The Free Information Age -part 2

In a previous post, I discussed the beginning of what I have dubbed the Free Information Age.  This post was not meant as simply a parenthetical comment to the current zeitgeist, but as an introduction to a discussion of both the cultural waters that the Church must swim in, and a means of strategy for how the Church can carry its message and navigate in this new economy of communication and ideas.

There was a time in which many would accept a bull or ecclesiastical pronouncement with an assumption of infallibility.  Those days are gone.  The Church is mourning this, and that is natural.  But that is mostly because it is natural to prefer blind submission.  The Catholic church didn’t like Martin Luther’s criticism of its theology and practices, in the same way that the Church currently clings to its old position of assumed inerrancy.

Some since of assumed credibility is actually important.  No two parties can truly dialogue if one party questions the validity of every position the other takes.  But should the Church actually fear shouldering the burden of proof?  Let me illustrate.

I remember as a child getting into the argument over “My dad can beat-up your dad.”  This argument was never solved, and never tested.  As a child, I was certain that my step-father was much stronger than anyone else’s, but I secretly knew that there was a possibility that he wasn’t, and the other boy wondered the same.

But what if my father had been Mike Tyson (the 80’s version)?  In that case, I would never have backed down.  The other boy might, but I would be safe in knowing that my position was indisputably secure.

In a similar way, Christians must know that Jesus is who He says He is.  They know that His claims are indisputable.  We have nothing to fear in marketplace of ideas.  We don’t need to defenders of God to the world.  As His claims are tested, He will be shown authentic.

One of the reasons that Christianity has difficulty in this is that our rhetoric is often louder than our actions.  Jesus was clear in that we are to be people who are known by the love that we share, joy, peace, patience, etc.  These are all actions, not words.  Our actions are to be explained by rhetoric when necessary.  In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, we are to always “speak softly but carry a big stick.”

If skepticism of information can cause us to do this more, then it will bring us back to the type of Christianity that we should practice, instead of the rhetorically-driven example of the political Church.  -Ryan


The Free Information Age

At the end of the 1980’s people began to herald the coming of a new age in human history, one that was based not on metal or manufacturing, but on ideas alone.  By the early 90’s people had accepted that this new era had come and had dubbed it “The Information Age.”

We now know that those early forecasts were entirely correct.  In 30 years we have gone from newspapers and books to blogs and Kindles.  Who but sci-fi writers would have predicted that paper maps would be now virtually useless and things like land-line phones, music you buy in a store, and even most wires might soon follow.  But changes in technology aren’t really what is most striking in this new era.  Technology is always assumed to be advancing, yet major changes in the way people interact and commerce is done has been completely revolutionized.

But I don’t need to go on and on about the changes of the Information Age.  This isn’t in question, nor is it the scope of this post.

What does seem to be noteworthy, is that I believed that there has been a major chapter change in this societal tome.  The zeitgeist of the Information Age or IA (because I am sick of typing this out) was that Information could be a commodity itself.  In fact, information itself could prove to be a more important commodity in many ways than even brick and steel.  Information can be used as a weapon.  The lack of information can  be at times more significant than the information itself.  Whole companies, like Microsoft, are based on commoditizing information.

As the 90’s waned, the idea of piracy became very mainstreamed.  It seems that the creation of the MP3 was really the tide changer in this.  As people realized that they could get music for free over the Internet, we all somehow forgot that this had ethical implications.  Okay, we didn’t forget, we willed our own amnesia.  I remember saying upon receiving my first CD burner, “Aha, I will never pay for music again!”  I’m not proud of this, but it happened.

This was the last page of Chapter 1 of the IA.  The next page introduced the Free Information Age (FIA).  As people switched to the idea of free music, this lead to actual philosophizing about the nature of information ownership.  Who “owned” music?  Was it the artist, the record company?  The CEO of the record company?  When you bought a CD, did you now own the music that was on it?  The record companies came up with their take on all this–that you actually only owned the “right to listen to the music” on your CD.  Copyright law has still not been settled on this matter.

