Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"Must have's" for a church website

Trevin Wax shared the following on the Gospel Coalition site.  Some good stuff there for anyone looking to create a church web site.  Our church - has hit this basic criteria for a few years now (you'd be surprised how many sites don't) with the exception being detailed information on our leadership team beyond myself as pastor.  I think in a larger church having that detailed info is useful.  With all my "staff" being volunteers I'd rather have the contact point be our church since people rotate in and out of leadership positions within the church.

5 Essentials for a Church Website

“If a church doesn’t have a website in this day and age, it’s as if the church doesn’t exist.”
I remember being jolted when I first heard a pastor make that statement a few years ago. He went on: “Not having a church website is like not having a front door to your church building. And it’s hard to welcome people to worship if you don’t have a way in.” The pastor was exaggerating a little, but not much. In the 21st century, people are more likely to visit a church’s website before they ever set foot in the door.
So what should a church website accomplish?

We need to remember that tools—no matter how efficient, cool, or helpful—are, in the end, only tools. Having a website and social media accounts does not replace the work of God, but they certainly can give insight to those outside as to how God is moving within His body.

Many churches already have a website at this stage of the online game. That’s true. But many of these websites are – to put it nicely – underutilized and underwhelming. Rather than just a series of links to news stories and announcements about upcoming events, the website should be a means of revealing your church.
Even with the advent of social media, websites are still a go-to place for information. As such, the church website should not be neglected in favor of the new social media toys in the room. With those few thoughts in mind, here are a few things that no church website should be without.

1. A clear, easy to find “Statement of Beliefs”
In our pluralistic society, people will be accessing your church’s site from every imaginable background. Whether they are well versed in doctrine or confused beyond description, they should know what your church believes. It might be best to have a simplified statement of faith (for unbelievers) as well as a link to a more robust statement of faith (for long-time Christians). You want to communicate what you believe in such a way that the gospel is clear and not obscured.

2. Basic boring information
  • Contact: Make it easy for people to know how to contact you. I suggest having the church’s address, phone number, and generic e-mail in the footer of every page. That way it’s easy for visitors to figure out quickly how to get in touch with someone.
  • Schedule: Let people know when and where you meet. Give them an entry point. I wouldn’t put every single church activity, program, or event on there. It’s best to keep it simple. (Just make sure you keep the schedule up-to-date.)
  • Directions: Use Google to make it easy for someone to figure out where you are located. Most people won’t recognize where in the world your street address is until they copy/paste it into a maps feature online. Why not do this for them anyway?
3. Staff and leadership page
Before people get interested in the specifics of the programs offered by your church, they will be interested to see who is leading. I’ve seen some churches that list all their staff on one page, with their titles and an e-mail address to contact. A long list of names is not the best way to introduce people to your leadership, especially in a Facebook society where we are used to information and pictures. Instead, provide a picture of the staff member, a brief bio, and his or her role at the church. This will go a long way in helping people get a feel for your church.

4. Podcasts and/or sermon videos
Anyone seriously considering your church will be helped in the decision-making process by providing opportunities to hear the weekly teaching. Because of the sometimes extensive differences in church teaching styles and content presentation, it is helpful to make these available online to anyone researching your church. A number of churches use a video welcome from the pastor. That’s okay, but a simple welcome will not reveal as much as full-length sermons.

5. Social media buttons
A website is only part of communicating your church’s presence to your online community. With nearly a billion people worldwide on Facebook and 250M on Twitter, these tools ought not be overlooked. Decide how you will make announcements, share devotionals and Scripture verses, and then use them wisely.
If your pastors like to blog, link to their blogs from their individual staff pages. This is true even for—maybe especially for—children and student pastors. Many parents want to “get a feel” for the leaders to whom they will entrust their children. The more they know about a leader, the more confident they may be about that ministry.

Churches can do amazing things with websites nowadays. Sometimes, in the rush to be innovative, we wind up cluttering the site and making it difficult to give people basic information about our churches. It’s better to have a sharp website that accomplishes the essential purposes rather than a sprawling, detailed website where people can easily get lost.

What about you? When you first visit a church website, what do you look for?


Joey said...

Traditionally, here's what I've looked for:

1. Location. If it's not accessible to me, nothing else matters.

2. Statement of beliefs. They don't ultimately define a church, but they help show the foundation.

3. Staff & leadership page. It helps to get to know the people running things a little bit.

4. Video (audio works too, but video is better). This is often a breaking point. It says a lot more than just what the content will be like. It helps give a sense of the tone of the place. Is it over-produced, like they're trying too hard to "be cool?" (I would put Eagle Brook or Substance in this camp.) Is it over-the-top formal or informal, structured or unstructured, serious or humorous, etc.

A calendar is helpful since it shows you what people are doing together, but not necessary. I also expect different things depending on the size of the church. The website usually reflects the size. A quality website is nice too.

Of course, a lot of what I'm looking for is just personal preference. Some people really like the polished presentation from Eagle Brook or the hip vibe from Substance. Those just aren't up my alley and it's helpful when you can see that from the website.

Ultimately, though, I just need enough info to let me know if it's worth a visit. Because ultimately, the community is what matters and you can't get a very good sense of that via the web.

Great post Chris!

Douglas said...

That which is real cannot be threatened. That which is not both mobile and social does not exist.

By mobile, I mean, accessible by an iPhone or the functional equivalent. So if the website doesn't have a mechanism for downloading the church mobile app (the mobile version of the church website), I consider that an error of omission, a missed opportunity.

By social, I mean being active on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube). Not only mentioning events, but bits about your statement of faith and practice.

One thing that I would like a church website to have is a forum. I realize this may seem a challenging here, but I think church websites put way too much emphasis on the pastor, and way too much emphasis on the sermon. I would like for a church website to have the vibe of 1 Corinthians 14:26-33, where many people have something to bring to the proceedings. Or in the words of Lao-Tzu "A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves."

Hope this helps.