July 3, 2013

Should Your Church Website Have a Statement of Faith?

 

A statement of faith is a common feature of many church websites. Many other churches abstain, arguing that a dogmatic declaration is not what website visitors are looking for. But does prominently displaying a doctrinal statement deter or attract visitors?

In my opinion, a compelling case can be made for both including and not including a statement of beliefs.

Why to Include a Statement of Faith

There are benefits to having your church’s faith statement prominently visible to online visitors. By having a statement of faith available, website visitors can get a clear sense of what a particular congregation believes. Theology and doctrine matter. Theology informs (or at least ought to inform) all activities of a local congregation, including the worship life and outreach practices.

I know if I’m considering visiting a church, particularly if it’s a church of a different denomination than my own, I’ll look to see what they believe. The way a statement of faith is written also gives an impression. I might assume, correctly or incorrectly, that a church that emphasizes the historic continuity of its faith and doctrines will likely be a congregation that practices more historical forms of worship, or that has a more historical building.

If a congregation’s faith statement emphasizes theological details like the inner relationships of the Trinity, I’ll probably assume, for better or worse, that the teaching in the Sunday morning sermons will go farther into theological nuances. I might also expect that small groups and Bible studies will pay attention to proper theological understandings.

For churches whose name doesn’t include a denominational title, having a doctrinal statement can be particularly helpful in aiding visitors as they guess if they’re likely to agree or not with the teachings. People are more comfortable when they agree with what’s being taught. Of course, being challenged is good too, but most people want to be challenged within the framework they’re comfortable with.

Why Not to Include a Statement of Faith

Despite these benefits, there are good reasons why your church website might not want to prominently include a doctrinal statement. While your church obviously holds certain strong beliefs, it can be off-putting to visitors if their first introduction to your church is a dogmatic statement.

Visitors might wonder, “If I agree with most statements, is that good enough? Will I still be able to fit in here?” And what if they don’t understand what the statement is saying well enough to even know if they agree?

In any creedal statement, precise language is important. For example, simply saying something like “We value the Bible” is a meaningless statement. Do you mean to say you believe the Bible is inerrant? Only in the original language? Only in the King James Version? Is the Bible the only authority? Or are there other means through which God is revealed?

Of course, as soon as theologians start using the precise language that is necessary to understand their meaning, the statement of belief starts to become incoherent to those without theological training. Visitors without much church background may well look at a statement of belief and be deterred from visiting the church, fearing that they lack the necessary background knowledge to understand the Sunday service or message.

Something particularly off-putting that I’ve seen on a few websites is having the main content, front and center on the church’s home page, be a dogmatic, theological belief statement. Is that really the first impression of your church you want people to have? I wonder if those churches have their detailed creedal statement printed on every Sunday service bulletin, or included on the church office’s answering machine? I hope not!

Should I Include a Statement of Faith on Our Church Website?

There’s no clear answer on whether or not a church website ought to have a belief statement to be effective. My recommendation for a church website best practice is to have both a detailed statement of belief and a mission or values statement.

A mission or values statement can be just a few lines sharing the most important things important to the mission of the congregation. I’d include that on the front page, or maybe in the header or footer of every webpage.

Then, in addition to this shorter statement, do include a longer creedal statement, but just include a link to it, perhaps from the About Us page. If a visitor to the website cares enough that they’re interested in reading through a detailed doctrinal statement, my guess is that they’ll care enough to click through to another link to get to it.

Does your church have a strong doctrinal statement posted online? Have you seen examples of church sites that do this particularly well? Share below in the comments!

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