Here are 5 steps to building (and cultivating) your church’s online presence:
- Make a great first impression
Gary Buffaloe describes a church website as the front door and lobby of your church, and it sets the first impression before folks ever step foot inside your sanctuary. What are some ways to make a great first impression? It is all about design, layout and content (OK so basically everything; you got me).
Designs should be crisp and modern, not stodgy and old. Use good photos – ones that are compelling and also high quality. With the widespread use of digital cameras it is highly likely that someone in your congregation has a talent for photography and can get you good images of actual members. As for layout, keep it simple and easy to navigate, with visual cues that help website users find information quickly and easily.
- Give them what they want – fast
Potential visitors have their first impression within a second of visiting your website. They aren’t likely to stay for very long, so you need to get the most important information to them as efficiently as possible. In fact, Hubspot says more than half of your website visitors will spend 15 seconds or less. What are some key pieces of information to include?
- Church philosophy in 10 words or less
- Service times
- Ministry tone and features
- Special event information
What are some things you can leave out?
- Denominational doctrine essays (instead link out for those who may want to explore more)
- Stock photography (it makes your church seem fake)
- Email addresses (it is setting you up for spam)
- Clip art (if you got it from anywhere in Microsoft Office, don’t put it online)
Potential visitors may only want to form a first impression, but your website must also serve your congregation. Including ministry information and a calendar is a great way to keep your congregation in the loop on important news and events. Does your church offer childcare or youth enrichment? Describe those services briefly on their own inside pages. Does your church focus attention on outreach and missions work? Briefly describe recent trips or associations on its own page.
Here are some “deeper looks” that would be relevant for most church websites:
- Worship (styles, times, appropriate audiences, sample messages)
- About (staff, contact info, short pastoral biographies)
- Ministries (music, children, youth, small groups, outreach)
- Events (full calendar with worship times, events and small group schedules)
- Contact (phone number, map, contact form that goes to an oft-checked email)
Most churches have a newsletter that shares recent celebrations, condolences and prayer requests. That is best suited for a physical, printed newsletter. While many churches choose to post PDFs of these newsletters on their website, it is more likely that folks wanting this information will ask for a physical copy. A better investment of church staff time would be to cultivate an engaging social media presence.
Most churches would be well served with an active Facebook presence, but depending on the demographics your church targets, you may want to consider Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or other social media outlets to share timely news and information with both members and non-members.
Social media should be considered a form of outreach. Content can be shared in social networks that greatly expand your message and get it in front of people who otherwise may have never had contact with your church.
What are some things that work well on social media?
- Inspirational Bible verses displayed in visuals (the YouVersion Bible app has a great tool to create these and share them on social media)
- Upcoming event promotion, including holiday services or new sermon series topics
- Recent mission work, with photos and brief description
- Testimony and/or member profiles
When you’re building a new website it is easy to start in one of two places: either with plenty of motivation, energy and volunteers to keep information updated on the website and social media; or with plenty of motivation and no clue who will actually update your site. Or you could have a willing and able volunteer or staff member now, and no contingency plan in case that person steps down. It is important to consider this when building your website and not after it has launched because it will affect how your site’s content is structured.
If you expect you’ll have no one available to keep your website updated, you’ll want to be sure the information on your website is timeless. That means skipping a calendar of events, omitting any blog or news feed and forgoing social media. Your church site would function more as an online brochure. It is still giving potential visitors a great first impression, but it isn’t as interactive and engaging.
It is much more likely that you can find someone, be it a staff member or a knowledgeable member of the congregation, who can champion your online outreach. Even if one person steps down, place emphasis on finding a replacement quickly. While having help is going to do wonders for your online outreach, it isn’t a good idea to get too many cooks in the kitchen. Have one person coordinate all your online communications (website and calendar updates, as well as social media) and you’ll see a cohesive, organized message go out to the world.
Looking to take the next steps?
Cube Creative has great experience with online outreach for both churches and faith-based organizations across the Southeast.