Getting Your Church's Website Ready for Christmas
Stop. Before you read any further, grab your mobile phone and pull up your church’s website. Now find information about your church's Christmas worship services.
Is there information about Christmas services on the website?
Is the information in a prominent, easy-to-spot location?
How long does it take to find the information? How many clicks? How many menu items deep?
Is the information appealing and invitational?
Does the information reflect the nature of worship at your church? Does it give someone a good idea of what they can expect?
Christmas arrives every year, whether we are prepared for it or not. The church pews fill with regular parishioners, folks we only see once or twice a year, and first-time visitors who felt an urge to find a church on this most holy night.
As church communicators, it would be easy to fall into the mindset that people will show up regardless of what we post on our website, and that people will generally have an idea of what to expect from a Christmas service.
And yet, as church communicators, even at this busy time of year, especially at this busy time of year, we need to make sure that people easily have the information they need to be full participants in our celebrations. Whether it’s a longtime parishioner who needs to know how to purchase altar flowers online or a first-time visitor who needs to know where to park, there are many reasons people might turn to your website this Christmas. And while they are on your website, what else might they discover?
Suggestions to get your church's website ready for Christmas
While this is nothing earth-shattering, in every suggestion, this is your opportunity to welcome the stranger.
- Make information about Christmas services easy to find. An eye-catching graphic on the front page with an invitational link should take users to information they need with one click. Don’t make users search under different menu options, click through calendar days, or scroll down, down, down. And make sure it looks as good and is as easy to find on mobile as it is on desktop!
- Choose a graphic that is reflective of your church, preferably one that beautifully shows your actual church, community, and worship, rather than using a stock image. If you must use a stock image, think about the nature of your worship. Is it candles and robed-choir members? Is it costumes, candy canes, and a children’s pageant? Choose a graphic accordingly.
- Consider first time visitors. If the pews fill up an hour before the pageant starts, if there is a cookie exchange after the service, if there is overflow parking in the lot down the block, make sure to let people know.
- Check those service times - and not just on Christmas Eve! It should go without saying, but double check that the information is correct as far as Christmas service times. Also make sure to change information regarding regular weekly and Sunday worship for those days impacted by the holiday. When Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, for example, are regular Sunday services being held at a different time because of the holiday? Are mid-week services canceled during the week of Christmas to New Year's? Are service times impacted by New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day? Are there hours that the church office will be closed? What about 12 Step meetings or other regular meeting that occur in the church?
- Christmas brings opportunity to do more than worship. Make sure information about Christmas outreach projects, pageants, and altar flower donations is easy to find. If you church sponsors multiple outreach projects, consider gathering all the information – items requested, whether gifts should to be wrapped, dates and locations where items are to be dropped off – in one spot on your website so that people have a clear picture of all the outreach opportunities they might support. Make sure procedural information for your Christmas pageant – costume pick-up, rehearsals, registration forms – is easily available.
- Facilitate online giving. Both visitors on Christmas and others connected with your church community may feel a bit more generous this time of year. Make it easy for them to give! In addition to straight donations, what about donations for Christmas flowers or to Christmas outreach initiatives? When choosing an online giving platform, make sure to consider not only the monthly fees (if any) but the transaction costs - sometimes a higher transaction cost on a platform with no monthly fee can be more cost-effective in the long run. Look for online giving that embeds easily on your website and allows non-members to easily donate without having to login or create an account.
- Take a quick look at the rest of your website. Are there areas that need to be cleaned up? Content that should be updated? While some visitors may decide on the spur of the moment to join you for Christmas Eve, others may research your church extensively before visiting. Your website is where they will look!
Social Media can be a Christmas Gift for your Church
Your website isn't the only communications platform to consider before Christmas. Think about your social media accounts:
- As you approach Christmas, tell stories of how your congregation is preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ. Whether it’s young people caroling, the altar guild decorating the altar, parish cooks preparing meals for the homebound, take lots of pictures and share them.
- Create shareable posts and events for your Christmas worship and other activities. You can use that same eye-catching graphic and invitational language, and make sure the Christmas worship post includes a link back to your website page that has all the pertinent information. Invite your parishioners to share this post on their own accounts. Make sure to remind your parishioners to like your page – this will help you build an audience.
- Consider a boosted post, defining your audience as people who like your page and their friends. The likelihood of someone visiting your church, at Christmas or otherwise, is higher if they discover that they are friends with someone from your church.
But you’re not done yet! In addition to making digital preparations in advance of your worship, as a communicator, make sure to capture all of the beauty, solemnity, and joy during worship and other activities! Task specific people to be official photographers of the worship services and other special Christmas events, and you’ll have great content for next year!
- Remember to designate one or more official photographer for Christmas services. Cell phone cameras can take great pictures and almost everyone has a phone in their pocket.
- Encourage photographers to capture pictures that represent all the different demographics in your congregation, considering age, ethnicity, gender, family structure, etc.
- Children and teens can be fantastic photographers, often offering a unique perspective and worldview. Furthermore, by asking them to document their experiences, you invite them to be active participants rather than passive witnesses. You may end up with 50 shots of the Christmas pageant, but the exercise will tell you a lot about what resonates with the younger members of your congregation.
- Add a crowd release statement to your worship bulletins or post one somewhere in your worship space. Visitors may not have given previous permission to be photographed through registration, membership data collection, etc. Although church is typically considered a public place where expectations of privacy are limited, people do have legal rights as to how, when, and by whom their image is used.
- Remind photographers of the need to be respectful of people engaged in the sacred act of worship. In advance, suggest unobtrusive spots to stand to take pictures. Remind photographers of moments in the service or related events that you want to be sure to capture and those that they should refrain from photographing. These decisions will depend on your church culture and practice; and it always makes sense to enlist the support and direction of your clergy in advance.
- Determine in advance a strategy for gathering the photographs that are taken – establish a Dropbox or shared Google folder rather than dealing with individually sent images. If photographers do email or text you their pictures, make sure they send full resolution files rather than compressed thumbnails.
In addition to empowering a corps of official church photographers, encourage personal picture taking among your parish families. Invite people to share their photos – suggest it in advance of Christmas services in your email blasts or other parish communications and then publish a brief tip sheet in your bulletin or worship materials during each of the services.
Invite Your Parishioners to Share their Christmas Stories
Some suggestion for tips you might want to print in your bulletin:
- On Facebook, remind people to “check in” with your church location AND make sure to set permission for their posts to Public (otherwise you as the location won’t be notified).
- On Instagram, where hashtags are useful, give people a unique hashtag to use on all their posts – for example, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, we would ask people to use #stpaulspgh. Keep your hashtag as short as you can, and do a search beforehand to make sure it isn’t already being used by another organization. This will help you to find images that people have posted.
- Consider social media for evangelism – in addition to suggesting a church specific hashtag so YOU can find the pictures, also ask people to post using a general hashtag such as #ChristmasEve or the name of your town #Pittsburgh, so that more people might see what Christmas is like at your church.
By encouraging folks in your congregation to “capture the moment’ during Christmas, you not only benefit from gaining lots of new visual material for church print and digital communications, but more importantly, you amplify the voices of your parishioners, inviting them to be a part of the ongoing story of the people of God.
- Lisa Brown, Director of Digital Ministry
Does your website help you #tellgreatstories? Here's a great Christmas Gift that you can give your church: a new website! Talk to us at Membership Vision. Our website platform makes it super easy and intuitive to tell your stories in the digital space!