But the striking aspect of this is not what it has done to information media or even legal aspects of copyright.  It has lead to a much larger free market of ideas and information in general.  The publishing company Conde Nast just announced last week that they are going to discontinue 3 of their major magazines in the coming months.  Other major magazines and newspapers have already gone down.

You might think that this has all led to a decrease in publishing, but the opposite is entirely true.  In fact, the volume of publication (in general) has exponentially been increasing.  It is the locus of this information that has changed.  While the MSM (a common acronym for the “Mainstream Media” referring to what has long been considered the source of reputable information) has been in decline, blogging, podcasting, and even alternative print has been spreading like wildfire.

Information is now not coming mostly from sources that the publishing houses have authorized, but from individuals who simply have been democratically given a louder pulpit.  It is information capitalism at work.  In some sense it is very beautiful.  Penguin Trade Paper is no longer the vetter of what we get to know, the market itself is.

Along with this comes checks and balances.  The Iranians conducted a missile test last year and widely publicized a photo of the test.  irainian-missile-1

The photo shows 4 missiles being fired in a sign that the Iranians are not to be trifled with.  The story was carried along with the image to your left, in all of the major wire services.  The problem was that it was a fake.  This and images like it have even spawned a new term, fauxtography.

As this came out, bloggers, and netizens examined the story in detail, and began to notice some problems with the imagery.  It didn’t help the Iranian cause that the administration wasn’t seen as trustworthy to begin with.

iranian-missile-2The image on the right is that as examined by the Internet community.  It represents areas that netizens found to be cloned (reproduced from other areas of the picture).  Finally, an image was found that was determined to be the original, an image that showed only one missile being launched.

The Iranian government realized that one missile being launched in the desert was not particularly intimidating, but four missiles was terrifying.  In the end, the message that was heard by the world was that the Iranians felt inferior and weak, and therefore had to fake being strong and intimidating.  This case showed the information community to be quite capable of rejecting information that was fraudulent.  It also showed that even though the spigot of information was wide open, that did not mean that all information would be accepted.

However, giving everyone a microphone is not always a good thing.  The spread of urban myths and disinformation has also become epidemic.  Less than a year after the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks theories spread out of the Muslim world accusing the Bush administration of orchestrating the attacks in order to invade Muslim lands.  All of these theories (including those that implicated Israel and Jews) have been thoroughly debunked by various unbiased authorities.  A book was even written by the editors of Popular Science magazine scientifically debunking these myths.

Yet, these ideas have only grown.  They have spread through Internet memes that take advantage of people either too ignorant or lazy to research the truth (i.e. “fire cannot melt steel), or purposefully intent on spreading propaganda (i.e. “thousands of Jews called in sick in New York on 9/11”).  What should have easily been discounted as ridiculous by netizens has only grown.

The one factor that links these two issues is that the Free Information Age has brought about a skepticism of information, and an assumption of conspiracies.  People now operate more under the assumption that all information is disinformation until proved otherwise.  This has enormous implications for the Church.  More on that later.   –Ryan


Google Voice, A Church Planter’s Best Friend

Google Voice's main panel

Google Voice's main panel

I haven’t talked about this much yet, but Google has been creating a set of tools that can literally change the way churches do business.  Yes, yes, I know that they have a great search engine (and are upping the ante with a new search engine process called Caffeine), but the exciting stuff is all out of Google Labs, their experimental wing.

One really powerful tool for busy pastors (or anyone) who really want to stay connected is Google Reader.  This isn’t new.  It has been around for quite some time, but many people are still not aware of it.  Google Reader allows you to look at all the different blogs or websites that you regularly check (it isn’t that great for straight news sites) all from one page.  It presents the information sort of like how your email is.  If you set up the view right, you see all of the sites in a chronological list with an abstract in the next column.  One click allows you to read the article in full, and another throws it into the trashcan from your virtual desk.  A lot of people have asked me how I can possibly read so many blogs.  Reader is the answer, and I do it in 10% of the time because of it.

