“Think of [your church website] as like your online home base,” says Justin Wise, author of The Social Church. When people arrive at your website, they should be able to find their way around and get an accurate feel for what it’s like to set foot in your church.
“Before people come to our actual churches, they’re checking us out online,” Justin says. If your church website isn’t optimized for visitors, people who find you online have a hard time deciding if you’re worth checking out in person.
“We know that folks are saying, ‘Hey, I want to go to church this Sunday, and so I’m going to type in my search box, “church in any town, USA.”‘ And when they look at the church they’re actually evaluating whether or not they’re even going to show up in your physical church building based on your website. Based on how it looks, and if they can find the information that they need quickly.”
People who find your church online are probably not just looking at your church. They’re probably trying to quickly skim the top churches in the area.
Your website has to show people what your church is like at-a-glance—or else a glance might be all you get.
That’s why defining your identity as a church is so integral to your online ministry.
Represent your church online
“The reason why we spend so much time digging into your big idea is because that big idea has to be the foundation for your website,” Justin says. “If people go to your website, you want them to have an experience and feel like they’re in your physical building.”
That doesn’t mean that your church creed, mission statement, or sermons are the first thing people see on your home page. It means that people should see your church when they find you online.
“So when they go to your website they see pictures of actual people who go to your actual church,” Justin says. “They’re not seeing stock photos of wonderfully diverse crowds and people high-fiving. No! They’re seeing pictures of the actual people who are in your congregation.”
Update your website
Likewise, the information you present should be an accurate representation of your church.
“That website also has to convey something of who you are as an organization—there’s a thumbprint on it. So when people check out the website and then they come to your church, there’s not two different experiences. It’s the same experience,” Justin says. “This has implications for everything from ‘Can people find the directions to your church easily on your website?’ to ‘Is your church staff page up-to-date?'”
This might seem obvious, but when your church staff is already stretched thin, it’s not easy to remember to keep your site up-to-date. Whenever your church experiences a major transition, it’s worth taking the time to evaluate all of the places that transition touches—including if or how it affects your church website.
“We worked with a church once, and we found someone on their staff page who had not been employed by the church for over two years,” Justin says. “Now, you can imagine what kind of message that sends.”
Showcase your church’s mission
When your church has a clearly defined “big idea” or mission—specific to your church, not some cookie-cutter statement you found somewhere else—every visual representation of your church should help communicate that big idea.
Justin says, “Your big idea also has influence on your imaging, on your logos . . . the way people use your site, the way it looks.”
The challenge of course, is “understanding how to knead that big idea into your website so when people come check out your site, they have the same experience online as they would if they visited you in person.