We often talk about the importance of a website acting as your church’s front door. It’s a way to make a good first impression about who you are and what you believe. That idea was recently reinforced as I was reading a Banner article that was a first-hand account of what it was like for someone moving to a new area and trying to find a church. The author wrote:
Itʼs disheartening that in this day and age some churches still do not realize the importance of their website. We visited every church online before setting foot inside the building, and for a number of churches, that online visit was the only visit we made.
We immediately noticed that we felt much more comfortable on our first visit to churches whose online representation was consistent with their in-person reality. Simply maintaining a website that was consistent with the look and feel of the actual church helped make it feel more familiar to us.
When I read that, one key question comes to mind: Is your website a barrier for people? Website barriers can come in many varieties, but here are some that are quite common.
- The website doesn’t feel like your church. Your church building feels a certain way. People have an impression of what kind of congregation you are based on everything they take in when they walk into your building. Yet often, church website don’t replicate that feel. A church that has a warm, coffeehouse feel shouldn’t have a cold, sterile website. A contemporary church shouldn’t have a site that looks 10 years old. Do your best to represent the feel of your church online.
- Lack of relevant information. First, put yourself in the place of a visitor. What questions do they have when they come to your website? They could range from What is the worship style like? to What should I do with my kids?. Do you have answers for them? If not, they’re probably off to the next church website in the Google search results. Now think like a member. What do they need from your site? Maybe they’re looking for more information about an event that was mentioned during the service. If they can’t find it, the website isn’t serving them well and they might lose out on becoming a more involved member of the church. It’s not only about relevant content, but content that is timely, too.
- Out of date style. Does your website look like it’s stuck in the 1990’s? Ten years ago, if you had a website, you were cool. Those days are long gone. Now style means something. A dated website sends a message that you are behind the times. This doesn’t mean you have to always be chasing trends, but it does mean you need to understand shifts in web design. Clean and simple never go out of style. Neither does well thought-out navigation. Little things can make a difference. Across the web, pictures are getting more real-estate space. Simply adding more pictures of your church in action will give your site a much different feel.
- Technical dysfunction. Nothing is more frustrating than a website that doesn’t work. Broken links, missing pictures or error message show a user that a site isn’t maintained and therefore isn’t a priority. Sites that don’t work on mobile devises fit in this category, too. Half of Americans have a smartphone. Can they get the information they need from your website if they’re mobile?
- Incomplete story. We can be good about saying what we offer as churches, but we’re not always so good at telling the personal stories of how lives are being changed because of those things. Personal stories are always more impactful than a list of facts. Another way websites don’t tell a complete story is when some sections of the site are updated and others aren’t. Just because your men’s ministry is awesome at updating their section doesn’t mean they’re more important than your youth ministry who’s section on the site may not have as much information. Find consistency across your site so your priorities are clear and you’re telling the story of everything your church is doing.
As communicators, our key responsibly is removing barriers that keep people from getting the information they need. When we don’t think about the end user’s needs, we are building barriers. When we just ignore the problems, we’re making the barriers taller.
When creating and updating websites, good webmasters will work to remove barriers in design as well. Accessible web design is not that complicated, and sends a message to people with visual impairments, "You are welcome at our church."
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