Before you build a new church website
Hallelujah. Your church’s communications budget has allocated money to build a new website. Pick a font and a design, and get it done by Easter, right?!
Maybe not so fast.
To make sure your new website best represents your church and is most effective at inviting and welcoming new members into your congregation, you need to do some legwork. Before you worry about menu structure and color palettes, there is a lot more to consider.
Here are 10 tips to get you started:
1) What is the story you want to tell the world? That the finance committee is meeting at 10am? Or that you are a congregation committed to bringing the love of Christ into the world? People crave connection. They want to make a difference in the world. They want to know that they are valued and loved. Can you extend those messages through your website? Of course! But you need to make sure those messages aren’t buried under minutia. Yes, having an up-to-date calendar and a way to communicate logistical details is important. But more important are the stories that tell who you are as a congregation and the invitation to others to share in those stories.
2) Stories are meant to be shared - and social media is a great way to share stories in the digital space. In considering your website, you will also need to consider all of your social media usage. What demographic does each of your social media accounts target? How easily can social media be integrated into your new website? Will users see social media posts embedded in your website without having to “click-through” to those platforms? Does the platform allow you to embed social media in a way that enhances your static content, rather than just being offered as "ticker" across the side or bottom of the landing page.
3) A picture is worth 1000 words - in fact, it’s unlikely that anyone will read anything over 1000 words (oops - always guilty of this). Begin to cultivate a photo library for your website by taking lots of high quality images - not of your building, but of your people! Show the world who you are, not the physical space where you worship. Develop a strategy and designate responsibility for photographing events at your church. Images of people, especially kids, and pets will attract interest every time! And consider - what might someone be surprised to learn about your church? In what ways does your church contradict some of the prevailing negative cultural narratives of what it means to be a Christian community. Show it!
4) Do you speak in the tongues of men or of angels? Who is the voice of your website and of your social media? In today’s world, people expect to have a voice in their communities. How will you make the transition from a leader-centric voice to one that creates a space for others to share their stories? Can your website and social media accounts encourage different voices in your congregation? Can they amplify underrepresented voices in your community? Who has a great faith story to tell? Sharing our stories as the people of God is evangelism.
5) Who is my neighbor? It’s a question from scripture and a question that bears consideration when designing your website. Considering that the vast majority of people visit a church’s website before they ever visit the church, you need to make sure that your website is predominantly “outward facing” and invitational. In other words, you are designing a website for folks you haven’t met yet, who don’t know your church, who might not know your language, or your taken-for-granted assumptions. Take a step back to consider an outsider’s point of view. Who are these people who might look at your website? What life-events might bring them to your church? What concerns about showing up on a Sunday morning might they have that your website can allay? What “insider” language should be avoided? What do you need to share with them so they feel comfortable walking in your front door?
6) What should your website do? Seems like an obvious question. A website should tell stories and share information, right? Yes. But. Consider that a good website is a way to facilitate a dynamic two-way conversation, not simply broadcast information. Consider other interactive functions. Is your website a platform where users can respond, register, or conduct a transaction? Can users request prayer? Can they engage in conversation about scripture or other readings? Can they respond to a sermon? Can they volunteer for an outreach project? Can they register their child for Sunday school? Can they purchase concert tickets, make a donation, buy Easter flowers, or pre-order their Lenten fish-fry dinner?
7) Do not get prematurely physical! This was the mantra of my favorite computer science professor, and it's great advice for both teen dating and website design. What does it mean? It means not getting bogged down with ideas of how a website should look or what the menu structure should be before you’ve begun to analyze your needs. It means not being defined by whatever you’ve done in the past. Rather than merely replicating your existing website in a more contemporary design, take time to step back and think holistically about your church, your community, and your ministries. Perhaps an exhaustive listing of “ministries” isn’t the best way to organize or express what you do. Perhaps posting volunteer schedule pdfs isn’t really furthering your mission (and nobody wants to read a pdf on a phone). Perhaps a picture of your building and a lengthy retelling of your congregation’s history isn’t where you should begin.
8) Ok, let’s get physical. When it is time to build the website however, you will need to consider your existing digital infrastructure. What social media integrations will you need - now and in the future? What is your church database? Is your church database on a local server or desktop, or is it cloud-based? What are its capabilities for integration? What email, calendar, and scheduling platforms does your church use? Does your website share content with a digital newsletter? What is your church’s wifi capability? What is your current domain name? Where is your site going to be hosted? Are you interested in live-streaming? Do you prioritize video or audio (people do love podcasts).
9) The human touch. Digital ministry is ultimately incarnational. Behind the digital curtain are real people - those who will use your website and social media platforms, and those who will maintain them. Who are they? What is their capability for storytelling, for writing, for photography? What information do they need? What is their problem-solving ability? What is their technical ability, their ability to process and organize information, and their sense of design? How will they access your website and social media platforms, i.e., what devices do they use? How much time, interest, and ability do they have to devote to digital ministry? What are the workflows in your organization and how does the communications process currently work?
10) Pray. No, really. Pray. Your website gives you an unprecedented opportunity to connect with people in a hurting and broken world. This is a glorious gift. As you move through the process of designing, conceptualizing, and building your website and social media platforms, remember to pray that through these tools, you might build the kingdom of God in your own community.
- Lisa Brown, Director of Digital Ministry
What can we create together?
Contact Membership Vision to learn more about our website platform and social media strategies!
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.