Thanks to Ed Dale, who taught me that one.  You revolutionized my life with that, and I can’t think of Twitter in anything but an Australian accent now, either.

But the most exciting thing for churches (and especially church plants)  is Google’s newest project, Google Voice.  First, let me paint a picture of what a typical church plant looks like:

Most church plants (newly started churches, under 2 years old) are led by one pastor and a team of lay leaders.  The pastor is usually bi-vocational at best, or even pastors without taking a salary at all.  Either way, almost all pastors of church plants have a full time job outside of the church.  Most of these churches have no paid staff outside of their solo pastor.

Because of this, any time someone calls the phone number of the church, it goes straight to voice mail.  The pastor is working way too long and too hard to worry about such trivial things as returning messages, especially when 8 out of 10 messages are some sort of church telemarketing…No, I don’t want to go to Bible Bash and Bake Sale 2009!  On the other hand, the 2 calls out of 10 might be someone looking to start attending the church.  They don’t get called back, and they never come.

Enter the game-changer, Google Voice.  I cannot think of any other digital tool that may be as helpful to a new church plant as this one.  When you start with Google Voice, the first thing you do is pick a phone number…a local phone number…a real phone number…like the kind with an area code and 7 other digits.   You can even search for available numbers that you like.  If you want your number to be (555) the-vine (555-843-8463) you can search for that.  Of course, it isn’t that easy to get what you want.  They have to buy a block of numbers like any other company, and someone might already have that number, so be patient.  It took me a couple hours to decide on mine.

After you pick your number, it is live and real.  Anyone can call it from that point on, and yes, it is free.  I am not going to go on and on about all of the myriad and incredible bells and whistles that this offers, other than to say that some of them are things that most people didn’t even know were technically possible.  But those aren’t within the scope of this post.  We are interested right now in how this changes the picture we have painted above.  So, let’s retell it after the point where the church has set up the Google Voice number as their main number.  In this illustration, their Google number has been associated in the Google control panel to the pastor’s cell phone, home phone, the pastors wife’s cell phone, and one of their main lay-leaders cell phones.  Let’s see what happens now, to a fictitious church plant:

Annie calls First Church to ask some questions about their church.  When she dials the number, it simultaneously rings Pastor Bill’s cell and home phones, his wife’s cell, and the cell of the lay leader.  Bill is busy, as is his wife, but the lay leader isn’t.  He looks at his caller ID, and sees that it is someone calling the Google number.  He answers and hears an announcement saying it is Annie.  He presses 1 to talk to Annie.
“First Church, this is Ed.  How may I help you today?
“Hi, I’m Annie, and…”

If no one had been available at all, Annie’s message would have been recorded, and put on the Google server so that any of the churches leaders could hear it from the online account, or accessed from a phone, the same way all voice mail is done.”  A transcribed text message would then be sent out by the system (I have this disabled on mine) to all of the cell phones with Annie’s message.  Whoever got to it first could return the call.

Ahh, the wonders of Google voice.  Try calling mine right now.

Contextualizing the Gospel -Part 2

Neither of these church responses is appropriate, of course.   When a missionary takes the message of Jesus into a completely unreached people group, he must find a way to connect that message to their cultural and world viewpoint.  This is no easy task for the missionary.  Much of the way the life of Christian faith is lived out in a particular culture is not actually essential or biblically derived.

Many churches would make speaking in tongues an essential part of the Christian life, for instance.  While the Bible clearly talks about speaking in tongues, and Pauline letters mention it as a great gift of the Spirit, but no where does the Bible mention it as an essential.  Despite this fact, there are many Christian groups who would take my last statement as a fighting challenge.

It is easy to pick speaking in tongues as an example, but there are myriad ways that we Americanize our faith, and communicating that faith involves a stripping down of the gospel to its essentials.  If we truly believe that this is the word and will of God, then our cultural baggage is nothing but Astroturf lining the best of fairways.  The message of Jesus doesn’t need our cultural additions.

