Your website is the 21st-century front door of your church.
It will be a rare guest who did not first check you out online. Why? Because people value information and comfort, and knowing as much about you as possible will put them more at ease in coming to visit your church for the first time.
Almost every week, TMG is contacted by churches that still don’t have any website. If that’s your church, let me be direct. You are without excuse. If you’ve paid for a coffee once or twice a month, you can afford to have a website. It really can be that cheap. It also doesn’t need to be difficult. Here’s a quick guide for getting a simple church website up and running in five minutes or less.
A website is a ministry tool like many others. Since nearly every guest will have visited your site first make sure it’s geared toward getting them the information they would be looking for easily and presenting them with a glimpse into your church.
Let’s look at eight key checkpoints on your website, and try to look at them through the eyes of a guest.
1. When and Where
When a guest visits your site, the first two things they’ll be looking for are the time of your services and where exactly you are located. Don’t just provide your address, provide a map so people can easily see the best route from their location to yours. Make sure this is easy and obvious to find on the homepage and not buried three layers deep.
2. Honest digital representation
Your church’s website should reflect the look and feel of your church. It’s dishonest to have (stock, stolen) images of young people in jeans, and then have people show up and see that your church is filled with middle-aged people in suits. There’s nothing wrong with middle-aged people in suits, so make a good first impression by being honest.
3. Current information
Keeping a website up-to-date can be challenging. However, there are some key strategies you can employ to make it as simple as possible. First, limit the number of dynamic pages (pages that require updating to stay accurate). This means, don’t list all the youth events on the youth page. Keep the youth page general and link to a calendar that updates events for all ministries. Secondly, limit the number of pages overall. If a church website is too cumbersome, not only will it be difficult to keep it current, people will have trouble finding information at all. When it comes to a church website, there is such a thing as too much information; keep it simple.
4. A clean design
Your church can have an honest digital representation (see above) but not resort to horrible design. Beat the cliché! Churches with an older demographic do not have to be slaves to clipart, angel animated GIFs, and the Comic Sans or Papyrus font. Break free! Having a simple, clean web design is just as welcoming as simple, clean facilities. If you don’t know how to do it on your own, check out any number of template builders like Clover, ShareFaith, or SquareSpace. Their sites are beautiful, easy to maintain, and relatively inexpensive.
5. Links to social media
So here’s my rule on social media: if you have it, use it. If you’re not going to use it, don’t have it. Going to a church’s Facebook page and seeing the three most recent statuses being from last Easter, last Christmas and two Easter’s ago is a real bummer. This communicates that you just don’t care about communicating. However, on the assumption that your church does use social media and update regularly, link to these places online in obvious ways. People get a better sense of your church’s personality from social media than from your website.
6. Easily accessible sermons
Many people who are thinking about visiting your church will want to hear (or better, watch) a message online first. Be sure that it’s easy to download messages and that the audio quality is the best you can afford. Take advantage of the free and inexpensive tools that are available to put out the best sermon audio possible. This helps to make a good first impression. Here’s a guide to recording and publishing sermon audio online.
7. Own what you believe
An unbeliever may not fully understand all your doctrinal beliefs, but you also may have believers looking for a new church home. State clearly what your beliefs are so people know what they are getting.
8. An easy next step
For the people visiting your website to check out your church, what do you want to be their next step? Visiting in person! Make that transition simple. Let them reach out to you beforehand so you can be expecting them. Leverage online tools like Text-In-Church’s Plan A Visit alongside Planning Center so you can pre-register their kids in children’s ministry to expedite check-in. Know their name in advance so they can be welcomed personally by staff and volunteers. Your website is the front door to your church, be sure it is saying “Come on in!” The more intentional you are about your digital front door, the less likely you are to lose people through the back door.
The big mistake churches make is in thinking that their website is a separate entity from the church itself. It’s not! It’s an extension of the church and should be considered with all the same strategy and scrutiny as your on-site guest experience.
The best place to start is by evaluating these eight elements above. How is your church doing right now? How could it improve? Use the form below Download the free checklist to begin assessing your digital presence on your own or with your team.