I am on a
listserv for pastors from my tribe (Free
Methodist Church in Canada)
and over the last couple of weeks there has been several postings of churches
finally getting online. As each one is posted I haven taken a look at it
and am struck by one thing, there is nothing there that would compel me to
return to the site or even think about going to that church. In many cases
I wonder if the site does a disservice to the vibrant ministries that are going
on in some of these congregations. While the church is finally "on
the web", these sites miss the target audience that we need to be targeting
in 2001-- those who use the web for more than a hobby.
describe the new breed of users, Steve Jobs has been using the phrase
"digital lifestyle" lately. A life where our cell phones,
notebooks, PDA's (personal digital assistants)
and desktops are all a part of our daily lives. A lot of us are living
that right now. My CD collection is located on www.myplay.com,
my PDA is synchronised with my two desktop computers and my Thinkpad.
I would upgrade my cell phone but since I have lost a couple of them in the last
year, there is something to be said for bargain basement phones. I am
addicted to my e-mail, more and more of my daily life is being integrated into
my webpage at www.jordoncooper.com
Yahoo! is part of my
essential everyday routine. For those times when I have to get away from it all,
Datalink keeps my life
and phone numbers in order. When we got back from a vacation from Las
Vegas, my photos we sorted into piles so they could be scanned and be posted online
meanwhile it took two months to get them into an offline album. I assume I
am one of those people that Jobs talks about despite the fact that I use PC's
running Windows and not a titanium PowerBook.
As more and more
of us move into the digital lifestyle, the more and more I see a lot of local
churches falling farther behind the digital culture and that is a frightening
thought for church leaders at this stage of the internet's development. As
millions pour onto the web, many local churches have not convinced anyone that
they are serious about using it as a serious communication and community
I have always
wondered why it is that churches put so little effort towards their online
presence. It became a lot clearer last week when after talking with a
friend of mine who leads a ministry targeted towards postmoderns. He is
knows popular culture exceptionally well and can communicate the Gospel clearly
but there was always something missing. It finally clicked that he wasn't
part of the digital lifestyle. He only used his computer when he had to
and seemed to shun technology whenever he could. The net is just another
thing to add on to his already busy schedule. He misses the point that we
have finally come to a day and age where you can't be culturally relevant and
not be net literate. As Peter Drucker says, "If you aren't computer
literate, people don't take you seriously".
More and more I
think that quote is true of churches in the online age. If you are not net
literate, postmoderns don't take you seriously. If you don't speak the
language of those in the digital lifestyle, your church won't be bothered by too
many of them. I don't know what it is within some circles of the church
that makes it macho and a sign of strength of leadership to ignore the net.
It is almost as if they are saying, "I am such a strong leader, I don't
need an e-mail address, real leaders write notes on their embossed
letterhead." Other leaders have just never caught on to the culture.
They can send e-mail and may have some favorites bookmarked but the web is
something that is not integrated into their lives. Regardless of why you
are not part of the digital culture, the time in coming to an end that we can
ignore it as ministry leaders. As author Guy Kawasaki pointed out to an
audience at Stanford Business School, "if you haven't bought a book off of Amazon.com,
you are a bozo".
points out his book, Business
at the Speed of Thought
in which he says that we overestimate the impact of change over two years but
underestimate the impact of change over 10. I will suggest that our two
years are running out and it time to re-evaluate our look at the internet and
As a political
junkie, I spent a lot of time during the U.S. and Canadian election campaigns
looking at websites. They all reflected on the candidate. A friend
of mine e-mailed me during the election to comment on how the party he voted for
in the 1994 election has seen its website become worse over the last four year
and was in disbelief that he couldn't download another parties election campaign
platform. After spending a lot of time thinking about not voting, he
settled on his original choice as his local candidate had a great website.
As a book junkie McNally Robinson is my local big box bookstore. www.mcnallyrobinson.ca
is a major reason why I go there when I do. When I want a book, I want to
make sure it is in stock. I almost never go to the local Christian
bookstore unless I am forced to or am really bored. Their website has
nothing on it so I usually end up talking to someone who has to look the book up
on Amazon.com so they can order it through their wholesaler. It became
easier to go to Amazon.com and order it myself despite the beating I get in
currency exchange. A church or business website that doesn't answer my
questions is going to send me to a website and then a brick and mortar building
see the web in terms of a digital pamphlet and have that much content online.
Some pages with not much information, a few pictures, and nothing interactive
outside of an animated e-mail link. That isn't getting the job done now
and won't in the future. I keep seeing ISP's offering to design a three or
five page website based on a Frontpage97 template for cheap. That isn't
what you want to be the public face of your church. Keep your brochures
from 1992 in the display rack where nobody reads them, not online.
As we move
towards a time where more and more of us are living out the digital lifestyle,
the church needs websites that communicate to us. The change in focus will
cause us to re-evaluate at how we look at how we communicate on the web.
Most of us use the web as an advertisement for the ministries of the church.
We need to move to a place where our church's website becomes a portal for those
who come to our church. We move from allowing people to learn about our
church to actually interacting with the church online.
