Church Websites Part #2 – Sustainability (setting realistic goals)

If you weren’t already, we hope that by now you’re absolutely convinced of your church’s need to not simply have an active website, but a website that strategically caters to the specific audiences who visit your site. A website that gives relevant, clear, uncluttered, accessible information in the hope that many will join your church community. Sounds exciting, right? But the problem is, this kind of website is not created overnight. Many hours of thought, planning, writing and rewriting (and re-rewriting!) goes into making this kind of website a reality. Which is all well and good for a church with the capacity to employ a full-time web designer and manager. But given that the average size of an Australian church congregation is 60-70 people (with almost identical statistics coming out of America), there’s every chance that your church doesn’t have an employee able to commit themselves solely to this mammoth task, and instead, the role of website builder has been given to a multi-tasking staff member, a lay-person or volunteer team with some knowledge of websites and technology, or maybe a dedicated, servant-hearted church member with very little idea of how to go about making this website happen. Whoever it is driving this project, our experience of working with churches tells us that this person is time-poor, has multiple endeavours happening simultaneously, has deadlines approaching, and is still trying hard to maintain a healthy work/life balance and keeping a close watch on their own relationship with God. It’s a tough gig, but we’re so glad you’ve jumped on for the ride, and we’re going to do all we can to help you get there!

In the last module we looked at the three main audience groups your website needs to cater for (Brand New, Interested and Committed, plus those few extra website components that benefit the “Capital C” Universal Church). We also began listing sections of your website that specifically cater to the needs and interests of each of those audience groups (keeping in mind that these three categories of people are not rigid structures, but helpful guidelines. There will always be overlap, and information written for one audience group may well be helpful for someone who falls in a different category).

Now, we’re going to list those sections below, doing our best to demonstrate some degree of “order of importance”. Again, this is not a rigid workflow – it’s a rough guide. Just think of it in terms of:

  • Things listed toward the top of each category are very important and without these things, the website may as well not exist
  • Things around the middle of each category are quite important, so once your website is live, get to these things as soon as you can
  • Things toward the end of each category are important, but the website can function without them

Each church is different, with different ministries, different strategies, different contexts and different focuses. So read what we say, consider whether it’s right for your own church, and make your own judgment call. This is just a guide.

Along with our rough “order of importance”, we’ve also used a Star Rating System to represent two things. The first rating is the Initial Time Factor. This demonstrates how long it’s likely to take to get that section of your website planned, composed and up-and-running. Quick and easy tasks get one or two stars, and long, involved processes get four and five stars. Simple, right? And the second rating is the Ongoing Factor. The connectedness/headspace/assertiveness/proactivity required to keep that section of your website accurate, active, correct and helpful. Set-and-forget sections of your website that are unlikely to need any changing or alteration in the foreseeable future get one star. Sections of your website that need regular, ongoing updating or maintenance get four or five. Make sense?

So with all this in mind, here is a list of every section, element or component that your church website could potentially contain, along with some guidelines from us in terms of how important they are, how time-consuming they are, and whether they’re an ongoing commitment or a one-off undertaking. From this, our hope is that you can make your own decisions about what you choose to tackle for your own church’s website.

Audience Category: Brand New

1. Service times and location

Initial Time Factor: *
Ongoing Factor: *

2. Directions, map, parking information

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: *

3. Contact Information

Initial Time Factor: *
Ongoing Factor: *

4. Information about kids’ programs during church (including safety policies)

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: **

5. What you believe

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: *

6. Your staff/ministry team

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: **

7. Frequently Asked Questions

Initial Time Factor: ****
Ongoing Factor: *

8. Welcome message from Lead Pastor

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: *

9. Your affiliations/networks

Initial Time Factor: *
Ongoing Factor: *

 

Audience Category: Interested

Initial Time Factor: *****
Ongoing Factor: **

It’s planning for this category of people that uses up the most writing time. Basically, everything your church has on offer, other than your Sunday Gathering, is listed here. Your Youth Group, Kids’ Club, Seniors Group, Men’s events, Women’s Ministry, Craft Group, Social Clubs, Mid-Week Bible Study Groups, Newcomers Meet-Ups, Play Groups, anything other than your regular, weekly church service should be identified here. It could be as simple as a basic description of each Ministry with dates, times and a contact number, or each ministry area could have its own page, complete with photos, videos, a welcome message from the ministry leader, a contact form, and downloads.

Rather than listing each potential mid-week ministry your church may offer, we’re going to treat this category as a complete entity, realising that some churches will have more to write about than others. But as a whole, publishing content for your “Interested” audience is time consuming. You’ll start off by listing everything your church offers, breaking it up into sections (eg, Kids, Teens, Christian Growth, Social, etc), then producing a “write-up” for each of these ministries. You could do it yourself, but we suggest sharing this task with other staff or volunteers in your church. Ideally, you’ll ask the leader of each ministry area to do their own write-up, related to their specific ministry. But if you do this, remember to be clear on your time constraints. If you need this write-up back by a particular date, remember to communicate that! It’s also a good idea to communicate the importance of consistency to all your authors. We’ll discuss this more later, but basically it’s just about making sure everyone’s voice sounds consistent. It can be distracting navigating through a website that has so clearly been produced by different authors. Stark changes in writing style and language, or a jarring shift between formal and informal writing from page to page is going to come across as annoying at best, and unprofessional at worst. But more on this later…

Writing web content for people that have visited your church a few times and are keen to get more involved in the community is hard work, but it’s so worth it! Not only will it mean people are more aware of what happens in the life of your church, it will engage them and make it easier for them to take that next step of commitment. Plus, this kind of written content generally only needs to be written once. You may need to make tweaks here and there, when leaders change, if the day or time is altered, or the ministry starts operating in a new way, but once the bulk of the work is done, it’s done for good.

