Church Websites Part #1 – Know Your Audience (and how to engage them)

The internet has varying ideas as to how long the average user remains on a website. Some studies tell us that the majority of web users only stay browsing a website for 15 seconds unless something captures their attention. Other studies are a little more generous, bumping up user engagement length to 59 seconds. This article claims you only have 10 precious seconds to capture your user’s interest before they move onto another website.

We may never know the true statistic, but one thing we know for certain is that it is absolutely imperative that all product and service websites, including church websites, capture their audience immediately.

If the user finds the web page irrelevant to them, difficult to navigate, too slow, too boring, to fake, too cheesy, not what they were expecting, they’ll probably leave the page in under one minute.

So what does this mean for churches as we build our church websites?

We need to think very carefully about the design and structure of our church’s website to make sure the content we present is relevant to the user, easy for them to find the information they want, visually appealing, and a truthful reflection of what we are offering. But to do this, we first need to define our audience and know what they’re looking for.

When it comes to church websites, we are looking at three main audience groups:

  • Brand New
  • Interested
  • Committed

Brand New

These people have never set foot in your building before. They probably don’t even know where to find your building. They might not know what time your church services begin. They may have heard about you from a friend, passed your sign on the street, or found you on a search engine. They’re not yet interested in your Men’s Retreat or Seniors Group. They don’t need to know about joining a mid-week Bible Study Group. They certainly are not interested in signing up to join the hospitality team or auditioning for the band.

This is the information they’re looking for, and if they don’t find it in under a minute, statistics tell us they’ll probably leave your site:

  • Service times & location
  • Directions, map, parking information
  • Information about kids’ programs during church
  • What you believe
  • Who you’re affiliated with
  • Contact information
  • The names and photos of your staff/ministry team
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Welcome message from Lead Pastor

Basically, they want to know the same things you would want to know if you were visiting a place for the very first time. What time should I arrive? Is there lots of parking? Will I have to pay anything? Is there food? What do I do with my baby/kid/teenager? I’m not a Christian – can I still come along? Will I be asked to do anything? To read more about the kinds of questions first-time visitors ask about a church, see this Blog Post or this Blog Post.

Now, this may seem like a lot of content to be written, because it is! Building a church website intentionally designed for its audience takes a lot of time, a lot of thought, and a lot of typing! But don’t be disheartened! Not all of this content needs to appear overnight. Start small, only take on what your church can handle with the people and resources available. As your website grows, as more content is written, as your site provides more and more relevant, accessible information, it’s only going to keep getting better.

A little later we’ll look at the topic of sustainability, which is all about making sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew! We’ll show you all the elements, information and content that your site could potentially contain, then help you strategically decide what you want to tackle first, and help you make a plan to make your website grow. But for now, let’s take a look at your next audience group: those who are interested.

Interested

These people have probably visited your church service once or twice. Hopefully, they like what they see! They know when you meet on a Sunday and they know how to find you. Assuming they enjoyed the Sunday Service, they may start becoming more interested in other aspects in the life of your church. Do you run an after-school kids’ club? A youth group? A craft group? A men’s/women’s/seniors group?

The “interested” audience want to find out how they can connect with your church. Communication is absolutely vital. This is a precious opportunity to make sure those who are new to your church don’t stay new – connect them, get them plugged in, use your website to funnel these interested people into communities who will embrace them, love them, serve them and send them out to be disciples.

Those who are interested in your church want to know about:

  • Mid week groups (kids, youth, seniors, etc)
  • Events especially designed to connect new people into the life of the church
  • Bible study groups/Growth Groups
  • Contact details for specific ministry areas

Creating web page content for the Interested audience is a great time to rally others on board. Ask your Youth Pastor to write a short website spiel about your Youth Group. Find someone with a knack for photography to spend a week or two gathering shots of each of your ministries. Ask around for some one or two sentence “testimonials” from people attending your mid-week events.

Creating content for this audience group is lots of fun. It’s an exciting time where you can really showcase all God is doing in the life of your church. Keep reading to learn about how to cater for our final church website audience group, or click here to be taken to a Template Guide for creating a Mid-Week Ministry Web Page.

