Defining the purpose of your website is most likely going to dictate the direction of a lot more than you likely realize. Here is the reality:  by now, as church leaders, we know several things. We know that we need a website, it needs to feel modern, and it needs to look attractive. We know (or should know) that it needs to be responsive, that we want it to show up in Google, that we want it to be easy to add events and sermons … the list can go on and on. What we probably don’t know is that having a clearly defined purpose for your website is going to impact a lot of those things listed above. I mean, we’ve probably thought about, on a surface level, the value of having a website, but often (and I’ve been guilty of this myself) we are shortsighted in the planning and execution of it.

Planning Required

Websites are just like anything else in that they require planning, which requires conversation and lots of work. Sure we can go through and check the boxes of functions and features we want, but if we’re not purposeful about understanding why those boxes exist, we’re going to miss a huge opportunity. As the world continues to become more and dependent on technology, having a well-planned and thorough website continues to become more important. Gone are the days when you could just throw some information on a domain name so you can feel like you’ve checked the “website” box on your list of things to do. Well, I suppose you could still do that, but honestly, you’d be wasting time and money.

Even today, you wouldn’t build a building or do an addition without planning, consulting a professional, or even investing some resources to do research for the right contractor to do the job. But for some reason when planning for a new website, we still think it’s a good idea to give the project to the kid in the youth group that “likes computers.”

Strategy Defined

Here are some facts: Your website is your church’s #1 communication tool. It’s more important than your newsletter, it’s more important than your email blast, it’s more important than the ad you run in the Sunday paper for the event that you have coming up next week (do people still do that?). You might be saying, “Well, wait a minute, everyone is telling me that social media is the place to be. What about Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram?” Don’t get me wrong, all of those things are important and should be focused on, but need to fall under your overall website strategy, after that purpose is defined.

Let me give you an example…

Having great social media presence is more important now than ever before, but why? It’s because it gives you the ability to reach people that you wouldn’t normally be able to communicate to in the traditional sense. You get the opportunity to reach them digitally. And what is your largest form of digital communication? … You guessed it, your church website. The importance of a well-crafted social media strategy will be undermined every time if the website you are sending people to doesn’t perform as you want it. So in the planning phase that I mentioned earlier, you need to define what some of those goals are.

Goals Executed

Here are some good and bad examples of potential goals … let me share the bad examples first.

  1. We want to inform people
  2. We want people to find our church on the web

Although these are good thoughts, and well worth considering, the conversation should look a little more like this:

  1. We want our church website to focus on two groups of people. We think that it’s important that members and regular attendees can stay connected with what’s going on via our website. But we also think that it should be a marketing tool to reach more people.

As you can see, this example is going to provoke a lot of internal communication—i.e., How do we accomplish this? Is there value in having one website for both groups of people? Are we going to be able to make this happen with the tools we have available? (Notice we haven’t even talked about social media yet.)

Because our first goal is basically “we want to use our website as a marketing tool”, the next logical thing to think about is:

2. How are people going to find our website so we can market to them?

Well since 80% of people search for whatever they’re looking for via Google, you’re going to want to make sure that the tools you are working with are SEO friendly, and that you know how to optimize a site for good rankings on the search engines. (By the way—shameless plug—I’m putting together a free course to make that happen, which you can sign up for here: Learn SEO)

So as you can see, a website isn’t really just a website. It can be a hub for all of your communications efforts. It will define the traffic you are trying to send it. If you have no desire as a church to reach more people but only to inform those people you currently serve, you wouldn’t spend money on running a facebook campaign, even if you might otherwise think that you have to because of all the hype happening around “all these cool things you can do on the internet.” On the flip side, if your goal is to attract more visitors, and reach more people with your website, then you might want to start thinking about how to get people to actually go to your website, and also, what you’re going to do with them once they arrive.

Please keep in mind that the examples I gave are just that—examples. They might not even be what you talk about as a leadership team when discussing your website; however, I wanted to make the point that after seeing so many websites, there are very few church websites that have been thought through, planned out, had a plan built around them, and were then executed.