Obviously, today almost every church has a website, but sadly many church websites are little more than a newspaper or yellow pages ad for the church (the basic facts and little else) posted online. Unless someone is already interested in your church and is only looking for an address or service time, there is little to engage them.
There is even less reason for a person who is not already a believer to linger at your site. Information might be provided on how to get to the church, but little outreach or any other kind of ministry is done.
The reasons for this ministry challenge are not because of graphics or design short-comings, but of organization and content. Below are four suggestions to take your site beyond being an ad only to become an effective ministry tool as you prepare for Easter outreach and for the rest of the year.
1—Don't rely on your home page to draw people to your church
Many churches put a great deal of time and emphasis on their home page with the mistaken assumption that this is where most people will enter your website and based on that, they will decide if they want to attend your church or not. This focus on the homepage has increased over the last few years with the advent of sliding header images, the "flat design" movement, and the redesign of many church home pages to look like the landing pages of secular companies.
There is nothing wrong with any of these design trends and many church sites, because of the templates used to create them and take advantage of these trends, are very attractive. However, for your church site to be ministry effective it needs to be more than a home page for two key reasons.
One: Not everyone comes into your church website and sees the home page first. More and more visits to church sites come through search engines links of topics searched for. BE SURE all your pages have clear menus, in the headers or sidebars that let people know what else is on the site and how to get to it.
Two: The graphics, illustrations, and photos used to label ministries or church programs on your home page seldom make sense to anyone but insiders and don't appeal to visitors unfamiliar with your programs. Be sure each image or ministry label is a clickable link that explains the program in more detail if you want it to involve people, particularly those outside the church. Invite visitors to click on the links and to find out more.
Three: add a consistent footer to your site that is visible no matter what page a person enters your site. Be sure it has all your location and contact information. Also have links that made sense to an outsider, for example say "Children's Programs" not "Minnow's Ministry" or some other cute insider name.
2—Add depth to the site
Following from the point above, though your home page needs content to link to. Explain, profile your church ministries and work hard to add content to your site so it becomes more than an extended newspaper ad online. Think about what will make your site more of a resource and evangelism tool for people looking to find out more about the Christian faith.
Articles, links, videos, and other materials that explain and defends the Christian faith can either be created by your staff and members or you can summarize, comment on, and link to material on other Christian sites.
In addition to content about the ministries at your church, consider life-skills or advice that might appeal to people in your church outreach audience and tie that material back to something at your church. For example, you might have something about "How to raise drug-proof kids," and then link that to a parenting class your church is holding, a profile of some of the kids in the youth group and the importance of positive peer support, some resources to read or a counselor from the church to call for specific advice.
Consider adding a team of reporters or writers for your website to create the above suggested material. Assign an editor and give them guidelines in tone and length. Don’t add this content creation expectation on current staff. Your Sunday School teachers, lay Bible teachers, retired pastors or staff who have the time and want to write and research can make a great content team. This not only will help add depth to your church site, but you may give people in your church who have the gift and want to do Christian writing a chance to practice their gift.
3—Don't forget the basics
Though I just encouraged you to add depth to your site with expanded content, please don't forget the basics in content organization.
People often come to your site looking for basic information and then they will look at other material if it is interesting to them. But if your site doesn't have the basics they are looking for, it destroys the credibility of your site overall.
Double check your content to make certain that you have:
- Updated times and locations for events—don't just pass over this quickly—really check to make sure this is accurate. Also, make certain it will make sense to someone unfamiliar with your church. "The Women's Study meets at its usual time and location" where no specific location, time or clarification of the topic is neither inviting or kind to someone new at our outside the church.
- Up-to-date calendar and service times—if you change the times for special days or events, be sure you put this on your website.
- Removal of events that have already happened—nothing is worse than last month's special event still in a primary place on a website.
- Links to featured items—today many church websites feature header sliders with key events featured. People automatically click on them to find out more. Be sure to give the "more" by providing links to all the information needed to explain the event or ministry: if there is a cost, times, dates, etc., and a contact person for more information. Also important, who is the event for, what is really going on, and why they should come. Whenever you hear yourself say "oh everybody knows that" you can be quite certain whoever "everyone" is, they probably don't, especially if they are not on staff or a regular attendee at your church.
Periodically, informally have someone from outside the church look at your site (sit them down and pay money for their time) and ask them to find where classes are, when and where basic services are, what is going on for kids, what the church cares about. If they stumble and can't find things, you know you need work on basics.
4—Get legal with your use of images
Text content isn't the only area that you need to be concerned about—images are another. Here is what is becoming a pattern for many churches--you really need an image for the project you are working on. You don’t have money to buy one. You go to Google or Bing, do an image search and grab the first image that looks good.
And then later you feel guilty because you feel you may have stolen an image that wasn’t legally right for you to use. Feeling bad isn't the only issue here. Churches and other organizations can be subject to substantial fines if they use images that they aren't legally entitled to use. Also, it's unrealistic to expect the Lord to bless our work if we use stolen material to promote our ministries.
What to do? If you haven't already, please check out the short video here for super quick and easy ways to make sure you only snag legal images: https://www.effectivechurchcom.com/how-to-legally-download-images-from-google-and-bing/
Websites are a never-ending church communication challenge, but their ability to reach our communities for Jesus at Easter and all through the year will increase if you follow the four suggestions above.
***Please check out the related article: 10 essentials to prepare your church website for Easter