What Every Pastor Needs To Know About Their Church Website

Did you know that your church website is the digital front door to your church?

To put it another way, your church website is one of the first impressions that your church leaves with your first-time visitors who are checking you out.

What first impression are you leaving?

Don’t think you aren’t because your website is leaving some kind of impression right now with a first time visitor. Every church website leaves an impression. Good, bad, bland, fun or welcoming.

One anomaly I’ve found since entering into church world is that churches will invest budget into facilities, AV, staffing, but next to zero budget into creating the best first impression possible for their primary audience (I was fortunate to serve in a church that is prepared to invest in the digital space).

In pure marketing terms (don’t shoot me for using the word marketing) many churches think they have a great ‘product’ but expect people to wade through the quick-sand of a poorly designed church website and still expect visitors to come along to the church on the Sunday.

Why would they do that?

Ask yourself this question Pastor – What kind of impression do I want to make with new visitor on my church website? (If you serve in communications ask your Pastor the same question, or email them this blog link and they can answer it directly)

How do you want people to feel?

What kind of information do you think a first time visitor needs to know? (Hint: It’s not your statement of belief or a photo of you)

What perceptions do you want to break?

Can they easily see or read what you have to say on their smart phone? (because that’s how they will most likely check you out)

Does your website do this? If not, what will you do today to change it? Find out more about what great church websites do.


10 Tips To Create The Best Mobile-Friendly Church Website

Google frequently updates their search engine algorithm to be more mobile first. Each one is reported as the biggest update and usually has massive impact for church website that we will never see.

There are some best practices that will help you create an exceptional mobile-friendly church websites. Hopefully these search engine optimization (SEO) tips will help your site maintain or improve it’s search engine rank.

While many of the churches are using different content management systems, many of the hosted solutions and others such as WordPress offer mobile-friendly options. Here are some of the best practices:

Good User Experience

1. A good user experience can mean many things. One example is that a mobile-friendly site will work on a variety of devices such as smart phones and tablets all the way up to a desktop solution.

2. Consistency is another feature of this best practice. While the page may change shape and form, the consistent look and feel shouldn’t dramatically change.

3. Buttons may look great on a desktop experience but are they easily clickable on a mobile experience? Ease-of-use is very important. You don’t want a user to give up just because the button doesn’t behave properly when resized for mobile.

Limit the Clicks

4. A good user experience is all about creating a smart navigational pathway that reduces the number of clicks it takes a user to get to the information they want.

Readability

5. Ever need to pinch or zoom to read some copy? Chances are you are degrading a reader’s experience. The reader should be able to read the copy without pinching or zooming.

No Frills

6. Limit the bells and whistles you have on your site such as mouse hover effects and transitions. If it isn’t necessary then remove it.

Copy Matters

7. You don’t want your reader scrolling through a magnus opus on your about page. Web copy should be short and punchy.

Image Impact

8. Just because an image works at desktop size doesn’t mean it will have the same impact on mobile. Check what it looks like on a mobile and if it has the same impact.

Responsive Video

9. Your site may be a beautifully responsive site, but that doesn’t matter one bit if your video isn’t responsive and reactive to the device it is on.

Webfonts Matter

10. If you choose a webfont, make sure it is as readable on a small screen as it is on a large screen.

Got questions? Comment below.


The Village Church

I've admired The Village Church's website over the years. When I redid our church's website I used some of the thinking behind how they had structured their site on ours. It just made sense.

The simplicity of the site is what first grabs my attention. The use of a high quality image.

The key message of 'It's okay to not be okay. God meets you where you are.' Followed by the 'come to a service' and 'see our belief' I think this approach is really mission focused. The are are making visitors to their church as a the primary communication priority which I think is brilliant.

One of the stand out design features that I love about The Village Church's website is the unique juxtaposition of the imagery and the content as a user scrolls down the page.

They haven't just settled for a parallax view of a page, but used the key messages to drive the design of the page.

Community is obviously very important for The Village Church. What I love is that they just don't have a summary statement of purpose. But they have actionable next steps to join a group or become a member.

Another key value at The Village Church is service. To be a part of the community means to contribute. Again there is a lovely shot of a volunteer who is serving. I'm so pleased that they haven't used a Sunday service volunteer here. It would have been an easy shot to take. This image speaks authenticity and isn't Sunday service centric.

One Church, many locations

The Village Church is a great example of a multisite church's website. They have kept all of the global type of communication at the very top level of the site.

A user of the site can drill down into a specific campus page by the location. The advantage of this approach is that all of the local news, events and other location distinctive information is in one place. Where those who are looking for it will find it, and the rest of the site visitors won't even see it which means they don't have to wade through a mountain of information to find what they are looking for.

What I would change

  1. I love the fact that the church is visitor focused. However I would change the hero image of the guy being baptised. You actually have to be 'churched' to understand this image. An unchurched visitor wouldn't understand this image alongside the key message. This image is suited more for de-churched or churched visitors.
  2. I would relocate the 'Give' menu item into the hamburger menu. It may be easier to find where it currently is, but the message it sends doesn't work for a visitor. It says the church values giving over the other elements of its community (which I'm sure it doesn't).

