It’s 2013 and the majority of churches have a website, this is good news. Unfortunately, the mere presence of a website isn’t enough. Just as a pastor must prepare, research for and develop a sermon, churches should prepare for a website, research websites and develop a plan as to why and how they should utilize a website. A 2011 LifeWay research project shows less than half of the congregations that have a website actually use it for interactive purposes. Scott McConnell, the director of LifeWay Research, summed it up by saying, “Many churches are using their website like a Yellow Pages ad characterized by basic information and infrequent updates.”
From 2000 – 2012, internet users grew an outstanding 566% worldwide. Currently, there are over 2.4 billion internet users worldwide. What does that mean? It means a church who utilizes their website has an amazing opportunity to, not only reach local people, but reach those 2.4 billion people who are actively connected to the internet. No longer are websites a simple source of information for local visitors, church websites are now an active and growing source of ministry, sharing the Gospel and making disciples all around the world. In 1534, Martin Luther finished his German translation of the Greek and Hebrew bible. Through media and the technology of the printing press, Luther was able to make the Gospel available to a large number of Germans and put a spark in the protestant reformation. The fact that so many churches have a website is great news, but are those churches using the available media and technology to spread the Gospel and make disciples? Some churches are, but there are a lot of churches that could improve their websites. There are five areas I believe church websites need to improve upon:
1. A website isn’t an online brochure
Out of the five areas church websites need to improve upon, this is the greatest most important area. As it is said in the real estate business, “location, location, location”, the mantra of church website owners should be “Content, content, content”. In the same LifeWay Research survey I talked about earlier, one of the results show 42% of churches only update their site once a month. Most church websites only show the basics, such as location, service times, church staff and an overview of their ministries. The question is, why more? Why should a church add more content, aren’t those the most important things a visitor looks for when trying to find out information about churches?
The answer goes back to my introduction. Church websites should not only focus on providing information to potential guest, they should also be a source of ministry and sharing the Gospel. Yes, absolutely add information for your local audience, but don’t neglect the fact that your website can and will be accessed by people seeking answers to biblical questions. People locally and people on the side of the world will come into contact with your website.
2. A website isn’t it’s own entity
Everyone has heard of Twitter, Facebook and the recent explosion in social media growth. One of the church’s main reasons for having a website should be engagement. To obtain growth in engaging potential members, visitors and those who are curious about the church’s message, church website owners should not constrain themselves within the bounds of their own website. Going back as far as the book Acts, community has played a huge part in the church. Personal and local community is great but digital community should also be a consideration when managing a website. Church websites need to integrate with Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other social media websites to help build a community. Anytime there is an update made to your website or an event going on at your church are you tweeting about it, posting a Facebook status update or adding pictures to Pinterest? Does your church website show an active stream of your church’s Twitter account or show a Facebook updates widget? Is it possible for members and guests to share a blog post on your site to Facebook directly from the blog post page itself? Your church website should be viewed as the hub of your online community. Church websites should allow direct interaction with social media from the website and social media should be directing people back to the churches website.
3. A website isn’t enough, it must look good
I might step on a few toes but a large majority of church websites are…well…not attractive and that’s a problem. A website is the digital face of your church, a representation of how much importance the church places on it’s online presence, the proverbial book cover of your church. We all do it, we all judge books by their cover. Unless we know the content of the book is exactly what we want, the cover is the first thing we notice and analyze. If content is king, design is a knight in shining armor protecting that king. If a church website has a lot of great content but the colors have bad contrast, the text formatting is off or the website breaks on certain browsers than the potential of loosing visitors is pretty great. Why do companies pay tons of money for graphic designers to create beautiful package and marketing designs? Good design builds trust. One of my favorite quotes comes from Steve Jobs:
“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”
Did you get that? According to Jobs, design is the expression of the soul of the product or service. Does your church website express the soul (in a manner of speaking) of your church?
4. A website must have a purpose
I see a lot of churches that throw up a website and forget about it. It’s nothing more than a flyer or (see problem #1) an online brochure. When I look at these sites, I see a clear evident lack of identity, focus and purpose. If the only purpose of having a website is display the exact same information that can be found in the yellow pages or by a quick two minute call to the church, what is the point? Does your church website have a purpose? If not, why doesn’t it? If you’re not sure what purpose your church website should serve, I will tell you. It should serve as a means to share the Gospel and make disciples. One way this can be accomplished is through podcasting. When a pastor preaches a sermon, record it and put it up on your website. You can also submit your church sermons to iTunes. This opens up your sermons to millions of potential listeners. Another area which your website can build its purpose is through blogging. Pastors are extremely intelligent people and have a wealth of knowledge. Often times, they are also good writers. If your church website doesn’t have a blog why not? To get started, your pastor could easily sum up his sermon preparation notes into a 500 – 750 word blog post. This would provide a weekly blog post and would most likely be a great source of information for someone. You could also ask the deacons or elders to volunteer writing a blog post once a week or even month. Another area which can be taken advantage of is highlighting events. A church events calendar will give an inside look to visitors at what your church places emphasis on in relation to local community. If a visitor sees that your church has a dedicated group working at a homeless shelter once a week or doing odd jobs such as yard work for the elderly they will realize your church cares for others outside of the church. If a teenager visits your church website and sees pictures or videos from a recent youth group outing the will see church youth groups can actually be fun, exciting and laid back.
5. Intimidation is the greatest barrier
Volunteers are very helpful and a lot of churches rely on volunteers to handle website related issues. The thing is, sometimes volunteers just don’t have time. If your church has a website there should be someone on staff that knows how to add content, fix issues and manage the website. This means learning the backend administration panel, learning basic HTML/CSS and not being afraid of the unknown. I have encountered tons of ministers who say something along the lines of, “Well we want a site but we just don’t know anything about the technology.” That’s a shame because all it takes is a little bit of patience and a little bit of time. A lot of people are intimidated by websites and technology but when you think of your website as a ministry, why would you not spend some time learning how to improve it? If it’s possible to know the record of your favorite sports team for the past ten years, it’s possible to learn a little bit about website management and maintenance.
In the past five to ten years, technology has grown at an outstanding rate. In my opinion, the internet can be one of the church’s greatest tools locally and globally. I find technology absolutely fascinating inside and outside of the church, unfortunately I see technology advancing outside of the church at a far greater pace than inside the church. Having a well designed, user friendly, engaging, socially integrated website is, in my opinion, one of the greatest tools a church can have and use. The question we must ask ourselves is, “Will our churches use this technology to share the Gospel and make disciples or will we overlook a valuable tool.”
Dallas Bass is a professional web developer living and working in Amarillo, Texas. He is also the founder of ChurchPres, a business dedicated to providing a cost effective easy solution for churches who need a website. You can learn more by visiting www.churchpres.com or his personal blog www.dallasbass.com