God looks upon the heart. Unfortunately we humans are far more shallow. For us, we start with appearances.
That's why churches with unmown grass or with last year's Christmas services still on the noticeboard are a turn-off to those seeking somewhere to find God. And that is why church websites are now really important.
I am convinced that for many the first contact with a church will be via that church's website.
In January, Archdeacon Deryck Howell and I decided to spend a morning individually checking the websites of some 47 churches in the South Sydney Region. We are convinced that this is an important way of looking at how well our churches are set up to connect with the community around them.
Here's what we found. Nine had no website at all. Four had just a bare one-page site, which at least was better than nothing. Ten had websites with more than one page but were fairly average. Very often they were out of date and dull. Eleven had fairly good sites, some almost excellent. Yet they were often uninspiring to look at or, in one case, far too busy. But twelve (nearly a quarter) had excellent sites that were easy to use, had interesting information and an attractive presentation of the church.
Does it matter? The time has moved from when websites were gimmicks done for free by a well-meaning nerd in the congregation. Today church sites need to be well designed and kept up-to-date. The best were designed to be easy to use and attractive to someone looking in from outside.
Surprisingly, some of the very best sites were by (how may I put this?) non-evangelical churches.
Deryck and I came away from our experience pleased at some of what we saw, but concerned that so many churches were still under standard. If this is what things are like in what is undoubtedly the most up-to-date and stylish region, we thought to ourselves, what must it be like in the rest of the diocese?
PS Recently I managed to have a really spiritually uplifting Sunday of church attendances, yet without even once singing "How deep the Father's love". See, it can be done.