Visit The Village Church

 

 


Easter At Brentwood Baptist Church

The featured Easter church website is from Brentwood Baptist Church. It's a landing page that is quite different, yet very smart. The locations at Brentwood Baptist Church have lots of information which is very specific to the location so the landing page simply points you to the best location which the visitor wants to go to.

You choose a location, which then takes you to the more detailed information. What i like about the approach above is that the team has assumed that the landing page isn't the main focus, but rather a stepping stone to get to the actual location where the Easter services are being held at.

Information For Visitors

Easter Schedule

Read my in-depth interview with Darrel from Brentwood Baptist Church here.

 


Darrel Girardier Interview

It's not often you get to interview a living legend. I've known Darrel for quite a few years through the interwebs. And Darrel has always inspired me to lift my own game when it comes to communications.

Introduce yourself and tell us about you are your role at your church

My name is Darrel Girardier. I run the creative and digital for Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, TN.

How many people are involved in your team and the website?

We have seven people on my team. Three of which are focused on web development.

What platform is your website built on?

Expression Engine.

What made you choose that platform?

At the time it was the only stable platform that could handle multi-site installations for what we needed. (We’re a multi-site church.)

What are the advantages of the platform now you are using it? What do you love about it. 

It’s really stable. However, we don’t love it. We’ll be switching to WordPress this summer.

What do you host it on?

MediaTemple

What are the challenges of the platform now you are using?

We’ve outgrown the platform. We installed when we had only three campuses. Now we have eight, so it’s time to start from scratch.

If there is one thing you would change, what would it be?

It needs a broader development culture. There aren’t enough people using the platform.

Any special features/highlights you want to tell us about?

We’ve got it pretty much locked down so staff cannot really alter the design which helps us avoid some major headaches. We also integrated with our CHMS (Ministry Platform) so groups and service opportunities are synced with the website.

Share about the design process. How did you come to where you are now designwise?

Our previous design was every early 2000’s. So we had to strip everything back. Then we did a lot research into our analytics to see where people were actually clicking. From there we made our design decisions.

Check out the great design on Darrel's Easter website

What is the favourite part of your church website?

Our location finder.

If there was one tip you could give another person who is updating/creating a church website, what would it be?

Don’t use a proprietary platform from an agency. Get something you can get your data in and out of (i.e. WordPress).

Where can people find you online? What is your website address?

Darrelg.com and my church brentwoodbaptist.com


Easter At Hillsong Church

Easter At Hillsong Church isn't a simple affair. In case you missed the news, Hillsong is growing at a movemental rate. New campuses popping up everywhere. Which is amazing. It is now a denomination in all but a name.

From what I can find, most Hillsong campuses are running along the same Easter branding theme that by now most of us will recognise. The Cross Equals Love.

However, Hillsong isn't a monolith church. It appears that they allow for different creative expressions for significant seasons like Easter.

Hillsong London has done something different which looks great!

Aside from Hillsong London, one of the challenges content wise on the websiteis that most of the content is obviously centrally driven and the only context related to a local service is very, very brief. Which can mean that any uniqueness from the localisation is lost.

Check it out on the Hillsong London website here.

I also recently interviewed Jay Argaet who is the Communications Director for Hillsong Church about the Cross Equals Love Easter campaign and the story behind it. I'll post a link once it's up here.


Ben Elliot Interview

I love seeing what people around the world are doing who serve in churches. Here is one church communicator in England who's work that I love with their website at Easter.

Tell us about yourself

Hey! I am Ben Elliott and I wear a few different hats… I’m the Creative Leader at The Well in Sheffield, England. It’s a Baptist church that’s been going for nearly 4 years now. I give a day a week to assist with the communications, ranging from the website to printed marketing, social media content and video production. I am also the founder of The Church Comms Collective. A community supporting each other church communicators’ do deliver the best comms possible from their church.

How many people are involved in your team and the website?

Our website team is myself, and I run designs and thoughts past the Church Leader and Student Ministry Leader.

What platform is your website built on?

Our website is built using Squarespace with Church Suite Admin systems connected for the calendar.

If it is a self hosted website, what do you host it on?

Squarespace host themselves, our domains being parked elsewhere for the ease of management should we need to switch platforms in the future.

What are the challenges of the platform?

It would be nice to be able to take features from different templates and apply more of a mix and match approach. But generally if you choose to go down the route of using Squarespace know that you’re saving a lot of money and creating something really beautiful and engaging for a fraction of what it would cost to do as a bespoke project. If it’s not that will be because you need to raise your content creation game! Beautiful images and choice of copy will make a huge impact.

Why did you choose that platform?

