The modern Evangelical church has played well to the on-demand nature of technology in our connected world. Some churches have more people watching their services online throughout the week or listening in via podcast than they do in actual weekend attendance.
Pastors of many of these churches love to use social media. Ed Stetzer recently published a great article about the dangers social media has created for pastors seeking popularity that it provides. He said, “Pastors and church leaders ought to be on social media—without a doubt—but using social media to serve yourself instead of to serve others is a slippery slope to sinful pride and a pursuit of vanishing glory.”
Pastors have amassed throngs of followers and are sharing some of the most engaged content on social media.
And while pastors and churches have done a great job at stewarding these platforms, they have failed to see the price of being engaged online is transparency.
You can’t hide anymore.
With social media and the web, everything is out for people to see and if it’s not, people will find a way to let their voices be heard (think Amazon and Yelp reviews, Charity Navigator, Glassdoor, or any day on Twitter).
I spent fifteen years as a church communications and marketing consultant. I believe the church has the greatest message in the world and it needs to be communicated in creative and compelling ways. After all, God is the author of creativity.
In my career, I’ve worked with some of the largest churches in the country and co-led an organization that trained and resourced thousands of churches. I even wrote a book about church marketing! I am thankful for the work I was able to do and know how much communication matters to churches, especially in a digital age.
When I’d be asked to speak at conferences and seminars about church marketing I would always say, “The church has never been more resourced to get their message out into the world. We can literally reach people around the world with the click of a mouse. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and with it comes a tremendous responsibility for how we steward it.”
The Church does have more resources than ever to get their message out to the world and they are doing it well. From livestreaming their services, pastors going on Facebook Live, church apps, podcasts and all manner social media, churches are leveraging digital technology to move beyond their four church walls and into the world online.
One of the most valuable pieces of real estate for churches today isn’t necessarily property they own, but the space they reside online: their websites. In more conferences than I could begin to count, so many tech-savvy pastors would remind us that church websites were the front door to our churches online.
Churches invest an incredible amount of time, energy, and resources to present themselves well online. They know most people make their decision to visit a church based on what they see and experience online first.
Look up any church website and you’ll see well-designed (for the most part!) logos, videos or photos of a pastor preaching passionately, rock and roll like concert photos of worship services, groups of happy people smiling, and ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, phrases like:
All are welcome here!
We love people because God loves people.
We love everyone, always.
No perfect people are allowed here.
No matter who you are you have a place here.
Many of them do genuinely mean it.
But what I also know is that many of them should have an asterisk next to many of those statements because the truth is not everyone is truly welcome if you dig deep beneath the surface. Therein lies the problem.
I have been engaged in the strategic conversations about what a church communicates, both internally and externally through websites and social media, I know there’s a severe breakdown in communication when it comes to how a church communicates policies that impact LBGTQ+ individuals. So many churches are forthright and will share their opinions about nearly everything except this one thing. They know by saying anything, it’s going to cause a problem or “deter them from their mission of loving and reaching people.” They know to name it would mean a loss of credibility somewhere so they carefully manage and either ignore or bury policies and position papers. Some choose to not to out of care or compassion for the people they are trying to reach, others do so out of fear of losing attendees and tithe dollars.
For far too long LGBTQ+ people have had to try and read between the lines of what churches mean when their websites loudly scream, “you have a place here,” to only find out much later they didn’t have a seat at the table. There is heartbreaking story after story about people who find a church and only when they put down their guard and make the vulnerable step to get baptized, become a member or take a leadership role find out they’re exempt because of their sexuality. The pain this causes is enough for some to leave church and faith altogether.
So many people beg to have conversations with their pastors to get answers to only be dismissed, ignored, or referred to a support group. That’s not okay. Faithful LGBTQ+ believers have done all they can to get answers and have been left with few options.
As one of my favorite Sunday school teachers used to say, “This nonsense has got to stop!”
At Church Clarity we are not asking for anything more than clarity. We aren’t asking for churches to change their theology, bend their beliefs and practices, or anything else. We just want to know if churches say, “Come as you are,” that it means LGBTQ+ are fully welcomed, too.
We’ve chosen church websites as our way of scoring a level of church’s clarity simply because an organization’s website serves as a centralized location for the public to understand critical information about an organization. It is the main place that people turn to in order to find out what they can expect. Similarly, people looking for a church should be able to understand clearly what a church believes, what they can expect when they attend, and policies the church has around issues that matter to a lot of people (LGBTQ+, women, people of color, etc.).
I personally understand the value of one-on-one conversations, relationships, and everything that goes into being in community with one another, but how can churches that are unclear about their LGBTQ+ policies expect to go deep in relationship with queer believers if they aren’t initiating the relationship from a place of honesty and transparency from their first meeting, which in most cases, is online.
As I’ve been doing for my entire career, I’d like to remind church leaders they have a tremendous opportunity with all they have available to reach people through digital and social media, and with that comes a tremendous responsibility for how they choose to steward it.
“To whom much is given, much is required.” - Luke 12:48