Building a website may seem like a daunting task, like when we had to put together our first meaningful resumé. Fear not. While most of us lack the expert coding skills needed to build a website from scratch, web tools continue to improve by leaps and bounds. Knowledgeable friends and affordable pros can help. Drawing on all of these, you can build a website that reflects the personality of your church and serves seekers and congregants alike.
Before we cover the missteps, let’s discuss the foundation. Good church websites must help us connect with visitors. Make sure you know the key sections to put on your church website. For example, your church's physical address, service times and contact information must be zero clicks away, clearly visible on the homepage and probably in the footer of every other page. At the same time, there are some things you don't want to clutter your site.
Here are 10 mistakes to avoid when creating and refining your church's site. It is best to steer clear of all of these design transgressions.
1. Designing your site for regular attendees only
You already have time and space to communicate with regular attendees: your Sunday morning gathering. Your site is one of your primary outreach tools. Include an obvious place on the site for new people. Consider a tab called "I'm new." Regular attendees may be heavy users of certain sections of the website, like the calendar or blog, but the website does not exist only for them. Let seekers know you're thinking about them.
2. Creating an ugly site that lacks good images
Professionalism is part of being excellent. Church sites should not look shoddy or cheap. Ponder visual elements and branding as you think through a sharp, contemporary and consistent look.
The site should reflect the style of your church as much as possible. One quick way to accomplish that is by placing photos of your worship service on the site. Show your members doing things in community. Avoid plastering the faces of the pastor or other leaders on every page. Pictures can also answer one of the biggest questions church visitors often ask: "What should I wear?"
3. Neglecting site maintenance
It's surprising how many churches ignore site maintenance and leave outdated content sitting around for months or years. Review every page often. Check for typos. Make certain all the links work.
4. Forgetting about mobile users
Nearly two-thirds of people in the United States now own a smartphone, and the numbers keep climbing. Many people access the Internet only through phones and tablets. If your site doesn't work on those devices, many users will never see what you have to offer. Google’s algorithm also gives better rankings to sites that are mobile friendly, increasing your church’s visibility online.
5. Overlooking children's ministry info
Many people start looking for a church home once they start a family. One of the first Google searches parents do when they move to a new community is “kids’ or children’s activities.” Many searchers and web visitors don’t know what churches do with kids. Your site should clearly explain where children of all ages are invited to hang out. Answer these questions: Is it safe? Who watches these little ones? Where are mom and dad supposed to go when they arrive? Consider a tab called “parents” to make the experience as stress-free as possible.
6. Excluding video of your services
Many churches post every week's sermon on their website. Those videos show visitors — many of whom will attend your service online before they come in person — what to expect on Sunday morning. Show them with video. Interested browsers can quickly learn what kind of music you play, what the style of worship is and how a sermon might sound.
Many churches live stream their worship gatherings on the web. Fantastic idea. Just be sure online attendees aren't interrupted by advertisements. You don't want an engaged viewer missing the most powerful part of a message because a commercial suddenly starts playing!
Remember, if you use copyrighted material of any kind in your service, you need to make sure you have licenses to use in a broadcast situation. Check out Discipleship Ministries' resources for Christian copyright solutions.
7. Leaving out a way to contact regular attendees
You have posted the phone number for the church office on your site, but what if a prospective visitor wants to speak with someone who isn't on staff? Consider designating a few people in the pews each week who would be a great initial contacts for someone who wants to know what they can expect if they show up and attempt to get involved. Consider these ideas:
- Create a “visitors” section with contact information for a couple of your helpful and hospitable churchgoers.
- Create a community skills database where people can match their needs with the skills of other people who could help them. Place a link to this in the “visitors” section and on your homepage.
- Think strategically about other ways churches can connect people with people online and everywhere.
8. Omitting information about special events and holy days
A lot of folks will first attend your church on Christmas Eve or Easter. They might come for a wedding or children's recital. Include the times and details of special seasonal and holiday outreach events on your homepage.
9. Failure to keep it simple
Keep your wording clear. Avoid convoluted language and too much content. Check out how successful churches and nonprofits organize their sites.
Write copy that intentionally and accurately targets your desired audience. Think generationally. Survey people from a variety of backgrounds about what helps them when navigating a website.
10. Forgetting to include definitive calls to action
Create obvious ways for people to do what you want them to do. Most visitors are looking for the same information. Make it easy to click spaces with clear directions like Who We Are, Get Involved, Give Online, Get In Touch, etc. Here are some other examples of excellent call to actions.
11. Not optimizing web pages for search engines
Someone searching Google with the generic term “United Methodist Church” may not find your church if you haven’t implemented any search engine optimization (SEO). Google is smart enough to show local results for generic terms like this, however, you have to do a little homework first. If you don't have much time, review the basics by checking out examples and sample text to optimize five church website pages. If you have a little more time, review this SEO guide for churches to further improve your website's placement in search results and specifically target certain groups like parents or newcomers to your area.
As you revise your web pages, based on the afformentioned tips, it's a perfect time to put a little more thought into SEO. Each page just needs a little tweaking.
If you already have a fabulous site, congratulations! If you don't, avoid these mistakes and you will soon have an attractive, clear, and engaging web presence.