I’ve produced over 60 Squarespace websites in whilst running my own business (www.socialwetalk.com). It’s a no brainer. From a content management perspective it provides just enough versatility without it being overwhelming for those who find tech confusing and challenging and from a visitors perspective it enables us to adhere to our brand guidelines creating a fresh environment for everyone to access information.

What are the advantages of the platform now you are using it? What do you love about it.

Simply put I found Wordpress too complex and it was important that other teams could add updates to the website if they wished. I first explored Wix 5 years ago, back then it felt really amateur and I quickly adapted to Squarespace. As such in some ways I’ve been a victim of a comfort zone, but I’ve never been disappointed with how Squarespace has performed. The limitations that are in place, are often in my opinion there for valid reasons!

If there is one thing you would change, what would it be?

It would be to host videos directly on Squarespace, rather than embedding using YouTube or Vimeo links. There are times when this functionality would enable a localised digital experience.

Any special features/highlights you want to tell us about?

When we first launched the site we custom coded the home page with an interesting picture and video overlay and split panels to highlight upcoming events. We’ve recently decided to use a new landing page which is much quicker to update as it doesn’t involve specific image file sizes and coding to update.

Share about the design process. How did you come to where you are now designwise?

The brand was developed when the church launched by a really talented guy (Ben Hodges). I’ve simply tried to bring that brand into digital fullness. Creating a website around a brand rather developing a website to form a brand is something I would strongly advise. Your website should be a digital reflection of who you are. It should be authentic and when someone attends for the first time there should be a real sense that this is ‘true’ to what you know of the church digitally.

If there was one tip you could give another person who is updating/creating a church website, what would it be?

The first rule of good communication is to understand your audience. Who are they? What’s important to them? At The Well our website was built to communicate to those who do not attend. Under our logo it reads ‘Serving Sheffield since 2015’ and that’s exactly what the website is designed to do. People who regularly attend receive email updates and are members of private Facebook groups, where as the website is really designed to be our outward expression. That said, I think it’s vital to keep returning to the question of whether the website is fit for purpose. Never be complacent and think that just because you finished it a few months or year ago doesn’t mean that it doesn't need work. The best performing athletes continue to train hard and eat well in order to be their best when they perform. The same should be said for your communications and your website - you have to stay on top of what’s going on if you want to deliver an awesome standard.

Some people will be baffled about who their audience is - especially when we’re called to share the gospel with everyone! The reality is though that often those in your immediate vicinity are the ones that it would be best to connect with. The Well is in a great geographical location with lots of people passing by all day and night on foot and in their vehicles. We are surrounded by great cafes and bars, university buildings and businesses as well as large residential areas. The brand and website is designed to sit alongside the feel of the area with a creative beautiful cafe space inside and a warm welcome. This is something we’ve tried to replicate digitally. I used my drone to capture aerial shots to further emphasise our geographical location highlighting it to visitors and the church as a key element to the fabric of the city.

Where can people find you online? What is your website address?

They can find me at www.wellsheffield.com

Check out The Well Sheffield's Easter Website here


The Well Sheffield

I recently came across this lovely church website from The Well Sheffield from United Kingdom. Their approach was incredibly simple, yet striking from a design point of view for their Easter branding.

Each one of the significant calendar days were linked through the design style of the branding.

Easter Landing page

Palm Sunday

Good Friday

Good Friday is my favourite to be honest. I love the connection between the rose and the Rose Of Sharon. In some Christian traditions the Rose of Sharon symbolises Jesus.

Easter Sunday

I love the fact that the flowers in this bunch haven't bloomed yet. Almost that they are going to open up and bring the joy that a newly opened flower brings. Such a lovely metaphor for Easter Sunday.

Easter Review

I love the simplicity of the graphic design throughout this landing page. Ben and the team at The Well have done a superb job at visually linking each of the significant days in the Easter period.

The simple, yet striking motif of using flowers and palms to represent each day is stunning. Again, personally I love the fact they have used the rose as Good Friday. I don't know if it was intentional or not but it reminded me of how Jesus has been described in different places as the rose of Sharon.

Interview

I interviewed Ben recently about his church website. Click here is what he had to say.


Menlo Church

The first ever featured church website on the best church websites is Website Menlo Church from California.

I love the messaging on the site. 'Everybody's welcome. Nobody's perfect. Anything's possible.' The team here have been very intentional about crafting a message to a potential visitor to the church.

I love how when you scroll down the header changes colour

One of the highlights for me browsing through the site was the intuitive way this pop up window worked when looking for one of their locations. I love the way their service times and locations pop up and the way it all just seems to make logical sense.

You can literally see each location and service time at a glance. You can also see in a very clear way on a stylised map where the location are from a higher view. Nice work!

Footer

Footers can be after-thoughts in terms of how sites are organised. They can be where you put the stuff no one is really interested in.

I love how the team has added functionality again with a menu at the bottom to high traffic areas of the site. And the footer shares the vision of the church and shows a graphic of the latest sermon series.

Visit 

Menlo Church