Committed

These people are no longer new. They’re family. Maybe they’ve been coming for a month and they’re convinced this is the church for them. Maybe they’ve been attending on and off for the last six months and they’re ready to make a commitment. Maybe they’ve been receiving spiritual input from your church and they’ve become convicted to up their level of involvement. It’s not so much about the length of time they’ve spent in your church community, but rather about them choosing to identify themselves as a part of your church. The hope is that these people are attending church regularly, involved in your church culture, serving in a ministry area, and giving generously. For this reason, the kind of info your website needs to provide for this audience involves:

  • How to give
  • Why we should give
  • Special church events (camps, festivals, prayer nights, mission events, etc)
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Rosters
  • Community needs/opportunities/offers/events

This information needs to be easy to find, but not too easy! We don’t want to overwhelm first-time visitors to your website by bombarding them with “Sign up to serve!” and “Download latest roster”, but at the same time, regular attendees at your church can’t be expected to go on a wild goose chase to find out if they’re serving on Morning Tea this Sunday.

We need to think carefully about where we place this information on our church websites. One idea is to place links to this information in your bottom navigation, reserving your top menu items to relate primarily to first-time visitors. Perhaps you place a Search box in an easily accessible place so that users can quickly find whatever they need, without cluttering your prominent navigation menu. If your website takes advantage of the “long scroll” trend we’re seeing in many websites at the moment, perhaps you can save one of the last content boxes for those committed churchgoers who are looking for very specific information about rosters, serving, community needs and giving details. How you go about it is up to you, but it’s important to make sure this info is included on your website, even if it’s a little more hidden.

One bonus “audience group” to consider…

“Capital C” Church

There’s one last group we need to consider when it comes to our church websites. Let’s categorise this as a bit of a “side group”, because when we write content for this audience, it also benefits the three groups we’ve already discussed.

Looking back at all we’ve covered so far in terms of what we include on our church website, it’s clear that all the thinking we’ve done really only benefits our own church. It’s all about steering people into our church’s doors, engaging them into our church community, and empowering them to contribute to our church’s ministry. And this is what we should be doing! If we believe in the vision of our church, then we should be using our website to get other people on board!

But we know that when Jesus returns and takes his people home, it won’t just be my church or your church worshipping Jesus for eternity. It will be the universal, global, corporate, complete “Capital C” Church gathered together under King Jesus. And this is the case even now! We are not laboring for Jesus in isolation – God has made each local church to be ministering alongside and amongst the Global Church, all with a common purpose of seeing Jesus glorified. And we can contribute to that common purpose using our website! When we use our website to train and equip Christians globally through publishing blog and sermon content, and when we use our website for evangelism, by giving a clear explanation of who Jesus is, what he’s come to do, and what’s on offer for those who turn to him, we benefit not only our own local church, but the Church world wide.

This is why we think it’s a great idea for all churches to include these last three components on their church website. They will not only work to grow and equip your own church members and potentially bring not-yet-Christians into your community – they will benefit, bless and contribute to the efforts of the Church globally.

  • Blogs
  • Who is Jesus – gospel explanation
  • Sermons
  • Recommended resources/Links

Christians all over the world can learn and grow through blog articles produced by your church. By making your sermons available online, you not only assist your own church members who missed a service, you make it possible for this message to be heard across the world. These three elements on your church website are not only important for your the equipping, training and evangelism at your own church, but is a blessing to the Church globally.

A word on categorising your audience…

Now that we’ve done a LOT of thinking about who is using our website, what they’re looking for, and how our website can be tailored to suit each audience’s specific needs, it’s important to make a note about the language we use on the public end of our website. It’s one thing to use the language of “Brand New”, “Interested” and “Committed” when we plan, strategise and write. But it’s another thing to publicly label the users of your church website. No one wants to be “put in a box”. And as I’m sure you’ve seen or experienced already, there is quite a high degree of overlap between these three categories. They’re not rigid structures – they’re helpful guidelines. Someone who’s visiting for the first time may well be interested in what’s on offer mid-week. Someone who’s attended your church only once may still like to attend your men’s retreat. Someone who’s been regularly attending, giving and serving for years may only recently have decided to join a weeknight Bible Study Group.

Rather than using words like “Interested” and “Committed” on your website (we think “Brand New” could still be a good phrase to use publicly!), try this kind of language:

  • Next Steps
  • Connect
  • Grow
  • Church Life
  • Our Community
  • Get On Board
  • Partner With Us
  • Get Equipped
  • What We Do

Brainstorm! We’d love to see your ideas about using words and headings to bring your audience into the depths of your website!

Ready to start thinking about what to include on your own church website? Go to Module #2.

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