Building and maintaining good, useable websites are a struggle for churches of all sizes. Large and small alike have websites that don’t accurately represent who they are and don’t help people better connect with their church. There are many reasons why websites don’t reach their potential, but here are three things I think churches commonly underestimate about the web.
1) Pictures Have Power
There is little doubt in my mind that visually-driven websites are becoming more important. As the quest continues to build simpler, easier to use websites, the need for visuals becomes more important.
The easiest thing you can do right now is to add more pictures showing the real people in your church in action. From a visitor’s perspective, this is how you show them who you are. All of us are more aware of stock photography. We see it every day in so many places. So if a visitor comes to your site and sees a bunch of clearly fake people, they’ll wonder what you’re hiding. Or they’ll question your authenticity if you care more about showing perfectly posed people than your real members.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for stock photography on an image-driven website. Sometimes there are cool shots you can’t get on your own. Or maybe you need something to use as a base for a graphic about a sermon series. Purchased images have value and can help tell a story. Just avoid them if there are real images you could use from your church or community instead.
2) Design Matters
Church websites work best when they reflect who we are in real life. What’s the feel of your church? What colors do you use? What emotions stir in people when they experience your church? Emulate these same experiences on your website.
This is an area where churches of all sizes struggle. Some big, popular churches have weak websites. Some smaller churches have issues with this. (Of course, there are churches of all sizes and budgets doing this well, too.) The point is: every church has to commit the resources to their website to make it as welcoming as their physical building. Just having a website by itself isn’t enough. Using the same template you bought eight years ago may not be working either.
Websites are an investment, just like the upkeep of a building. This goes beyond graphic design, too. Think of navigational design. You put effort into making sure people can get where they need to go inside your building. Do that on your website as well. Help people get where they need to go to find the information they want.
In a more web savvy world, people are more aware of good design. People have expectations of how a site should look and function. Whether it’s fair or not, churches are up against the rest of the world when it comes to web design.
3) Your Members Use Google
Folks aren’t waiting around for your committee to decide what the new features of a website should be when it supposedly re-launches next year. If you attenders are at home trying to remember the details about some announcement made at church, they probably aren’t picking up the phone. Chances are they’re going to your website. If they can’t remember the exact URL, they’re Googling it. Once they’re on your website, if they can’t find the information they’re looking for, they’re gone. And there’s a decent chance they won’t further pursue it.
I don’t think that scenario is too far fetched. People are not waiting for you to promote your website when you’re ready to reveal it. We are an information on-demand, Google-loving society.
Your website can be the most powerful communications tool you have, so invest it. Think about how much better your website could be if you dedicated the resources to it just like you did printing bulletins or keeping the lights on in the building.
If you could add a fourth thing to this list, what would it be?