Does the church website play a role in a church’s numerical growth? Are small church websites any different than large church websites in this regard? The answers to these questions need to be understood and considered when your church is deciding to update the current church website or having one built for the first time. We have been designing and building websites for small and medium sized churches for years. We have also been a part of the Christian church, both as attendees and in different leadership roles for many years. We have a passion for sharing the faith that has impacted our lives for the better with others. This is why we feel church growth is important and why we feel it is important for church leaders to consider how their web presence fits into their plan to grow.
Challenges Small Churches Face When Building a Website
Volunteer Help: All churches (large and small) depend primarily on volunteer help for most tasks and this is a good thing. One of the reasons people join a church is to have a place to use their God given gifts and talents to help make the world a better place. The problem small churches face many times is a smaller pool of volunteers to accomplish many of the same tasks all churches need done.
As we talk to church leaders we hear the same story time after time. Someone at the church (or their cousin) knows something about websites, so they will be asked to build one for the church. The volunteer enthusiastically embraces the task and builds a website to the best of their abilities. The volunteer invariably then gets busy at work, gets married and has a couple kids, or leaves the church and when any of these scenarios happens, the website falls into disrepair.
Limited Experience: We have built websites for churches before who have asked us to just send them the files when we were done and they would upload them. They thought that there would be a few files to upload to the server and the site would be up. We had to explain that a modern dynamic website consists of hundreds of files in specific folders which all connect to a database. We bring this up to point out the ever changing nature of the web design industry. When a person whose web experience is a couple of years out-of-date tries to use that knowledge today, the website and church will suffer. Web trends, technology, and security are constantly changing, and to have an effective web presence, the person building and maintaining the website needs to be current in their knowledge.
Budget Concerns: A modest-sized church generally tends to have a smaller budget for things like a website since they have fewer people giving on a regular basis. Larger churches can afford the “bells and whistles” that sometimes come with a website today.
A website is an investment in the future of your church, but obviously, you want to use your money wisely and stay within budget. We all want to be good stewards of the money God has put in our care. We make every attempt to keep our prices reasonable and we offer affordable pricing that will enable smaller churches, as well as larger ones, to have an amazing website. Take a look at our pricing page and you’ll see what we mean.
Can Small Church Websites be Effective?
Given the challenges small churches face, can they still have a website that will help their church grow? At DL Church Websites, we believe the answer is a definite YES! Now the question is how.
There are many things a church website can do. Sermons can be live streamed, online bookstores with exotic shopping carts and complex membership areas can be added. These are all great features but they come with large price tags and are often luxuries only larger churches can afford. Does this mean that smaller churches have to settle for second rate, ineffective websites? We believe the answer to this question is no and will explain why below.
We have been building small church websites, along with larger church sites for years. We have also been talking to church leaders and keeping current on the latest church web trends. One of the things we have discovered is that it’s not the things mentioned in the last paragraph that make an effective website, it’s following some basic principles. See below.
Update, Update, Update
I was talking to a church leader recently who was saying that no one will find the right church for them simply by looking at the church website. I agreed with him because what he said was completely true. In order to make the final decision on which church you will attend, there is no substitute for visiting it. The thing your website should be doing, however, is to convey enough interest so that potential visitors will want to find out if your church is right for them.
Like it or not, your website will form the first impression most of your visitors will have of your church. If that impression is a website that doesn’t work well or look good on their mobile device, hasn’t had a new sermon added in 2 years, or the events are all months or years out of date, that visitor will move on to the next church website. So no, your website will not tell people which is the right church for them, but it can stop them from stepping foot inside your door.
Your message is timeless, but the way that message is conveyed must be relevant to the generation you are trying to reach or else they will never even get to hear it.
We will work with your church to help make sure there is a plan in place to keep your website up-to-date. All of our websites have a very “word processor” like interface for easy updating and your church will receive training to make sure everyone involved knows how to make updates. We also offer a worry free plan for a modest price for those who want us to make the updates.
Does Your Website Have the Pages Visitors Look For?
We install Google analytics on our church websites and see what pages are most visited. Three pages that are always among the top are the Sermons page, Leadership page, and Events.
