Why a Church Web Site Is Important

Why a Church Web Site Is Important
Tim Massengale


Why A Web Site Is Important.

* It is foolish to spend thousands on outdoor sign, and more on a beautiful building, and no web site or even worse, an ugly, poorly designed one. Your image is important!
* People will tend to judge the church and its leadership by the way their web site is maintained. View it as an extension of your facility. If you saw a church needing paint, weeds growing up, windows broken, torn carpet, stained pews, you would form a very negative opinion of the church and it’s pastor. The exact same is true of your web site. A web site is important and worth spending time and money on.
* Today, people are using web searches more than telephone books. You should be in both.
* Visitors that visit your church because of your web site will have viewed an average of 6-10 church web sites before selecting the one they want to visit. New move-ins into a neighborhood will often turn to the web first, especially if they are under 50 years of age. In the denominational world, 30% of all visitors will have visited the church web site before they attended your facility. Over half of those chose to attend based solely upon the church web site. And amazingly, a whopping 77% said their decision to return and seek membership was influenced by the web site. This will only grow rapidly over time.
* The largest percentage of pages viewed on a site – over 20% – will be those designed specifically for visitors (directions, church times, ministries and programs offered, church leadership, etc.)
* Web use has exploded over the last ten to fifteen years. Today people use the web for everything! Now the web is on cell phones. Imagine this: “Honey, hop online with your cell and get the address of Mike and Sue’s church for our GPS. They said it was on East 3rd St.” He does so and no web site. Or an ugly one. Or can’t find address because it’s buried or non-existent.
* Web sites can do many things: inform, motivate, explain ministries and programs, express vision, share history, and more. A church sign, which cost you thousands, does far less.
* It is the least expensive form of advertising that can provide live streaming of services, sermons, audio and video clips, and more.
* A well designed web site can be a great evangelism tool. Sermons, doctrinal files, advice with common problems, etc. can effectively draw people to your site. Many churches are providing free PDF booklets for download on a wide variety of topics. The possibilities are endless. Half those surveyed said their used the church web site in witnessing, referring people to specific areas on the site for salvation information.
* Web sites also serve as important communication tool to church members. Your saints will quickly learn that instead of calling the pastor to find out information of upcoming events, that the web site will provide the information faster and in greater detail. If you do not keep your site current and up to date, members will not use the site when needs arise. So it is critical to keep it current and accurate.
* Churches are also using their web sites for discipleship training. Normally this is done via online videos. If a convert misses a particular lesson they can watch it online and not miss important information for their spiritual maturity. Half of those surveyed said the church web site played a role in their spiritual growth.
* The web is one of the most cost effective forms of advertising that a church can do. Not only advertising but communication to members and evangelism to sinner. You cannot afford to NOT use this vital form of communication.
* One of the most growing uses of church web sites is downloadable sermons. Churches find the popularity of MP3 and MPEG steadily increasing, with often more than 1000 downloads for each sermon posted. If possible, provide videos in a variety of download speeds.
* Latest sermon on the top page and linked to sermon archive greatly increased this use of the site.
* Podcast of sermons are also popular.
* You want a site that leaves people saying, “We should check this church out!”

What the Web Company Should Offer

* Three types of companies: (1) monster companies – you are one of thousands. Often very impersonal. (2) Hobbyist builder – his portfolio is small. (3) Dedicated Church Web Design Company (best).
* Should have a good ‘content management system’ that allows you to easily and quickly update your site anytime, 24/7. Not, ‘email me your updates’ and then wait two weeks.
* It should be a real company, with a real staff, a real 800 number, real live tech support, and open with regular office hours. Tech support should not charge for every call, but only for actual work performed. Calling to ask simple questions should be free.
* Should offer the most popular options in package form or as upgrades: audio and video streaming, flash, photo albums, more.
* Some companies charge for every feature added. Others bundle features into a single price. Know what you want and find the service that offers you the best value and services.
* Check out their ‘up-time.’ They should have 99.999% dependability. This is the standard today. Don’t settle for less.
* Many offer a 30 day money-back guarantee. Once a contract is signed, it should not take months for the site to go live (IF you have provided them with the photos and information requested in a timely manner.)
* Expandable & Functional

