Most Protestant denominations have a website that includes a function to help users find a local church. But denominations provide accurate links to the websites of only 32% of all local churches, even though three out of four churches have their own website. Much of the information on denominational websites about member churches is simply missing or wrong, according to a new report from Grey Matter Research.
A new report just released by Grey Matter Research (Phoenix, Ariz.) shows that the websites of most individual Protestant churches cannot be located through their denomination.
If someone visits a denominational website to look for links to local congregations, there is only a 32% chance they will find such a link for any given Protestant church.
For this study, Grey Matter Research checked the main websites of 123 different Protestant denominations, along with individual listings for 7,795 local churches at random. The newly released report is Click Here to Find a Church (Maybe).
There are multiple reasons why so few church websites can be found through their denominational website. First, about one out of four individual Protestant churches do not even have a website.
Second, 20% of all denominational churches belong to a denomination that does not offer any links to the websites of member congregations. Out of 123 denominations, 13 offer no listing or search function to help people find a local church, and another ten have a list or search function for local churches, but the information includes no web links at all.
Third, for the denominations which do provide links to the websites of their local congregations, only half of individual church listings actually feature such a link. One out of four local churches have a website that could be listed with a link, but that information is missing.
Fourth, one out of every five links to local churches provided on denominational websites is simply wrong. In fact, Grey Matter Research estimates that nearly 20,000 links to local congregations on denominational websites are broken, leading to an error message instead of the church.
Although some denominations had fairly complete and accurate web links for local churches on their website, others were woefully inaccurate. One large denomination had 60% of the links on its website that were broken. For another, Grey Matter spot-checked 239 different local church listings. Only six of the 239 listings included a link to the local church’s website, and four of those six were broken.
As the report points out, the high level of inaccuracy and incompleteness is significant for a number of reasons. Part of the concern is that these web addresses usually come directly from denominational records on member churches, and if so many web links are incorrect, it is likely that other information denominations have about their member congregations is wrong is well.
Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted his firm’s experiences working with individual denominations. “We have consistently found lists of pastors and churches that are woefully incorrect and incomplete,” Sellers said. “This information about local churches is also what denominations use to communicate with member congregations and clergy. If so many of the web addresses denominations have on record are incorrect, it suggests many of the phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and other contact information they have for their churches may be incorrect as well. And that has certainly been our experience with many of the groups we have worked with directly.”
Another part of the concern is the lost opportunity this represents for local churches. Sellers pointed to the results of a 2012 Grey Matter Research study that found in a typical six-month period, nearly 11 million adults who were not regularly attending worship services had visited the website of an individual place of worship (most often looking for information such as service times, activities and classes offered, specific beliefs, and location). Although that study did not explore how these visitors located individual church websites, certainly searching through a denomination is one option for them – but an option that often will not give them the information they seek.
Finally, an issue is simply what impact this amount of wrong and missing information has on the reputation and brand image of denominations. As Sellers put it, “Let’s say you were looking to open a new bank account, and you went to a bank’s website to search for a local branch. A bunch of branches have missing information, and others have wrong information. What would that communicate about the bank – would you want to bank there and trust them with your money?”
More information on the study is available here.