Using your church website to combat the “obstacle of uncertainty”
As I write this blog on a quiet Saturday evening, I’m sitting in my hotel room overlooking a beautiful ocean view, enjoying the sights and sounds of the stunning Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. Sorry to make you all jealous, but the context is important! The context being, I’m in an unfamiliar place, with little-to-no understanding of the culture, nature and expectations of the local church in my area.
It’s Saturday, and as I’m on holiday, I’m preparing to visit a church tomorrow that I’ve never been to before. I don’t know anyone, I’ve never heard of them before, I don’t know anything about them. I simply saw their sign in passing, and as they’re within walking distance of my hotel, I decided to visit tomorrow morning. In preparing for my visit, I searched for their website.
Their homepage conveniently told me what time their service started, and that there would be children’s programs available. As a first-time visitor, I really appreciated being able to quickly and easily find out key info, like service times, but as I navigated their site further, I found myself asking all kinds of questions that their website couldn’t answer.
What denomination were they? When would the service end? Is it ok to turn up in shorts and flip-flops? What if I feel more comfortable keeping my children with me? Would I be asked for money? What do they believe about xyz….
Personally, I’m generally okay with not knowing the answers to all of these questions. But I’ve grown up in church. This is second-nature to me. Not everyone is so comfortable walking into a place they’ve never been, with people they’ve never met, to sing with, greet, pray with and interact with strangers. A visitor-friendly, outward-focused church should do all they can to remove obstacles to people hearing the gospel, and for some visitors, a lack of information could be an obstacle.
To help remove the “obstacle of uncertainty” when it comes to visiting a new church, here are some Frequently Asked Questions that our church answers on our website.
- What time should I arrive at church? (Here you can provide tips about arriving early to get a good car park, or let visitors know there will be parking attendants ready to greet them)
- How long does the service go for? (If it varies from week to week, say so! It’s ok if you can’t provide an exact time — visitors will still appreciate a ball-park figure)
- Where do you meet? (This is more important for churches like ours who meet in a school facility, where visitors have to navigate their way to a school gymnasium)
- What happens during your church services? (Here is where you can prepare visitors about things they might not be expecting, or could make newcomers feel uneasy, like communion, prayer times, giving, meet & greet, children being dismissed to kids’ church, Bible readings, etc)
- What are your Bible talks about? (If you generally work through a Book of the Bible or a series, let visitors know they can get some context by reading about or listening to your current preaching program. Do you want everyone to have a Bible in front of them during the sermon? Use this space to encourage visitors to bring one, or download on their phone. Be sure to let them know where they can get hold of a Bible if they don’t have their own!)
- What kind of songs do you sing? (How many songs? Will it be traditional or contemporary? Here is a great way to let visitors know what they can expect on any given Sunday.)
- Can I bring my kids? (As well as telling visitors all about your awesome kids’ programs, make sure you also give alternatives if they’re not comfortable leaving their children in the care of someone they’ve never met before)
- What should I wear? (This isn’t so churches can enforce a dress code — it’s to reassure visitors that you don’t have one! Encourage your guests to “come as they are” in whatever makes them comfortable)
- Where should I sit? (Especially important for visitors with prams or wheelchairs)
- Will there be food? (Parents of kids with allergies will be especially interested in this one, particularly your church’s policy on foods containing allergens, like nuts)
- Does it cost anything? (Make sure you’re upfront and honest about giving, offering or collection)
- Will I be asked to do anything? (Or, more specifically, what it I don’t want to participate in something everyone else is doing)
These Frequently Asked Questions don’t need to be “front and centre” on your homepage. They don’t even need to be all that comprehensive in their answer. For example, in our answer to the question “what kind of songs do you sing”, rather than writing a comprehensive exposition on the theology of church music, with an up-to-date list of the current song titles and composers on our music rotation, we just write this: We sing songs from many different artists, publishers and churches. We are less interested in a song’s style or feel, and more interested in what it teaches us about Jesus, who he is, and what he’s done for us. Addressing the question, and providing even a simple answer, creates the sense that you’ve considered the perspective of the outsider, and are fostering a culture of asking questions, seeking answers, and community engagement.
What other questions would you want to see on a church FAQ page?