I think a lot about church website content. My list of essential content has grown and changed over the last couple of years. However, there has been one thing missing as I have blogged, taught and consultated churches about their virtual front door. If we want to convert website visitors into church visitors, we need to share stories.
Vital churches have long known the power of stories of transformation to inspire generosity and engagement, but few are using the power of narrative to inspire people to take the first step of visiting a church.
As I visit great church websites, I see great effort put into exceptional hospitality. Great websites make it clear that guests are welcome and reduce barriers to visiting by clearly displaying worship times, offering clear directions, offering guidance as to what to expect, and answering frequently asked questions. However, that is only useful to someone who already feels some inspiration (likely fed by God’s prevenient grace) to visit a church. Stories have the power to fuel inspiration.
Why should I go to church in the first place?
Why should I go to church in the first place? We know that church attendance is seen as an obligation by a vast majority of the population, so why should people come? And if people do feel the tug of the Spirit to engage in a faith community, why should they come to your church?
The answer should be, “Because, at our Church, Jesus transforms lives.”
The first step in this is answering the question, “Are lives transformed at our church?” If your church can’t offer a response to that question, you have some soul-searching to do. Either the Holy Spirit is not presently at work in your congregation or, more likely, you aren’t looking in the right place.
Asking the Question
I was once at a church where we were asking this question. When we would ask leaders for stories of transformation, they would respond with data:
- We had 30 kids in Sunday school.
- We sent a mission team to the border.
- We had record participation in our youth retreat.
- Our worship attendance is up.
That’s great, but didn’t anyone’s life change? We asked again and again and finally someone timidly told me a story of a new family who was struggling and was welcomed into the church. Their son found a place to belong in the church’s special needs program. Their daughter connected to new friends in the youth program. The adults found healing for their marriage in counseling and their new small group. They even got a new financial footing after being asked to join a Financial Peace University class. None of them had been baptized and they were all baptized together on a Sunday morning. That is life change!
If we want to convert website visitors to church visitors, we need to give them a taste of the transformative power of God. Of course, we want to be careful and sensitive with people’s stories. We always need to ask permission and make sure people are comfortable sharing the intimate details of their faith journey. However, I find that when peoples’ lives are changed by Jesus, they are more than willing to share.
Somehow the church, which holds sacred story at the core of our faith, doesn’t get what corporate marketers do. While I was watching Thursday Night Football, I watched Mercedes-Benz leverage the power of story to sell cars. They shared a delightful, heart-warming, fictional story of young love to try and convince me to buy a car.
If you watched the commercial you saw that Mercedes wasn’t selling cars; they were selling an idea. Specifically, “Don’t you want to be the parent prepared to be there for your kids during the most transformative moments of their lives?” That is not going to get me to buy an expensive SUV. But it will convince someone.
A colleague recently shared a story with me of a church wondering why they weren’t seeing any new visitors. “We have a beautiful sanctuary, good air conditioning, comfortable seats and a great preacher. Why aren’t people coming?” The answer is, “That isn’t what people are looking for.” They are looking for meaning, hope, purpose, direction, salvation. Fortunately, we have those things.
The essential elements of a church website cover some important things: When do you gather? Where do you gather? What will it be like if I visit? What else do I need to know? How do I get in contact with you?
But why should I give up my Sunday morning, perhaps my one day off? Why should I venture to this new place where I am still not totally sure what to expect? Why should I trust you?
Your website can answer those questions through stories – stories of real people whose lives have been transformed through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Those can be written stories or they can be video vignettes. Those are things that will move people from being a website visitor to a church visitor.
In Part 2 of this post, I will share some ways you can collect and feature transformational stories on your church’s website.