How to Get Dynamic Content for Church Websites

by | Dec 12, 2014 | Content

Your church website, newsletter and bulletin are boring. I know that because you’re taking a few minutes to read this post, and because (to be fully honest here) they have been in virtually every congregation where I have worked or visited. Sure, there are dynamic pieces that pop and crackle from time to time, but overall the content at many churches is as stale as the forgotten bread in the church fridge.

So, what can you do about it? How do you squeeze better content out of your volunteers, team leaders, and staff members? Is there a magic formula for engaging your readers?

Entire books–indeed, even entire college classes–are devoted to crafting great content. When time allows, you might want to check out a resource like this, or this, or this. But for now, here are some quick tips to get you started.

Evaluate the existing church content

Get a broad cross section of your church publicity, and do an evaluation. Keep notes on questions like these:

  • Who typically writes the articles? Who writes the best ones?
  • How long are the articles?
  • Are items rewritten before they are reused in another format–or for that matter, for another year?
  • On a scale from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), how effective is your writing at communicating to church members? To visitors?
  • Do the graphics or photos enhance the writing? Do you communicate well visually as well as in writing?
  • What style dominates? Do you mostly have a “just the facts” approach? Do you gravitate toward somewhat longer descriptions of events, and bury the details where they are harder to find? Do you use a storytelling approach?
  • How frequently are there typos?
  • Are the sentences long and difficult to understand or short and clear?
  • Use surveys to ask your audience for feedback. What do they read or ignore? What do they like and dislike? How much of their reading is done online? On a mobile device?

Never do this evaluative process by yourself. Get a team together to assist you, including wordsmiths such as an English teacher, a columnist, an avid blogger, or a college journalism major. Summarize your findings in a clear, concise document.

Develop training materials

Create a brief, 1-2 page training document that you can easily reproduce and give to team leaders and staff. Make it available to every team leader at least once a year. It should contain the following:

  1. The deadlines for each printed material and for any regular electronic communications (such as a weekly email.)
  2. The person(s) who needs to receive the content, along with an email address.
  3. Basic instructions about graphics or photos, such as copyright restrictions, congregational permissions for photos, formats, and how to take a good photo or choose a great graphic.
  4. Simple writing tips and recommendations, such as making sure each article has a contact person (with contact info) and, if possible, a brief testimonial, quote or story. I’d also recommend including some tips for writing specifically for the web. For example, it’s frequently not necessary to include a URL directly in the text of an article, since you can simply create a hyperlink from a bit of text or a button.
  5. Social media recommendations, such as image sizes, post length, and times to post for greatest effectiveness.

Here is an example of one such training document that I created a couple of years ago for my own church. Feel free to use any of the text if it’s helpful to you! (The images are licensed to my church, though.)

Develop a web-friendly editorial process

Many congregations simply put little or no time into planning what should go into each communications piece. The church secretary simply takes whatever is sent in, adds the blurbs and articles to newsletters and bulletins in a semi-organized fashion, and finally posts a PDF for all to download. That may be a process, but it’s not unlike expecting a four year-old to do household chores without supervision and help. You might get the basics taken care of, but it’s not an appropriate strategy for the optimal growth and development of your website or your leaders.

That team you pulled together to evaluate your content can also think thru the best ways to edit content. Editing is not just proofreading for glaring errors like spelling mistakes. Instead, editing is a process that involves:

  1. Planning ahead of time what content is needed. This is a task that might be appropriate for an entire staff to work on collaboratively, using some simple checklists and outlines you create.
  2. Communicating needs and deadlines to anyone responsible.
  3. Writing effective, engaging content when no other contributor is available.
  4. Gathering the content from others, then editing them as necessary for spelling, grammar and omitted details.
  5. Ensuring that the content is web-ready, and adding it to the website.
  6. Giving attention to layout and design.
  7. Evaluating the final product and learning from your mistakes and successes.

Write like a champion copywriter

Here are 5 principles to drill into your brain when creating your web copy.

  1. Keep it short. Though it’s not a rule for all situations, you generally should keep your sentences, paragraphs, and headlines short. Sentences with multiple commas are likely too long. Paragraphs of more than about 4 sentences can likely be split apart for easier reading.
  2. Craft dynamic, engaging headlines. Ask yourself, if I saw this headline would I want to click on it? Does it pull me in with a question or interesting language or is it dull and matter-of-fact? Also, double check: it short enough to display well on a mobile device?
  3. Pay special attention to the first paragraph. Your first sentence or two is all that could potentially be picked up and displayed in a Facebook post or Google search result, so they have to be great. Similarly, your first paragraph is often sufficient for use in a church email, with a link to the full article. Make every word count.
  4. Tell stories. Start your articles with a story, testimonial, or quote from a past participant. Tell your audience how lives have been changed through a ministry and how they can get involved, or describe the benefits for the reader if it’s a new event.
  5. Sprinkle your articles with fun! Smile while you write. You’re more  likely to come up with content that is fun to read. Don’t be afraid to use some humor, interesting analogies, and unusual descriptions to bring to life a group, event or ministry.

Your website is a window into the life of your congregation. Is that window cloudy and colored like stained glass, or does it offer a big, clear view for all?

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