We cannot help adding these additions, though.  When any culture accepts the Christian faith, it makes it its own.  Korean Christians have a practice of prayer whereby all the members of the church pray out loud simultaneously.  It creates quite a holy ruckus.  It is good.  It is holy.  It also sounds weird to our western ears.  It is a Korean expression of Christian faith.  But Koreans can not hope to force Americans to accept their prayer style as necessary to being Christian.

This seems obvious, yet the Church in America sits as the American culture has been radically redefined over the last 40 years, hoping to contextualize American culture to our faith, instead of doing what any missionary would do and contextualize faith.  I think that part of the reason has to do with a general assumption that America is a Christian country.  Many people seem to subconsciously equate Americanism and Christianity.  The klaxon call is to not let the sinners take over our culture, and fight a cultural war to prevent this.  Of course, it is important to encourage our government to support healthy morality, but this is not a battle that the American Church should make our front line.

Instead, we should be seeking to contextualize our faith into the changing landscape of cultural America.  We should be finding out where people meet, what people want and need, the cultural touchpoints they have.  Once we do that, we can use these areas as introduction points, our cultural carriers of the message of Jesus.  This will be difficult for the Church to do, but it is absolutely necessary. -Ryan


Contextualizing the Gospel -Part 1

One of my most-discussed topics on this blog has been the life of faith in a post-Christian America.  The most read section of this blog is this section, about the use of communications technology within the church.  These two topics are not disconnected, though.  Any new culture necessitates new ways of communicating the message of Jesus.  Radical societal changes create a new culture.  Thus, the Christian message must be re-contextualized.  In order to understand the methods of communicating that, we must first truly understand the basic reasons behind this.

The difficulty is that the Church in America has largely missed addressing the massive changes in culture over the last 40+ years.  In some ways, the Church has insulated herself against these changes.  While the community is seen as increasingly ungodly, many Christians have banded together into Christian ghettos.  Over time the Christian culture has changed independently of the culture around it.

A great example of this has been seen in worship.  In the 1970’s the Church in America started to adopt the musical styles of the larger American culture.  In a relatively short amount of time the Church changed its worship style from the hymns of the last thousand plus years to the more modern praise songs.

A natural result of a more exuberant worship style was increased movement in worship and raising of hands.  Churches needed a way for its members to see the words of these new songs.  Songs were being frequently added to the musical canon, and older ones were being removed.  This was not conducive to printed hymnals.

As technology increased and prices dropped accordingly, churches began to display these words with overhead/slide projectors and more recently, video projectors.  So, visiting the average church in America on a Sunday morning, one will find a group of people clapping along to the music as they sway and sing at a digital projection of words and video.

This isn’t greatly different from a rock concert, but people staring at projectors with one hand raised as they awkwardly shuffle their feet is its own beast for sure.  While this has evolved in Church, the larger outside culture has grown into a greater variety of musical expressions depending on genre.  A rap concert might have a crowd packed tightly with people jumping and arms swaying, while hardcore and punk fans are moshing in the pit up front.  Although it has been modernized, Church music still looks and sounds very different than its secular counterparts, but for new reasons.  While the culture evolved, church culture has evolved too, but separately.

A second response to the changing culture has been for the Church to cling to the methods of the past, refusing any changes at all.  Many of these churches look to the glory days of the 1950’s when the sanctuary was packed.  Either because of political forces within the church resisting, or as part of a poor growth strategy (similar to keeping your Member’s-only jackets in hopes it’ll come back in style), these churches have tried to keep everything museum-quality.

In these churches one can find the only places in America with pews and pipe-organs.  Deep Maroon carpets and green pew hymnals sit locked eternally in 1962.  The pride of these churches is their history and they give even vocal approval of the fact that they haven’t evolved, as if the gospel itself is encapsulated by the accumulation of dust.   -Ryan


Texting During Church

Texting and Tweeting in churchI read an interesting article from Time magazine last week about churches warming to the idea of texting and tweeting during church. Twittering in Church, with the Pastor’s O.K., by Bonnie Rochman sites a few churches that are encouraging church members to text and tweet all they want during the sermon, in an effort to get the people interacting with the sermon.

