churchm.ag; Church Production Magazine (online); 4 Myths Abound Using Technology in Church; The Evolution of Technology in the Church.
2 Kinson goes on to write, “With such a wealth of accessible information on the Web, it’s easy for people to limit their research to just an Internet search. Add to that the fact that younger families are much less likely to use yellow pages or newspaper ads, and pretty quickly you understand that not having a website makes you invisible to most people under age 40. When trying to communicate with young families, not having a website is similar to not having a sign on your building – how will they know you exist?” “Reach Young Adults on the Web”; accessed January 12, 2013 on the Internet: http://www.uneeknet.com/services/tips/articles/youngAdults.php. Atkinson’s article primarily assesses the usefulness of a website in attracting younger generations. However, even people in their 50s and 60s are becoming more accustomed to using the Internet to find out basic information.
3 “Be Welcoming, Get a Good Website”; accessed January 10, 2013 on the Internet: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/06/10/be-welcoming…. In the same vein, Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears write, “Your church must have a good Web site where people who hear about you through the media or word of mouth or are directed through a search engine can find out who you are and what you believe and get a taste of your teaching and music. They will feel encouraged to visit in person after walking through the digital front door.” Vintage Church, 277.
4 Many stock photos of church buildings, worship services, believers fellowshipping, etc., have been replicated and reused dozens of times on the Web. People who use the Internet frequently will often be able to tell whether or not the people in picture are professional models or whether they’re “real people.”
5 What Makes a Good Church Website?” (June 22, 2012); accessed November 2012 on the Internet: http://fatrabbitcreative.com/expert_advice/what_makes_a_good_church_website.
6 “What Are the Key Elements Found in the Best Church Websites” (May 9, 2011); accessed November 2012 on the Internet: http://www.sharefaith.com/blog/2011/05/key-elements-church-websites/.
7 “What Makes a Good Church Website?” See the link above.
8 Colors convey “moods.” See the brief articles on fatrabbit CREATIVE (website design company) that address the “psychology” of each base color. For example, read about “black and white”: http://fatrabbitcreative.com/expert_advice/how_colors_speak_black_and_wh…. You can also follow the links or search to learn about the other base colors like red, blue, green, and so on.
9 Banners are like website “billboards” that advertise current sermon series, special events, or something important about the church (like a vision or mission statement).
10 I’m not necessarily referring to “minimalist” designs which aim to reduce the features of a website to the most essential functions. Many minimalistic websites are very eye-catching and attractive. For the features of minimalistic design and some samples, see “Principles of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples” (May 13, 2010); accessed January 10, 2013 on the Internet: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/05/13/principles-of-minimalist-web-…. Of course, not all the samples on this site would serve well as church websites.
11 Our church currently uses a “church theme” designed for WordPress: http://gbctaylors.org. Some themes are free, but the better themes will cost between $50 and $100. This usually includes free updates and technical support. For other examples, see the WordPress church themes designed by ThemeForest here: http://themeforest.net/category/site-templates/nonprofit. For somewhat more sophisticated predesigned website templates, see Squarespace.com. Also, check out Thrive.am, which not only provides church website templates that are compatible with different Internet devices and platforms but also enables you to convert your website design and information into printed literature.
Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological Review, The Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.