Missional churches are busy worshiping, leading, and sharing with their community. Your website can reflect this through fresh updated content, ultimately building a sense of community with your site’s visitors through continued engagement.
When I Googled “best practices for church websites” in spring 2015 it returned about 1,330,000 results. While most of the sites provide basic information about improving website functionality, I want to challenge your perspective on the purpose of church websites and the idea that following website best practices supports the missional church.
The missional church seeks to find creative ways to share the good news of Christ amongst other voices, practices, and norms. The same mission can be fulfilled within the digital landscape. While almost everyone, every business, and every organization has a website, there’s a need for churches to find creative ways to share the good news. What better way than through the church website?
Consider one of my favorite scriptures as we look at using digital tools for missional work: “The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation . . . We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God . . .” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5a, The Message).
Your church’s website is not a marketing gimmick: it’s a powerful God-tool for missional engagement. When considering your church’s website from this perspective, these best practices—although fairly consistent and generic for any website—become very purposeful in their application for missional congregations who want to engage their congregation, their community, and their world.
Here’s a list of best practices for missional church websites:
1. Promote the brand
Be on the lookout for brand confusion. Your church is an individual brand with a parent/family brand⎯God. Your website should reflect that. When you’re out to win souls, the presentation of your brand must be set apart and consistent.
If you do not have a marketing strategy, it might be good to begin there. Who is your target market? What are your values? What is your mission and purpose? Once you determine those guidelines, make sure every aspect of your site fits into your strategy and supports your strategy.
2. Good design
The look and feel of a website tells a lot about the church. Often, it is the first introduction someone will have of your church. Color choices invoke feelings. The page layout indirectly tells the individual what’s important to the church. Be deliberate in your choice of fonts, stock photography, imagery, and page structure.
3. Make it informative
One of the major user groups visiting your church’s website will be prospective congregants. They are looking for information about your church, including your location, your service times, your mission, and your church leadership. This seeker wants to learn more about your church and it’s your job to make that information as easily accessible as possible.
Additionally, you want to offer people other information that they may not have expressly been seeking but will help them make the decision to connect to your church. This could be a photo gallery, a church calendar, or social media links.
4. Keep your information up to date
While you’re making sure your site is informative, keep an eye on the information you’re presenting. Don’t let your information get outdated. Outdated information can cause you to miss out on an opportunity to engage new and repeat seekers. Images and banners should feature upcoming events instead of events that ended months ago, broken links to pages that no longer exist on your site should be removed, and email addresses and other contact information should be current.
To help you keep your information up to date, consider setting aside one day per week or per month to review your site and make updates. Base the amount of time between your reviews on the amount of new information you need to disseminate to your church and your community. You can also integrate website planning into your scheduled church planning meetings. New information that needs to go on the website can be addressed at the same time you’re planning for upcoming church services and events.
5. Optimize usability
There are a number of ways to optimize usability of your website, but let’s focus on two big issues: site navigation and calls to action. If your site is easy to navigate, people can get to the information they need quickly and efficiently. Calls to action include buttons or text that encourages people to take an action like “Ask for Prayer” or “Attend this Event.” Like site navigation, they are digital signposts for your content and resources. Make sure you send your seekers in the right direction.
6. Engage your online community
Don’t get content with your content! Keep your site interesting. New content can be in the form of a pastor’s blog, weekly videos of services, new calendar events, and new images from past events. Missional churches are busy worshiping, leading, and sharing with their community. Your website can reflect this through fresh updated content that ultimately builds a sense of community with your site’s visitors through continued engagement. Fresh content also makes search engines happy, which increases your website’s rank in search results.
7. Continuous improvement
There are new technologies developed for websites every day. Always look for ways to improve your site’s design, content, functionality and usability. To determine areas for improvement, you can use a tool such as Google Analytics to give you reports about how well pages are doing on your site or how well search engines can access your site. You can also ask for feedback about your site through an online forum.
Shé recommends these additional online resources:
www.smashingmagazine.com: An online magazine for professional web designers and developers, with a focus on useful techniques, best practices, and valuable resources.
www.churchmarketingsucks.com: This site is designed to frustrate, educate, and motivate the church to communicate, with uncompromising clarity, the truth of Jesus Christ.
www.thecreativepastor.com: A blog focusing on “church media made simple.”
www.webdesign.tutsplus.com: Tuts+ offers video courses and written tutorials to educate users to learn code, design and illustration, photography, video, music, and web design.
www.analytics.google.com: A website that enables users to track videos, social networking sites, and applications.
Shé Langley attends Calvary Community Church in Hampton, Va., and is the owner of Sushe Design, a creative agency specializing in digital strategy, web design, graphic design and social media for businesses, non-profits, and religious organizations. She is the digital content specialist with The Mennonite, Inc.