Your Portal to the World: Now is the time to update your online presence


I know that in the wake of the outcome of General Conference last month many of you are hurting, wondering, questioning, and that the folks in your churches are doing the same thing. I know that people are leaving or thinking of leaving from both ends of the theological spectrum. A major disruption has occurred, the results will not be fully known for a while. If possible, encourage folks to remain calm and remain with you for now. Don’t promise anything except that things will become clearer as we move forward. If you want accurate information the Western Jurisdiction website has resources. That website is: http://westernjurisdictionumc.org/ahomeforall/  
In the face of all that, why have I chosen to focus on the seemingly trivial topic of websites and Facebook pages?  Well, read on and see why.
As your District Superintendent I check your websites and Facebook pages as often as I can. I especially do it when I am coming for a visit, going to participate in worship, when I lead a workshop or when I am assessing a local congregation. I have seen a few good websites and quality Facebook pages. But I have also noticed that some of you don’t seem to realize that your online presence is the single most important portal for people who want to find and learn about your church.
When people are looking for a church, they begin online.  If they look today and find your announcement about Christmas Eve services or your plans for January as the first thing that comes up, then you might as well slap a banner across your page that says: Nothing for you here! If your website or Facebook page are not up-to-date and updated regularly – at least once a week – you might as well not have them. And, with the secular media attention given to our recent General Conference,  IF people are seeking out a United Methodist Church right now they will want to know right off the bat where you stand as a congregation on the issue of inclusion.
Here are a few things you need to be aware of concerning your website:

  • First off, you need to have one. The web is now the yellow pages and the newspaper ad of bygone days rolled into one. The first thing someone does when they are looking for a church is to search the web. They will not refer to the yellow pages and newspaper ads just don’t work.
  • People will pass you by if your information is not current. When an event has passed it cannot still be on the opening page of your website. If it is it tells folks that you can’t be bothered to make sure they have the latest information. And right now when the UMC is getting press coverage, to have out dated stuff on your website tells people you don’t care even about what’s happening in your own denomination. Get the old stuff off as soon as possible. Even if you don’t have something new to put in its place at least put a notice there that says something like: “Something new is coming, check back often!”
  • The very first page that opens when someone clicks on the link to your website MUST have your CURRENT worship time and physical address and both need to be easy to see and find. It needs pictures and that beautiful shot of your Christmas tree or your Easter lilies isn’t what is needed. A shot of people – a small number of people – is best. Having them engaged in something fun or significant is best. If you cannot get such a shot then a high-quality shot of your church, windows, a banner, etc. will work. But no matter what, change that picture often!
  • If your congregation wants to tell people that it is a place for all people then you need a rainbow on your opening screen. Some statement about being inclusive is good but if the rainbow ain’t there they won’t bother to find your statement.
  • Make sure that in the “About Us” section you list clearly and in as few words as possible what your core values and basic beliefs are. If you have a mission statement post it here. If you have a tag line or summary of your mission statement that would be good on that opening screen.
Concerning Facebook:
  • If you have a Facebook page you must post at least once a week – once a day is even better. Both are very workable as it takes only a couple minutes to create a post.
  • At least half of your posts should be as specific to your congregation as they can be. Posting a picture with a few words is a great way to do this. Examples: Messy Church today – what fun! With a picture of people at messy church. Habitat work day today – we are a church that cares. With a picture of a couple of your folks decked out in hardhats and tool belts.
  • Post each and every week a notice about what’s coming on Sunday. Include sermon title or theme for the service, the scripture and make sure you post the time of worship.
  • You can repost things from the district, from me, from the Conference, from the Greater Northwest Area, from the Bishop, from conference blogs, etc. You can also share posts from other churches in your area that mention something they are doing that you want to support.
As the days progress and more clarity comes, I anticipate that the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference, the Greater Northwest Area, and the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church will produce some things that will help you with your website and Facebook page concerning a unified message. Watch for it.
I think now more than ever people will be searching the web and Facebook to find out who the United Methodists in their city, town or area are and what they believe. Your website and Facebook page will be the single best way to share that information. We have a unique opportunity to help people understand who we are, and you will want to make sure your two best avenues are saying what you want to say about your church.
May God be with you at this time of shifting and disruption. May we all pay attention and see where God would have us go!
DS Tim