Worth a Thousand Words
When we work with church clients in designing their websites, choosing photos is always a challenge. We may go through file after file looking for that illusive image that perfectly captures the essence of the church community. It's sometimes hard to articulate exactly what we are looking for, but BOOM! we know it when we see it!
What makes a website image the perfect shot - in other words, an image that exactly captures your congregation (yet rarely depicts your whole congregation) and is so compelling that anyone who sees it says “YES, I want to be part of that!”?
It’s a few things. A good image tells a story. A good image hints at transformation. A good image answers a question that the viewer might not even know they needed to ask. A good image represents the best of your church community.
In a good image, there is often a combination of three important factors:
When I look at an image on the website of a church I am considering visiting, I need to see myself in the images, or at least I need to see people that I wouldn’t mind sitting next to in the pew or serving next to in ministry. Must they look exactly like me, as far as age, race, gender, ethnicity, and how they dress? No. But again, do they need to look like folks I can see myself being in community with? Yes. Walking into a new church is awkward. Help me know what to expect. At least help me make sure I’m not wearing my fancy Sunday hat if your church-goers typically wear jeans to worship.
Obviously the purpose of a church community is to worship God. But, different churches may do this in different ways, and engage in wildly different ministries. And different ministries can be invitational to different people. That's one reason there are so many different churches! How do you determine what makes sense for your church community? Ask your newcomers: what brought them to your church? Ask your existing parishioners: what do they love about your church? What keeps them coming back? In some communities it might be the family ministry, in other communities it might be the music ministry or the dinner church service, in others it might be broader community engagement or a commitment to social justice. Whatever ministries have a lot of excitement and energy around them, whatever ministries are bringing people to church – lead with those! Show me people enthusiastically engaged in those ministries.
You need to show me who you are outside your church walls. This is more subtle, but important. I may not know or care about your church, but I am likely to care about the broader community in which we mutually reside. Show me that you are an active member of this community and now we’ve got something in common. That gives us the start of a relationship!
These are just a few criteria for what makes a great invitational image. Below are lots of example from churches we work with, along with some explanation of what I like about them.
Here's Church of the Epiphany in NYC. They are very social justice oriented. An image of a clergy person, lots of parishioners and a fierce little kid leading the church contingent in the Pride Parade makes a strong statement, and definitely encompasses People, Purpose and Place.
This church could not possibly be located anywhere else but Southern California. No pictures of their church building! These are members of their faith community out in the broader community, on the beach, doing what people there love to do!
The second picture is from the same church and is all about their Surfing & Spirituality ministry. It’s all People, Place and, if you consider surfing a purpose, a Purpose! Love it.
This church is located in one of the most beautiful spots on earth. You'd be tempted to put a scenic shot as a cover image - and they have done so before.
BUT! Wouldn't you rather hang out with these folks? The
antler arch is an icon of their town, so it's clearly representative of Place, it's got a Purpose-driven message
"Love is all you need" and KIDS! DOGS! People!!
They also do a great job of knowing who their target
audience is – young moms – and being intentional about an image that invites
specifically that audience. Check out "Mindfulness for Mamas"! This
might be a stock image, but it perfectly reflects a sensitivity and awareness
of the concerns of young parents. Great!
They also sometimes use images that reflect their scenic grandeur but also capture their people. It’s not just the scenery. And really, who needs stained glass when you’ve got the Grand Tetons as your backdrop?
So maybe now you are concerned that you aren't in the most scenic spot on earth or you aren't cool enough to have a surfing ministry (I live in Pittsburgh. Trust me, we don’t surf and our vistas, while beautiful, are often overshadowed by a gray sky).
Fear not. People pictures that capture emotions and human connection, that give the viewer the warm fuzzies – these are always great, too.
I particularly love a good baptism image! Babies, the sign of a growing church; beaming generations overseeing the sacrament; and clergy demonstrating a personal connections to parishioners – all good! Here are some of my favorites:
And when you can get a baby color-coordinated with your
labyrinth, what else do you need?
Kids are expressive and can be great to feature – especially as people often worry about whether or not their children will be welcome in church. I love pictures that capture kids being their authentic selves, because depicting this on the website says volumes about how kids will be welcomed by a church community. Of course it goes without saying that if you imply that you welcome children in church, it has to be true in practice! No side-eye when a toddler begins to get squirmy! If you have a service that is particularly structured around the needs of young families, make that clear!
No kids? Go through those Blessing of the Animals pictures from the Feast of Saint Francis. Dog pictures are social media GOLD. (And cats, if they deign to participate in your festivities!)
Finally, you need to think about the people who are viewing the images you feature. What do they need in their lives? What are they seeking?
Although not on one of our church websites, this picture of a group of three robed priests celebrating the Eucharist might not seem particularly interesting because the potential impact isn't obvious unless you know the audience.
In Western Pennsylvania, where many people are from a Roman Catholic background, the image of a woman celebrating the Eucharist can be very profound. In fact, one woman, who was visiting my Episcopal church and who witnessed a woman preside over the sacrament, explained later, in that moment, “Something broke open in me that I didn’t even know existed until I saw that.” What if she had seen this image on a church website? Could it have spoken to her?
So, who are you as a parish? What are the stories you want your images to tell about your church community? What are stories that would surprise, intrigue or delight people, if they knew? What are the stories that people in your community yearn to see? Do your pictures convey a sense of People, Purpose, and Place?
If you can answer these questions with your website image, you’ve got a church website image that's worth a thousand words!
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 intuative to tell your stories in the digital space!