Wednesday, August 22, 2018

What’s a Well Designed Church Website?

I’ve been looking at different church websites recently. Most of what I’ve seen troubles me a bit. As a designer, I feel churches are missing an important opportunity when they don’t care enough about their website to do it well. In fact, 80% of new visitors check out the website before entering a church building. That's a lot of people to ignore. But, with good planning and thinking, this problem can be overcome.

First, let me explain what frustrates me.

Badly designed websites usually have colors that don't work together, a look that doesn't match the personality of the church, no consideration of information hierarchy or placement, and have content that doesn't address the audience’s reasons for visiting the site. It can make a church look unconcerned about how they present themselves. And it promotes an amateurish personality. When the site looks amateurish it communicates that the church operates in a less than mediocre manner and that visitors and members are an afterthought. Let's face it, most people will judge the credibility of an organization by its website.

Another thing that bothers me is hard to read websites. This says that communication is not important, even though communication is a vital part of a church's operation. At the very least a site needs to be readable. This includes using a proper font size, contrast, and line lengths. Also, the content needs to make sense, be grammatically correct, and spelled correctly.

Along with hard to read websites, badly organized ones are just as frustrating. When I have to hunt for information that is important to me as a visitor, I have to fight with the website. If a visitor has to fight to get the information they need, or understand it, it creates a hostile relationship.

So, what makes for a well-designed church website?

First, the information is easy to scan and find. The website is personable and clear. And it matches the personality of the church.

It also uses videos and pictures, making it easier to envision what it's like to walk into the church. When videos and pictures are done well it can depict the church positively and offer a way to experience the life of the church without visiting in person. According to Visual Media Church:

"We live in a very visual culture. Tell the story of the life of your church (i.e. not just the building) through vibrant photos. This will help newcomers feel intuitively more connected and engage them emotionally with what your community is like."

Last, well-done websites also make the information visitors are looking for prominent and easy to find.

What do most people look for in church websites?

General meeting information like
  • Where is the church located, what's parking like, when does the church meet, and, most importantly, how do I contact the church?
  • Are there any dress codes?
  • What should I expect when attending a service, and how long are services and meetings?
People also want to know who you are as a church, what you believe, and why you exist. Usually, this information can all be found on the About us page. But they can also be separate pages.

About us pages should at least have
  • The names and pictures of leaders and staff.
  • A brief mission and vision statement.
  • A little history about the church.
Statements about beliefs should at least include:
  • Your perspective of Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit.
  • How to become a Christian, or become a member of the church.
  • Your viewpoint of the Bible and the role the Bible takes in the church.
  • How you plan to welcome all kinds of visitors.
Last, churches should be concerned about families. They can make up the backbone of a church. As a parent, some things I want to know:
  • What are the opportunities to connect with other families in the same cycle of life, and how are those connections made?
  • What is there for kids and teens? Are there opportunities for kids and teens to serve in the church?
  • Does the church care or understand the special challenges families face? Are parents taken into consideration when activities are planned? What type of support do families and parents have? How are single parents treated and supported?
  • Are children in a secure environment? If there is child care, are the workers background checked? Is there any security?
All these “parent” questions don’t have to be addressed, but if the church wants to promote itself as family-friendly, it needs to consider them.

I hope this makes sense, because a church's website is the face of the church when there's no one there to introduce it. A well-designed church website doesn't start with the look of the site. It starts with having the right information organized appropriately. Only after this is considered does the look of the site become important. And the look should complement the organization of the content and then match the mood and personality of the church.

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

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