Here is a quick
list of things that I think wll help your ministry make an impact online.
quote Guy Kawasaki,
WAY TO CONSTRUCT a Web site: Persuade yourself that you are Moses coming
down from the mountain and passing on wisdom to the unwashed masses. I can
guarantee in advance that your commandments will not be clear and your
products will not be compelling. Most of the Web sites from corporations
with the Mount Sinai attitude are, to be as charitable as I can be,
nothing but on-line versions of brochures.
Right way: Create a
"many-to-many" Web site. Create a buzz for your company. Build
an on-line community that will foster communication to the point of
anarchy: employees, customers, venture capital sources, sales prospects,
industry experts and even competitors, all interacting, unfettered.1
are two Christian sites where I can leave my opinions in front of the entire
community. If you aren't ready to allow people to say whatever they
want to say about you, you aren't ready to have a website yet. There
is always the temptation to delete some of the comments that have been
posted in my own message forums on jordoncooper.com
but then I am not offering real community. I get some criticisms about
the site and about what I am doing ministry wise. Messing with what is
written is a sure-fire way to destroy community online. A lot of sites
have learned the hard way that messing with their online forums will hurt
them quickly. www.aquachurch.com
is one that comes to mind. It was a great site with some fun boards.
An upgrade to their message board software seemed to stop all the posters to
the site. A visit a couple days ago confirmed the online community
that was forming there had gone the way of David Hasselhoff's singing
insanely popular Star Wars fan site) which has a very famous and extremely
active online community saw their message boards slow down for weeks after
an upgrade to their boards.
One of the
concerns is what happens if someone says something negative about your
church. I always respond, it is being said offline too. Look at
it as a blessing as once it has been said online, it can be addressed.
started to run one from Lakeview's site and from jordoncooper.com. It
has grown to couple different lists that reach out to hundreds of different
people. The people that sign up for jordoncooper.com or on
www.lakeviewchurch.com are asking for more information. If it is well
done it will be something that people look forward to it everytime you send
it out. One of my favorite ones is done by a church plant from
Minneapolis called Spirit
Garage. It is
put out by Listbot
and is sent out every month and is simple yet well written. It doesn't
matter how many e-mails that I have when that gets to my inbox, I read it.
I signed up for it and I look forward to it.
It takes a
lot of time and effort but my favorite e-mail newsletter has nothing to do
with ministry, it has to do with venture capital and comes from Garage.com.
Every morning, Geoff's
Gems arrives before
I get my coffee and gives me 5-7 news stories to do with high tech capital
funding. It is short and a way to start off my day in an area I find
interesting and know nothing about. That and if I ever need to raise
ten million dollars to launch a dot-com, I will be well informed.
calendar of events. This can be as complex as using Matt's
using CGI or as simple as using www.calendars.net.
I use Sidekick
98 for my personal
organizer and it like Lotus, Microsoft, and Corel's organizers all export
calendars to html. At Lakeview we use Pagemaker to create our church's
calendar and a quick conversion to Adobe Acrobat. I decided to take a
class a local Bible College and wanted to find out what classes were being
offered, when classes started and when reading week was. I went 0 for
3. I kept thinking, I am going to get cutting edge information from
the 1980s. The site was awful and I almost said forget it. When
I am looking for information about a church, I don't want to phone the
office or go through the backseat of my car to find the information I want.
I want it to be online. Considering how simple it is it get the data
online, there is not excuse not to have it there.
content and make it easy to find. Lakeview's content is all stuff
that we had created anyway. Sermon transcripts and RealAudio come from
sermons that had to be preached. Our media gallery comes from our
weekend services. Our discipleship/teaching information comes from
what we teach. Our Future
Mapping e-mail newsletter comes from my reading across the net.
One of the
things that we made a mistake of when we redesigned Lakeview's site a couple
months ago was the navigation. We had to guess on what areas the
content was in. While Yahoo! hasn't revolutionized the area of web
design, you can find what you are looking for in a hurry. I can't
think of the amount of time I have said, "I saw it last week but I
can't find it now". Information is useless if you can't find it.
Make the most important info reachable within one click of your main page.
If you don't people will get frustrated. Add a search engine. If
your ISP doesn't have one, companies like Atomz
or Picosearch who offer free and
easy to use search tools. If you have a large site, take some time and
build a sitemap. You have no idea how much people will appreciate it.
another good example of how content is king. It is the simplest of all
the portals but who is the one making money? When people are looking
for something, they want it fast. Yahoo understands that, so should
Guy Kawasaki in
his book, Rules for Revolutionaries says to eat your own dog food.
In other words use your site to keep up-to-date with what is happening at your
church. Sit a group of seekers down at your website and see if they can
find all the answers to their questions. See if the new staff person you
hired can have all of their questions answered by your church intranet (don't
have one yet?). Can a person who just missed your Board meeting get the
minutes or does she have to wait until you mail it them? Does your church
website a reflection of how we all use the internet.
A couple of
years ago I was saying the churches need to start looking at their websites as
portals for church members. In hindsight I was wrong. Our websites
don't need to be starting points for the web, they need to be a place where
people can come to have their questions answered. Kind of like the local
Cooper is a pastor at Lakeview Church in Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan, Canada. He is married to Wendy and father of
Mark. He is addicted to Amazon.com, and Fast Company, and
thinks the Toronto Blue Jays will catch the New York Yankees.
He is online at www.jordoncooper.com.
He is currently "eating his own dog food" with a
ministry called "Upper Room."