There are many important questions to ask when designing or revamping a church website. One question that is central to the design process has to do with the intended audience. Is the site designed for those who already attend the church to gather information about stuff going on inside the church? Or, is the site designed for the guest who is looking for a church to attend who has come to gather some information anonymously before coming to the church?
A church website designed for insiders is full of information. It looks like the Yahoo search page. It is busy. It is filled with insider lingo and with items a guest really doesn’t care much about discovering. There is a list of small groups or Sunday School classes and their location. There is an announcement that the men are selling BBQ dinners or the women’s group is collecting pennies for Guatemala.
A church website designed for the guest is simple in design. It is minimalistic. It looks more like the Google search page instead of the Yahoo search page. It has large conspicuous buttons that say something like “New Here?” or, “Guest” or some other indication that lets someone know if they click here then they will learn more such as where to park, how to dress, what the worship is like, etc.
Even still, some websites are designed as both/and. They are for both the guest and the member. These websites might have multiple buttons. Maybe an “I’m New Here” and an “Already Attend” button on the homepage. This is the hardest of the websites to create and maintain because it is like blended worship, you have just enough of the “other” to make people mad.
In the end, my choice has always fallen on the side of leaning toward designing a website with the guest in mind. I think it is OK to have some church happenings listed as it shows what the church is involved in and shows the church is active and vibrant. Again, it is a matter of balance with the balance leaning toward those whom Jesus loves that are not there yet. Committed followers of Jesus can find information elsewhere and be inconvenienced and make the sacrifice. After all, it is the least a follower of Jesus can sacrifice when they consider the cost of the cross.
How is your church website designed- for the guest, for the member or for both?
As a senior Political Science major at Randolph-Macon College, Dr. Brian Turner taught me and my fellow classmates the importance of sample size when looking at polls. This is a lesson that has traveled with me throughout my ministry that I have applied time and time again.
Anyone who has served in a local church setting knows that from time to time you will have someone come up to you and say something like “I heard Mary Lou saying that she doesn’t like that we have a screen in worship. Maybe we should revisit the issue.” Or, perhaps in the midst of a Church Council meeting one or more members report that there are some in the Fellowshippers Sunday School class that are “upset we don’t name joys and concerns aloud as part of our worship time anymore.”
When faced with such statements I always practiced and encouraged the church to practice taking a step back and asking three critical questions.
- Is this one or even a couple of people voicing their opinion? Sample size matters as I learned in my Poli Sci class. One or two or even three loud voices do not make a majority. The danger for many churches is that we often have a knee jerk reaction to such voices and think we must revisit a decision or position because of one or two voices. We must stop giving into the tyranny of the few.
- Is there any truth in what they are saying? We know that God spoke in many different ways in the Bible, including through a donkey, so maybe God is trying to say something to us here. (BTW- the fact that God spoke through a donkey gives me great confidence as a preacher!) We must discern whether the one or the few voices we are hearing speak for a silent majority or whether they are just unhappy outliers. Here we might ask other trusted leaders what they are hearing.
- Am I/ we being humble yet protecting the vision God has given to us as a church? Even if it is one or a few voices, persons should be heard and thanked. It is always important to be gracious but this does not mean sacrificing the vision God has given to the church. In fact, there may even be times when there are more than one or a few voices yet what is being voiced is against the vision God has given to the church. In these times, the voices must be heard, acknowledged and responded to, but in the end after prayerful thought and consideration the church must stay the course under your pastoral leadership. In the end, the church is not a democracy. It is a monarchy with one king- the Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t vote on vision.
I made a decision pretty early on in ministry to deal with the one and the few in a gracious way while reminding myself and others that sample size matters.
Here in Virginia we get snow from time to time. For example, this past week depending on where you were in the state you got from 1″ to 4″ or more. Anytime there is a significant snow or any weather event for that matter it is a great opportunity to show genuine love and care for those in the church, especially the elderly.
In my first full time appointment as a fresh seminary grad, every time it snowed I would call the older persons in the church to check on them. Because we were a small church this amounted to about ten calls which took 45 minutes to an hour. I would simply call and say “I just wanted to check in with you to see how you made out in the snow?” I then might have a brief conversation with them ensuring they had all they need such as medicines or food and that they had electricity. These persons I would call loved that their pastor checked in on them.
The primary and most important reason to make such calls is because you genuinely love and care for your people. But do you know by these and other loving actions toward those in your congregation you will win friends and supporters. I always say that if you love people well they will look past a lot of other things we do not do so well (preaching, leading a study, or providing vision for the church).
