Do's and Don'ts For Church Websites
Updated: Jul 13
When I stepped down from pastoring a church full time a year ago, aside from running this ministry, I became a partner in a local business.
One of the things I have focused on was developing digital sales. We knew the company would have to relocate in the near future and to prepare for this we realized we needed to have a strong digital client base to buffer the move. The business I am with historically gained customers by word of mouth or through the prominent location of the building.
Part of my job was to develop and execute a digital strategy that would see a much stronger online presence. Due to our budget the strategy has almost exclusively focused on the website as our primary digital platform.
We needed to expand the reach of our company and connect with more people. We also needed to make sure that this was a positive experience and showed our company in the best positive light. The ultimate desire was that from this increased reach and positive experience we would see more sales. We call this kind of sale a 'digital sale' because the contact is initiated online and focuses on people with little or no prior knowledge of our company.
Firstly we focused on clarifying the distinctive's of our company and identifying which key products we wanted to be front and centre. We then overhauled the web site around these distinctive's so it was way more inviting and easy to use. And finally we hired a digital marketing company who were able to maximize our presence with the right people at the right time.
The new strategy has had a remarkable effect and we have seen more than 50% growth in overall sales in just four months.
This whole process, of course, got me thinking about whether a digital approach will translate over to churches and evangelism.
Does any part of digital marketing transfer over to the church?
In my experience, and the experience of many churches, the principals of marketing hold true for the church as well. A well thought through website, with a strong digital marketing strategy behind it, will provide more exposure for a church in the community and will result in more people visiting.
A study by Drew Goodmanson, pastor of Kaleo Church in San Diego, who surveyed 70,000 people discovered that...
16 percent of people who get established in a church said that 'the website was the first place they learnt about the church' (i.e. no prior human recommendation or connection but purely digital)
30 percent of people 'in the process of checking out a church' said that 'the website was the first place they learnt about the church' (i.e. no prior human recommendation or connection but purely digital)
77 percent of people who have joined a church in the last 3 months said that the website was important in their decision to check out or stay in the church.
These numbers are staggering and should immediately challenge every church leader to revisit their digital strategy. It should be a key priority in terms of budget, staffing, and managerial oversight. It is as important to have a great digital strategy as it is to have a great building. In fact, many churches become established without a building but will have a great digital strategy.
From an evangelistic viewpoint, a strong digital presence gives you greater exposure to individuals turning to 'religion' as a possible answer to life's problems. A higher percentage of people checking out a church online are individuals who are not presently walking with Christ or are looking for real answers to real problems.. The anonymity of the internet allows seekers to look without committing.
For those who are familiar with the B1:10 language we would say that 'the digital world is an easily accessible fishing hole and digital marketing is a powerful way to fish it".
A lot of churches, and even churches lead by younger ministers, are apprehensive about using digital marketing. There is a sense that investing in marketing is an artificial way to grow a church. We all long for organic growth through 'the word of mouth' and feel we are cheating or being self promoting if we use marketing.
I believe the answer to this has to do with the expectations you put on digital marketing.
Some churches have sought to grow entirely by digital strategies and from what I can tell this has not been enough to maintain momentum. Having a great 'window display' is not helpful if the store doesn't have much in it. Your digital strategy must be the icing on the substance of what you are doing and not the substance itself.
If digital marketing is your only strategy for growth then you are really in trouble.
But if it is used as one of many strategies to build new connection points then it is very appropriate in the 21st century digital world. If it is done right then it is another way of connecting you to some potentially new attendees, potentially new workers, and to people who are genuinely seeking help.
Do's and Don'ts for church websites and digital marketing
Don't use the church building as the main photo on your home page
DO use a diverse mix of people and ages that give a great representation of both who you are and which demographic you want to grow in.
Don't use stock Photos
DO hire a professional photographer (like a wedding photographer) to roam on Sunday mornings and get some really great shots of you people, yourself in action, and your ministries to use on the web site. (and get them to take proper portrait shots of you staff while they are at it!) It will be the best value for money you will ever spend.
Don't design your website to firstly meet your members needs.
Do design your website for and around visitors. Your members will readily go to the submenus for the info they want but visitors will make decisions to stay or go based on the ability of the home page to engage. Use the scroll down to maximize the content available on the home page.
Don't design the look of the website around how it appears on a desktop computer.
Do plan your website and how it appears around a mobile device. 68.1% of all website visits in 2020 came from mobile devices and this is only increasing.
Don't use carousel or sliders on the home page because most people don't go past the first slider (68% don't read beyond the first slider). .
Do make the use of scrolling as most people now intuitively scroll down web pages. Having the main features (with great graphics) flowing down the page means they are way more likely to be seen.
Don't hand over your website management to any old staff member who needs more work on their portfolio. The website is WAY TO IMPORTANT TO DO THIS.
Do give the oversight to younger person who knows modern graphics, fonts, layouts, and how to do links for social media. Hire a young person in a church for an hour or two a week to keep it fresh and updated just as you would hire a building custodian.
You DON'T have to necessarily pay for advertising to get an increase of visitors to your site.
You DO need to add elements such as blogs (tagged), previous sermons (hosted on youtube), reciprocal links to partner sites, and social media tie ins. If you have no idea what I just said then find someone in your church who does to run your site.
Don't be so quick to dismiss the value of a paid marketing strategy to increase your reach.
Do set a budget for google adwords or other social media marketing campaigns. The great news is most of these mediums only charge when people actually click through to your site. Make sure the person running the campaign understands the basics of keywords and tags etc. I would recommend hiring a professional or expert in this area to maximize your digital reach.
Don't let visitors come to your site without some attempt to get their information for a further follow up.
Do have elements on the site that encourage people to give you their info so you can follow up with programming, special events, etc. This can be a passive form, a popup, or a resource that is only accessible by giving info. Make sure you have a follow up team for this.
Don't forget about the seeker.
Do have front and centre a program, video, prayer request form, or another real time connection for people who are seeking for Christ and answers.
Don't present something you are not (i.e. Hillsong or some slick hipster church).
Do be authentic AND present it in the best possible way with great photos, good content, and an easy to navigate website. The process of designing a website is a powerful opportunity to think about who you are as a church, who you want to be, and how others see you.
Don't miss the opportunity to do targeted campaigns
Do spend money on specific targeted campaigns for programs you want highlighted such as an upcoming 'Why Jesus?' course or an upcoming "Freedom Sessions'. You can limit the campaign geographically, choose key words that reach seekers, and even focus on a specific demographic. This is focused and intentional fishing.