In today’s media savvy, Internet ready, high-speed connection world, it’s virtually impossible to be successful without a website. In most cases, a visitor will visit your website before they ever step foot on your property. Most of the time, what they see when they visit your website will determine if they physically visit or not.
Your website is more than a “virtual business card” – it’s your front door to the world. Your website communicates who you are and what you believe. It also communicates what to expect. This includes what type of worship, the general age and ethnic groups one can expect as well as what to wear.
Today, if people are interested in coming to your church, odds are they will visit the website first. So, imagine your website as an extension of your outreach and evangelism ministries. If you were a visitor thinking about visiting your church, what would you want to know? Does your website answer those questions?
There are some key features that most church websites should have.
Service Information – What time are your services? What is each service like? Is it contemporary, traditional, blended, liturgical, etc.?
Service Recordings – Your website should host previous service recordings. These can be audio, video or both. They don’t have to be real-time – they can be a progressive download or an actual download, but you need to have them. This will connect existing members who might have missed a service as well as further illustrate to potential visitors what they should expect.
Membership Section – This is optional. Many larger sites or churches that are really geared towards on-line connections will offer a member section. This is often tied into church databases such as pictorial directories, phone and e-mail information, etc. There might be blogs from certain classes, pastor comments, message boards, and the like. However, items behind the membership login are normally geared towards the believer (the church member) and not the general public. There might also be multiple levels (such as congregation, staff, elders, and so on).
Social Networking – Promotion is everything. If you are involved in social networks such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, a blog site or other similar service, your website should promote you at these locations and provide easy links for people to find you and follow you.
Current Series Information – If your pastor is teaching an ongoing series, you should take the time to promote it on your site. Continue to tie in the real world with the virtual one. Remember the main point of your website is to connect and reach out to people.
Campus Maps and Videos – Studies show that if you can get someone in your church once, you are more likely to get them back a second time. Many churches use community events to draw people in. This gives them a relatively stress free environment to come to your church and survey the lay of the land so to speak. Once they are familiar with your church they are more likely to come back for a Sunday service. It just makes sense. You can use your website to give people the virtual first time experience by utilizing campus maps and videos. Consider doing a virtual tour via video. You can start as you are turning into the campus, walking into the worship center, going to the nursery, and taking a seat right as worship begins. Be as creative as you can. Take this time to sell your church to someone who might be on the fence. You could even use video testimonials from members that talk about how being involved in the church has changed their lives! You are only limited by your imagination.
About Us – This one is important. Lumped into the “About Us” section should be introduction to your staff and elders (don’t forget their spouses if appropriate), what you believe, and what to expect. You can provide a link with the history of your church if you like as well as anything else you think might be useful to someone looking to learn more about you.
When you start to build your website, think like an ad designer and not an author. People just don’t read much online. They look at pictures, watch videos and read headlines. If the headlines or images capture their attention, they’ll skim the text – often seeking bullet points or bold text to draw their attention to the details, then CLICK, they are off to the next page. Sites with a lot of text usually get skipped over. Think simple. Think clean. Give the user links to get more information if they want it, but keep the basics simple. Remember the old saying, “Just the Facts Jack!” It applies in web design.
Look at how successful companies like Google, Apple and Bing have become. They are known for their slick but simple user interfaces. Seek out what works, and utilize those lessons on your site. But remember, what works for one church might not be right for someone else. For example, a trendy flash-based site might be perfect for one church, but completely out of place for another.
The most important thing about your church’s website is that it should reflect your church. It’s a common mistake to design a website based off who you would like to be, not who you really are. This is unfair to people looking at your church website – but it also hurts you in the end. People come to the church expecting one thing and get something else. Odds are, they are not going to return and they are going to feel betrayed. This is not the way you want the community to think of you.
Ease of Upgrade
It’s important that your site be easy to modify and update. This is where many small and medium churches get stuck. If your website is not easy to update – it won’t get updated. It’s as simple as that.
Today, there are many solutions available to the church that allows for easy updating. Some companies offer front end editing – log in, click the area you want to edit and type away. Others allow a back end database that is a little more complicated to edit, but often yields better results. Yet another solution is to partner with a company that will make the updates for you. Sometimes it’s as simple as a phone call or e-mail and your site gets updated within hours.
Whatever you chose, make ease of editing your site a primary part of your plan. Not only will it help you maintain a real-time contact with your viewers, it’ll also keep you fresh in the search engines, which translates to more visits!
Earlier, we mentioned tying in your website to your social networking sites. Let’s take a moment and hit the highlights of some of the most popular social networking sites and consider different ways your church can utilize them!
Facebook – Facebook is a great way to get the word out. Once primarily a haven for college age students, Facebook has taken off and is now a major hot spot for people of all ages and walks of life. Facebook allows you to start groups, advertise events, and create user pages. You can share photographs, status updates and much more. It’s a super easy way to connect with people and keep everyone apprised of new events.
Twitter – Twitter is almost like Facebook lite. On Facebook, each user has a status that lets everyone else know what they are doing. Twitter has taken this one single idea and compounded it. Think of Twitter as a huge PR announcement site. Anything that you want to announce will be immediately sent out to all of your followers.
Many pastors use Twitter as a way to keep their staff, elders or church members tied into their thoughts through the day. It’s a great way to keep everyone on the same page. Worship pastors can use it with their media teams to help them know where the service is going. It’s a great way to keep people in the loop.
MySpace – Similar to Facebook, MySpace is a great place to promote special groups, bands, concerts and other events. MySpace will allow you to keep in touch with large groups of people as well as message individuals.
Regardless of how you leverage the internet for your ministry, don’t underestimate the power it holds for effective outreach and visitor retention. When utilizing a well designed website integrated with social networking you can make a huge impact on visitors and members alike!