I have actually seen this in action.  The other night I was briefly watching a sermon on TV (in Texas, there are about 10 channels on broadcast TV that are religiously themed) where the pastor was interacting with text messaged questions and comments from the congregation during the sermon.  It seemed interesting, although most of what the people had texted was totally uninteresting.  It seemed pretty cool.  Something like that would be especially useful for building a sense of community and interactiveness in a case like Saddleback in California, where there are several on-campus simulcasts in order to accommodate the sheer numbers of people who attend.  This could also be really good for achieving the same goal in some sort of live TV broadcast (Billy Graham style).

There is another side to this, though.  As a minister, one of the biggest challenges that I see in church culture is not getting people to interact with the message on Sunday morning.  In fact, this could be achieved any number of ways that didn’t involve Twitter or texting.  Instead, I see one of the biggest difficulties in getting the people to dial down from the wired world that they live Monday through Saturday (OK, and Sunday too, right after service ends).

A couple of weeks ago during my Mother’s Day sermon, one of our church elders was in his usual spot in the congregation.  As I taught I noticed that he was busily reading his email on his iphone.  I think that people in the congregation somehow believe that there is some sort of two-way mirror where the stage ends, that allows them to see me, but totally blocks my view of them.  I thought about calling him out on it, but I knew that probably wouldn’t be a good idea for my own career, and I strongly suspect that the action was more intentional on his part to send a message (I’ll just leave that there—I could be wrong).

My point in mentioning that situation is this: while many congregations might use tweeting and texting to create a positive and interactive culture surrounding the message, the net result of these changes will not be to plug more people into what God is doing on a Sunday morning.  Instead, in my opinion, it will be exactly the opposite.  People who are struggling to focus their attention on what is happening at the service, will now return to multiple-option-land where there concentration can be as split as it is the rest of the time.

I guarantee that if I gave the teenagers in church the option to text and tweet me during the service, some would take me up on it.  At the same time, I would have twice as many teens texting their friends just like they do all the rest of the time.  One of the biggest negatives of our over-wired world is that people seem to be having an increasingly difficult time existing unplugged from the Matrix.  I was amazed two weeks ago at some of my teens who spent the late night hours texting and myspacing on their phones.  Some of them were up past 3 AM doing this.  They weren’t busy laughing and talking to each other like they usually would at a lock-in.  They were triple-tapping their LOL’s and OMG’s as their batteries slowly drained.

I don’t think as adults we should be feeding this beast in church.  I don’t say this from a biblical precedent standpoint, but just as one examining culture.

Things Not to Do (1)

Do not put “Welcome to our little website,” or any derivative of this on your website.

People know that it is your website.  They just clicked or typed the url to get there.  You can say “welcome” if you really feel the need, but the full message just really sounds hokey.  It also gives the feeling of being really amateur.  When I see this on a site, I automatically throw it in the mental wastebasket.

By the way, these “things not to do” are not necessarily meant to be massive paradigm-shift kind of things.  I am not saying that if you don’t have that message on your website you will have a great online ministry.  I am just saying not to do this.

What Makes a Good Church Web Ministry (Part 4a)

I am sure that I will regret posting this.  I weighed the options in my mind: Don’t post-it doesn’t sound polished, there is no main point, I have no idea what I’m saying.  Do post-I won’t sleep if I don’t get this out.  I’m posting.

I just watched a video webinar from Drew Goodmanson and Cynthia Ware that was linked from Drew’s site.  It presents the data from a survey that they helped conduct.  I must say that it is making me re-examine some long held preconceptions of church social networking in my mind.  I am coming to realize that much of what I had thought two years ago is not working out socially the way I expected.  It is one of those slap-in-the-forhead moments.

