The church website continues to be the church’s digital front door. As a church communicator, putting good website practices into play will always be resources well spent. While focusing on your own church website most of the time is necessary, learning how other churches present themselves and welcome those who are thinking about attending is a valuable, free learning tool. It also provides insights into how to adapt or learn how other churches solve communications challenges.
Over the years, through helping churches with website evaluations, I have compiled a list of five things that make a good church website. These can be used by any church for a quick self-evaluation and a core planning tool for your church website:
#1 – Free Your Navigation and Page Content of Insider Language
Most content for websites is written “from the inside” by people who know the terms and language of the organization. Many church websites make the mistake of assuming that everyone else speaks their “insider” language.
How to battle this? Have your site reviewed by people outside your organization (both church attenders and people totally unfamiliar with what you do). Ask them to identify areas on the navigation and in the content aimed toward visitors that they don’t understand. In addition, always avoid the use of program names and abbreviations. If you have to use them, make sure that they are defined right in the copy.
#2 – Perfect Your Top Five Web Pages
A good website analytics tools is necessary to uncover the top five pages of your church website. Adding Google Analytics to your site is free and will give you a wealth of information about how your site is being used.
Most analytics tools can provide more information than necessary and can be quite complex to learn. I recommend to people that they start by using analytics tools to answer the following three questions:
- What are the top five pages that are viewed on your site?
- What is the first page that people look at when they come to your site?
- What are people searching for?
Identifying the top five pages on your site is important because it helps you understand where you should direct your web resources. Evaluating these pages is highly valuable. Make sure the information on these top five pages is correct, that they provide the information people are looking for (see below), and that the images on these pages are culturally reverent and represent who you are.
Most likely, your church website probably has more than five pages. However, it is these top five pages are where most of the resources should be focused.
The first page people see on your site (called a landing page) is important because it provides part of the first impression that people get about your church. The other components of the first impression include the physical building and the first person they meet when they come to your church.
Knowing what people are searching for online is important. People who have never been to church, or have not been to church in years, will be searching for terms that could be unfamiliar to your church. For example, if you have an elementary youth program called “Kids Planet” but never use the words “elementary age” or “elementary students” on your site, someone who searches for the term “elementary youth” may not get any search results.
If your church prefers to use group names that don’t offer enough description, provide a quick definition when it is used to help the outsiders who are searching for information about your programs and activities.
#3 – Keep Your Website Current
Keeping a church schedule always before you and setting reminders to update the website often is crucial. If you don’t have a process or someone in charge of the process to post new dates and take down old ones, this is the first step. One of the best ways to communicate that you don’t care or are too busy is to have your site contain outdated or inaccurate information. Fresh, accurate information and resources avoid disappointment and encourage repeat visits from people — even those who are not part of your congregation.
#4 – Make Your Church Website Mobile
So much of what we digest from the Web today comes to us through our mobile device. Most web traffic is now from mobile devices, and people are using them much more to find out where your church is located, what programs it offers, and what the congregation believes.
Although it’s important to work hard on the look, feel, and functionality of your website, it is equally vital to test your church website on mobile phones and tablets to see how your site renders. Choosing “responsive” themes or mobile-optimized church website providers can help with this process.
Sites that perform well on mobile devices allow churches to capture interest when and where it happens instead of trying to keep someone’s attention until they are in front of a large screened device.
#5 – Clearly State the Most Sought After Information Up Front
Your audience can be roughly divided into two camps: those who understand your church from its website enough to make a first-time visit, and those who don’t and move on. Most people who decide to attend a church that they have never attended ask four questions:
- When and where do you meet?
- What do you believe?
- What can I wear and what is your service like?
- Who (and how) do I contact if I have more questions?
Many of these people will also quickly look at your latest sermon podcast or video to get an idea of what your service is like and how your church teaches. With this in mind, it’s important that these things are absolutely easy to find and access.
So ask yourself, do you have maps or a clearly stated physical address that shows where your church meets? This is especially important to out-of-town visitors. It’s also important for churches that meet in shared locations or re-purposed locations (e.g. former malls or shopping centers) to provide adequate explanation for how to find them. Where and how easy is parking? Where will the kids need to be dropped off?
What about your statement of beliefs and about us section? Are these pages clear and to the point? Does the text avoid “Christian speak” that may not mean anything to a non-believer?
And finally, do you provide enough information on how to dress and what the facility looks like? Using pictures of what your typical Sunday congregation looks like on your website is highly effective. Take real photos and use them instead of stock photos.
Since people who have attended your church probably already know the answers to these questions, it makes sense to set someone who has never been to your church in front of your website and have them find the answers to these questions. During the process, watch and observe how they find what you have asked them to find. (No coaching allowed). How they get their answers will give you an amazing insight into how your site is structured.
There’s a lot more besides these five points that you will need to address to form a complete web strategy. Starting here and answering these questions honestly — using people both inside and outside your church — will bring good insights into how people see the way you present the Gospel and go a long way in reaching people in your community.