This fall, I was involved in a training with some church planters who were discussing church websites. Since I do websites and a church start-up, I became the resident ‘expert.’ I won’t proclaim to be an expert, but I do have opinions and I’m passionate because every church should have a well thought online presence.
I’ve been more in tune with this topic the last few months as I was working on a new revision of the aMS website. Besides helping create a few church websites in my day, I’ve looked at a lot of them. That said, here are a few thoughts for your church website, though it will be beneficial to other organizations as well.
A church website should serve as a hub.
During the church planter training, one of the questions raised was whether or not websites were becoming obsolete because so much has shifted to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Even with a strong presence in social media, I can’t imagine a scenario where a church community would not want to have a website. It is the one place where your community can shape and define how you want to communicate the core of who you are, both in content and in aesthetics.
A few years ago, it was all MySpace. Now it’s Facebook and Twitter. Though they are well established, who knows what will happen next. With a website, you always have an anchor that people can come back to. But, of course, you should link to and integrate social media from your site with icons or other interactions. On that note, if you don’t have your location identified on Gowalla and Foursquare, you should! (And if you don’t know what Gowalla and Foursquare are, you should!)
Tell your story well.
In the last few months, I’ve had a number of people tell me that they have resonated with the language of the aMS website. Several of them are now part of our church community, though some aren’t even interested in church at all. That’s encouraging to me. There is still more content I want to add, but I was intentional with the language that is in place. Based on the people who have come to be part of our community because of what they read, I’ve used the right language.
I’ve visited a lot of church websites that say a lot of the same things. One shortcoming of the internet is that we freely borrow and copy language and ideas from others, rather than taking time to think through what we want to say. Many church websites say a lot of the same things, and most of them sound like they are targeted to people who just moved into the area looking for a new church.
Function matters at least as much as form.
There are a lot of horrible looking church websites out there. Some look like they are still using a Frontpage template from 1997. I’m not arguing that a church website shouldn’t look nice, but…
What your website says is more important than how it looks. If a horrible design can be a distraction, so can too many gizmos and doo-dads. My friend Ben Sternke has set up a simple wordpress theme for this early stage of Christ Church. It’s not their final site, and Ben has told me as much. But for this stage, it shares essential information and the heart of who they are in a clean and appealing design.
I’m not a fan of flash, especially if an entire site is built on it. When used best, it is for smaller animations and interactions within the flow of a site. When it can be avoided, it should be. It doesn’t work well for the scale of mobile phones. (On the iPhone, it’s not even supported.) Content on flash sites isn’t indexed by search engines unless it is set up well, nor do they have unique pages for unique content. (There are workarounds for these last two issues, but many flash sites/designers don’t deal with them.)
There’s a round of thoughts for you. I have one more post in the works about websites. I’m collecting information from a number of churches on what their most visited pages are, and I’m compiling that to share here. If you have access to a church’s web traffic, I wouldn’t mind adding data from a few more.