I am still working out a lot of this.  Here are some things that I learned over the last 45 minutes:

The manin desires that the people in churches who were surveyed have for their church websites:

  1. Church events on an online calendar.  They want to be able to sign up for things online.
  2. Prayer requests online.  They want to be able to post prayer requests through the website.
  3. Serving connection.  People want to be able to find out how their gifts can fit into an area of service at the church.
  4. Home group connection.  People want to be able to connect to and interact with a home group.
  5. Church email/directory.  They want a way to be able to contact the church and church members using the website as a resource.
  6. Bible study connection.  They want to be able to study and connect with a Bible study online.

You know what was missing?  Social networking.  People did not feel that they needed a social network within their church.  Why would they?  Can we do Facebook better than Facebook?  If we could, should we?  Now that I think about it that way, I realize that even my answer is “no.”

Here is what they said they didn’t want:

  1. The ability to blog
  2. Classified ads
  3. A way to post their own photos
  4. A job posting board
  5. The ability to post things to a social media site

I do believe what they said regarding this day and age of new media is correct.  Building upon their base, I believe that Christians are going to have to use mostly existing social networking with excellence, and our success in Web Ministry will depend on our ability to do the following:

  1. Not add an additional network or online activity that church members don’t have time for.  I have been mulling this a lot lately.  It is becoming a full time job for people to keep up with all their networks.  In the very near future either one network is going to beat all of the others so badly that no others will exist, or social networking will completely disappear when everyone gets tired of it (not likely), or a solution will appear to completely integrate all major existing networks so that no one goes to or any of the others anymore.  One blogpost will go out simultaneously on all, and these portals will cease to exist in the eyes of the average user.
  2. Make their Web Ministry a completely interactive place.  I can’t stress my belief in this point enough.  I am almost willing to say that an e-brochure style website is almost more of an embarrassment than a benefit.  I stop short though, because if a church doesn’t have their vital info linked online, they should think about shutting their doors.
  3. Provide instant gratification.  Things like podcasting and video have got to be available and accessible.
  4. Be decentralized.  Church Web content cannot be done in a top-down way.  Content has got to be available from more than one direction, if that makes sense.  I’m still working this one out.
  5. I really think that there needs to be an open-source nature to Web Ministry as well.  It needs to be collaborative, and allow some of the more tech-savvy people to do what they do best.

There will be more.  Like I said, I am still working this out.  This has been very stream-of-consciousness, I know, but now I am going to go to bed a little depressed.   I don’t like not having things worked out in my mind.

Internet Evangelism Day

The other day I got a comment from Tony from  I usually am very skeptical about people who try to sneak link-spam into my blogs, and I tend to be pretty heavy handed with the comment approval.  I checked out the site just for kicks-and-giggles, and was quite impressed with what I saw.  Their site is a veritable menagerie of tools and helps for churches planning to use their Internet ministry effectively.  At the core of their plan is to make April 26th a day dedicated to Internet evangelism worldwide.  I am waiting to hear back from them about a few things, and am happy to use whatever platform I can to help them reach our mutual goals for ministry.  This really gets to the heart of my passion. screenshot Behind all my theorizing and theologizing regarding the Church and communication is a core conviction that has been growing inside for several years.  Basically, I have grown tired of the Internet being the Devil’s playground.  Christians fear it.  UnChristians revel in it.  It is the Mos Eisley Cantina (for all the Geeks out there) of our little planet.

The Internet is both the biggest opportunity for evangelism in the history of the world, and the greatest tool the Church could ever hope for.  Yet we are letting it slip by deeper and deeper into darkness.

When Gutenberg invented the Printing Press, the Christian Bible was the first book ever printed, and almost immediately the Church showed that it intended to use this medium to the fullest.  Still to this day, the Bible remains the best selling printed book of all time, and other Christian books are common worldwide best sellers.  Yet, as the Internet spawned, the Church has been painfully slow and wary to use this medium much at all.

Do you doubt me?  Can you name one major Christian blog that cracks technorati’s top 50 regularly?  Give me one Christian site that is on everyone’s bookmark list.  We have GodTube, the poor Christian cousin of YouTube (I’m not really dissing them at all), and other Christian versions of popular culture online.  And yes, we use the Internet pretty well for Bible tools, and maybe some “Christian dating,” but not much else with excellence.

