Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Church Information Forms, Websites, Lipstick, and Pigs

Having recently pitched out the crazy idea that there might be a way for Presbyterian churches to find a pastor in less than two years, some of the comments on that article in the Presbyterian Outlook got me to thinking.

One of the underlying assumptions of the Presbyterian "interim period" is that this is a time when congregations take stock of who they are, rediscovering their mission and vision.  As a part of that process of finding their identity, the Pastoral Nominating Committee goes through discernment exercises, and creates the Church Information Form, the See Eye Eff which will let potential pastors know 1) who the church is and 2) what they expect from a Teaching Elder.  Writing that CIF can be a major undertaking, and it's not without value.

Here's da ting, tho.  

Having recently been through the process of seeking a ministry myself, I can say that while CIF review was an important part of the process of my assessing a congregation and considering an approach to that community, it was not the only part.   

Of equal and in some ways greater importance was the congregational web-presence.

Where the CIF is the face of the church made up all purty-like for potential suitors, the website is the face that the congregation shows the rest of the world.   Sometimes, of course, that's just putting HTMLipstick on a pig.  But more often than not, a quality website indicates a solid congregation.

And so I'd look at the sites with a careful eye.    How recent and dynamic was the content?  I know that 2008 seems like just yesterday, but it isn't.  If there's nothing that indicates activity in the last three months (and here, I'm being nice), if there are stale links and stagnant content, then you really don't care.  You just don't.

There are other questions I'd ask myself.  How well-structured was the site for potential visitors and newcomers to the community?   Did the site connect to or integrate social media?  If it did connect to social media, was there any evidence that the community actually did anything with that media?

I'd go deeper still.   Did the web presence mesh with what I was seeing in the CIF?   Were the hopes, visions, and particular identity of that Christ-community something that you could see clearly on the site?   How warm and grace-filled was the content presented for public consumption?   

Perhaps most importantly, because this is the primary metric by which Teaching Elders should assess their connect with a community, could I see myself being a member of that church?   Not just the church that pitched itself to me on an in-house datasheet, but the church as it presents itself to the world.

When I went a-looking for a new congregation, what I found in web-assessing my current church was not the biggest and most slickety website in the world.  But it was updated regularly enough to show care.  It was filled with pictures of actual human beings, souls who were part of the worship and life of the community.  Perfect and super-mega-shiny?  No.  This was not the work of a big-parking-lot church with a  IT budget in the mid-six figures.  But it felt true and reflective of a small community that was both warm and web-savvy.   The web spoke who they were, and that was, well, terrific.

Long and short of it?   In this era, a congregation that doesn't have a web presence that tells the truth of who they are won't go far.  Pastors...ones worth their salt...know this.