by J. Randal Matheny, editor
By the time he found our congregation — the only one in a city of 610,000 inhabitants –, he’d visited our town six times this year on business. Earlier, this brother from Florida had gone to two different addresses he’d googled on the Internet without success. But he kept searching and the Lord rewarded his perseverance.
But not everyone is as dedicated as this brother.
Which brings me to lessons to be learned from his and our experience.
1. Don’t depend on brotherhood portals for updated information. I checked some sites where we’d registered our congregation. On one, the information was over five years old. On the other, at least 10 years old — ancient history for a congregation like us without a permanent building. It’s important to update submitted information, but at one portal I’d asked for updates and it was never done.
2. Get a website and keep it updated. Our congregation has a website in Portuguese, but our American visitor would not have found it and could not have read it if he had. (Online translators are worthless.) So I quickly put up a small site in English to provide essential information for business people or tourists who come to or through our city.
Mission churches and congregations in countries where English is not spoken would do well to consider an English page. Especially in larger cities with industry and business that bring in many foreign visitors.
Churches whose language is English do well to be sure all pertinent information is present. I have seen a surprisingly large number of church websites that never mentioned the city or state in which they were located.
And know what it takes for a website to be found. Read up on the dynamics of the Internet. One ministry refused to place any outside links on its site, which guaranteed that few would find it.
3. Provide added value. On the website, I added tips to help a person feel more comfortable in our midst and to give him an idea of what to expect. For example, in most congregations in Brazil, as in ours, people don’t wear suits and ties. So I mentioned that custom, since a visitor might feel out of place when overdressed.
Also, I provided a list of area congregations and an overview of Brazil missions. A map or two and a photo of the front of the house where we meet, with people included in the picture, also give a sense of who and where we are.
4. Declare your principles. Don’t be afraid to let people know where you stand. No need to be prickly, but no reason to hide your convictions either. The phrase “church of Christ” doesn’t mean much in the religious world where other groups use it and some among us have strayed from the truth. So I put up a short bullet list of our beliefs.
5. Keep the end in view. While I provided some links for evangelistic studies, the likelihood is that the English page for a Brazilian church will attract our brethren. The page targets that potential audience.
Like any communication, a website needs to keep in mind who it is trying to reach, what it seeks to accomplish. The better the target is defined, the more effective the message, be it a sermon or a website.
6. Don’t miss the blessing — giving and receiving. It turned out that the visitor who persevered to find us also shares the pulpit in his congregation, since they don’t have a full-time preacher. After we’d met on Saturday and lunched together, he accepted my invitation to preach for the congregation Sunday morning and to accompany us that afternoon to the church we work with in the next city over. He brought two powerful lessons very appropriate for the church and by his presence and words, encouraged the local Christians greatly. Not to mention our family as well.
Sometimes we miss the blessing of Christian visitors because we are so well hidden, in spite of the Internet, that not even angels could find us to visit unawares. A little effort to change that can serve others and bless our churches.
by J. Randal Matheny, editor