What Are The Best Practices For A Church Website?
Whether you’re building a church website for the first time or updating it for the 10th time, you might feel in over your head. There is a lot to keep in mind when it comes to building a truly great church website. But for now, focus on three big-picture guidelines, and you’ll be much closer to a church website that is welcoming to visitors, helpful for members, and true to your church.
Know your audience
While churches should be a welcoming place for anyone, each individual church is uniquely equipped to serve certain groups of people best. If you live in a college town, you’re probably called to minister to skeptical professors and searching students. If you live in rural America, you’re probably not called to serve inner-city youth, first and foremost.
Think about the demographics of the people who are already in your church and the unique situation you’ve been placed in. Think about the city you live in, the reasons people live there, and the special gifts and talents your church has been blessed with. This will inform your list of who you’re uniquely equipped to serve almost immediately.
Now, take that list and bucket them into two or three main groups. Those are going to be your “persona buckets.” A persona is a fictional representation of your ideal target audience, and having personas is a great way to focus and refine your core messages.
If one were going to build personas for a college town, he could go with “Skeptical Sam” and “College Cora.” “Skeptical Sam” would be representative of any local college student who is skeptical about Christianity. Events and entire engagement campaigns could be built around Sam. “College Cora” might represent any college student who was raised a Christian but who has recently moved to a new city to attend university. Maybe she hasn’t found a church yet. Maybe she’s allowed new things to take priority over church. Maybe “Skeptical Sam” has gotten into Cora’s head. “College Cora” needs you to find her and help her get plugged in. You can build events and engagement campaigns around her needs, too.
Maybe your third persona bucket for this church would be “Townie Thom.” This persona has lived in the town his entire life and needs to expand his horizons a bit. “Townie Thom” is going to be a key part of your evangelism strategy to “Skeptical Sam” and “College Cora.” So you’ll need messaging for him, too. He needs to be sold out on your church’s mission and vision to reach this city for Christ.
Think about your three target personas and build messaging for each one. Make sure your website speaks directly to these people and has messaging designed to engage them.
Make key information visible
Now that you’ve determined your audience, try to get into the mind of the people visiting your website and ask, “What am I looking for?”
The best church websites make key information easy to find without overloading a visitor with too much too soon. It’s all about balance —and menus.
Menus make it easy for visitors to browse or find specific information. Generally, when an individual peruses a church website, they’re asking specific questions and looking to menus for answers such as:
- When and where does this church meet?
- Does this church have ministries for my children or teens?
- What are their doctrinal beliefs?
- Who are the pastors at this church?
- How could I get involved in this church?
There’s no one way to organize a church website menu, but considering the above questions, here are a few of the best pages to consider including in your church website:
- About Us – includes Leadership, Contact, What We Believe, and Mission and Values pages
- Visit – includes details about service times, locations, and expectations (Pro tip: Have service times and locations also included on your Home Page with a link to your Visit page.)
- Ministries – includes details about the ministries you offer. (Pro tip: In the items under this menu option, use general terminology visitors will understand like “High school” or “Young adult” rather than a special youth group name like “Ignite.”)
- Getting Involved – includes details about membership, baptism, small groups, volunteering, and joining the church’s email list (Note: This is slightly different from Ministries, in that it represents the first steps someone might take to put down roots. Some churches call this page “Start Here” and include a brief welcome letter from the head pastor or elders.)
- Events – includes calendars, forms to RSVP or register, and FAQs about events
- Resources – includes sermons, podcasts, recommended reading, and study guides
Giving – includes a link or form for online giving (Pro tip: Ideally, your giving solution is in the same platform as your website and church management software. This will make it more convenient for members, make them feel safer to give and save your church money by removing a middleman.)
Give careful thought to the organization, and the right information will be easy to find. And remember: people skim sites, so use headlines and keep body copy brief.
Use simple language
The best church websites use simple, hype-free, factual language. One way to do this is to pretend that with every word you write, you’re speaking to your unchurched neighbor.
The great advertiser David Ogilvy suggests something similar. Paraphrasing him with specific references to church: When you sit down to write your [church website], pretend that you are talking to the woman on your right at a dinner party. She has asked you, “I am thinking of (attending a new church). Which would you recommend?”
Write your copy as if you were answering that question. (1) Don’t beat about the bush—go straight to the point. Avoid analogies of the “just as, so too” variety. (2) Avoid superlatives, generalizations, and platitudes.
Be specific and factual. Be enthusiastic, friendly, and memorable. Don’t be a bore. Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating. Speaking plainly will disarm whoever comes to your website. They’ll trust you more than if you used language that feels salesy or over the top. The truth is, that God is already doing great work in your church. Tell that story on your church website and invite others to be a part of it.
Building a church website doesn’t have to be complicated. There are a number of helpful resources that can help save you time, money, and frustration. With clear messaging, a simple structure, and a trusted tech partner, you will be on your way to reaching and engaging your key audiences.