Your church website could be a digital Swiss army knife

If your church web site contains only pages of text and pictures, that's a good. Assuming the information is current and relevant to your audience, of course. But why stop there? It can offer so much more, to members and potential visitors alike. Options vary depending on which platform your church web site uses.

I am most familiar with a platform called Joomla. Joomla inherently offers several useful features right out of the box ... For starters, it's free. Out of the box, it offers the ability to schedule web pages to be published (appear on the site) and be un-published at dates and times in the future, and the ability to create a "members only" area of your site.

It also is designed so that third parties can easily add all sorts of optional specialized features, called "extensions". Many can greatly enhance the usefulness of your web site. Here's a brief discussion of just a few. I am not endorsing any of them; I only hope to spur your imagination to what your church web site could be.

Put your sermon audio or video on line. Easily organize your sermons, speakers and series, with the ability to podcast built right in. There is a free extension that makes it simple to create robust speaker profiles and series descriptions, and link them to individual sermons. Each sermon can have a description, referenced Bible verses, and downloadable versions of handouts.

Make it possible to downloadable files. Make forms, posters, budgets, brochures, reports and more available for download. One extension lets you categorize your documents, track how many times each has been downloaded, and offer links to individual documents or categories of documents on any web page.

Offer online registration for events and classes. There are extensions that support custom online registration forms for youth rallies, seminars, fundraising dinners, Sunday school classes, and so on. Some can handle online payments for events that aren't free.

Display pictures of events in an online gallery. Pictures draw your members to the site, and can serve potential visitors to show what your congregation is involved in.

Let visitors see your social media posts in your web site. You're posting in Facebook and Twitter or one of the other social media platforms? Pull your posts right into your web site. Some Joomla extensions will show the feeds separately, and some let you combine them into a single feed.

Add a password-protected area for members. Joomla comes with the ability to create a password-protected area for members. Any of the features I've mentioned above can be publicly-accessible or in this private area. Candidates for the private area could include budget or other financial reports, planning reports, member directories and detailed prayer lists.

The first church web site that I applied these things to had a couple of results worth noting. First, this church was one of the very first to podcast its sermons. A couple of weeks after we launched this feature, the church office got a call from a National Public Radio reporter. This led to a story about that church's podcasting efforts on NPR's 'All Things Considered'.

Second, this church was near Washington Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia. One day, the church office got a call from a man who was there for a layover during an international flight. He found the church's web site and contacted it because he wanted to be baptized by immersion. He came to the church building, was baptized, then returned to Dulles and continued his trip. Had it not been clear on the web site that this church did that, he likely would never have called.

So make your church's web site a digital Swiss army knife and you never know what interesting story your church could tell.