What Makes a Good Church Website?
May 23, 2018
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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.
It takes .05 seconds for your website visitor to form an opinion of your website—and your church. So how do you help make a good first impression? What matters, and what doesn’t? What makes a good church website? There are lots of elements that go into making a good first impression. I think we can boil all these elements down into some baseline principles. Follow these principles, and you’re on your way to a having not just a good church website, but a great one.
Have a Clear Audience in Mind
It can be pretty apparent when a website doesn’t really have a target audience. They put lots of content out there in a variety of ways, in multiples voices and styles, just hoping that something sticks, or resonates, with anyone that comes to their website. The problem is that when there isn’t a clear focus, it’s easy to tell, and harder for anyone to stay interested. When you specify immediately who your target audience is, people who fit that demographic will be more inclined to see what you have to offer, especially if you use their language.
Simplify Your Homepage
Your website’s homepage needs to give a great first impression for potential visitors. Simplifying your message can help. Many churches think they need to cram as much information as possible onto the homepage to make sure they answer all of the potential questions a website visitor might have. Let me help: Don’t. Use good visuals. Keep everything simple. Keep text to a minimum, but give clear call-to-actions to help people dive deeper on the areas they’re interested in. Give breathing room and use white space to your advantage.
Make Your Website Easy to Navigate
If your homepage design is clean and well organized, it will be clear where someone should click to find more information. The more information you know about your audience, the better you can anticipate their needs. Your actual navigation menu can help, too. Make sure those items are limited, easy to understand, and well organized.
Have Useful information
For some churches, the website is the hub where every piece of information goes. This can be a great strategy for creating a central hub as part of your overall communication strategy. That also can create a lot of clutter and disorganization. So think through how you will organize all of your communication and information. Think about your audience, the end-user. What information do they need? Like any communications tool, a good website takes strategic thought.
Make Your Website a True Reflection of Who You Are
Part of creating a consistent experience is making sure your website is a good representation of who you are in person. If someone came to your website and then visited you in person, would they feel any sort of disconnect? Be true to who you are. Leverage your strengths. Give people an online glimpse of your church in action. Stock photos have come a long way in the last several years, but people will still be able to tell if you’re using “fake” images. Try to use images of your location and people in as many situations as possible.
We’ll be talking about some examples of church websites that do each of these elements really well in the Church Juice Community Facebook group. Join us!
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The first booklet that I created in 2006 for the 1,000 congregations of The Presbyterian Church in Canada was called Fish and Chips (the church symbol and technology). It focused on fundamental elements of a website. Presumably every congregation in North America has a website by now.
The most important feature, I insisted, was Contact Us ... with a bonafide name and email address. I am chagrined to see how many churches insist on having visitors fill in a form to be submitted. Talk about being user UNfriendly.
And a church website doesn't have just one audience but at least two. While its public face focuses on outreach and the broader community, there needs to be a Membership tab that is password protected and that takes church membership into inhouse documents, a photo directory, copies of financial statements, minutes of various meetings, etc. In fact, a log of church ministries/committees tend to have their own password-protected pages.
I think you hit the nail on the head with contact forms. Making it as easy as possible for the website visitor should be the point of the contact area.
We don't agree on the Member's area, and that's okay. Statistics show that the more diluted your target is, the harder it is to reach your intended audience. Trying to simultaneously meet the needs of multiple audiences means you're straining what you can do well. Often, the more we try to say, the less is heard. Thinking about a member-specific area of your website: if half of your website is intended for a potential guest, then the other half of the site is behind a login wall, how does that make the first audience feel, or what do they perceive? It's hard to effectively reach both.
Thanks for the comment!
Actually, the Members area is hidden behind a tab. The public face of the church website should be/ and is outreach-focused.
Members click on a Members tab and that is password protected. The content there is largely administrative, allowing various committees to post minutes, engage in chats, receive reports. It's a 'back room' administrative site.
As I visit hundreds of websites -- organizational and corporate -- there is often a 'members-only' or 'employees-only' tab. It's a stewardly use of the technology.
How do I feel when I visit a site that has a special tab that I can't access? As I said, their web administrator is wisely using his knowledge to meet multiple functions.
My expectation and hope is that all CRC agencies have both public and private segments of their website.
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