Dec 15, 2005

8 things pastors need to know about e-ministry

8 things pastors need to know about e-ministry
by Terrell Sanders

1. Your target audience for church growth is Internet-savvy.

Most church growth comes from what we call the 18-to-18 range – people from 18 years old to families with 18-year-old children. This also happens to be the group with the highest Internet usage. According to research by the U.S. government, teenagers and families with children at home are the most frequent Internet users of any demographic group. Using the Internet to communicate with families and young adults is a natural fit.

2. Your Web site will be your "first impression" for many people.

Most people under the age of 40 grew up with technology, and they automatically go to the Internet for information. We have found that many families relocating to a new city will research both where to live and where to worship over the Internet. They will often make their "first cut" shopping list before they ever come to town.

3. If you're not on the Web, you don't exist to many people.

As a corollary to the previous item, people who use the Internet as their primary research tool will not know you exist if you don't have a Web site.
A 20- or 30-something person is much more likely to use the Internet to find church service times than to look in the yellow pages or newspaper. Our informal surveys have shown that many young college graduates don't even have yellow pages in their homes. My teenage daughter didn't know theaters listed movie times in the newspaper – she gets them off the Web.

4. Seekers will visit your Web site before attending your services.

The Internet provides a perfect tool for people wanting information anonymously. Seekers who are not ready to "come to the building" will visit your Web site to see what you believe and why. Savvy organizations are using the Web to educate visitors and encourage them to take the next step. Online sermons and photos of services and events go a long way toward making a seeker feel secure enough to make a first-time visit.

5. A whole generation exists that will seek "religion" online.

In his book Boiling Point, George Barna projects that 10 to 20 percent of the population will rely on the Internet for all of their spiritual input and output by 2010. Whether you like it or not, the prediction seems to be right on track. When these people go to the Internet with spiritual questions, who will be providing the answers? What will they be taught?

6. The Web site is too critical to be run by a volunteer.

I can tell you stories of churches from New York to California who were disappointed or burned by volunteers who built their Web sites. What happens if your volunteer Web developer gets transferred out of state or leaves the church angry?

How do you gracefully fire a volunteer when the church's need exceeds his or her abilities?
Church leaders frequently ask me to help them justify why they should pay large amounts of money to develop a professional site when they have a volunteer who will do it for free. I ask them if they use free volunteers to install and maintain their roof and plumbing. In three years, no large church has ever admitted it used volunteers for their roof or plumbing – it's just too critical to depend on volunteer help.

7. You can't afford a cheap site.

With a high percentage of your potential visitors viewing your Web site before they visit your congregation, you can't afford a poor quality site. All the time and money you have spent building your congregation's resources and reputation are worthless if people won't visit the first time. Visitors are judging the values and programs of your church from your Web site. Are your key programs properly represented? Can a Web visitor see how active your youth group is from your site?

8. People are viewing your current Web site right now.

I can almost guarantee you that people are viewing your current site every month. People moving into your city are researching churches before they move. People interested in changing congregations are viewing your site. Seekers who have been made aware of your church are looking for more information on your site. You may not be providing the information, but people are looking for it.

Start asking your visitors how they found out about your church. You'll be surprised how many young families found you on the Internet. Good or bad, your Web site is generating impressions every week. The big question is – are you satisfied with the impression they are getting?

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