Your website is one of the most important assets your church can have because it serves as a central hub for all things related to your community.
It is both where your potential visitors and committed members come to learn more about your community, get connected, and find other resources they are seeking. While some may believe social media is the most important part of a church’s digital strategy, a quintessential website is key.
This being said, prioritizing the effectiveness of your website is very important. It is not enough to just have a few random web pages, lackadaisical copy, and unintentional navigation.
When someone visits your website, it should be an enriching experience where they want to stay a while rather than just gather information.
This is why a church website is often referred to as the front door of your church. First impressions are made on your website.
It is where your visitors get a feel for the personality of your community and where they get some insight of what to expect. If your website is not prioritized, you can miss a very important opportunity to reach people who wouldn’t normally reach at your brick-and-mortar church location.
There are a few website essentials that every church needs to keep in mind when constructing, reconstructing, and maintaining their website. These characteristics all help to create a better website experience for your viewers and truly serve as the first stepping stone to actually getting connected to your church.
As always, every church serves different purposes in their community, but every single church exists to show others the love of Jesus. Your website is another essential part of your toolkit to do just that!
1. Consistent, aesthetically pleasing homepage
Have you ever visited someone’s house, seen just the exterior of the house, and thought “wow, I cannot wait to see the rest”? First impressions are very powerful, especially when it comes to websites.
The homepage is the very first page you see when you visit a website. From this page, you can generally gauge what to expect as you navigate through the rest of the website. This page is not meant to serve as some sort of information-saturated page where you try to include as much about your church as possible.
The homepage should be just like the cover of a book: simple, to the point, and generally pleasing to the eye, because let’s be real, we do just books by their covers.
An essential element to a good homepage is an engaging hero image (or video) to display right smack dab in the middle. This image will help to bring your design together and serve as a representation of your church community.
2. Quick load time and little interruptions
Nothing is more frustrating than going on a webpage and there being a lag in content load time. Actually, what might be a bit more frustrating is a billion pop-ups taking over your screen right off the bat.
These two examples may seem like trivial annoyances, but they can hinder your viewers from wanting to stay on your page and will certainly prevent them from exploring more on your site.
Slow load times can often be because of user Internet connections, but sometimes they have to do with deeper issues found in the very framework of your website, image resolutions, and more. Unless you have a background in web design and engineering, you probably won’t know exactly how to remedy these issues. This is why you can look to the pros to fix these issues!
The other seemingly trivial annoyance which can actually be a huge roadblock is a homepage pop-up. In the early 2000s, pop-ups were all the rage, but we slowly became so inundated with them that they began to be only associated with marketing schemes. While pop-ups can serve as a great way to gather information from people, too many of them can just seem like a big marketing ploy.
We would advise reserving pop-ups for special occasions, like special services or upcoming events. Instead, utilizing a static banner “pop up” allows you to get a special message across while still allowing the user to navigate the rest of your site without interruptions.
3. Organized navigation menu
There is a portion of every website called the navigation menu. This part of the website is where all of your site’s content is organized into specific categories. Generally, the categories include on a church website include a few of the following:
Depending on the purpose of the website, there may be other navigation items you would include. This part of your website is very important when it comes to directing visitors. They serve as little road markers that point you in the right direction.
The navigation menu must be very intentionally planned out so that you can accurately direct people where to go next. The menu should be pretty simple and include related subcategories underneath each section. This seems very elementary, but it is worth noting that an unorganized navigation menu can leave your visitors confused and unable to find the information they are looking for.
Another helpful element would be to add a detailed list of web pages in the footer of the website. Here you can include often-visited subcategories of your website such as specific ministries and resources.
4. Real & Quality Photos
Quality matters. While raw photos have a place on social media and can help tell your church story, a pixelated image on the top of your home page is a major website deterrent.
The old saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Your website is your first impression, and your photos tell the story of your church and culture faster than any amount of words on the page.
Imagine a first-time guest visiting your church website for the first time. One thing that causes anxiety about a first-time visit is “What do I wear?” Seriously! Think about it. If they’ve never walked through the doors, they don’t know if it's best to wear a suit and tie or t-shirts and jeans. But having real photos of your Sunday services, filled with smiling church members in their Sunday attire puts your website visitor at ease. It helps them easily imagine themselves in the midst of your congregation on Sunday morning and helps them visualize what it’s like to be part of your church community.
Another great spot for real photos is on a staff and leadership page. Photos of your church team humanize your organization and help outsiders know who you are on an individual level.
5. Excellent design elements
Once the framework of a website has been well established, it is important to bring congruence to the information on your site with high-quality graphic content.
This essential component of your website is what makes the difference between an experience and just a digital collection of information.
If your website is truly intended to serve as the front door of your church, including images and videos that represent your community is vital. Photos of real people in your community, videos of worship services, and other organic content will help your visitors get to know the community a bit better. These photos, if used well, should leave your visitor thinking “wow, I could belong here.”
Along with photographic and video elements, other design elements can be included to bring more harmony to your website. These elements surely include sermon series and event graphics, but it also includes the general design of the website using different shapes, icons, and infographics.
The Porch, a young adult ministry, has a website that really pops with its combination of photo content, design elements, and overall cohesive aesthetic. They also include some of the previously mentioned elements such as an organized navigation menu, footer section, and appropriate use of “pop up” elements.
6. Mobile friendly Design
A website essential that is often overlooked, but it is truly vital in this smartphone era, is having a mobile-friendly website. Mobile accounts for approximately half of web traffic worldwide, so it is important that we focus on the mobile experience of the website and not just the desktop version of it.
Utilizing an app is always an option, but the inclusion of this digital component comes with many drawbacks. Having an intuitive, well-organized mobile webpage can easily replace the need for a mobile app.
This comes down to having a web designer who knows how to translate the desktop to a mobile experience very well. Making sure you check all the boxes listed above is just as important on mobile as it is on the full website.
Another essential in this: make sure the website is mobile-friendly on all smartphone devices! Some websites translate well on Apple products but totally stink on Android or Google devices. Creating a page that can translate well to all devices will help you reach all different types of web page visitors and help bring your church’s content everywhere.
The bottom line is first impressions are made online.
Every day people in your community are searching for a church. But instead of checking out your Sunday services, they’re first checking out your website.
Websites can truly make or break your digital strategy. They serve as a great place to curate and discover information, but they also give your visitors a sneak peek into who your community is.
Your webpage should tell a narrative and invite visitors to want to be a part of what you're doing. Keeping these important essentials, and mistakes, in mind will help your cause and increase your online reach!
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