From the vault
This interview first appeared online at Niphal.com.
Since then, the world has changed and things have moved on. It is replicated here for historic interest including associated imagery.
Links are provided to the closest view of the site as you would have seen at the time, using my favourite internet archive site Archive.org
Dean thanks for joining us at Niphal, did you receive the answers I sent you for these questions?
- Yes, but they were encoded in hexadecimal and everyone knows I’m a base–10 type of guy.
- Yes, but they were written in Aramaic wish it a bit of a stretch for a geeky Greek boy like me.
- Yes, but you forgot to enclose the number of Swiss bank account you had mentioned in your previous email.
Dean, your site HealYourChurchWebsite.com is quite critical of church websites as far as I can see. You don’t mind telling people that they are pretty much being useless online (if that is the case). Is this true? Are churches/Christians being useless online?
Wow, that question is a bit critical of my critiques, don’t you think? Actually, the problem isn’t that so many church web sites are useless, as they are ineffective. As Franky Schaeffer wrote in his book Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts the Church has lost its influence on society by losing its influence on art, music and other forms of media.
While this book was penned back in 1981, one of those other forms is now the Internet. And the mediocrity can be seen in church web site after church web site that takes the wide path of convenient contrivance to the narrow path of compelling content. The end results are ineffective sites that abdicate our influence on the online society.
This isn’t true for all church web sites, but for every good example I’ve found, I’ve can point out at least ten that range from ineffective to repulsive, and in some cases unintentional parodies of the worst the Church offers.
Would you say that there is an understanding of the importance of the Internet in people’s lives? That this translates into a massive mission field? Do church leaders recognise this?
No, yes and no. One only need read the Pew Internet Project’s December 29, 2002 report in which asserts that most people expect to find the information they seek via online sources before any other. This means for those who are seeking to fill that “God shaped vacuum in every heart” identified by Blaise Pascal 150 years ago are turning to the net.
Unfortunately, the Church doesn’t understand that and not only misses on leading seekers to Christ, but losing believers to heresy, agnosticism and/or apostasy. Like every area of our lives, we are commanded not just to make converts, but disciples. Which means you can have all the slick Flash animation you want on the site, but if you’re all style and no substance than you may attract a seeker who’s prone to shiny things, but you’re not going to keep them.
This is reflective not only in the number of church web sites that haven’t been updated since the turn of the century, but also the lack of resource and time most churches fail to invest their web presence.
How do you think that individual churches should be responding to the need online?
In three ways, all of which should become an extension of a church’s existing body of work. Seeking and saving the lost. Making disciples of them. Building–up the Body in love, knowledge and wisdom.
So how does that translate into a church’s web site? Glad you asked. I think it is fair to say that Paul’s analogy of the Body, though primarily aimed at the individual, can also be extended to a local church. Meaning that each local church has its own unique purpose and personality that fits into God’s greater scheme.
The trick then is for the local church to convey their unique purpose and personality to seeking individuals. Painfully, this first means a church body needs to sit down and actually think out who they are and what they’re called to do – a very scary prospect to any ‘Sunday morning only’ congregation.
In other words, its as much an issue of polity as it is programming.
For example, it is good for a church to have information that shows the sinner how to be saved, but too many churches begin and end there. How many of them would benefit by putting together online information that would give a family that has just moved to the region an idea of what goes on inside the worships service, or provides a Sunday school teacher with a lesson plan?
Similarly, I think the Church on a whole could have a huge impact on society, not by being slick, but by taking to their web site the discipleship aspect of the Great Commission in the form of Bible studies, sermons, FAQs, blogs, listserves and a host of other online idioms many churches ignore.
Is this happening? What is happening?
I think what is happening can best be summed up on the words of Admiral James Stockdale uttered during a 1992 Vice–Presidential debate – “Who am I, what am I doing here?”
There are some churches that can answer these questions, and it shows in their web site, as it does in all other areas of their ministry. However, as I look at the great cloud of witlessness that is the Church online, for the most part I’d have to say no.
Many churches have no clue why they’re online, just that they’re supposed to be there an that anything is better than nothing. An unfortunate misconception that has made church web sites a laughing stock to non–believers and an embarrassment to the churchgoer.
What advantages can we see from using the Internet to bring/take the Gospel of Christ to people online?
The advantages, and the possibilities are as limited as imaginations. However, in a nutshell, I see the Internet being useful in making smart Disciples of Christ, and more of them. From there, becoming an influence on all areas of life within our society.
And while I do think churches on the whole need to get their act together, I also believe there are several shining examples of good stuff getting out the Good news that we can and should learn and do likewise.
With regards to discipleship, there is Crosswalk and Gospelcom have done a good job at rounding up some of the best informational services available – especially online Bibles and Bible Study tools – though I still find myself visiting the Christian Classics Ethereal Library when it comes to creeds and church fathers.
More recently, I’ve become very excited about developments at the Crossway’s English Standard Version (ESV), which is now accessible via anApplication Programmer’s Interface (API). I firmly believe that it is forward thinking technologies such as these that will help us get His word out to the remotest region of the Earth.
There are also some very good sites that deal with cults and current issues, such as Leadership U and the Watchman Fellowship. I’m also particularly fond of a couple of humour sites that show our lighter side, such as The Door Magazine and Ship–of–Fools.
Sermons, sermons, sermons. Nothing conveys a church’s belief system than putting up in writing what goes down on the pulpit. Two I’m familiar with are the discovery papers by Ray C. Stedman and the Sermons by Mark Adams.
As for being salt–and–light, one broad area is in Christian media, specifically e–Zines Christianity Today, the Mars Hill Review, Boundless Webzine, the Credenda Agenda and Antithesis all come to mind. All of which serve the role of salt and light for a host of relevant issues.
However, more recently web logs have begun to fill I the gap in a variety of areas and on a variety of topics. One need only take a look at the several hundreds of differing web logs listed at blogs4God to get an idea of the diversity of which I speak. For example, aside from my technically oriented HealYourChurchWebSite there are also talented apologist such as David Heddle, powerful pundits such as Joshua Claybourn, and delightful journalists such as Kathryn Lively.
So to answer your question, there we have many successful models of web sites run by Christians in a variety of areas. The hard part is figuring out how to incorporate such content and formats into our church web sites.
What are some of the difficulties faced by these ministries?
Time, money, talent and vision. And even when these issues are tackled, there is the grind of the ‘maintenance cycle’ and the never–ending battle over security.
Finally Dean, where do you see the church heading online at the moment? How do you think our response should change to fit inline with the great commission (to take the Gospel to all people)?
There are some technical developments, which I think will enable churches with limited budgets and talent pools to put up content that is both current and compelling. These would be content management systems (CMS) and web logging. Neither model is exactly right for a church in my mind, the former too corporate, the later too limited.
However, I do think in the short term future, such tools can be smithed into turnkey systems in which a pastor can sit down and pipe–in his sermons from Word Perfect, a church secretary import a calendar from Outlook or a Sunday school teacher input his/her outline via an Open Source application without having to become an experts in HTML.
But like all tools, these will only work after a church has gone through and thought out its personality and purpose, and where it fits into God’s plan. There’s an old Baptist expression that I think sums this up best “Aim for nothing, and you’ll surely hit it.” I might append it with “no matter how much money or software you throw at the problem.”