by Terry WilhiteLike much of “Corporate America,” many churches launched Web sites with absolutely no idea why, except that “everybody else has a Web site, so we’ve got to have one, too.” Today many business sites are gone and many church sites are headed for the same digital graveyard, because the information on them is as old as the carpet in the church foyer. As pastor, you are ultimately accountable for all the communication of your church. Whether you have a site now or plan to have one later, these are the top things pastors need to know about a church Web site: 1. #[You Are Accountable.]# It’s okay to delegate Web site work, but always review and refine your church’s content prior to it being published on-line. Know what is on your Web site at all times and be sure it meets with your values and standards. 2. #[Know Your Site’s Target Audience.]# Know who wants to get information from your site, what they want from it, and how they want it. You can do that with a paper survey in the bulletin—or if your Web site allows, you can do an on-line survey. Don’t assume that the Internet is just for young folks. The Internet classes I’ve taught have been predominately attended by senior adults, driven by a desire to keep up with their financial information and their grandchildren via email. 3. #[Help Your Young People.]# The students in your congregation are probably your best resource to learn about the Internet. However, it’s been my observation that sometimes, unfortunately, they don’t know where to draw the line with their creativity. As pastor, your job is to make sure what they’re sharing is tasteful, without stifling their excitement and creativity. Students, and even younger student ministers, have learned much of what they know about communication from Web sites, chat rooms, and email. 4. #[Use Filtering Software.]# Make it a top priority to immediately put filtering software on every computer in your church (and at home) that has access to the Internet. Every single one—your own included. Make sure the software can screen for pornographic email as well as content, not that you’ll go looking for trash, but unfortunately trash email with porn site links are sent to every Internet user. 5. #[Do More Than Advertise.]# Identify the hurts, concerns, and worries of your congregation and your community and then develop your Web site to address those needs. Unquestionably, our world’s greatest need is Jesus, yet when I review many church Web sites, I hardly ever see a mention of Jesus, nor how one can have a personal relationship with Him. If a relationship is mentioned, often big Bible words (like justification, glorification, salvation) are used that have no meaning for many site visitors. (If you want to see the relationship explained using technology, go to my Web site for a link to the best Gospel presentation on-line that I’ve ever seen.) 6. #[Set the Email Expectation Level.]# Once your congregation knows you “do email,” you may get a flood of it. If you can respond to it all, that’s fine. But in sizable congregations, it’s impossible. Tell your congregation what your rules are for responding, and how to mark messages in the subject field with a key word when a response is absolutely necessary. My pastor often uses stories emailed to him in his sermons. It gives listeners input to the sermon, which he likes and so does the congregation. 7. #[Know What Is Private.]# Published, on-line prayer requests are dangerous territory and most likely are invasions of privacy. Submitting prayer requests via email for staff consideration is more acceptable. Make sure the submitter knows exactly who will get the request, what will happen to it, and if it will or will not be made available on a printed prayer list. If you don’t have a Web site for your church yet, don’t sweat it. Wait until you can do it right, based on these principles. Whether you have a site now or not, visit my Web site for information about e-zekiel.com, a content design and management provider that can affordably help your church have a very developer-, and user-friendly Internet presence. Terry Wilhite is a technology, multimedia, and communications specialist. See #http://www.terrywilhite.com# for his resources. His email address is #mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org#.