I’ve been pondering the impact that a good church website can have upon church attendance, growth, and demographics. In fact, I had a lovely conversation with Susan Ebertz here at Wartburg this morning about this very topic, as one of her teaching interests is technology in ministry. A few thoughts from that conversation:
Church Attendance and Growth
I have anecdotal evidence to suggest that one of the first things that new visitors to a church in a very religiously plural area do is check out the website. A good website with current, up-to-date information suggests that the congregation is vital. Just like there has been a lot of ink spilled over the idea that your small business can look bigger and more professional using the internet, the same goes for small and medium-sized churches. You can show the world that small churches can be vital too.
The people I spend a lot of time with know that I like to point out that “the church is full of old people!” Now don’t get me wrong: I love old people! But I’m not one of them. I’m 25 years old at the moment, and demographically speaking I am an endangered species in the ELCA – to say nothing of mainline Protestant denominations in general. The people my age who don’t go to church do use the internet effectively (particularly social networking sites like Facebook), and churches that want to attract people my age need to use technology effectively too. Susan pointed out that churches in the Evangelical traditions seem to use technology much more readily, and they also are growing while the mainline is shrinking. I wonder if these are connected?
A Research Proposal
I had some ideas as we were talking, and I wanted to put them to the world for comment. (Or maybe I just want to talk to myself – who knows?)
- What if you were to take Dean Peters’ Heal Your Church Website, a great resource with hundreds of posts on effective church website design and maintenance, and derive a rubric for quantitatively evaluating church websites? I wonder what I might find if that quantitative data was combined with information on each congregation’s demographics and attendance trends?
- Using the Internet Wayback Machine, I wonder if trends in quantitative scores for sites over 1, 2, or even 5 years (for churches that have been online that long) correlate with trends in membership?
- To what extent do the attitudes of lay and ordained leaders influence the quality of the website shown to the world? How often are church councils involved in website content? (I suspect not very often.) Does it make a difference in quality or freshness of that content?
Any other ideas for ways that correlations between church demographics and technology use could be measured objectively?