Heal Your Church WebSite

Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

Evil Deception or Reasonable Facsimile?

Donut Nobis PacemFor those of you with graphics enabled browsers, the image of the donuts (hopefully) to the left of this paragraph comes by way of the Events Overview page at RedlandBaptist.org. While the actual donuts and coffee that posed for this shot are no longer with us, they are a reasonable facsimile of the yummy treats awaiting those who attend our 8:30 Coffee and Donut Fellowship on Sunday mornings.

In the same way this image ‘represents’ what you’ll find at RBC, so too are the stock images of ‘shiny faces’ that adorn the various other pages on the site. That is, while you won’t find those exact people or families in the pictures on RedlandBaptist.org, the images do accurately represent the fact that Redland is chock-full-o-families from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds; as are most successful churches in the Washington, D.C. area.

There has been a passionate debate on the churchsite-chat group on the topic of “Church member body doubles.” As you can tell from the subject line, there are some folks who make a compelling argument that we are being disingenuine when we use stock images. I respectfully disagree, and in fact think it irresponsible in some respects.

Hear me out. As with all churches in this transient area, people leave. Now if I’m NOT going to use stock photos because of integrity issues, then I’m compelled to immediately remove images of people from the site when they leave town, move their membership or othewise stop attending our church. Extending this logic a bit further, perhaps I should also consider removing images when children become teens, teens young adults, and young adults begin using Grecian Formula for Men.

Specific to RBC, we have some individuals who are federal agents, judges, police officers, abused mothers and even a Presidential/political appointee … many of whom have been threatened by various sundry thugs and wackos. One of whom arraigned John Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad, the two suspects who were arrested for allegedly shooting six people in one day at locations all only a mile or three away from Redland Baptist.

Along these same lines, there are some predators out there who have in the past preyed on children and women in this area; though thankfully none at RBC. Still, this raises the question, do I put these people, especially our children, at risk by putting their photos online? Or do I instead opt to use a reasonable facsimile representing the type of smiling families and faces you’ll see at RBC on any given Sunday?

I think you know my answer to that question.

I mean when you think about it, what is more likely: that someone will visit RBC and then leave in a huff because they didn’t see exact family pictured on our Ministries Overview page? Or that some abusive father would attempt to abduct his children, after finding where his fleeing wife took them via our Resources Overview page?

I do agree there are exceptions such as ensemble pictures where picking out an individual isn’t so easy, adults who consent to having their image display for all perpetuity, and action shots where we see alot of backs and baseball caps. Likewise, pictures of the staff and physical structures are a no brainer.

These aside, I still tend to must (respectfully) disagree with those in the “genuine article only” camp for reasons of privacy and safety. I would also warn against being so legalistic that we find ourselves throwing out Bibles bound with a reasonable facsimile of leather, pews stained with a reasonable facsimile of mahogany, and communal saltines and grape juice that is a reasonable facsimile Blood and Body of our Saviour (at least for us ‘Prots’).

Remember, the goals of your church or charity website. Convey the personality and purpose of your organization. Dispense ideas. Collect funds. So long as you are not ‘selling’ one thing, and then ‘delivering’ something else, I believe that all of the above goals can be achieved with a reasonable facsimile (of the faces) representing the real deal.

One other note, the image of the brick building on the front page of the RBC site is the actual front façade of the sanctuary at RBC, adorned with a reasonable facsimile of the Cross upon which Jesus was crucified. And why not? Inside that building you will find that God has elected to use people like my wife, my friends and even my imperfect self as a reasonable facsimile of the Christ inside each one of us.


  1. While doing some research last night, I came across this very reasonable and comprehensive website policy which included these rules:

    The web has the potential to have the most wide spread outreach of any ministry. However, the information placed on the web site can also be dangerous:
    Personal contact information (email addresses, phone numbers, addresses, etc.) will not be posted on the web site without that person’s express permission.
    • Some missionaries serve in sensitive areas. The Director of Missions will be consulted before information about specific missionaries is placed on the web site so their mission and/or safety is not compromised.
    • Pictures of children (12 years and under) will not be posted on the web without parental permission. Pictures of children will never include names.
    • No pictures will include names unless permission has been granted.

  2. Dean, you are right on. You obviously have given this more thought than some of your less worldly brethren. Wise as foxes…

  3. I guess the thing I’ve felt with sites before is that I see photos and immediately think “stock”. In particular there are a few photos to be avoided because they’ve been used on advertisements everywhere. The few I looked at on stock.xchng definitely didn’t have that commonplace look, and didn’t look, well, overprofessional – so perfect they’re obviously stock. I’d say that’s the kind to go for.

    Thanks for the thorough discussion of the issue, Dean – it was what I needed to hear.

  4. The only thing that really, really irks me, Dean, is your insistence on misspelling “doughnut.” Argh. :)

  5. The best argument for using stock photo is model releases, protection of minors and privacy issues. The burden of keeping the files is too great for the supposed misguided payoff of being ‘truthful’.

    The second best argument is quality–who has seen really great quality church-sourced photos that are worthy of being used for marketing purposes (lets not kid ourselves–church web sites are a form of marketing–and visitors understand and even expect that it is).

    The third is that stock photography, marketing, etc. is ubiquitous in our consumer culture–I’m not sure that anyone except those in marketing or advertising would even understand the debate. I think most people understand the concept of models (or stock photography) just as they understand that actors are not like the character’s they portray. I would like to hear from someone who felt stock photography actually misrepresented a church to the point where they felt ‘lied to’.

    Now this doesn’t mean that you can’t use stock photography irresponsibly. To show diversity when you have none or crowds when you have none or happy people when you have none–is unethical. But just as churches need to be responsible with finances, attendance numbers, facility maintenance–they also need to set higher standards in marketing their church.

    I use stock photos (from stock.xchng) to create the brand/image for the Church In Uptown (please don’t judge the site–its temporary, read this entry to learn more about what I did).

    But I also provide a ‘gallery’ where we post images from events, featuring real people–I think of these galleries as the ‘truth in advertising’. This way I get the glossy effect of stock photos (or professional photos) and realistic portrayals of church folks.

    PS – As for mispelling ‘doughnut’, all bloggers need to download the ieSpeling plugin for Explorer.

  6. Thanks, Dean, for dealing with an issue that most of us don’t think about often enough. There are so many aspects of privacy and concern that the web can raise that we need to be aware of, just as we do in-person at the church.