Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace … (Colossians 4:5,6 NIV)
Our website is our most easily accessed 24/7 communication face to the world. Are we being wise in our use of it?
It is obvious that the gap between Christianity and contemporary culture is growing wider. So there is more and more possibility that people who do not have a Christian understanding, when they overhear Christians talking to each other [as in sermons], will misunderstand the significance of what Christians say, and be offended.
Having our ‘in-house’ sermons freely available online can lead to difficulties for churches, their members, and their ministers.
As recent events show, having our ‘in-house’ sermons freely available online can lead to difficulties for churches, their members, and their ministers.
We need to rethink our church websites. Our websites need two levels: one open to anyone, with content especially designed for people with little or no knowledge of Christianity; the other accessible only by members, with ‘in-house’ material, including weekly sermons.
This is not being dishonest. It is recognising that we need to be speaking to two different audiences, and that our communication and message must be different as well.
Just think how easily our Christian short-hand may be misunderstood by those who do not have a broad understanding of Christianity.
Here are some examples. See how easily our words may be misunderstood.
In a sermon, I may say:
- ‘This idea comes from the devil’; (but we all understand that every lie comes from the devil, including some ideas that Christians follow. John 8:44).
- ‘Those who do these things are enemies of God’: (but we all understand that by nature,`we are all enemies of God, until we receive reconciliation through Christ).
- ‘Satan is busy in our world today’: (but we also know that Satan is also busy in the church, pecking away the word of God as it is preached, deceiving believers, and prowling round looking for someone to devour).
- ‘God killed the Egyptians’; (but we know this was not racism, that the Egyptians had oppressed God’s people, and that God had warned them again and again of the danger of resisting the release of his people from Egyptian captivity).
- ‘Sinners go to hell’: (but we also know that God also loves sinners, and sent his Son to save them).
- ‘Only those who believe in Jesus will be saved’: (but we also know that God makes people believers, and often chooses the greatest sinners and most unlikely people!)
- ‘People are full of sin, and there is no goodness in us’: (but we also believe that people are made in the image of God, and so are called to great dignity and value, and that God is in the business of forgiving and renewing us).
- ‘Good works are useless’: (but we mean that good works cannot buy salvation, not that they are not of some good value in themselves).
- ‘Christians are justified’: (we don’t mean that we are justified to do what we like because we are Christians, but that we are declared righteous through the atoning and substitutionary death of Christ).
- ‘Only Christians will be saved’: (we don’t mean that we are good enough, or better than other people, but that Christ will save us, and all who call on him).
- ‘We are Christians’: (we don’t mean that we are better than everyone else, morally superior in principle and in practice; we know our sin only too well!)
Do you see the point? We speak among ourselves with a common understanding of the broader context, and therefore a shared sense of meaning. If someone within the church doesn’t understand (or misunderstands), they have opportunities to ask the preacher or a friend about it. They will hear it in the context of relationships.
But those on the outside won’t have access to those relationships or the shared context. It will be easy for them to misunderstand, and difficult for them to find out what the preacher or teacher intended to say in context.
- Once a sermon or Bible talk is on the web, you have lost control over it. Even if you take it down, someone else may have copied it and posted it.
- If someone wants to malign Christians, even one statement from a sermon taken out of context can be used as a weapon.
Consider these challenges from St Paul.
And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:2-6 NIV11).
Paul wants ‘the mystery of Christ’ to be proclaimed clearly. He also values wisdom in relation to outsiders; he wants communication and conversation to be full of grace.
Two Levels, Three Challenges
Church websites can be really useful for outsiders. If you have never been to church, it must be terrifying to think of entering the building! Will you be interrogated? Will you be expected to know what to do? How do you know where to sit? Will you be asked to sing a solo? Will you be asked to explain publicly why you have come?
A carefully managed website (and perhaps broadcasting a few services) can be a great way to make it easier for people in this position.
The same website can also provide church members, and those who regularly attend our events, with really useful resources and information.
But these groups need different information so we need to think about how to manage that.
So, three challenges:
- Recognise that your website is your most constant and easily accessed communication interaction with the world. Make the most of it!
- Focus part of it intentionally and wisely to communicate effectively with people who are outside the church.
- Focus part of it to inform and nurture the life of your church, and limit access to this section to members of your church.
Time for a rethink?
 Jesus.net provides some good examples of how to address people who don’t know much about Christianity.