In my technology role at the GARBC Resource Center, I oversee 25+ websites. Over the last several years there has been a shift in website presentation and look. The term most often associated with this shift is “Web 2.0,” which conveys the concept of “less is better.” This standard means that you need to think carefully about your church’s website and the content you put on it.
When designing the website, your church’s leadership team should determine what they want the website to communicate. A church’s website is a primary source of contact for potential visitors and an avenue to communicate with existing members. The website needs to become a strategic element of a church’s communication plan.
What is the primary purpose of your church’s website?
Here are a few categories to consider when putting together the website.
Audience. Who is the primary audience for your website? Is your site informational for your congregation, or is it primarily designed for visitors who have questions about your church? Often sites make assumptions related to the level of Christian maturity of those who visit their site. Churches can scare folks away with words that have meaning only to a body of believers. The words “A plan of salvation” may be intended to lead a person to a gospel presentation, but those who need to be saved may be unfamiliar with the term “salvation.” The phrase “doctrines of our church” may be used as a header for the church’s statement of beliefs, but new visitors may not understand the meaning of that header or the complex Biblical terms in the beliefs.
Impression. What type of impression are you attempting to provide? Are you colors bright and cheery? Does your site say “family and activities”? Or does your site say “dark , cloudy, and funeral home”? Without planning and thought, a church’s website can fall into the latter category. How does your website come across? Your site is the first impression to web browsers who are seeking a church or wanting to know more about spiritual life.
Images. What images are on your site? Does your site say “warm and friendly, family-oriented body of believers” or “cold, sterile church building that needs some repair”? Websites may picture the church building with the sign of service times or a logo of a cross and Bible rather than pictures of people or families. Which would you rather see? If your church has a logo or byline, it should be in the header. The content of the page should be stories about your church and the different activities of your church family.
Want to create a positive picture about your church’s credibility? Don’t use an outdated calendar! A website with old information is worse than no website at all. Make sure you have someone dedicated to updating your website. Avoid listing activities that date back several months ago; make sure you have event listings for the current month. Calendar programs are available that will automatically present the current month and prevent older events from displaying.
URL name. The domain name you choose for your church needs to be easy to remember and directly reflect your church’s name. Be consistent in use of initials or complete names. Web addresses such as www.firstbaptistchurch.org are often taken so depending upon your church’s name, you might need to be creative in choosing a domain name. However, a lengthy name such as www.firstbaptistchurchofschaumburgilmeachamrd.org isn’t a good choice either. Newer domain types are available. For example, .info, as in www.fbcs.info might be a good substitute if .org is taken. Another alternative is to use initials for your church’s name and its related city. When choosing a domain name, remember to select a name that is familiar to your members and that gives information on the fly to a potential visitor.
Image size. This consideration is a bit technical in nature but no less important. New website developers might use the wrong size of images. An 8MG-sized image taken with a digital camera gives the user an 8.5×10 image with high resolution, which is great for displaying the photo in a picture frame. However, that size will not work on an Internet site. The entire page should not be much over 50K in size. However, with the majority of Internet users using broadband, the size can increase to 100K. By using a photo conversion program, you can reduce the actual size and dimensions of the photo for web posting. Most web page development applications allow you to drag the corners of the image and reduce it to the size you want. However, this dragging really doesn’t “change” the size of the image; it is still large according to website standards and will cause a delay in loading your home page.
Think carefully about your church’s website. Make sure it is communicating in words and images the message you want to send to your intended audience. Remember to present information in a timely fashion and use an easy-to-remember URL name. By considering the above six factors when designing your church website, you can make a positive web impression with church members and seekers alike.
David Bosket, Director of Technology
GARBC Resource Center