How to Build a Website Right!
Tell me a story about your church?
Who are you in your community?
What ministries have a lot of excitement and energy?
What brings newcomers through your doors?
These are the kinds of questions we like to start with when working with a new church partner. Often people are so eager to get to the technical details of building a website that they rush past the deep and intentional work of thinking about identity, mission and ministry. But it’s a critical step and one that results in not only a great website but a stronger parish community!
St. Michael's, Arlington, VA, did an impressive job of approaching the task of building a website. In the early stages of the project, they focused exclusively on defining their identity, mission and ministry. Not a single conversation about menu structure was had until they were sure of who they were and the stories they wanted to tell! They invested the necessary time, effort and parish engagement to make sure that what they shared on their website was a true reflection of their community.
Their Rector started by forming a small group which was focused on communications, intentionally casting a broader focus than website design. The group looked at all of their communications pieces, doing an informal communications audit. As recommended in this blog post, they evaluated each piece, considering the target audience, the types of stories and information the piece was designed to convey, the effectiveness and reach of the piece, and the effort involved in creating it. When they were done, they had a sense of what their current communications efforts looked like – the reach and scope – and where there were gaps.
To assist in the next part of this process, crafting a message, I recommended that the group utilize Speaking Faithfully by Jim Naughton and Rebecca Wilson. This book is essential to crafting effective church messaging. This clarified the group’s thinking on identifying targeted demographics for their congregation. They asked the questions about what currently brought newcomers to their church – was it outreach? children’s ministry? music? – and reflected on how to build a strategy with messaging that reflected these opportunities. In identifying the ministries which had energy around them and identifying audience demographics, they also considered what platforms those audiences were most likely to use to get their information, and the frequency with which those audiences might engage with a church community.
The group spent time thinking about storytelling. They asked, who is currently telling the church's story? Who needs to be invited into the storytelling process? This helped connect certain target audiences to specific storytellers.
From there, the group focused on invitation, tone and goals - what did they want people to do? Join the church? Come to a concert? Participate in an online formation opportunity? Attend an off-site event such as Beer & Hymns? They also considered tone in the context of the community in which they exist - they realized that Arlington is “…a pretty tightly-wound place.” They recognized that as a church, being a place where people could relax and "be themselves" was an asset and invitational.
Finally – and this was a fantastic exercise - they looked at the websites of all the local churches around them, Episcopal and otherwise, and noted what they thought each website indicated as to each church's identity. What was the vibe they got from each website? How would it "read" to some of their target audiences? Then they considered how their church was different or distinct from other churches; and how they were the same. This helped prioritize stories that emphasized what they could uniquely offer. It was a fascinating exercise that lead to valuable perspective on how they might differentiate their parish community. They answered the question, “What does your digital front door look like?”
It was almost time to start building the website. But they needed one more exercise that required the participation of the entire parish!
To engage the rest of the parish, I recommended that they consider the idea of personal transformation as captured in the cardboard testimonials (video from Evangelism Matters conference). The group was inspired and decided to invite parishioners to participate in a similar exercise!
After coffee hour on a Sunday morning, they invited people to create cardboard signs featuring a phrase indicating what they loved about St. Michael’s and what kept them coming back every Sunday. The committee then video recorded people flipping their signs. The process captured not only unique, personal and original perspectives but dynamic facial expressions! Although the process of making the "cardboard testimonials" didn't create a ton of usable video content (lots of outtakes and blurry footage!), the very process of engaging parishioners was incredibly valuable and helped people to form succint language they could share with others about why they loved their church. Which is the foundation of Episcopal evangelism! Furthermore, the task force now had fantastic images to use on the front page of their website!
Because of the thorough efforts of the communications group, the remainder of the website build came together very quickly. They knew exactly what content and images they wanted and could quickly move to curate their digital assets. The site went live and, since then, has been a dynamic platform for St. Michael’s to share their story.
Lisa Brown, Director of Digital Ministry
Does your website help you #tellgreatstories? Talk to us at Membership Vision. Our website platform makes it super easy and intuitive to tell your stories in the digital space!