Web sites have become as integral to a church’s presence in a community as a sidewalk sign, a newspaper listing, or a Yellow Page description. While many churches are rushing in to make sure they have a Web site, the real question should be “How can our Web site create a vital connection to unchurched families in the community?“
In the secular world, the most effective Web sites are designed to be an introduction—a bridge between a company’s advertising and the buying experience. In other words, consumers turn to the Internet for information before making any important buying decisions.
According to the Direct Marketing Association, 91 percent of businesses now have a Web site, with more than 50 percent now conducting business online. While online “browsing“ can result in a sale, the downside is the loss of a face-to-face sales touch. In light of this change, the most innovative companies are now designing their advertising and Web sites in tandem: their advertising poses the question, while their Web site offers the answers.
BUILDING A BRIDGE TO YOUR FRONT DOOR
What is true for consumers is just as true for those exploring the Christian faith or attending a church. Instead of spending money, spiritual seekers are considering the investment of their valuable time, the trust of their children, and—even though they may not know it––their eternal life.
“Your Web site is a ‘pulpit’ to the community,“ says Kally Hristov, director of interactive media for faithHighway.com, an electronic media company. “People have come to expect quality appearance and content in Web sites, and they’ll be looking for it from your church Web site too, well before they step into your service.“
After seeing your Yellow Pages ad, direct mail piece, sidewalk sign, or even your television commercial, the majority of potential visitors will come to your Web site before coming to your church. Does your church provide a non-judgmental, meaningful online experience where seekers can examine your “offer“?
Whether your church Web site is a simple homepage or a sophisticated network of interactive pages and animated graphics, you can achieve the most important objective: giving people a reason to visit your church. Here are three important elements to consider.
THE VISITOR EXPERIENCE
It’s hard for most of us seasoned “church goers“ to remember what it was like to walk into an unfamiliar church for the first time. Many visitors are concerned about being judged—for their past or current lifestyle, their dress, their economic status, their unfamiliarity with the Bible––the list goes on. They may have misconceptions about God or have had negative church experiences from the past. Although most churches welcome visitors, it’s important to communicate this on the site.
Begin by describing the kind of people your church welcomes: those with a wide variety of religious backgrounds and experiences or no experience at all. Show pictures of people in all stages of life—families, young kids, young couples, single parents, teenagers, etc.—being sure to include those in your church’s demographic target. Use your Web site to help potential guests feel more comfortable about their visit to your church. Let them know what to expect, how they can dress, when to show up, and where they can find answers to any questions. By putting your visitors at ease, you increase the chances that their Web visit will soon become a face-to-face visit.
While many churches are “friendly,“ true acceptance is another step. Your Web site can communicate this acceptance. List specific ministries to provide connecting points. You can also use actual quotes or testimonies from new church members to help paint an emotional picture of a typical visitor’s experience. This personal account may help someone feel, “If this person found acceptance here, perhaps I will, too.“
A PLACE TO SERVE
Finally, it is important for people, especially mature Christians, to know that your church will offer them a place to serve. And while ministries within the church are good, more and more people are looking to the church to be conduits of social action for the community. Even non-Christians may look at programs like a community food bank, support for a shelter, or a literacy program and think, “I’d like to be a part of a church that’s involved in those kind of activities.“
OPPORTUNITY FOR “BRANDING“
The term “branding“ is thrown around a lot these days, but at its heart, your “brand“ is simply the perception that your church has in the minds of people in your community. “Your Web site’s visuals, text, and overall experience can be an excellent vehicle for building your church’s identity or brand,“ said Hristov.
A MEANINGFUL CONNECTION
Welcome visitors to your Web site in the same way you would welcome them into your church. Providing a meaningful, inclusive online experience is perhaps the first important step in someone’s spiritual journey toward a relationship with Christ through your church.
Six Tips for a Great Web Site
Web sites today offer an endless number of features and capabilities, but here are some ideas that can enhance the “seeker“ sensitivity of your site.
TESTIMONIALS. Quotes from people who have been positively impacted by the ministry of your church can be very meaningful for others.
CONNECTING POINTS. By listing a short summary of your various ministries, you create connecting points for potential visitors. A youth program, children’s program, divorce recovery group, women’s Bible study, sports ministry—any one of these may be the point of connection for a new guest.
INFORMATION ABOUT THE PASTOR. One of the most popular features on most church Web sites is the information page about the pastor. While some people are interested in credentials, education, and denominational background, others just want to see if he or she has a friendly face and a warm welcome letter.
EASY TO PRINT DIRECTIONS. Unless your Web site has clear, easy to print directions and service time information, you will never see the potential visitor, regardless of his or her Web site experience.
CURRENT SERVICE INFORMATION. Give your Web site visitors an excuse to show up this Sunday. Make sure your site is updated weekly with compelling message series titles as well as event information.
CONTACT INFORMATION. Don’t limit contact information simply to the pastor or a church secretary. List contacts for your various church ministries.