Things You Can Do Right Now to Fix Your Small Church Website
Have you ever looked at your church website like an additional worship center campus? Just like your church’s physical venue, your church website is a digital venue that your congregation and surrounding community visits. When you look at it through that lens, would you treat it differently?
Maybe you want to but keep putting it off because you think it’s too complicated or expensive to fix. Especially for small to mid-size churches, decision makers are anxious about making that investment. With limited budgets, you may be looking for functional plans you understand, not a tons of technobabble from a young digital phenom or glossy brand speak from a high-flying marketing agency. Just like your church’s physical venue, your church website is a digital venue that your congregation and surrounding community visits.
The problem is, however, the longer you put off fixing your website, the more it’s costing you. Much like a facility that falls into disrepair, a neglected website communicates abandonment, deteriorates trust and turns people away (and makes it harder for the people who are there to share what’s happening).
The good news is that it’s not as expensive or complicated as you think. If you stop one thing, it can make a catalytic difference in your direction and start to renovate this important growth engine and discipleship tool for your church. It’s probably not the technology getting in the way, but an inside-out focus.
Stop making changes to your website based on the internal preferences of your pastoral and elder staff instead of focusing on the site’s essential functions. Your graphics, features and content are supporting players to an overall strategy, not a digital free-for-all.
Instead, shift your focus to the external user. How are people using the website? Ask, “What are they trying to do?” instead of “What do we want them to do?” Look at your website through that filter and watch your essential list start to materialize.
Start with the right questions, and you’ll change the game. As you enter the planning process for fixing your website, make sure you have clarity around the guiding principles. Here are some questions you can start with:
Who are we?
What are we about?
What are we trying to do—in our church, the community and beyond?
How are we caring for people?
What connection paths already exist?
What’s our voice? Is it reflected on our site in the right way?
What’s it like to be here?
It’s critical for your website to communicate, complement and parallel the experience inside your church. Make sure the experience visitors have on your site matches what’s happening inside your building. In other words, your website should reflect your church’s personality. Get that first impression in alignment before moving to the next step.
Once you have the basics of your site personality in place, you can start to think about the essential tasks people come to your website to accomplish. Contrary to what you might think, your users aren’t coming to your site to read pages of content and theological defense. They’re coming to easily find out the basics. Here are some key pieces of information that you want to make it easy for people to find:
Time and place for services
Current message topic (and past message archives)
How to meet people (groups and gatherings)
How to volunteer (let me scan the options before committing)
How to learn (classes, events)
How to get help in critical life moments (prayer, marriage, divorce, counseling, grief)
How do I give online (or access my account)
One email to send my questions (not a staff list of multiple emails)
Before you figure out what new things you want to add to your website, reorganize the existing content, navigation menu and visuals to make it easier to use. A good website isn’t the one with the most bells and whistles, it’s the one that works. Make sure what you have now works before you try to make it better.
What’s next comes down to your vision and values as a church. The features and information you consider should include enhancements that support the way you currently function as a church—in real life. Use this to set the stage for your digital strategy. You can set a long-term plan to prioritize and apply these features in order of importance:
Clear path and tools to manage spiritual growth
Integrated church management system
Digital storytelling and video resources
Robust search engine that keeps track of search requests to improve SEO results
If you’ve taken care of the basics and want to seek support from an outside expert for additional features, it’s important to find a service provider who can come alongside you as a partner, rather than a vendor.
VENDOR: A vendor relationship is simply transactional. You pay them for their skillset and output (e.g., code, graphics, etc.). If you simply hire a vendor to do the “work,” you risk publishing bad content on a good-looking website that doesn’t go anywhere.
PARTNER: Steward your investment by working with a person (or agency) who not only has the competent skillset you’re looking for, but also the expertise to lead and empathize with you through this process.
We’ve found the best partners have three primary attributes:
Good listeners who are invested in helping you create a website that not only accomplishes your church’s objectives, but is also something you can be proud of.
Experienced in not-for-profit and ministry work with an in-depth understanding of cause-based work.
Collaborative stakeholder who proactively advises you on the most effective (and cost-effective) ways to use your website budget. They’ll provide honest feedback, ask follow-up questions, wear the contrarian hat when needed and help lead you through the process with your best interests in mind.