Connecting Your Church via the Web

by Jeff Love

As a pastor I have wrestled with the issue of how to use the Internet in ministry. Realizing that our society is becoming more and more Web based, I knew that we needed to address the issue of using the Web in our ministry. I began with a few questions: What if we could use the Internet to connect our community to our church? What if we could effectively connect our ministry with our people? What if we could connect our people with one another? And what if I, as a pastor, could connect more efficiently to our people? The answers to those questions became our goal! As we started working toward a solution, I kept coming across the phrase: "In order for the Web to be effective it must be interactive." "Interactive" is the key word! In other words, it must be more than informational. It must be relational. We had a great Web site. In fact many of my pastor friends from around the nation would call me and want to know who was doing my Web site because it was so hot! The frustration was that once people "hit" our Web site and read the information, looked at the pictures, watched the videos and listened to the streaming audio, they did not return. Great site! Fun to go to once! But it was not interactive! Now, after nearly 1,000 hours of design time from our professional Webmaster, our Web site is definitely interactive! I am excited about the solution that was created for our church. This interactive online community has radically changed my ministry and the life of our church! Our church of 200 members is reaching our congregation and new people with our Web site, which generates over 200 hits weekly! Nearly every Sunday, I have a new person tell me that he or she came to our church after first visiting our Web site. Not only new people, but also many people in our own congregation are on our site daily because of the interactivity. The secret? In a word: connect! We are a connected society with cell phones, pagers, email and the Internet. The church, of all places, should know how to use these tools because our job is to connect people with God and with one another. Let me share with you the principles of what we are using to connect our community with the church, our people to our ministry, our people with one another, and myself, as a pastor, with my people. Our philosophy is based on an acrostic of the word C.O.N.N.E.C.T. #["C" Is for "Compel"]# An interactive Web site must compel people to return. We must realize that the Internet is a modern day tool for fishing. We are fishers of men, and this tool is new "bait" for fishing. Jesus said in Luke 14:23, "…compel them to come in, that my house may be filled" (nkjv). Like any other tool we use to connect people to the church, our Web sites must have a compelling aspect so that people will return. We have done this in several different ways. First, the community can see a profile of our church and a brief synopsis of who we are. In our society, business has learned that first impressions are vital on the Web. The same is true with the church. The great news about our system is that we do not have to continually update our church's profile. As our people fill in and update their "personal profiles," the Web system we use automatically updates the demographic profile of our church. As a pastor, I have discovered that knowing the fluid demographics of my congregation is invaluable for preaching and establishing ministries. Other interactive communication tools we use to compel people to return are simple things like a Calendar, Bulletin Board and Chat Room. There are some things we do to use these tools, which make them compelling. For instance, the Chat Room is a great place to have after-sermon chats with the pastor on a Sunday evening as a follow up to the message. We have used our Chat Room for a weekly small group. This met a particular need of those who traveled for business and for those who were slowly working their way toward connecting with a home group. Our Bulletin Board is used for anything from prayer requests, to sharing testimonies, to finding a roommate or selling a TV. There is no way that I as a pastor or our staff could possibly know all these needs or connect our people with the kind of care they can reach through our Bulletin Board. We have also discovered that the bulletin is much more efficient than the telephone prayer chain. With the Bulletin Board, our prayer team can check throughout the day for emergency prayer needs instead of having to wait to get home from work to check their message machine. We recently had two bird lovers discover their mutual interest through our Bulletin Board. A simple question was posted asking if anyone knew a particular bird by describing it. Before the end of the day someone responded. Again, there is no way that I could have known to connect those two people. Another compelling aspect is our business directory: In the past, we have labored at publishing a church business directory. To our frustration, by the time it was published, it was often outdated. Now our people keep our on-line directory up to date. As they keep their "Personal Profile" up to date, our system automatically updates our business directory. I want people to use one another for commerce! This is a quick and efficient way for them to do that. To be continued Jeff Love is senior pastor of Alive Church in Tucson, Arizona. He has been in full-time ministry for eighteen years. More information on the Web system used by Alive Church can be found at myflock.com