Having said that, it is possible for your church website to exist without including any of this information. Granted your website won’t be as comprehensive or engaging as if it did include ministry-specific information, but at the end of the day, if you have a nice website that clearly shows the time, meeting place and overview of your weekly Church Services, newcomers still have enough to go on. They’ll still visit your church. But it’s important to set the goal of including this type of written content aimed at return-visitors who are interested in exploring more about your church life, because without it, you’re missing out on potential engagement from people who may end up becoming some of the core members of your church.

 

Audience Category: Committed

1. How to Give

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: *

2. Why to Give

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: *

3. Special Church Events (camps, festivals, prayer nights, mission events, etc)

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: *****

4. Volunteer Opportunities

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: *

5. Rosters

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: ***

6. Community needs/opportunities/offers/events

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: ****

 

Audience Category: Universal Church

1. Who is Jesus? (Gospel explanation)

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: *

2. Sermons

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: ***

3. Church Blog

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: ***

4. Recommended Resources/Links

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: *

 

Making a Plan

Now that we’ve listed (almost) everything that your church website could potentially contain, it’s time to make a plan.

This Prioritised Page Lists Worksheet will help you decide what elements of your website you’re going to work on immediately so that your site can go live, what elements you’re keen to include and will be added to the site whenever they’re ready, and the web elements that you’re happy to exclude for now but might come back to them later.

There are no rules when it comes to deciding what to include and exclude when you’re starting a church website from scratch, but we recommend including all (or most) of the elements listed for the Brand New audience category. After that, you can decide what you will tackle straight away and what you’ll leave until later (or never!).

As an example, here’s a plan we wrote up for a fictional church with about 70 weekly attendees and around 120 people total. They run Sunday School during their morning service, a youth group on Fridays, a kids’ club each January and a monthly Men’s Breakfast. There are three Bible Study groups that meet in homes on Wednesday nights. Other events also pop up here and there.

See sample Prioritised Page Lists Worksheet

 

A final word on Events…

Over the years we’ve seen churches put on some amazing events. Events for women, men, kids, youth, Christmas, Easter, camps, conferences, Family Fun Days, festivals, music concerts, exhibitions, prayer nights, vision nights, and more. Events are great. They create a buzz in the church, they generate momentum amongst the people – we love special events! But the strange thing we’ve found is it’s often really hard to effectively promote these church events. No matter how hard churches push to make their event known, there always seem to be people who didn’t know it was happening. Perhaps they got to church late, perhaps they didn’t check their email, perhaps they lost the brochure – whatever the reasons, promoting church events somehow seems to be such a stressful task!

But be wary of using your Church Website as a solution to Event Promotion. It’s not that your website is a bad way to promote church events. In fact, your church website is a great place to advertise and promote your one-off events. An Events Calendar on your website is a great idea! The problem is, it takes a huge degree of commitment to ensure that calendar remains up-to-date. Here are a couple of scenarios that can arise from a mismanaged Calendar of Events page:

There are no events happening

The fact of the matter is that for some churches, especially smaller churches, there just aren’t any events to advertise. If your church doesn’t have the resources to be putting on semi-frequent events, there’s no need to advertise that fact by displaying an empty Calendar page. If you don’t have any events coming up to fill your calendar, don’t display a calendar in the first place.

Old events fill up the page

If you’re using our Events Plugin to display your events, this won’t apply to you as your website will only display events coming up in the future, but if your events are simply listed on a page, there needs to be someone actively working to ensure only future events are listed. Your audience will tire very quickly of visiting the Events page on your website only to find events that have already happened.

No one posts the upcoming event

This is perhaps the biggest reason why I warn churches to think very carefully about creating an Events Page on their website. Think about how your church is currently promoting events and happenings in the life of your church. It’s probably some combination of a weekly printed bulletin/newsletter, a news email, a Service Leader who announces events from the front during the service, brochures distributed at the door or on seats, an announcement video, and Social Media posts. The same process that goes with publishing a weekly bulletin or email newsletter is required to maintaining an up-to-date Events Webpage. Unless you have someone who really owns that page, and is committed to seeing it updated and accurate, events will get missed, be incorrect, or the Calendar Page will be completely empty due to no one updating it.

We think that when it comes to promoting events, churches need to go one of two ways: either commit to using a Calendar Webpage properly, by appointing someone to be aware of all upcoming events and monitor the Calendar of Events page weekly, or don’t have a Calendar Page at all. It’s totally fine to exclude a Calendar Page from your website! Remember – these special, one-off events are generally targeted at those who already attend your church! They’re already hearing about these events on Sundays, receiving bulletins or email newsletters, getting brochures in their hands as they enter the church and maybe even receiving SMS, Facebook or Instagram updates. The church website isn’t primarily aimed at your regular attendees anyway, so there’s not too much harm in saving your website for those who aren’t yet regularly attending your church. But if you do have someone in your church who is dedicated to maintaining your church calendar page, then that’s fantastic! It will be a real asset to your church website. But just be aware that the “Ongoing Factor” of maintaining a Special Events Calendar Page on your site received 5 stars – that’s high time commitment!

 

Ready to start actually planning your website? Go to Module #3.

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