When I left that small church, some of those people I had called mentioned while we celebrated our ministry together how much these simple three minute phone calls meant to them. In our day of “hi tech” ministry we can never forget the importance of “hi touch” ministry. So, if you are in a small or medium sized church consider calling your folks after the next storm. They will be glad you did.
“It’s not about numbers,” some well meaning soul will say when talking about how to measure church health. Persons who usually say this are persons who lead declining churches. Their churches may or may not be declining because of their leadership but for some reason they are declining and they are feeling insecure and so they blurt out “It’s not about the numbers!”
As we look throughout the scripture though it does seem the biblical writers had some interest “in the numbers.” After all, we have a whole book in the Old Testament called “Numbers!” We also see specific numbers being mentioned whether it is 12 or 72 disciples or 500 who witnessed the resurrection or the persons who were added to the believers in the Book of Acts. Counting is biblical.
It has correctly been pointed out by “numbers” defenders that numbers are just numbers but they can represent lives, spiritual growth, baptisms, healthy giving habits and more.
And yet, there is such a backlash against numberology these days. Admittedly, some have gone to extremes and have become infatuated with just the numbers. Of course a church’s health cannot be measured by numbers alone. As a sign of our infatuation with numbers spend some time at any meeting of clergy be it a monthly clergy meeting or conference and you will usually hear after a few pleasantries are exchanged between two clergy the question asked “How is it going?” This is clergy speak for “How many people are you worshiping?” The honest clergy will quickly get to the question at hand and after pleasantries ask “How many are you worshiping?” because this has become for some the measure of clergy effectiveness.
In the end, I believe numbers alone can never tell the full story. However, to the extent that numbers represent changed lives and can serve as vital signs for the body of Christ they will always be useful. Numbers are means, not ends. They are means to taking the temperature to determine the health of a church body. Numbers can serve as one of many diagnostic tools.
Is it or is it not about numbers?
If you are not growing you are dying. This is true of all living things and is part of the cycle of life. While some would say adults only grow around the waistline we also have finger and toe nails that grow, hair that grows (most of us), and skin that regenerates. As leaders in the church it is so necessary in the midst of all that we do to intentionally engage in growing as leaders. I thought of seven ways (at least) to do that.
- Seek outside counsel. Meet with other leaders and share ideas and methods and support. Form a church mastermind group of like minded leaders. In the mastermind group you will be challenged and inspired. We don’t need to go it alone.
- Attend conferences. Getting away from it all and being around different people who inspire gets the creative juices flowing. Beware of conference creep though- getting all excited at the Conference you go to only to come home and get caught up in the “have to dos” and never implement what you learned or your new ideas. Vow to implement at least one thing in your local setting you learn or are inspired to do from a Conference.
- Books. Whether you read it on a Kindle or like the feel of paper, people a lot smarter than you and I have been where we want to go and we can learn something from them. The axiom says “leaders are readers.”
- Blogs. As there are any number of books so there are any number of blogs out there that can teach, challenge, inspire and grow us. Learn how to use an RSS reader to keep easy tabs on your favorite blogs. I use Feedly.
- Podcasts. The sheer amount of amazing content that is out there from the most well known and equally as valuable lesser known leaders and practitioners can be a valuable resource. You can use Itunes but I use Downcast which loads directly to my phone for easy playing when driving or exercising.
- Video. There is a video on Youtube for almost everything- even stuff we didn’t wish was there! Lots of great content if you are willing to do a little searching.
- Learn from the Master. Last and certainly not least and most important learn from the Leader of leaders the Lord Jesus Christ. Reading, listening and watching can never take the place of a leader’s time in the Master’s word.
Our problem today is not a lack of leadership growth material or access to it. It is deciding which material we will focus on. The trap we do not want to fall into is to be a leadership guru with no action.
How do you plan to grow as a leader this year?
The United States of America was founded on the concept of rugged individualism. Ingrained in the culture is an ethic of self-sufficiency. We are to pull ourselves up by our boot straps. Even today, look at the whole market that has emerged on television and in big box stores for DIY “Do It Yourself” projects. While I am huge believer in all of the above for many facets of life it does not bode well for being a pastor (or a follower of Jesus for that matter).
Unfortunately, this ethic has crept into the clergy and given rise to what I call the “Superhero Pastor.” Admittedly, for much of my fifteen years serving in the local church I unknowingly practiced being a “Superhero Pastor.” So, know that I am dealing with log in my own eye here.
