Have you heard the one about the minister of a small parish church who claimed he had a congregation of over 10,000? When the headlines first struck in November 2009 many were understandably clutching at their sides with laughter. However, when the chuckling had stopped and the facts were examined, the claims were proven to be true! Luss Parish Church at Loch Lomond, Scotland, with little more than room for 200 parishioners, was broadcasting their sermons on the internet to people from around the world on a weekly basis.
This minister had taken the words of Mark chapter 16 verse 15, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature’, quite literally.
Whether we like it or not, our lives have been transformed by technology, and perhaps the most influential is the internet. When radio was introduced, it took 38 years to reach a market audience of 50 million, with television taking 13 years. When the internet was introduced it took a mere 4 years to reach that level. Our senses are being bombarded with information from every angle. A recent statistic suggested a week’s worth of content from the New York Times contained more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime back in the 18th century.
With this in mind, when you first start to consider creating a website, it can be daunting, if not terrifying. So why on earth would you create your own website when it would seem you would be doing nothing more than being like John the Baptist, ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness’. Will anyone hear you; will anyone bother?
The answer to this is perhaps best summed up by a quote from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink’. This part of the poem depicts a mariner, lost at sea with provisions running low, desperate for a drink. Yet, although he is surrounded by water, none of it is fit to drink. This idea can be applied to the internet. Whilst there is a lot of information on it, some of it very useful, a lot of it can be described as useless at best and harmful at worst. Like the ancient mariner, desperate for a good drink of clean water, there are a lot of people, both believers and unbelievers, who are desperate for good quality information that quenches their thirst. Do we, as believers, do something about it or do we let that thirst go unquenched?
There is a natural fear amongst Christians about using new technologies. However, unfortunately, this means that as the popularity of the technology in question increases, the quantity of scriptural content is almost non-existent. By the time we take action, we are battling against a flood, and are often too late. Searching the scriptures for examples of where Christians of the past used technology for the promotion of the gospel can be thought of as a fruitless task, and yet the word of God is full of examples describing how people used what was around them for the furtherance of the gospel.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has been followed by a huge crowd of people; some are able-bodied, whilst others have disabilities. Jesus chooses this location to deliver one of His greatest sermons, because Christ was using the resources that were round about him to teach the people. The Sea of Galilee is shaped like a bowl and has strong winds that serve as a natural amplifier. A voice spoken downwind is easily carried a fair distance, thus enabling everyone, even a great crowd, to hear what Jesus was saying.
The Bibles that we carry and read are another example of how technology has been used to spread the word of God. For centuries we relied on dedicated scribes rewriting the scriptures on new parchment which naturally restricted the supply of complete volumes of scripture. The advent of the printing press meant the supply increased further, allowing more people to acquire a Bible and read it for themselves. The internet is a similar tool that can be used to increase the availability of God’s word. When we put up content, we not only have the ability to reach people in our local area, or our own country, but nearly 2 billion people across the face of the earth.
However, it is not only the provision of good quality content that should prompt you to consider creating a website. It is essential to consider where people are getting information about your assembly from. If they walk past the door and their interest is stimulated, for many the first port of call will be the internet, to discover who you are and what you believe. Failure to find any information will result in one of two things happening. One, they will simply give up and move on to something else, or, two, they will try other sources. If you had no association with your assembly, how would you try to get in touch with someone who went there? For many, the only option would be to come along to a meeting, at best a daunting prospect to most who have no idea what it will be like. Equally, considering the busyness of modern life, how many contacts are we losing by expecting them to be available at the times we designate?
So when you first start to consider building a site, think about why you are creating it. What purpose will it serve? What problem are you setting out to solve? Here are some possibilities to think about.
Sharing Information / Point of Contact
Using a website to get information out into the public domain can be quick and easy. Many assemblies are very active in tracting their local community, but the amount of information you can fit onto a tract is very limited. Also, as described above, if a person does have more questions, the windows of opportunity they have to get answers from us are sometimes limited to a couple of hours on a Sunday and perhaps some nights during the week. One of the ways around this is to include a website address where anyone who wants to know more can go and either get the answer, or submit a question to someone who can answer it.
In the modern day, with church attendance falling to an all-time low, one of the greatest barriers to getting people ‘through the door’, is the door itself. Our meeting places can vary from the traditional style church that has been around for hundreds of years, to the few rooms located ‘down an alley and up a stair’. A website can break that barrier by letting people find out about you without them having to come through that door. Once the fear of the unknown has been removed, people are more likely to enter.
We pour a huge amount of our time and energy into having meetings, with one of the most common being the gospel meeting. One of the popular ways websites are being used of recent times is as a storehouse for recordings of these meetings. This is a great mechanism for increasing the reach of both gospel and ministry. Whilst this may be of interest to those who are not believers, it is especially useful to those who may be housebound and unable to meet with the believers regularly. However, we need to add a note of caution. Is the material you put up fit to be put up? Poor quality recordings can do more to dissuade people than encourage. Does a recording dispel a poor image, or does it add to it?
Creating a website can be a useful tool for solving numerous problems. However, it is important to note that simply creating a website is not a cure in itself. It is fair to say that any work for the Lord in the local assembly doesn’t take place in isolation, and the effects are felt across the board. So the process of creating a site must be taken with a wider view of all the assembly activity. If our website is going to be our public face to the world, we must first ensure that we are fit to face the world.
If you’ve considered creating a site, thought about why you are doing it, and what problems it might help you solve, the actual course of putting up a site can also be fraught with difficulty. In our next article, we’ll consider the practical problems of getting a site up and running.