Elements of a Good Church Web Site

* Should reflect the personality of the church.
* No more than two moving parts and these should complement, not distract.
* No forced Flash intros. Make this an option on the top page if they want to see it.
* It should be expandable, functional, and beautiful.
* Should engage the visitor: video, polls, Q and A, downloadable content, etc. Avoid making your web site into a web based brochure – static informational pages with little interactive content.
* Every event should allow people to sign up to participate. This draws them in and encourages follow-through.
* Low-commitment: Should allow people to sign up for RSS feeds (email alerts on site updates), podcasts, and the church Twitter account.
* Medium-commitment: Allow people to sign up for email newsletters, join a Facebook group or complete an information form for personal feedback.
* High-commitment – Sign up to attend a small group meeting, special event, request a home Bible study, request a call or visit from ministering staff.
* Three critical elements (1) appearance – professional and clean. (2) Easy navigation – logical, simple, and easy to find important information. (3) Quality content – this draws them in and brings them back. But if first two are not effective, content will not be seen.
* Keep content brief, clear, easy to navigate and up-to-date. Old announcements are a real no-no.
* There should be one (best), or at the most, two menus. Links and menus should not be scattered around the site.
* Verbiage – write for your audience – the unchurched. Not too churchy, theological or wordy.
* Colors – should complement each other. Designer needs an eye for color.
* Grammar – few things will reflect more poorly on your site than misspellings, bad grammar and poor writing. If you don’t have a good editor, hire one.
* Keep your site uncluttered. Try to do five things well instead of offering 30 elements poorly. Start simple and let it grow as need dictates. Many sites try to do too much, offer too much.
* Ask five people to evaluate your site and give you their impressions. When a site is ‘too busy’ it detracts from its purpose. Ask ‘what does this site say about our church.’
* Use lots of photos. Make it about people. Avoid stock photos that look like you built it from a can. Your site should look like YOU.
* While a photo of your building and facility is good, the emphasis on the site should be people: various ages, races, poor, wealthy, lots of people. Emphasize the church as a family.
* A good web site will utilize SEO, which is an acronym for “search engine optimization” or “search engine optimizer.” Use of key words, meta-tags and other elements help search engines find your site when key words are entered.
* Should explain how to be saved. This should be visual, interactive, and interesting. Consider offering a good list of short, 5 minute Bible study videos on key topics.
* Should provide personal testimonies. Stories are very successful.
* Blogs and forums have not helped much in evangelism or church communication.
* Consider using Google Adwords.
* Many churches are providing an ‘I’m New Here’ button clearly seen on their top page. The following page groups together information on the church, service times, small groups, ministries, calendar, special events, doctrinal beliefs, and even information about the city.
* 40% of those surveyed said they wanted to see what ministries a church had to offer. People want a church where they can be involved, be a part of the church family. Small group opportunities ranked one of their highest areas of interest.
* Additional elements to consider: welcome video from the pastor, easily found church vision statement, ability to post prayer requests / needs, places to serve in the church based upon their gifts and talents, ability to approved members (after log-in) to access church members phone numbers and email addresses, ability to join Bible study groups, social groups, and other groups that meet regularly.
* Some kind of member portal that allows members to log in and access information that is not generally available to the public.
* A search utility quickly searches the site for key words and pages. 88% used this to find desired information.
* If you provide a large list of downloadable files or sermons, try to let users sort this list by authors, date, title, and other categories.
* Consider posting the latest sermon on the top page, which will then link to the sermon database.
* Allow the option for sermons to be downloaded in podcast or MP3 formats. Today people listen /watch on a variety of formats.
* Key menu items should include: home, contact us, service times, map, church calendar, announcements, prospective members, about, staff, programs and ministries, online store (if you sell items) online giving, mailing / email list sign-up, questions, search,
* Many offer the ability to send mass emails to all on the email list. This is a nice feature.

How to Maintain the Web Site to Keep It Fresh

* Important: build the site using a good CMS (Content Management System) foundation. This makes changes easy and fast. Plus the site is easily expandable to meet future needs. Three good ‘open-source’ software choices are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. Ask what the web host uses.
* Assign one dependable person to oversee the web site. This will be your web master with the master key to access all areas. This person should have an assistant to help them and step in should your webmaster leave for some reason. You can then assign sub-keys to various areas (youth, ladies, evangelism, music, photography, etc.) Various church leaders can update their areas only and should be encouraged to do so.
* The webmaster should be regularly checking the entire site to insure that it stays fresh and current. He or she will prod ministry leaders to update their sections of the site as needed.
* The pastor and webmaster works with the web site design company to expand and change the look and feel of the site as needed.
* Just like your church sanctuary, occasionally you need to redecorate. Many like to do an annual graphic update to their site to keep it looking fresh and new. This is highly recommended.
* The web site should be easy to use and easy to update. Changing content, photos, pages, calendar items, blogs, and adding / deleting files should be fast and easy. Settle for nothing less.

Web Site Costs

* Four areas of expense: (1) graphic design – creation of masthead, page design, and often involves logo creation if you do not have one, (2) web site design – this is the technical aspect of CMS creation. This individual will take the graphics and integrate them into a web site that follows good design and a professional look. (3) Web hosting – this is a monthly cost for hosting the web site on a large internet server. (4) Web Management – This places the web designer on retainer and normally provides you with a certain amount of work per month at no additional cost.
* Most web designers charge by the hour. This varies greatly from $75 per hour to over $200 an hour. Most offer package prices to keep costs fixed and manageable.
* Package costs vary greatly. Shop around. Lots of competition. You tend to get what you pay for. Expect to pay from $1000 – $2000 for a complete package. Then a monthly cost from $25 to $75 a month. Price usually directly reflects the amount of custom work you get and the quality of site you end up with. In most cases, spending a little more up front will save you in the long run.
* Save money by knowing exactly what you want up front. Do your homework. You are building a web site. Just like when building a home, cost run high when repeated revisions are made.

This article “Why a Church Web Site Is Important” is written by Tim Massengale. It may be used for study & research purposes only.