Jargon, those insider terms that are only meaningful to members of an "in" group, in this case, those of us in the church can be deadly in terms of our success in communicating with the world outside the church. It's easy forget what a powerful tool the web is for reaching our world, or that many people who visit your church for the first time do so because of your website. With the importance of the website in outreach, even in how we use jargon and fine-tuning it out can make an importance difference.
With that in mind, I just finished a brief overview of websites and following are a few notes on some instances of jargon that stood out to me. We know church jargon can be deadly in the other communications we create in the church, but somehow I think it's easy to miss jargon on the website because the medium itself is newer. Though the websites I looked at all had overall great images and content, the desire to be brief in the number of primary menu items used on the home page, made the jargon in them glaring to me. But if this is the first place a visitor looks and if the primary menu items contain one or more examples of church jargon, this may confuse or stop a visitor.
What's tricky here is that it’s almost impossible to catch this yourself on this because those of us who work in the church are so immersed in church jargon we aren’t even aware of it when we use it or we may not realize that people outside the church may not use that word in the same way. Here a few examples (far from exhaustive) of terms or the locations we put them in that we might want to reconsider:
Jargon web label #1: “ministries”
This word was used in the majority of sites I visited, and all us church people know exactly what the site is referring to, but what does that word mean to people outside the church?
Webster's Dictionary has, among others, these definitions:
- the body of ministers of religion
- a government department presided over by a minister the Ministry of Foreign Affair
- the building in which the business of a ministry is transacted
No where is there the meaning we give it in the church—that of the various groups that do things for specific age groups. With that in mind, why would any unchurched person click on that title (and it is a top-level title on most websites). On many websites it isn’t until you click on that title that you see links to groups like “children” “women’s” “youth.” Even then, it might not make sense what a "ministry of Children" is all about.
An alternative might be something like “FOR YOU” that would link to a page with the various age or interest groups listed or pictures that link to the various ministry groups (only don’t call them that). Brainstorm at your church for ideas. Try different labels and check on your statistics to see if you get more clicks to the various groups (ministries") after you change the primary link.
Jargon web label #2: Next Steps
This one makes me crazy. It makes even less sense to an unchurched person than "ministries" because the first question one would have to ask is "what was the first step?" Was it coming to the website? Even I'm really not sure what this means in terms of a website. This phrase has taken on its own meaning in churches, once you are there and that's fine for insiders, but it's pure jargon to someone outside the church.
Go to some of the most popular sites on the web, Target.com and Walmart.com--they don't make you guess what the labels are. They have clickable images right up front and very clear labels. They don't require a second step of trying to figure out where to find for example, if you are looking for something for "Babies"--on both just scroll down a little on the home page and there it is.
I wonder if part of the problem is with what is considered the "in" design for church websites these days--which seems to be a big splashy banner that may or may not move, or a slide show, or a video, etc. that shows the people or a worship service. If you are someone outside the church, I mean truly outside the church, I find it hard to imagine why something that looks vaguely like a rock concert should motivate someone to seek God.
That aside, the content on most home pages for churches seems to be summed up in "this is how great we are." Target and Wal-Mart's big sections of images with labels say in contrast, "if you are looking for this, here is where it is."
This may be a crazy idea, but what if we had images that were captioned:
- Who is Jesus?
- Wondering if there is a God?
- What does being saved mean?
- Why bother with church?
- Did you come to this site because you feel lonely? Guilty? Overwhelmingly sad?
- Would you like a spiritual place to belong, explore, question?
I don't think people, again, truly unchurched people, this isn't about people swapping churches, come to church websites to be entertained. What if we presented to them clearly what the church is truly about?
How to catch yourself on jargon
One of the best ways is to hire or ask someone who does not attend church regularly to look at your website and tell you what it means. Ask them, “When you see these labels, what are they about?” When you show them what it's really about, ask them how they would label it, what would help them find the information needed.
The jargon just gets started on the home page and gets even deeper when we get into the names we give things that make no sense, the mission and vision statements that work so hard to alliterate that even members can't explain what they are about. Again, asking a person who doesn't attend the church, or several and doing this as you fine-tune your site what these terms and names mean and how they can make more sense can be a great way to improve your outreach.
And you never know what might happen. When one church did a similar thing, the pastor who shared the experience with me said that one particular person gave them great feedback for about 3 weeks, and then he said, that after many conversations on the real meaning of what we were trying to communicate, the person became totally worthless in their feedback because the pastor shared, "he got saved!"
A non-jargon label that perhaps shouldn't be on the top menu: GIVE
One of the main complaints people outside the church have is that "all churches care about is money." If a top-level menu on the home page has only 4-5 key words for links and one of them is "Give" what does that say to an unchurched person about the importance of giving money in your church.
The solution to this challenge is easy. Obviously we want it to be easy for our congregations to give online, but if you put the link to GIVE in the footer of your church website, the church members will find it, but visitors won't see it as one of the top priorities of your church.
A missing label in most church websites: FAQs
Most church websites come across very strongly that "this is what we want to tell you" with little content that says "we'd like to answer your questions."
FAQs are "Frequently asked questions" definition: a list of questions and answers about a particular subject, especially one giving basic information for users of a website and would be great for church websites. But I didn't see one on any of the sites I looked at.
FAQs may not sound very spiritual, but that is a term most unchurched people are familiar with. That might be better than the label "Ministries" because under FAQs you could have questions like:
- What do you have for kids?
- What is expected of me as a visitor?
- Do you have a recovery program?
- Is there anything for singles/seniors/youth?
- What can I expect on Sunday morning?
I've got to stop here because in thinking about this and how important it could be I realized I don't have one for this website and as I'm trying to make the mass of information here make more sense, I'd better get started on that.
It might take a week or so, but as I work on making this site more effective for church communicators, I'll be praying for all of you as you work to make your sites more effective for the people you are reaching for Jesus.