Here are some of the thoughts a superhero pastor has when it comes to ministry tasks.
- I can do it myself and do it better than anybody else.
- If I delegate it to someone else they might not do as good a job as I would like so I will keep it.
- For the amount of time it takes me to teach/ train someone else to do I would be better off doing it myself.
- If I ask for help I may appear weak (sometimes this is explicit or implicit in the superhero pastor’s mind).
- It makes me feel competent, strong, productive and appreciated when I do this task, though I should give it away to someone else.
You can add to the list yourself but if most pastors are honest, we have all said and felt these things in the past. We can get so puffed up about what we keep to ourselves that not even kryptonite can make us weak. We can be all things to all people. We can save the day! (Insert Mighty Mouse theme music here)
The problem with this is it is not biblical (it robs the laity of its role in the Body of Christ), it is prideful and arrogant (it implicitly says not only do we not need others we do not need God), and it is a recipe for burnout and resentment (have you ever been with a bunch of pastors who only bitch and moan?- I bet they are superhero pastors).
So, if you want to stay true to scripture, rid yourself or hubris, and be in ministry for years to come then come journey with me and pledge not to be a superhero pastor. We have enough of those already.
How do get a church to change from maintenance to mission is a difficult question with which many church leaders struggle. When a church is comfortable with mediocrity and the ho-hum of the status quo and is led by leaders who feed into this apostasy then there is little impetus to change. However, most leaders I know no matter where they are wish for churches that are vibrant and vital. So how do you get a church to change?
Obviously this takes a supernatural movement of the Holy Spirit and great reliance on the power of God. On our human end though we might seek to bring about a change in the status quo by stirring the pot and creating a sense of dissatisfaction. It is only when a majority of our church are dissatisfied that they will be willing to change. The question then becomes how do you become the “troubler of Israel” and help the church take steps to change without getting thrown out in the first place.
Here are four ideas.
- Love your people first and foremost. Just because they may be comfortable and inward focused on maintenance it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the love of their pastor or leadership. Love them and pray for them.
- Do a series of sermons around the purpose of the church. The Book of Acts is a great book to preach through for this purpose. Remind your folks that Jesus didn’t die for potluck suppers and bazaars but so the world could be reconciled to him.
- Cast a compelling vision of what could be. Ask, “In light of the biblical record what is God’s desire and intention for us?” Use every chance you get (meetings, studies, conversations, newsletter articles) continue to cast a compelling vision of an outwardly focused church.
- Use a little holy terror to disturb them. Use the life cycle of the church bell curve graph to show the life cycle of the church and ask them where they think they are on the graph. Explain that endowments and savings eventually run out while building maintenance, salaries and ministry costs continues. Paint a not so rosy picture of what could be.
Whatever way you choose, these or some other, ensure that you are creating dissatisfaction with the status quo if change needs to occur in the church. Coupled with much prayer, love and biblical proclamation, a holy dissatisfaction with the way things are is a great motivator for change.
There are so many things to do in the church. The list is endless. There are a million and one things that scream for our attention. It is so very easy to get caught up in the tyranny of the immediate always focusing on the things right in front of you.
This is why I always found it important to set aside time to work “on” and not “in” the church. When we work in the church we are taking care of the day to day stuff that is right in front us. We are concentrating on the “to do” list and getting ready for the relentless return of the sabbath. Before we know it we look up and Easter is here! Or, the year is almost over.
Anyone who has been in ministry for any length of time will tell you that there is no end to the “to do” list. You learn to live with unfinished business. However, while there is no end to the “to do” list it is always important to get away for a while, preferably somewhere away from the church to spend an extended time in prayer, scripture and asking God to lay his vision on your heart for his church. This might occur once every two or three months or it might be a yearly retreat. Whatever the frequency of this time to work “on” the church instead of “in” the church, it is so vital to being the leader God would intend. It allows you to stand back and reflect, and give thanks, and grieve, and celebrate. Instead of being in the trenches you get the 30,000 ft. view.
This is not only a good practice for clergy but for laity as well. A yearly visioning or team building retreat for leaders allows for candid conversations that otherwise might not occur in the day to day life of the church. At a recent retreat I led I shared with the folks their one of Mark Batterson’s maxims- change of place plus change of pace equals change of perspective. So true!
How do you work on your church from time to time instead of in your church all the time and how do you help the people you lead do the same?