What Church Websites Communicate about Worship
In RW 129 I began a response to the following question:
Our church is redesigning its website and asked for our worship team’s help with including materials related to worship. What advice does RW have?
The first part of my answer dealt with understanding your context when expressing hospitality, paying attention to universal design, and suggesting ideas for communicating worship’s deep meaning and purpose. In this second part I will address online giving and the identification of church leaders.
Most churches have a section on their websites for online giving. Some are purely functional, making it easy for members to give. Only a few use this section of their site to briefly outline their key convictions about money—a rare opportunity to frame your community’s values and address unspoken concerns or anxiety that many people have about churches and money. Try writing pithy sentences that convey your vision:
“We embrace financial accountability, and we love the challenge of prayerfully discerning the very best ways our financial resources can bless the world God loves.”
“Giving is life-giving. Through generosity, we learn the joy of being freed from self-centeredness.”
“Our offering in worship is a beautiful symbol of the different ways we give. Giving here online echoes what we do in worship just like our prayers all week long echo Sunday’s songs.”
What other values about money, stewardship, and generosity would you want your community (including your children) to know about?
Most church sites have information about the congregation’s leaders. Some sites communicate, “We are a pastor-centered church.” Others make it almost impossible to learn anything about individual church leaders. Look for models of a middle way—sites eager to convey the multiple voices and roles in a congregation without hiding information about key church leaders.
Some traditions emphasize their leaders’ training or credentials; others emphasize their accessibility or personality. Either can be done well, and cultural context matters a lot in discerning what is best. But here too, an eagerness to communicate accessibility can undermine a congregation’s mission. Some leaders’ biographical statements unwittingly convey messages like these: “Pastor X is hip and fun. She promises to stay at a superficial level in every conversation with you,” or, “Pastor Y went to school for years and is likely to be nearly incomprehensible.” Asking for feedback from a few trustworthy voices can help you avoid these missteps.
One promising strategy is for leaders to convey their deep convictions and hopes about worship: “As a musical leader, I hope that every week worshipers will not just listen to our songs, but pray deeply through them,” or, “As a pastor, I pray that every worshiper will discover how much God loves each of us and be stretched to grow spiritually.” Try the language of testimony instead of mere description.
In might seem a bit overwhelming to rethink everything about your site at once. But consider reviewing one section of your website per month. Even better than a one-time redesign is a realistic, sustainable practice of ongoing revisions and a commitment to always be ready to adapt, learn, and grow—not only as we learn about technical ways to improve sites, but also as we refine pastoral wisdom for shaping vital worshiping communities.
Preparation Drill: Writing Sample Sentences
- Here are sample sentences from a recent class discussion about websites—sentences my students either have seen or would like to see. Try gathering a small group to edit these to fit your context. It’s a challenging exercise to write key information warmly and succinctly. Think of this as a drill (like a sports practice) or a scale (like a music rehearsal). I’d encourage you to try this even before you work with a web designer. In the end, perhaps only a few examples will make it on to your site. Even so, the exercise will help clarify your values and purpose.
- “Every week we are intentional about praying for a need or opportunity in our community beyond the walls and ministries of our church.”
- “Every week we have an offering of financial gifts as an act of worship. This makes possible our ministry. We also make a commitment to devote at least 20 percent of these funds to support other organizations and ministries in our community.”
- “Our pastors devote significant time each week to preparing sermons that connect the Bible’s good news with our lives in the world. They welcome feedback and conversation about these sermons—including questions from children and first-time visitors, and including hard questions.”
- “We regularly gather for the celebration of what Christians call the Lord’s Supper, a powerfully symbolic act of eating a small piece of bread and drinking a sip of juice or wine as a way to remember Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and to look forward to feasting with Jesus in the new heaven and new earth. We often hear grateful reflections from those experiencing grief, trauma, and loneliness about the deep meaning of this action.”
- “Music is important to us. We love to sing together, and we’re on the lookout for the kinds of songs that never grow tired or old.”
- “One of the things we are learning about and working on in our church this year is ____.” (This communicates that you don’t have it all together, and that you are intentional about learning.)
- “We have needs as a community—for people to join us in ministry who have a desire to reduce homelessness in our community” (or another ministry goal).
Looking for additional ways to improve your church communications? Check out the ad for Church Juice on the bottom of p. 49.