Even as the Internet has grown in popularity and importance in daily life, many power-brokers in our churches remain hesitant to start a real Internet ministry. Most organizations now understand the need for at least an informational website, and that is helpful, but it is a bit like driving a car around and never taking it out of first gear.
It can be quite a challenge to convince these naysayers. Here are the top ten excuses for not having a web ministry, and responses that may be helpful to you as you advocate for and educate the people about Internet ministry.
1. We Don’t Need to Do Ministry Online.
It is correct that our churches and Christian organizations do not need web ministries to function. But they do need web ministries to be more effective and to reach more people. God has allowed us access to this powerful communication tool, so we should apply it appropriately to enhance our mission. Just as Jesus stood in a boat or on a hillside to help people see and hear him better, we should use available resources to help others see and hear God through our organizations.
Today, not having at least a simple website is like not listing your organization in the phone book or not having a sign in front of your building. More people look to the Internet as their primary source of all information, and that includes looking for a church. Your website is quite likely the first view a person will have of your organization, and should give them a taste of what they can expect when they visit.
2. The Internet is Filled with Sin.
For many people, the issue is fear of the unknown and the dark side of the Internet. We often hear of an Internet filled with pornography, hate groups, computer viruses, spam, and scams. But this is all the more reason for every church to have a website. Jesus hung out with those who sinned and who did not believe. Each church should be where the needy people are found. We want our web ministry to be right in the midst of the sin-filled websites that we hear about.
3. It’s Just Not Our Thing.
Clearly, not every church is called to produce a huge, fully web-empowered online ministry. Different organizations are called to different missions based on their gifts and resources as well as the people they serve. But the Internet plays a key role supporting all the other ministries of your church.
I was blessed to correspond via email with a pastor in Africa. None of the people he serves have a computer or Internet access. But his ministry is nonetheless web-empowered. He has Internet access and uses the Internet to learn and grow in Bible knowledge and leadership. He also uses the Internet to communicate with mission groups who come to his community to serve.
4. We Can’t Keep the Website Up to Date.
Far too often, I hear things like: “We created our website a long time ago, but it is totally out of date and we don’t look at it” or “The person who built the website left the church and we can’t even change it.” I have literally seen Christmas Eve announcements on church websites in July. The only thing worse than not having a church website is having a website that is obviously out of date. Incorrect websites are misleading, and they reflect negatively on your organization.
The key point to remember here is that a web ministry is not a project to be completed. Instead, it is an ongoing ministry that requires attention and commitment—just like other forms of communication and other ministries.
5. The Internet is only for the Rich.
Certainly there is a cost to own a computer and to have Internet access. More and more people have Internet access at home, at work, or in public facilities such as libraries, but it is unlikely that everyone you serve has access, and some of those who do have access may have poorly equipped computers or slow Internet connections. To help people without Internet access, we added kiosks at the church so people can visit our website there. Perhaps a ministry opportunity exists in your organization to equip and train people to use computers and the Internet.
In any case, it is wise to make important information available in both electronic and non-electronic formats. This allows people without easy Internet access or people who prefer or need paper versions to receive the information. For example, we offer our church newsletter in both electronic format (via email) and paper format. We asked that people receive only the electronic copy if possible, but those without Internet access can receive a paper copy.
6. It’s Too Expensive to Maintain a Web Ministry.
Of all the ministries in the church, an Internet ministry is usually one of the most cost effective. You don’t need expensive Internet connections or the latest computers. You can usually purchase hosting from a web hosting company for less than $25 per month. You may even be able to use free services for some features, or use your denomination’s hosting services.
Internet ministry is worth the modest cost, and it can sometimes even save money. For example, it may reduce printing and mailing costs. In fact, we can host our website for a year for less than the cost of a major printing with postage to send it. Before you let cost stop you, consider the cost to your ministry impact.
7. We Don’t Have Anyone with the Skills.
People with computer skills and interests have traditionally had few opportunities to use their gifts and passions for ministry. It is likely that you have at least one person with the technical skills and/or interest to develop a web ministry. If so, this offers them a great opportunity for service. In addition, the technical barriers are coming way down as more powerful tools and instructional resources become available. When I started in web ministry we had to manually create web pages in HTML. Now we have content management systems that allow us to easily update web content.
8. Online Ministry Keeps People Away from Church.
Internet, television, and radio ministries have been criticized for encouraging people not to participate in a physical church where they can worship, have fellowship, and serve together in community. But most people tell us that the website augments their Christian growth and does not replace church participation. We also know people who can’t get access to church any other way, and for these people, an online option keeps them connected to church when they need it the most.
An Internet ministry does not and will not replace the importance of a physical Christian community. The Internet cannot think, love, or physically hug. But, if it is done well, a successful Internet ministry enables a church to be more effective and results in even more opportunities to interact in a personal way.
9. Technology is Cold and Impersonal.
When telephone answering machines first became available, many people disliked them and would not leave messages. They would say, “I’m not going to talk to a dumb machine.” But people adapted. New communication technologies often feel cold and impersonal until we adapt to them. Email and instant messaging seem quite strange and even unusable to new users until they adapt.
With text messaging I can be in frequent conversation with my wife as I travel. Calls at each stop would become disruptive, but a simple text message is comforting and keeps us connected. And a text message that says, “I love you” feels and is real. Communication technology that connects people does not stay cold or impersonal for long.
10. It is Too Time Consuming.
Like most things that make a difference, Internet ministry takes significant time and effort. I don’t know of any ministry that is both powerfully effective and extremely easy to implement. A major benefit and somewhat unique feature of this ministry is that it can be done from anywhere there is a computer with Internet access, and it can also be done at any time. It is a ministry that is well suited for busy people and people who are free to work only at odd hours, or people who have a difficult time traveling.
Mark M. Stephenson is director of CyberMinistry and technology of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio. This article is excerpted from his latest book, Web-Empowered Ministry: Connecting with People through Websites, Social Media, and More.