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 (something that has the basic facts and little else) posted online. This is not a factor of graphics or design, but of organization and content. Below are four suggestions to take your site beyond being an ad only to become an effective ministry tool in the coming year.
1—Don’t rely on your home page
Many churches put a great deal of time and emphasis on their homepage and this has increased over the last few years with the advent of sliding header images, the “flat design” movement, and the redesign of many church homepages 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 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: each category or ministry on your homepage needs to be explained in more detail if you want it to actually involve people, particularly those outside the church. Be sure your home page is the foundation and links to explanations. The cute graphics of programs that don’t make sense to anyone but insiders don’t appeal to visitors unfamiliar with your programs.
Two: Not everyone comes to 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.
2—Add depth to the site
Following from the point above, your home page will become less important as you add content to your site, work hard to add content to your site so it becomes more than an extended newspaper ad online. Added content 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.
Consider adding a team of reporters or writers for your website. Assign an editor and give them guidelines in tone and length. Don’t add this content creation expectation on the current staff. Your Sunday School teachers, lay Bible teachers, retired pastors or staff who have the time and desire 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 desire to do Christian writing a chance to practice their gift.
3—Don’t forget the basics
Having just encouraged you to add depth to your site, please don’t forget the basics.
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 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.
- 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.
- Clear labels or 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. Be sure these have links to all the information needed to explain the event: if there is a cost, times, dates, etc., and a contact person for more information.
Periodically, informally have someone from outside the church look at your site (sit them down and watch them, 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? Check out the short video here for super quick and easy ways to make sure you only snag legal images: http://www.effectivechurchcom.com/2015/01/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 will increase if you follow the four suggestions above.
For more advice, samples, templates and more on effective church communications, go to: http://www.effectivechurchcom.com.