When you see an advertisement on TV, in the newspaper, or a magazine, what do you do if you want to find out more? Most likely you'll check out the website. We go to websites to find out the details about a product: how reliable the company is, about the costs and benefits of a possible purchase.
What's true in our everyday perusal of products is also true for the people who check out and who will be visiting your church website this holiday season. If you are doing a postcard mailing, a door-hanger distribution, an advertisement in the newspaper as outreach for this holiday season or any other special event, if possible, before you create or send out the outreach piece, take some time to work on your website, and give it a tune-up, a sort of spring-cleaning before inviting guests in. Even if you've already sent out some materials, as soon as you can, work on your website. Here are some essentials that you need to do:
Think of your visitors as a company would potential customers
If you invite lots of unchurched people to your holiday events, they may not be church friendly to start. They don't know how busy you are and that people got sick in the church last week and you couldn't update the website. You can't allow yourself any excuses; you must be brutally honest about what they expect from your church website. A company cannot make excuses if they want customers to buy from their website. A church can't expect people to visit, if they don't take time to make their website useful.
In addition to the product information that visitors expect to find on any website, potential customer make judgments about the company itself from the overall ease of use and completeness of their website.
Potential customers may test the company by contacting them through the website. How the company responds may influence if they decide to do business with the company. If a company has not updated its website in months, if links don’t work, if it was created with forms and has little real information, a potential customer most like won’t care about learning any more about the company. A seeker will often make the decisions based on your website to decide if they will visit you for the holiday events you promote
Keep in mind that they don't know how nice your people are or how powerful the preaching is or how fantastic the music until they come to your church. If they get an invitation to a holiday event, they will check out your website and make a decision based on that.
Take time to do this NOW
As the holiday season nears and work demands increase, it is easy to forget the website and nothing is worse than for someone to get an intriguing advertisement that makes them immediately go to your website only to find one that you intended to do something with, but never got around to before you sent out the mailing.
Following is a checklist of essentials for your website, pre-celebration tune-up.
Practical website essentials for the upcoming holiday season or other big events:
- Give away something. Don’t make the website just one big “Come and see how great we are” destination. Recipes for the holiday, ideas on how to celebrate Advent, tips for low and no-cost ways to celebrate are always popular.
- Have an "If this is your first visit with us" section. People might think they have to dress up for holiday celebrations. If most folks do at your church, you may want to let them know that; if your church is California casual (anything outside of a swim suit is OK), let them know that.
- Clarify the parking situation ahead of time, especially if it is very different than usual. For special Christmas services some churches have off-site parking, whatever it is let them know about it. Provide maps and directions.
- Be sure to have a section titled “What we do when it isn’t Christmas” on the website. Invite people back for your regular service, at the regular times and to ongoing ministries. You might even put on your site a section about, "If you miss the Christmas Eve or choir program, or whatever--come next week!"
- Answer the special questions Christmas brings up. Have questions and answers about why Jesus came to earth and what his life means to us, why we give gifts, Christmas traditions, anything people in your denomination or community discuss. You could have videos of your pastor answering questions; you could have audio Q & As; you could have annotated links to apologetic websites or to other videos that explain the Christmas message.
- In the midst of doing special things for Christmas, don’t forget to be incredibly clear about your church traditions for Christmas. Explain them, keeping in mind that many of the traditions that are treasured activities many mean nothing to a seeker. Be sure your guests know who the events are for, e.g. some events for children may have age limitations, some actions, such as churches who celebrate communion on Christmas may only allow it for members. Nothing is worse than making a visitor feel like a total outsider.
Make it clear that your website and social media get needed attention and updates
Your website MUST look like someone is paying attention to it, it must be up-to-date and content rich--that is a non-negotiable communication piece for credibility for any church today. If you don't know how to update your website, make it a priority to learn. This site has many articles on websites. I strongly recommend churches create websites with WordPress and the web is overflowing with free tutorials on how to create them. For more formal and very inexpensive training on websites and social media, go to www.lynda.com.
Pray for wisdom that the Lord will give you eyes to see the needs of the people in your community, of those who come to your church and that you put on your website whatever is needed to answer their questions and to enable them to trust your church as a place where they can find Jesus.