For decades, the metaphorical “front door” of your church–the gateway to participation–was through worship. Chances are, they learned about your church from something like a newspaper or phone book ad, or maybe they found your church because it is part of the denomination they have always belonged to. Literally, people also likely used the real front door to come into and become part of your congregation.
During the last few years, we’ve been encouraging people to think of the “new front door” of the church as being its website. After all, that’s where most people go “visit” your church before they ever step foot inside. Just like a church wants its physical appearance to look great and inviting, a contemporary church understands its web presence needs to be inviting, up-to-date, and engaging.
Of course, in an age of social distancing, even that isn’t entirely accurate. As Jason Moore, a client of ours and a top video producer for churches recently said in a workshop, “The church website is now your ONLY door.”
But even thinking of the website as your front (or only) door isn’t fully accurate. What both guests and marginally-active people in your congregation want is not a church with the best technology, coolest design and slick descriptions of all that it does. The real front door of your church is…
Relationships are at the core of your ministry, right? Relationships with friends, guests, people in need, ministry partners, and most of all with God are central to all that you do. So, shouldn’t they be at the core of your website as well?
Creating a Relationship-centered Church Website
Here’s our rule of thumb: each page or post should contain something “personal” – a contact name, a story, a photo of a congregant, and so on. Frequently, you’ll include a few of these. Here are some concrete examples of what you should do – now and when we can finally be “church together” again.
- Cover images should show people from your congregation, not just your building.
- Content and headings should use “you” language rather than “we” language. For example, “Find your fit” is more personal than “Ministries we offer.”
- Sermons or blog post links can be formatted to show the name of the preacher or author.
- Menus can be structured around the experience of the guest visiting the site rather than around the organizational structure of the church.
Blog Posts, Events, and Pages
- Personal stories and reflections are much more powerful than straightforward announcements with a time, date and place.
- Even when the purpose of a post is to provide essential information, it can still include testimonials about past events, contact information for the leaders of an event or group, photos of people at a similar event, and so on.
- Language and pictures throughout your site should help guests to imagine themselves in your congregation. For example, a guest who has heard that your church is particularly LGBTQ-friendly but never sees this clearly within the site’s content and photos may experience a disconnect from your welcoming stance.
- Photos of article authors, group leaders, or contact persons should be included.
- Since your page content likely changes fairly infrequently, it is vital to regularly review your pages to make sure the contact information is accurate.
- Simple, short videos that show your ministries or allow a congregation member to tell his or her story are powerful visual examples of how God is using your congregation to grow relationships.
- A prayer request form shows you care about your site visitors. Of course, that request should ideally be followed up with a personal response, not just a stock “Thanks for your message” email.
- Sending all contacts to one person is often the norm in small to mid-sized congregations. However, even these churches can consider having options (for example, via a drop-down list) of which staff member or ministry leader should get the message.
- A map can be included that allows the guest to route their trip to the church location from their home address.
- Some simple lines of text can turn a boring form into something that initiates a conversation.
- Here’s an example of a church staff page that gets a lot of things right. Your church may not have as many staff members as this one, but you could still emulate the look and feel of it very easily.
- If your calendar is very full, be sure to add clearly visible and easy-to-use tools for sorting events. You want your users to get a personalized look at the events that most interest them.
- Within events, you can generally include a contact person and description. Descriptions are great places to give a guest a brief sense of what an activity might be like or important details about where to attend an event.
Churches will, of course, have plenty of events, details and descriptions on their websites. But a church website that is overly-focused on these basics instead of on the audience and the people in the congregation is a website devoid of soul.
Go through each page and post on your site, noticing where you tend to put your focus and attention and where you need to make changes. By always having relationships at the heart of your website, you’ll communicate to guests and church members that you’re interested in them, that you want people to connect to one another and to God.