Sermons Page: Every church should be displaying their current sermons in some format (written, audio, or video). Many websites that we see either don’t have a sermons page, it is hard to find, or the latest sermon is more than a year old. The sermon is the highlight of any church service. One of the reasons people attend a particular church is that the sermon speaks to them in a way that is relevant to their lives. The quickest way a potential visitor can determine if a church is a good fit is to listen to a few of the sermons. The main reason the sermons page may not be easy to find is that the website has not been created by someone familiar with church dynamics. We are regularly in contact with church leaders and have gained an understanding of what is needed to make a church website effective.
Leadership Page: People want to know those who will be guiding them (and their families) spiritually and find out what makes them tick. A good bio should always include personal interests as well as theological influences. Social media also is commonly shared in this area as well. People want to know their leadership is accessible and the Leadership page is a great way to accomplish this.
Events Calendar: Every church has a personality. It’s been said that you can know what is important to a person by where they spend their time. The events of a church let potential visitors know what is important to your church. Does your church have many picnics, dinners, and social events? If it does, then website visitors know that community is important to your church. Does your church have a lot of community service activities? Then people who have the gift of service will be attracted to your church. I could go on but you get the picture. The Events Page is always one of the most visited because it lets people know the heart of your church.
Small church websites should include the three pages mentioned above, along with others like ministries, about us and contact us. Having all these important pages on your site will give your visitors the information they need when deciding whether they’d like to visit your church in person.
Easy to Find Location and Contact Information: Many of us have experienced visiting an online store, finding what we want, and then not being able to figure out how to purchase it. The equivalent on a church website is wanting to attend a particular church and then not being able to find the location or contact information. It is important to have both of these things in easy to find areas, both on laptops and mobile devices. It is also expected in today’s world that directions from any location are also easily accessed. Again, this is a feature that shouldn’t add any cost to your website but is important to think about when looking to have a new website designed.
Is it Easy to Find Information on Your Website?
I was recently on the very expensive website of a very large church and wanted to find the sermons page. It probably took more than a minute to find them (and I look at church websites all the time). This might not seem like that long until we realize that the average visitor will only stay on a page for 8 seconds. (Kissmetrics blog) If they can’t quickly find what they want, they are off to another website.
The navigation structure of your website is part of what web designers call user experience. Church leadership, many times, will talk about ways to make visitors welcome and many will have greeters at the front door. The church website has been called the new front door and we need to make sure that our website visitors feel welcomed instead of frustrated.
Is Your Website Mobile Friendly?
When Steve Jobs (Former Apple CEO) introduced smart phones to the world in 2007, the web design/development community struggled with ways to display web pages effectively on multiple screen sizes. Many design firms began making 2 or more websites for their clients – one for each screen size the website may be viewed on.
The industry has now come to a consensus that mobile responsive web design is the best way to handle the many screen sizes that are now available. What this means is that only one website is necessary and that website will “fold up” and be attractive and fully functional on every screen size. We see church websites all the time and are amazed at the number that still are not mobile responsive. This is not a “luxury” anymore. Your website visitors (especially the younger ones) will expect your website to look good and work well on their mobile device. This is another one of many ways to make that all important good “first impression”.
All of the basic principles mentioned above are things we include on all of the small church websites we design at no extra cost. If they are in place, will your church be guaranteed to grow? No – church growth is like a puzzle, with the website being one of the pieces. Even if all the pieces are in place, sometimes growth doesn’t happen as we want. The one guarantee we do have, however, is that if your website doesn’t have the basics in place, many potential visitors will never step foot in the door. When these basic principles are followed, they can be a tremendous help in getting people to your church. We look at many church websites and ironically, some of the things that can help a small church become a larger church, are either missing or so hard to find that visitors just move on to the next website.
Today, people have the luxury, through a website, of knowing a lot about your church before ever entering the doors. You’ll want to give them the important information so they can decide if your church seems like a good fit for them.
The company that builds your church website should be one that is intimately familiar with the needs of churches. The start to getting people to your church is not a lot of fancy expensive features, but to make sure the basics are in place and your website is current. We not only have a professional interest in church websites, but are lifelong church attenders ourselves and have a passion for seeing people be able to find out what it’s like to have a personal relationship with God. We want to see your church grow because of this passion.
Small church websites can be a great tool in the growth of a congregation. But for this to be effective, you need a professional looking, well functioning, and easy to navigate website. We can give you all of that.
One last word from us: we would be happy to help your church share your message with your community and help those who need you to find you. Let’s work together to grow God’s kingdom!