Church Websites That Connect
Most people who check out your church won’t walk through the door, they’ll walk through your virtual door by way of your website and social media content. For many what they will find will either be a stepping stone to continuing a journey of faith inquiry or a barrier that slows down the process. So what makes for a great church website that connects with inquirers?
Who is your target?
The first question any church asks about its website is who the target audience is. It’s quite clear from many church website the target is either its own members, or other Christians. Given that Christians swap churches a website can easily be a church’s way of attracting other Christians.
It’s best to target people who don’t go to church rather than using your website as an extension of Sunday service notices. Many churches are getting the hang of this and they are doing a great job.
There are some key principles that these effective websites operate on:
The best websites are highly visual. These churches understand that effective websites don’t convey information, they create first impressions. The subject of the visuals is always people rather than abstract graphics, banners or logos. The photography is real (as opposed to perfect smiley stock-photo people with good teeth, beautifully styled and tussled hair and gym honed bodies).
Whilst most of the great websites use photos on their home page some use very effective videos giving people a taste of what it is like to walk through the doors, such as the Remnant Church: “Jesus is good news for everyone. We invite you to come and meet our growing community and see what Jesus is doing right here in Richmond.” https://www.remnantrva.com/
These websites don’t attack people with a deluge of information at first glance. The information is there if you are prepared to dig, but the initial offering on the landing page provides some simple choices for people who are either totally new or for those more familiar with the church. The Hope Unlimited Church website offers a simple and bold ‘You’re Welcome’ in the opening photo banner and two choices: ‘I’m New’ and ‘My Home’. This is an easy way to direct web traffic depending on how much they know about your church, without having to expose content of both types to both types of people. https://hopeuc.com
Talk about you
The best church websites that connect don’t talk about themselves. All too often a website is seen as an opportunity to tell people about how awesome your church is. The most connective sites talk about the people who are checking the site out. In particular they find ways of connecting with feelings people may have. A great example is Village Church: https://thevillagechurch.net
The best sites tell stories rather than convey information or try and ‘sell’ themselves. They tell the stories of the people within the church and in that way they help people connect. Good News Church does this well with a bold home page that has no white space, only bright colours and great photos, enabling you to read the stories of the people featured. http://goodnews.church/
The best sites convey a sense of casualness and acceptance. This addresses the natural anxiety many will feel about how to dress, or whether or not they will feel welcome not being the typical ‘church type’.
The Grace Hills Church website proclaims “We’re Saving a Seat for You – We don’t care how you’re dressed, how many tattoos you have, or what candidate you voted for. We’re a church full of broken, imperfect people with every kind of story imaginable, and we’re saving a seat for you!”
Their entire home page is aimed at people who may be apprehensive and seeks to overcome that fear by being welcoming and enabling people to know what to expect. http://gracehillschurch.com/
The best websites make a big deal of welcoming people. Enjoy Church home page states: “We love having guests! This coming weekend, we’d love to host you at one of our services. It’s our heart to make you feel right at home. We look forward to meeting you!” https://enjoy.church/au/
Bridgeman Baptist Community Church also make a big deal of making everyone feel welcome: http://www.bridgeman.org.au/
People who don’t go to church naturally have a great deal of anxiety about church. This is informed by a range of perceptions or maybe even experiences. Let’s face it, plenty of people think Christians are just weird, and plenty of those people are Christians themselves!
Hill City Church proclaims boldly on their home page that is ‘A safe place to explore your faith’. http://hillcityrva.com/
Key things to avoid if you want to connect with people who don’t go to church:
Remember that what interests people who don’t come to your church and who aren’t signed up followers of Jesus and what interests signed and sealed believers is different. Many church website feature their latest sermon vodcast or podcast prominently. This is all very well for church members who want to catch up on sermons that they have missed but you don’t need to place that on your home page. One of the only remaining traditions of listening to monologues is a relatively new one: T.E.D. talks. They differ from sermons in that they are only 18 minutes and the speaker is normally super engaging. If you insist on wowing people outside the church with your latest sermons make sure they are wow-worthy
2. Inside information
If your home page is filled with adverts for events that are primarily concerned with people who insiders it will potentially be a barrier to some coming. There are ways and means of communicating with insiders both through your website navigation (have a link for insiders to follow) or through other platforms (social media groups, email newsletters (Mailchimp).
How can we get a website like this?
Hire someone: The easiest way to ‘get’ a website like the ones showcased is to engage a web designer. This can be a very expensive excercise but you can compare prices. There are a number of local Australian based web design companies that specialise in the church market. They will understand your needs and help you build an effecrtive website.
Use a template: There are plenty of great templates you can purchase and customise to your liking. If you have someone on your church staff who knows what they are doing or someone in your church who can build web sites this is a great option. I would suggest using the WordPress platform and heading to sites such as www.themeforest.net to find a great generic theme such as Enfold and build your own site or use their pre-prepared church demo Enfold Church.
The reason I suggest WordPress is because it is a CMS (Content Management System) which will allow you to update your website after it is built. Staff and volunteers can be assigned limited access to update the website and upload content.
Establish a volunteer team of people who have the skills you need to maintain a successful web and social media presence:
- social media/web content
Find church websites that are far better than yours and learn from them, and then emulate them. Churches that don’t have a big budget can still run a very good website and social media presence. Most churches have the talent within them to make this happen.
[Disclaimer: The websites above are indicative examples and not necessarily an endorsement of the churches featured. The WordPress themes shown are indicative examples and not recommendations for purchase as I have not built any sites using these particular themes].
Stan Fetting is the Operations Manager of Crossover and cut his teeth on Worpress as a church webmaster.