Many churches prominently display a statement of faith on the church website. Other churches abstain, arguing that a dogmatic declaration is not what website visitors are looking for.
So which is more effective? Does prominently displaying a doctrinal statement deter or attract visitors?
Why Your Website Needs a Statement of Faith
There are some real benefits to having your church’s faith statement prominently visible to online visitors. Some visitors are looking to get a clear sense of what a particular congregation believes. Theology and doctrine matter. Theology informs (or at least ought to inform) all aspects of a local congregation, including the worship life and outreach practices.
Personally, if I’m considering visiting a church, particularly a church outside my denomination, I’ll check their website to see what they believe.
How a statement of faith is written also gives an impression. For better or for worse, I’ll likely assume that a church emphasizing the historic continuity of its faith and doctrines will practice more historical forms of worship, or will perhaps have a more historical building.
If a congregation’s faith statement focuses on theological details like the inner relationships of the Trinity, I’ll probably assume 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.
In particular, for churches whose name doesn’t include a denominational title, having a doctrinal statement can be 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 theological framework they’re comfortable with.
Why You Shouldn’t Include a Statement of Faith
On the other hand, there are some good reasons why you shouldn’t include a doctrinal statement your church website prominently. 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.
“There is only one article and one rule of theology, and this is true faith or trust in Christ. Whoever doesn’t hold this article and this rule is no theologian.” – Martin Luther (LW 54, 157)
Church should be a place of welcoming all to worship God. There cannot be a litmus test for admission. If the first thing you see as a visitor is a list of specific, technical belief statements, it feels like a test for admittance.
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? In all matters? Or 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 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!
There’s no clear answer on whether a belief statement makes a church website more 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, link to a longer creedal statement from the front page, or perhaps from the About Us page. If a website visitor cares enough that they’re interested in reading through a detailed doctrinal statement, 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!