I have never been one to encourage churches to chase the latest trends. The secret to successful ministry is that there is no secret. The most faithful and fruitful churches are those that plod in mission, persevere in godliness, and preach the word.

But increasingly, if your church does not have a decent website you’re uninviting a lot of people who might otherwise have plodded, persevered, and sat under good preaching with you.

I am out of town on sabbatical for most of this summer. That means I’ll be a church visitor again. And like most people under the age of 40 (or is it under 70?) when I check out churches I do most of my checking online. More often than not, when I meet a visitor at our church, they’ve already been to our website. Having a decent website is not about being hip or pursuing relevance. It’s about being welcoming and hospitable.

Your website is the front door of your church for many, many people. If you’d put a greeter at the front door of your physical church, and line up ushers in the sanctuary, and set up a hospitality center in the lobby, and make sure all the signs are attractive and pointing in the right direction, surely you ought to take the same care with your church’s website.

We may wish it weren’t so, but it’s reality: most people on the web looking for a church will never visit if your site stinks. What makes a church website stink? I’m no expert in web design, but as a new church visitor this summer, I can tell you what smells bad to me.

  • Extremely dated design. You don’t need to be cutting edge with all the latest gizmos. But if you haven’t changed your site in five years, you’re almost certainly aging rather poorly.
  • Getting by on the cheap. Sometimes even newer websites look dated because they were designed by a beloved 55 year old from the congregation with a little web know how and some time on his hands. Not trying to knock 55 year olds, but your website will be used primarily by the young, so make sure it doesn’t feel old. Again, you don’t need to spend a lot of money, but the difference between $2000 and free will convince you that $2000 was worth it.
  • No information on the staff. Visitors want to know who “runs” the place. Give us pictures. Tell us about your pastor.
  • Basic information is hard to find. You don’t need a lot of information on your site, but you need the most important items clearly marked. Service times, directions, contact information, and a statement of faith are some of the basics.
  • No opportunity to listen to recent sermons. What are you trying to hide?
  • Not enough information on childcare. Parents want to know what is available for their kids and whether they will lovingly cared for or sold to Ishmaelite traders.

While I’m at it, here are a few other things to think about:

  • More and more people get their information from smart phones. Consider building a church app, or at least see what your website looks like on a phone. Make sure the most important information is easy to find on a mobile device.
  • Bulletins are nice. I like to see what the order of worship is usually like and what’s going on at the church. But you do have to think about phone numbers, names, and prayer requests that will go public.
  • Give some thought to how well the feel of your website matches the feel of your church. If your church is stately and traditional, don’t design your site in all black, with hipster lettering, and a link to Relevant Magazine. Make the site feel fresh, but not inauthentic. People should be able to look up your church online and then visit in person without wondering if they showed up at the wrong building.

I bet many of you have experience with what works and what doesn’t. Feel free to leave some suggestions in the comments.