How committed are churches regarding their web site?

\What commitment has your church’s leadership made to its web presence? Has it been limited to “hey, we need a web site (or a Facebook page, or a Twitter feed)”? If you attend church, when is the last time you visited its web site? Did you find anything useful on it? Is it clear what it is trying to accomplish?

Many years ago, IBM had a great TV spot promoting their consulting expertise. In the ad, two men are sitting in front of a computer screen. A techie was showing off how the company web site could have a flaming logo. The manager beside him said it would be great if the web site could support business activities. The techie said, “I don’t know how to do that”.

Back then, most businesses appeared to have a “flaming logo” approach to their web site strategies … the important thing was to have a web site. Less clear was the actual purpose. Business has come a long way since then, but I’m not so sure we can say the same thing about churches.

Last week I reviewed an online directory of Tennessee churches of a particular faith. I chose it because Tennessee is in the heart of the Bible Belt, so there would be no shortage of congregations to review. While this is not scientific, I thought it would still be illustrative.

I acknowledge that participation in this directory is clearly voluntary, and each congregation is responsible for maintaining its own information. This means that this directory may not include every congregation and the information listed may not be current. Even so, when you search the web for this faith and even specific congregations, this directory appears on page one of the results, making it a prominent resource for those interested in finding these churches.

This directory shows 395 churches of this faith; 154 include web addresses. So out of the gate, fewer than half of the listed churches have a web site. Of those, 39% (60) had URLs that no longer worked, now pointed to a squatter’s page, or were on services that no longer existed (Prodigy and Geocities anyone?). A few of those churches let the ownership of their respective domains lapse and now other organizations use them. One is now curiously, a Japanese-language page that (according to Google Translate) discusses how to transport a refrigerator.

For now, I am only looking at the timeliness of the content on these sites; hit counters on the home page and the like are for another day. Among those with working URLs and content that had dates associated with it, such as events and audio files/podcasts of sermons:

  • Eighteen have calendars or events pages, but have clearly abandoned them. The site with the oldest most recent calendar entries had events no later than 2009. Several events pages were blank.
  • The site with the oldest “current” bulletin had one dated 2002
  • The site with the oldest “current” sermon had one dated 2007

It’s not surprising that the better web sites belong to larger churches, which likely have staff charged with keeping things up-to-date. But with free content-management platforms such as Joomla, Drupal and Wordpress, along with affordable templates, free or inexpensive extensions, and downright cheap, reliable web hosting, a church would be hard-pressed to make a convincing argument that it cannot afford a web site. Beyond that, all the social media channels are free.

I imagine that many churches rely on member-volunteers to manage the site. My experience has shown that while the intentions of those member-volunteers are the best, the commitment rarely lasts long and any dated content quickly becomes stale.

At the same time, I think that most church leaders don’t realize what being engaged online can do for their congregations. I can understand why they may not commit time and effort to things digital because, as with every organization, you have to prioritize your always-limited resources. Further, they don’t know how to clearly define their purpose for being online, which is evident when you look at these sites (and their social media) and ask, “What are they trying to accomplish?”

For those of you who attend a church, does it have a "flaming logo" approach to its web site (and social media)? How would you assess your congregation’s commitment to its web/social strategy and how could it be improved?