So, another move and another new season in life means finding another church in another town. So like most people my generation, I turn to the all-knowing, all-powerful Google to see what is out there. I look through several websites of several churches, and after a few minutes I wake up from dosing off to come to a startling realization:
Most church websites suck. Big time.
Oh, they look great and contain a lot of vital information. But for a new person trying to find out if we are really going to fit in at these places… nothing useful. Nada. Zip.
Sure, there is always a good, long description in the ubiquitous “what we believe” or “who we are” sections. We believe that Jesus is the coolest, the Bible is Truth, we are loved, etc. They all pretty much sound the same, and before too long I feel like I am listening to one of the adults from Peanuts talk to me.
Sometimes I just want to email them and say “you believe in Jesus? So THAT is why you aren’t call a mosque or a temple or a coven or whatever. Thanks for spending an entire page explaining it to me on your website!”
Kidding aside, experience has taught me that behind all of these generic and cool declarations of what a church believes, there is the “real story.” All of these churches try to say the right things, but they all have vastly different ways of implementing these beliefs.
Then there is all the stuff they don’t talk about on their websites.
Are they egalitarian or complementarian? Are they anti-Science? Do they ignore the ambiguity of certain Biblical passages or embrace them despite that? Do they make non-extreme right-wing Tea Party people feel welcome or weird? Do they truly embrace cultural diversity or are they still patting themselves on the back for that one black family that stumbled through their doors 10 years ago and for some reason never left? Do they look at your injured back that still hurts despite prayer and then rank your spiritual maturity as “low” based on that fact alone?
And for goodness sake, what are their people like? Are they so addicted to coffee that you will be forced to suck it down or feel like a social pariah? Do they think that Mumford & Sons counts as “good music”? Do they think that families of 10 or more are normal? Do they equate your political leanings with spiritual maturity, all the while believing the lies being fostered on them by Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton and Ron Paul? If one of your sons ends up being effeminate, are they going to stand by him if he gets bullied, or “just stay out of it because we don’t want to look like we are supporting the gay agenda”? Do they even believe in weird concepts like “gay agendas”, “Obama becoming a dictator”, or “Jesus wants me to own a military-grade fire arm to blow your head off in love”?
Of course, most bad churches don’t have a huge expensive neon sign pointing to the coffee shop right inside the door to tip you off that you need to “run away as fast as you can” like some do. Many will look good at first and then go downhill quickly once you finish the membership class. So you obviously have to look at the website first, because there seems to be no UrbanSpoon for Churches. But there is often nothing there to tell you where any of these churches stand on any issue other than the Trinity. And we all know that churches will just fall apart if they don’t all get a clear vision of what it means to believe in a word that doesn’t even appear in the Bible.
So what I want to see on Church websites is a list of where the Church stands on current issues, even hot button topics. What about an active blog by the church leaders where they discuss these issues? Or a Facebook page where the members come together to discuss? Give me a place that I can freely access to see what people are like at your church. And why not a resources page of popular bloggers or writers or thinkers that influence your church? If you follow the teachings of John Piper, let me know. If you follow the teachings of Rachel Held Evans, let me know.
In other words, quit being so wimpy about where you stand on issues when it comes to what you put on your website in an effort to trick people to come visit. Grow a spine and let people know where you stand on issues from the get-go. Even if you aren’t sure – sometimes it is refreshing to see a church admit to not knowing everything. Open learning is all the rage in educational circles. I am ready for some open churching.