I remember being jolted when I first heard a pastor make that statement a few years ago. He went on: “Not having a church website is like not having a front door to your church building. And it’s hard to welcome people to worship if you don’t have a way in.” The pastor was exaggerating a little, but not much. In the 21st century, people are more likely to visit a church’s website before they ever set foot in the door.
So what should a church website accomplish?
We need to remember that tools—no matter how efficient, cool, or helpful—are, in the end, only tools. Having a website and social media accounts does not replace the work of God, but they certainly can give insight to those outside as to how God is moving within His body.
Many churches already have a website at this stage of the online game. That’s true. But many of these websites are – to put it nicely – underutilized and underwhelming. Rather than just a series of links to news stories and announcements about upcoming events, the website should be a means of revealing your church.
Even with the advent of social media, websites are still a go-to place for information. As such, the church website should not be neglected in favor of the new social media toys in the room. With those few thoughts in mind, here are a few things that no church website should be without.
1. A clear, easy to find “Statement of Beliefs”
In our pluralistic society, people will be accessing your church’s site from every imaginable background. Whether they are well versed in doctrine or confused beyond description, they should know what your church believes. It might be best to have a simplified statement of faith (for unbelievers) as well as a link to a more robust statement of faith (for long-time Christians). You want to communicate what you believe in such a way that the gospel is clear and not obscured.
2. Basic boring information
- Contact: Make it easy for people to know how to contact you. I suggest having the church’s address, phone number, and generic e-mail in the footer of every page. That way it’s easy for visitors to figure out quickly how to get in touch with someone.
- Schedule: Let people know when and where you meet. Give them an entry point. I wouldn’t put every single church activity, program, or event on there. It’s best to keep it simple. (Just make sure you keep the schedule up-to-date.)
- Directions: Use Google to make it easy for someone to figure out where you are located. Most people won’t recognize where in the world your street address is until they copy/paste it into a maps feature online. Why not do this for them anyway?
3. Staff and leadership page
Before people get interested in the specifics of the programs offered by your church, they will be interested to see who is leading. I’ve seen some churches that list all their staff on one page, with their titles and an e-mail address to contact. A long list of names is not the best way to introduce people to your leadership, especially in a Facebook society where we are used to information and pictures. Instead, provide a picture of the staff member, a brief bio, and his or her role at the church. This will go a long way in helping people get a feel for your church.
4. Podcasts and/or sermon videos
Anyone seriously considering your church will be helped in the decision-making process by providing opportunities to hear the weekly teaching. Because of the sometimes extensive differences in church teaching styles and content presentation, it is helpful to make these available online to anyone researching your church. A number of churches use a video welcome from the pastor. That’s okay, but a simple welcome will not reveal as much as full-length sermons.
5. Social media buttons
A website is only part of communicating your church’s presence to your online community. With nearly a billion people worldwide on Facebook and 250M on Twitter, these tools ought not be overlooked. Decide how you will make announcements, share devotionals and Scripture verses, and then use them wisely.
If your pastors like to blog, link to their blogs from their individual staff pages. This is true even for—maybe especially for—children and student pastors. Many parents want to “get a feel” for the leaders to whom they will entrust their children. The more they know about a leader, the more confident they may be about that ministry.
Churches can do amazing things with websites nowadays. Sometimes, in the rush to be innovative, we wind up cluttering the site and making it difficult to give people basic information about our churches. It’s better to have a sharp website that accomplishes the essential purposes rather than a sprawling, detailed website where people can easily get lost.
What about you? When you first visit a church website, what do you look for?
Thanks to Marty Duren for bringing his social media expertise to this post.