How to effectively use your church website to help visitors and your church members.
One of my biggest passions is in the realm of design and development for Churches, Christian Schools and Missions. I love using my skills to help spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. I love that we have this large space called the internet to be able to reach millions of people through our words and designs. So that is why I will be writing more about Christian design and development with a little bit of marketing to go with it.
I have developed about twenty different church websites and applications since 2006 and a handful of Christian school websites too, and each time I do one it is a rewarding experience. I love being able to take a church’s vision and recreate it for the web. I love being able to show Pastors, Ministry Leaders, and Christian Educators the power of a global marketing platform like the Internet. Sometimes my words get lost in a ton of confusion on what the Internet can do and bring to their ministry but mostly it gets utilized to create some really interesting techniques that the ministry needed at that time. So in this post I wanted to share some of my thoughts on Christian web design and development.
1. Focus your church website for visitors
Nothing worse than going to a church website and seeing the whole site for its members. Your website can be a a great tool to keep your membership informed on what is going on but that should not be the focal point of the website. Your website should be the billboard to allow visitors to learn about your ministry and feel like they have already visited before they ever walk through that front door.
2. Give a clear and concise biography of your Pastor.
This helps visitors know and connect with the Pastor before they ever sit down in your pew. It helps them know exactly who he is and can identify the driving vision for your ministry. You do not need bios on every staff member that works at the church, just make sure that the Pastor gets a nice clear and concise one.
3. Use pictures throughout the site.
This helps visitors identify the identity of your church, and gives them a good understanding for what your church is like. You don’t have to create a Flickr site on your website, but just use appropriate amount of pictures throughout the website.
4. Do not use junk images in your website.
Okay this one is more of a pet peeve of mine that actual concrete evidence, even though it is firmly grounded in marketing strategies. Please do not have someone in your church who thinks they know Photoshop be the one to add goofy weird images on your site or in your literature. I have seen this too many times. A church has a great professionally made website and then it is cluttered with these horrible juvenile “graphic design” images by someone who clearly has no idea of a grid or proper typography. Tiny white text over-layed on an image is not cool and should be stopped as quickly as possible!
If your church does not have a large budget to seek out professionals for creating graphics (which most will not and nothing wrong with that – money better spent on taking care of people) try steering that person in the direction of online learning at Smashing Magazine or Web Design Ledger or countless other sites to get some inspiration and learn proper design techniques. Bad design makes people cringe and it also lets visitors know that you are not professional or care to be professional. We live in a visual era and your church promotion hinge on proper techniques. This is not to say that the Gospel is out-dated, but on the contrary your designs are.
5. Make sure that your content is a major focal point
I know in number 3 I made sure to talk about lots of images and that is true, but do not use images without some text. Visitors are drawn to fancy and clever images but they learn through content and if your website is engaging and filled with appropriate images they will want to delve deeper and learn more and they will do this through your content. With that being said, proof-read your content, make sure it is clear and concise and written for the web. Jakob Nielsen, the master of web usability has a great piece on writing for the web.
6. Update, please update!
Nothing worse than going to a ministry website and seeing this gorgeous design and clever images and excellent copy only to notice they haven’t updated their news feed since December 12th, 2001 for some Christmas play! Please update that news! Have someone write out the bulletin on your news feed or blog on a weekly basis. It does not need to be lengthy and it does not need to be some web designer doing it. I always build ministry websites that are powered by a Content Management System (CMS), because I understand that most churches do not have a web design staff. But with a CMS they can have literally anyone update the website… which leads me to my final point.
7. Create a website team!
If you find that your church or ministry website never gets updated or your images are looking pretty weak, then create a website team to manage and update your
website portal to the world. Choose a handful of people that want to help and view this website as a ministry (which it is!) for the Lord. They will take care of your website with loving hands and will seek help and instruction to make it better! Let this team create new graphics, update content, and work with creating a better user experience for your visitors and members. So many times a church website fails because they have one person trying to do it all, when they need a group of dedicated people working on it. I will talk about this website team at a later post because it is a main component to a great website for your ministry.