I'm convinced that a congregation's website is the new "back pew." It used to be that people who were checking out a church could arrive a little late, leave early and in between sit unobtrusively in the back pew. From there, they'd evaluate the friendliness of worshipers, the value of the sermon and the sing-ability of the music. From that vantage point, they would decide whether a second visit was in order.
As I lead worship, I'm aware of the latecomers who exit without giving me a chance to greet them and become acquainted. I'm also deeply aware that sometimes they are sitting in the "back pew" long before they literally find their way into the back pew.
Over and over, I've had new members tell me about their decision to visit our church, often spending considerable time on our website first. One spoke of looking for a congregation that cared enough about children to make sure it let people know it offered child care. Another listened to sermons online for a couple of months. She and her husband were coming from an especially painful church experience and wanted to test out whether this felt like a safe place before they decided to come to worship.
Yet another spoke of having hit a "faith bump" in her life while struggling with challenging health issues of family members. Between holding a full-time job and caring for an ailing husband and aging parents, the only time she had to think about looking for a church home was late at night, so she surfed the Web to do so. She looked for websites that were up-to-date. And she said our staff's prompt reply to her email was an important factor in her decision to join. I was surprised to learn that leaders of other congregations had left her pleas untended. To be sure, it was the congregation's people who helped make her decision, but without the technology such conversations may never have been possible.
This is why I'm convinced that a church's website is now both the back pew and the front door. It makes a first impression and may well be a factor in feeding someone on their faith journey long before they make time to join the congregation in worship. How can we ignore or neglect this important tool in reaching people with the good news of God's love?
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers