Sunday, August 10, 2014

Building an Effective Website for Your Church

One of the things I always look at before I head out to a new organization is their website.  The website (or even lack of one) says so many things about an organization.  It can say "we are technology aware", "we know we need a website but that's it" or even "what's this web-thing again?"... No matter what it says, I make note and make sure we talk about it while I'm there.  And once I've gathered enough information about the organization, I can have a conversation about their website and who they want to reach.  This article is meant to summarize some of the top things that we talk about when discussing how churches build and utilize their web presence to best serve their congregation.

Know Your Audience
Before you can even start to discuss what content goes on your website, what images you want to show and how awesome your logo is going to look -- you must know your audience.  Who are you trying to reach?  Are you serving your current congregation only?  Are you trying to reach new congregants?  Are you trying to expand your mission and tell people about it on the web?  Is your goal to inform people about things that are happening in your church?  Is there a tie-in to social media needed?  Until you understand who you are trying to reach, you can't plan how to reach them.  Once you have that...

Before you being any project (and building a website *is* a project) you have to have some degree of a plan.  One of the wonderful things about a website is that it is flexible.  Unlike working with print media, you can very easily build a page on a site -- not like it and change it!  Or deploy your website, then decide that you didn't really hit the target with a portion of it and then remedy that.  So while we always say "Plan, plan, plan", understand that the plan is fluid.  It can (and likely will) change!

But, once you have your audience, decide how you want to serve them.  Are you trying to reach new families?  Then a website telling the world who you are, what you do and how you do it might be great.  Are you informing your congregation?  Maybe you need an events and information section.  Are you expanding your reach?  Maybe you need something more interactive with lists of small-groups, an ability to sign up for missions, groups or events right on your website.  The possibilities are endless.  But you should have an idea where you are going before you get in the car.

Who Does What?
Even if you contract with someone to help build your website, your church is going to have some responsibility in the construction and execution of your site.  And it should.  You should never simply turn over the keys to a third-party and say, "Make the magic happen".  You will need to be able to at least have a say in the graphics, images and logos that appear on the site.  Have a hand in the way information flows from one page to another on the site.  Be able to provide and assist in the writing of the text on the pages, as well as any organizational information that needs to appear -- think Pastor's Message, Youth Ministry Description etc...  And have one or two people who love to proof-read!  You can't over-estimate the value of good proofing!

Living, Breathing Entity
For most churches these days, their web-presence needs to be a living thing.  It needs to change and stay updated in some way.  It is worth considering how you will go about this.  Are you contracting that out?  Do you have someone on staff who would be good at updating?  Or maybe there is a ministry that could step-in and handle the duties of a would-be webmaster.

Content Suggestions

  • Think about an active BLOG either from the Pastor or another leader within the church.
  • Photos!  And lots of them.  Make your church look inviting!
  • Leader bios: people like to identify with the people who run the church.  Make it look open, friendly and inviting!
  • Social Media inclusion: Do you tweet?  Facebook?  Instagram?  Maybe you should... you can include these things on a section of your website.
  • Newsletter:  Don't have one?  Think about getting one... and putting a link on your website to sign up.
  • Small groups: most churches have small groups and ministries at their heart.  And your website is a great place for people to read about them and decide which one(s) is/are right for them!
  • Do you have a school associated with your church as a ministry?  Perhaps they need their own site...

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has been a classroom teacher for various subjects.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

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