By Kenneth D. MacHarg
While this article was written with the many international churches we have visited and served in mind, the principles apply to any church in our own countries as well.
Imagine the frustration. A couple arrives in a major Asian city with plans to attend an English-language international church on Sunday morning.
They have done their homework—they looked up the time and location of the Sunday morning service on the church’s website and arrived at the announced hotel with plenty to time to find the room, grab a cup of coffee (or tea) and settle in for the morning service.
Except, they discover after asking several gracious hotel employees that the church has changed its weekly worship to another hotel some distance away and the service has moved from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
How frustrating. And, while it may sound like a little thing among the myriad of activities and planning events during the week, it is major to someone visiting in the city who has taken the time to look up a place of worship only to find the information is out of date.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. While it happened to us about four years ago, just in the past year Polly and I ran into two similar problems while traveling in China.
We had planned ahead and looked up an on-line list of English-language churches in that vast country and noted those that we might attend while traveling.
The first Sunday in a large southern-Chinese city we arrived at a hotel to find that the congregation had moved several months earlier to another facility a few blocks away. We were able to rush there through the rain, arriving late for the service.
Several weeks later in a large western Chinese city, using the same list, we searched for a hotel that was listed as hosting a similar English-language church. This time we weren’t so fortunate: the hotel had been torn down to make way for new construction and we couldn’t find anyone who knew where the church was currently meeting.
One would think that with all of the modern technology that makes travel easier and finding hotels, restaurants and even churches so much simpler, church visitors wouldn’t be left standing on a street corner wondering where to go.
Part of the problem may be that church staff or leaders are not monitoring their media presence closely enough and that the frequent turnover of members, leadership and pastors, especially in international churches, results in social media presence being ignored or forgotten.
So, as a gentle reminder to all church leadership, here are some suggestions to enhance your communication.
- Keep your media exposure up to date, even if it means changing it every week. Make sure you are meeting at the time and place listed. In a church with many visitors, offer a google map or some other visual help in finding your location. If you change the time or location of worship, even for one Sunday, be sure to list it everywhere including web site, Facebook page, city-wide or fellowship-wide lists, newspaper advertising and even any publicity posted around the city in schools or other gathering places.
- Make certain that your information on lists is updated regularly. This includes the various denominational, fellowship or regional lists such as, English-language churches in “your city”. For international churches, many of which change location and worship times more frequently than do the churches back home, regularly check your listing on those in the guide at the end of this article.
- If your church has a new pastor or office personnel, make sure that the church website is updated and that any listings of those positions being open are removed from the web. There are numerous listings for pastor searches that have been on the “vacancies” list of the Network of International Congregations for several years. Check it out and remove yours if the position has been filled. The same with other online job boards where position vacancies can continue to be listed for years if you don’t remove them.
- If someone develops a website for the church and runs it as a donation, welcome that contribution but make certain to obtain the address and password as soon as it goes online. I have been familiar with at least two international churches which continue to be featured by rogue website started years ago and for which the church has no way to access it to give it an update or eliminate it.
- Provide church location and worship time information on your telephone answering service. Too often we have called a church on a Saturday to inquire about Sunday services only to find a litany of “push one, push two” responses which is of no use when the office is empty.
Unfortunately, even with diligent work in any church to keep people informed, there will always be those who…as a person said to me in one church I served…are illiterate!
I challenged that when he said it to me. After all, we had several PhDs in the church, dozens of people with master’s degrees and most were college-educated. “How can you say that?” I asked.
“Well,” he replied. “Every week we send out an electronic newsletter telling people what is happening, we print a weekly bulletin that we hand out, we put all of the announcements on a Power Point and screen it before and after the service, and we make several announcements at the beginning of the service. And yet, people still say they don’t know what’s going on. I figure they must all be illiterate.”
Despite all of our good efforts, perhaps he has a point! But, for those few who can read, let’s make sure that what they see is up-to-date and accurate.
Internet sites with information about international churches:
Network of International Congregations: http://internationalcongregations.net/
Missional International Church Network www.micn.org
Association of International Churches of Europe and the Middle East www.aiceme.net
International Baptist Convention http://ibc-churches.org/
Fellowship of European International Churches http://www.feic.org/feic-churches/
Global International Church Network http://www.globalicn.com/ (Warning, as I prepared this list, this site carried a notice that it had been infected by Malware)
International Christian Fellowships in China http://bicf.org/en/resources/international-christian-fellowships (Note, several listings here are no longer correct)
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