This article was originally published on Church Juice on January 22, 2019. You can view the original article here.
Church Juice provides congregations with free resources, articles, and opportunities for training and consulting on church communications. Church Juice is a ministry of Back to God Ministries International, the media mission of the CRCNA.
We often talk about how your website is your church’s virtual front door. It’s a way to make a good first impression and communicate who you are and what you believe.
My Search for a Church
A little over a year ago, my family moved to a new city. We now live in Grand Rapids, a couple hours away from everything we knew in East Michigan. Soon after we arrived in our new city, we recognized it was time for us to find a new church home. There are plenty of churches to choose from in Grand Rapids, and I suppose we could have gone knocking on church doors, but guess where we turned first? We got online and searched for churches in our area. Our first impression of these local churches came from their websites. And more often than not, this was our only impression of them.
It’s quite disheartening to me that there are so many churches that still do not realize the importance of their website. I guarantee you that almost every newcomer that comes through your doors on a Sunday has been to your website.
Your Website Matters
A website helps a new person understand what to expect when they show up for the first time on a Sunday morning. Visiting a new church is awkward and uncomfortable, to say the least, so a good website helps put people at ease by showing them who you are as a church and what you are all about.
Unfortunately, many churches do not do this well. Do you? Well, let me ask it this way: Is your website a barrier or a bridge for people? There are a few common website barriers.
Doesn’t Feel Like Your Church
Your church building feels a certain way. The people and culture of your church make a certain impact on people. What impression of your congregation do people get when they walk into your building? Many church websites don’t replicate this in-person feel very well. 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 extend the feel of your church to its online presence.
Lacks Relevant Information
Put yourself in the place of a visitor. What questions do they have when they come to your website? What time is service? What is the worship style like? What should I do with my kids? Do you have answers for these questions? If not, a potential visitor will probably move on to the next church website in their search results. Your front page should have relevant and timely content. More often than not, your website’s front page should be dedicated to the potential guest. The information you display there will determine whether a online seeker becomes an in-person guest on Sunday.
Out of Date Style
Does your website look like it’s stuck in the 1990’s? Sure, fifteen years ago, if you had a website, you were cool. I hate to break it to you, but 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.
Nothing is more frustrating than a website that doesn’t work. Broken links, missing pictures, or error messages show the user that your website isn’t maintained well, and therefore not a priority. Sites that don’t work on mobile devices fit in this category, too. Your website needs to be mobile-friendly, and you should regularly audit your website’s functionality to discover issues before a potential visitor does.
While your church website might be good at describing what you offer and when you offer it, nothing attracts visitors more effectively than telling the personal stories of how people’s lives are being changed by your ministry. Personal stories are always more impactful than a list of facts. It’s also important to consistently update each section of your website. Just because your men’s ministry is awesome at updating their section of the website, doesn’t mean they’re more important than your youth ministry whose section on the site is less regularly updated and has less information. Make sure your site clearly reflects your church’s priorities and that you’re telling the story of everything your church is doing.
As communicators, our key responsibly is to remove 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 ignore the problems, we let the barriers grow taller. If your church website contains barriers, take a look at our ebook, The Church Website Guide, to get more help.