So my conviction and passion is to point the way for Christians to use this tool to spread the great news about what Jesus did for humanity through cyberspace, and to use the World Wide Web to teach people wanting to learn more about God wherever they are.  I have a passion for this, because I believe that God has a passion for it.  I believe that no x-rated site, or malicious virus can prevail against God and His people.  I believe in a revolution of love starting on your web page, and mine.

That is why I am behind what is doing.  Mark April 26th on your calendar, and start a viral movement to take the Internet for Christ.  –Ryan


What Makes a Good Church Web Ministry (Part 3)

OK, here we go!  Let’s look at some examples of real live church websites that I have encountered recently.

As we get into this, let me give a brief explanation of how I am treating these.  Each of these are real websites that are live on the web as of this writing.  I have not manipulated these in any way, except that I have blurred anything that would immediately identify the churches or people involved.  Yes, you could probably figure out the churches if you try hard enough.  They are in public view anyway.  I am only concerned with being as fair as I can in critiquing them.  The second thing that I have done is to format the sites to best fit the image that I snapped of them.  I have also called both of these churches.  In one case (the good example) I ended up having a long and very fruitful conversation with the pastor.  In the case of the other, repeated calls have gone unanswered, and no one has ever answered their phone when I call.  I am curious as to the growth strategy for a church that never returns requests for communication, but that is another issue.  These same stipulations will generally hold true for any church site that I use from this point forward, unless I mention otherwise.

This is a less than effective site Example 2

In the first example, a hand drawn logo is at the top.  The frame is filled with blue, some links line the top under the header, and a few frames show a google map of the church’s location and welcome message.  When I visit the site, I immediately find out that they want to welcome me to their service, when it is, and how to get there.  The pages contain a few grammar errors, and there is a main link that says “under construction.”  On a brighter note, the calendar of events is up to date, although their “Vision Meeting” says something ambiguous about “blessed pot.”  Maybe they will have an influx of local community college students.  Another thing of note is that their google map on the home page is a screenshot, not an interactive google map.

Example 2 is a different story.  I am not holding this up as the paradigm for church websites, and I think that the design is quite old.  But immediately on accessing the site there is a wide range of stuff that grabs my attention.  There is a quick link to the sermon podcast that is up to date, there are some quick links for location and contacting in the upper right (you can’t see this well on the screenshot). and the phone number is there too.  The tabs are clean, and there is a slide show advertising a sermon series, picture galleries, and some shots of their location right at the top.  The events calendar is at the bottom of the homepage (not on this screenshot).  They did do one of my pet-peeves, though.  The senior pastor’s picture is right at the top, and there is a picture of the senior pastor and his wife less than an inch away near the welcome message.

This is one of those things that is just not well thought through, and a note to pastors:  OK, you are married.  Unless you are Rick Warren or Erwin McManus we don’t need to see lots of pictures of you and your family on the homepage.  People go to your site for a couple main reasons.  If they are thinking of attending your church, or if they are a current attender they might be looking for new information.  People are seldom looking to check out a church because you are the pastor.  They won’t know you until they come to your church usually.  One picture is fine if it looks professional.  A future entry will discuss building community through your site, and introducing your staff through the site.  This is not the way to do it.

Tied to that is the picture with “John and Jane Smith, Pastors” caption underneath.  If both spouses are equally in ministry together, they should have their own separate pictures.  People can figure out that they are married.  Another picture on the “Bios” area can have the two together with the family.  This is almost never the case, though.  In most cases the church just lists it that way because they think it is the new kitschy and inclusive thing to do.  That is not what is communicated to outsiders.  When the CEO of Apple puts his picture up with his wife and “Steve and Laureen Jobs, CEOs” underneath, then you can too.  Until then, it communicates unprofessionalism, and outsiders just think it looks weird.  We don’t need to copy the world, but we should try and keep from creating an out-of-touch subculture.

I know I ranted on this point, but it is a big issue.   -Ryan