Lo-Fi Tribe on Church Websites

An excellent blog I’ve recently been following is Shawn Anthony’s Lo-Fi Tribe. His take on faith is both insightful and authentic. On Friday he put up a thought-provoking post entitled:

The Use of Stock Photos on Church Websites

Shawn’s position seems to be one of “There is never any good reason to use stock photos on a church website. It’s just too fake.” (My paraphrase of his thoughts, not a direct quote.)

The comments others left rang with resounding agreement. The concept resonated with me as well. I believe using stock photos tends toward inauthenticity, but my view isn’t one of such totality. I’d say, “Yeah they are fake, and real pictures are better, but in some circumstances they could work.”

For example, Church Plant Media is a company who designs websites for church plants. Their client list includes such respectable organizations as Act29 Network, Purpose Driven Planting, and ChurchPlanters.com. If you look through websites they’ve designed you see a lot of stock imagery.

I left some devil’s advocate style comments on Shawn’s site and received a hardy reply from his other blog readers. Shawn muses that when you publish something publicly, “you open yourself up to critique.” In regards to comments left on his site he was right. A great discussion ensued. The level of reaction was so gut-level I thought to myself, “Shawn’s really probed something deep here,” so I wanted to share the concept with you guys.

What do you think about using stock photography on church websites? How fake is it? Are there any legitimate reasons to do so?

Leave comments on Inept as Icing or Lo-Fi Tribe.

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17 Responses to “Lo-Fi Tribe on Church Websites”


  1. 1 worshipcity September 17, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    I tried leaving a comment…I just don’t have a validated opinion enough to leave my stamp there 🙂
    I never thought that stock photography on church websites could be such a theological and heated debate!

  2. 2 Paul J. September 18, 2007 at 7:11 am

    I try NOT to use stock as much as possible…i’ve got some good photogs on our worship arts team. But sometimes in a pinch, it’s good to have that option.
    Thanks for posting on my blog, Billy. I’ve linked to you, if you care to reciprocate. C ya!

  3. 3 jordan fowler September 18, 2007 at 11:35 am

    For main web headers etc it is yuck. For a ministry event sub-box where you don’t have a photo from the previous event it is almost unavoidable unless you really want to set up a staged photoshoot which could be constituted as equally inauthentic, right?

  4. 4 Billy Chia September 18, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    Jordan,
    You know it’s funny I was browsing your personality profile and I realized you have a very similar profile as my wife.

    The lines that caught my eye were

    “Don’t commmunicate with Jordan by using gimmicks” and
    “be able to back up with evidence claims you make.”

    This is my wife to a T.

    I, on the other hand, am very sanguine. Which makes me fun-loving, cheezy, campy, dorky, and yes, prone to gimmicks.

    For me “Staging” a photo shoot could possibly be fake, but it could also be funny too, or even if well done enough very moving.

    Check out http://www.ineed2change.com/ for a scripted, fake little drama that is well done and very moving IMHO. (Some will probably think it’s cheezy)

    I’d agree that kingdom time is probably better spent using stock photos if that can be done quickly vs. setting up a photo shoot.

  5. 5 Wisdom Moon September 18, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    I recently created my church’s website to replace our old one and used a lot of stock photos, but most are not photos of people. However, I don’t see that it is wrong or misleading in every case.

    I think it’s important for churches to have good looking websites that are well done. Some churches just don’t have the ability to take professional, nice looking pictures. If you are blessed with a great photographer at your church, great! However, if you guys take terrible pictures, don’t post them on your website! It’s embarrassing.

    I’ve spent about 100 hours looking at thousands of church websites a couple of years ago doing some research. I’ve seen too many church websites that are just BAD. I would recommend some stock photos for them that reflect THEIR church people. For example, if it’s an all Asian church where everyone’s over 40, I wouldn’t use pictures of 20 year old Caucasians. That WOULD be misleading.

  6. 6 Church Website Helpdesk September 19, 2007 at 11:04 am

    The US market is probably a bit more mature than the UK. There are many churches here that simply don’t have a website at all. We’re trying to educate them on why they should definitely have a website. For many churches once they’ve got a site we actually recommend stock photography. It’s not a question of fake or not. It’s a question of a good image or no image.
    Budgets here are very very tight. Many churches have no budget at all and they want to make their website in Word using the supplied office clipart.
    My personal opinion is:
    If a church has the resources to create their own imagery then they should try and do so. If not then stock photography is a good option.
    Interested in what sources of stock photography people can recommend.
    All the best,
    Gordon

  7. 7 Billy Chia September 19, 2007 at 11:10 am

    “they want to make their website in Word using the supplied office clipart”

    Gordon,
    wow, you have your work cut out for you. Yeah, I agree. At times stock photos can be a more authentic representation of a church that poorly taken photos of actual people that go there.

  8. 8 ohamanda September 19, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    I just really can’t believe someone would dedicate a whole blog post to whether stock photos are appropriate or not. (I’m not talking about you, of course.) I guess I don’t understand why in the heck it matters. What moron really thinks that the guy happily sipping a coke on the coke website is not getting paid for that? Who really thinks that the people gushing over their new car on the Honda commercial are for real? People looking at church websites are not that stupid. Use a stock photo or don’t use a stock photo. Who cares?

  9. 9 klampert September 19, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    I am a designer and a marketing consultant…there is nothing misleading about using stock photos as long as they aren’t…misleading. they should represent reality. Stock photos give a church a more high end look then regular photos.
    you also dont deal with any issues of jealousy or people in photos who are no longer in the church.
    I think church sites should be as best as they can be and be designed to achieve a specific goal or target audience.

  10. 10 Billy Chia September 19, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Joel,
    Your thoughts on being misleading echo my point exactly: It’s not whether or not to use stock imagery, but rather how you use it that counts.

    Amanda,
    lol – thanx for your candor. I will say that for those of use who are passionate about marketing and communications that this is a valid issue. I would agree that often times we make a big deal about small issues.

    Your comment does raise the question: Should the church be marketed in the same way Coke or Honda are?

  11. 11 ohamanda September 19, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    My answer: why wouldn’t we? Coke markets coke b/c they want money and think they have a good product. Are we not motivated by something better–a better product and a better return?

    I just don’t like people making things super-spiritual. Stock photos should not a religious debate… it’s not a moral issue. It’s a design issue. Period. (THIS is why non-Christians hate the church.)

  12. 12 Sarah Chia September 20, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Amanda,

    It’s very tempting to look at the things that the church does wrong (for example, arguing about whether stock photos should be used) and declare that this is why non-Christians hate the church, but the truth is that they hate the church because they hate Jesus. (Dan Kimball just happens to be wrong about his idea that they like him.) Jesus promised us that we would be hated because of him (Matthew 10:22, Mark 13:13, and Luke 21:17). That is the reason that non-Christians hate the church. All other reasons are simply convenient excuses.

    This is not to say that we shouldn’t be more unified and agreeable. We certainly should. But we shouldn’t confusedly place blame on these faults as the reason people hate us.

  13. 13 Sarah Chia September 20, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Billy,

    Should we market the church? I think we ought to step back from tactics and let Christ draw all men to himself.

    I get pretty put-off when people get caught up over the image of a website. Is the church about being all put together and showy, or is it about being the body of Christ? Is it all about being hiply relevant, or is it about being Christ to the world around us?

    I think that Rick McKinley answers this well in “This Beautiful Mess”:

    “relevance is a consequence of kingdom living, not a cause…love given without any other agenda is always relevant.”

    So, should we market the kingdom of God like a product for sale? No. We should be the kingdom of God and stop trying to grow it based on our worldly understanding of growth.

    (BTW, I do think that stock photography is okay. I just don’t think that marketing the church is.)

  14. 14 klampert September 20, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    interesting sarah…but i dont agree. the church is a business and we do have something for sale…Christ…now our “product” is free but free is always a harder sell.
    I think that we are given gifts and tools to bring people in and while Christ draws sometimes he draws through us. I think Apostle paul would have had a website and it would have been killer. the truth of the matter is we should market the church we should advertise and use technology.
    What we should not do is misrepresent who we are or water down what our beliefs are. The site should still be clearly a church because it is one. We are in the world not of it is very true but waiting for christ to bring people is not biblical. He told us to go…and this means using things that will bring others in.
    This goes with an analogy. Imagine the church is in a car and there are many places we can go in it to reach people. Christ is steering and we have our foot on the gas. If we don’t press it. He can’t move us. I think thats what God calls us to do have action. Marketing the church, talking to people, outreach, ministry…its all pushing the gas…and then he can use our obedience to steer that car.

  15. 15 ohamanda September 20, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    Sarah, I think we’re misunderstanding each other. I’m not suggesting that a stock photo argument is what non-Christians dislike about the church. (and yes, it IS just an excuse, but it’s still a reason that’s valid to them!) What I AM saying is that non-Christians DO NOT LIKE when Christians start bickering and arguing amongst themselves about stuff within their church world. They say “SEE? We knew they were hypocrites. We knew they were legalistic. They major on the minors.” (And I hang out with a ton of Christians who feel this same way, they are Christians but detest Christianity. That’s another conversation…)

    And I realize by even typing a response to this, I’m perpetuating it. So, I truly hope a non-Christian doesn’t stumble upon this post.

  16. 16 worshipcity September 21, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    Wow, this has gotten as good as the conversation over at the original post 🙂

    I think my opinion is beginning to form. What’s the point? Having a hip, classy website that’s flashy and attractive? Does that represent the church? Church ABC is church more focused on giving to the community and uses the school’s gym and throw words white words up on a black screen using powerpoint on a portable projector. Is a high tech saavy crazy flashy website appropriate to them? I’d think no. They may not even know or care what stock photography is!

    I think technology is a tool. It’s how we use that tool to represent who we are. With churches I think we want to be good stewards of technology. I doubt that anyone using stock photos has a manipulative marketing scheme to convince people to come to their church and if they did we need to talk about something deeper than photos 🙂

    For Church DEF who does use technology to relate to a new generation and engage congregants in exalting God then they have to decide how to use what they have at their disposal. Stock photos or not.

    $ .02


  1. 1 Top Posts for September 2007 | Billy Chia Trackback on April 24, 2013 at 10:50 am
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