Creating a website

The front door of your church is no longer a wood or metal structure that allows entry to a building. Instead, it is the church’s website, which allows people to see the ministry opportunities, inclusiveness and activities of the congregation in the community it serves.

Think about how you shop for any number of products these days. We rarely go to the store to look around, touch and examine a product. Instead, we research it online and then either order the item or, only then, go to the store to make the purchase.

Church in the 21st century is much like the shopping experience, with people seeking a faith community and studying it first by examining your digital front door before even considering whether they will set foot through the actual door.

At Minimum

United Methodist Communications offers a free service called “Find-A-Church.”  This service allows a church to designate someone – a pastor, a lay leader or other volunteer in the congregation – to update their church’s profile. This basic feature builds a rudimentary web listing with the following key pieces of information:

  • Worship times
  • Sunday school times
  • Average worship attendance
  • Website (if the church has one)
  • Church’s email address
  • Church’s phone number
  • A map to help people locate the church

Again, this is the minimum. It is highly recommended that churches have a website (not just a Facebook page) to help reach people in their communities.

 

Must-Haves for Your Website

All websites should have key elements that give people every opportunity to find something to entice them to visit your church for worship or mission activities. Here are some points to consider for your church website.

Home Page

This is the very front of the digital door of your church. It’s important to make a good first impression and to provide the information people are most likely to want to know:

  • Worship times – A link may provide a portal to more information, but put your worship times explicitly on your home page.
  • Location – Put your address somewhere on the home page. Again, more information can be provided via links to other pages, but put the location explicitly on your home page.
  • Welcome – Include a photo and a brief welcome message from your pastor. This allows a guest to immediately recognize someone should he or she choose to visit your church, and it provides a personal statement that hopefully shows the guest a little bit about the congregation’s spiritual leader. Three to four sentences is plenty.
  • Navigation – Just how much, and to what kind of content, is up to each church. In general, it’s a good idea to have links to interior pages about Sunday school and/or Bible studies, mission projects of the church, a calendar of events and links to social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

Think Inclusion

It sounds obvious, but far too often, church websites are written for the people who are already there instead of the people we are trying to reach. So avoid acronyms. Use complete names. And put everything on the calendar. Don’t assume that just because choir practice has been at 7 p.m. Tuesday night for decades that everyone knows that piece of information.

Sermons

If you record the sermon each week – either on video or via audio for a podcast – provide a space for an archive of those sermons. You never know how sermons from months and months ago may touch someone who is seeking Christ at any given moment.

If you aren’t recording sermons now, please consider doing so. Video is best because it gives a person a chance to “test drive” the church by seeing what happens during the sermon. But audio is a good option for many churches.

Visuals

It’s best to showcase the activities of your church online, but also to pay attention to sensitivities regarding images of children and vulnerable adults. In general, seek permission from parents prior to posting images of minors.

Too often, churches use images of their church building as the primary images on their websites. But that practice is just showing a potential guest something they can see by driving by the property. Instead, showcase activities of the church, hopefully by using photos of people already in target demographics for your congregation so people see others like them already as part of the congregation.

Resolution is so good on most mobile phones these days that even these images work well on a website, but high-resolution photos taken with a standard camera are best. If you don’t already, ask your lay leadership committee to consider having a historian who will take photos of events at the church so you have these images for promotion on your website and for other purposes later. Remember, seek permission before photographing minors.

Do you need other photos and videos? United Methodist Communications and other agencies within the denomination have photos and videos they share for free. Some examples are:

Photos
Videos
Great Plains Conference

United Methodist Churches and extension ministries may use any of the photos or videos posted to our sites and archives.

 

Content Generation

One key element to a good website is timeliness. Put simply: Information has to be updated. A potential guest finding outdate material on a website is an invitation for him or her to look elsewhere.

But how do you keep the website fresh and new? Successful churches in the Great Plains have many methods of maintaining their websites, but three seem to be fairly prevalent:

A champion – As this seems to indicate, this model involves one person being responsible for the website and taking full ownership in making sure everything from the home pages to the change in times for the memorial committee meetings are accounted for. This model can be highly effective because it is clear who is responsible for updating content on the site. The drawback is the site becomes outdated quickly when that person is on an extended vacation, falls ill or moves away.

Team approach – As the words indicate, this is a group of three to no more than five people responsible for various aspects of the website. One person may be responsible for the home page and the calendar, for example, while another updates the missions page and another person takes care of the UMW page. This group should meet regularly to review the site and to ensure that content is up to date. It’s a good idea to cross-train, so though a person may be responsible for updating the Sunday school page, for example, he or she can help with the home page when that person is away for any reason.

Committee pages – A third option is to have one webmaster who physically makes updates to content, but committee chairs or a person designated by a committee works with the webmaster to make sure the changes are made. For example, a change to a missions page would entail the missions or outreach committee designate to provide the content to the webmaster and then follow-up to ensure the material actually was updated on the website.

 

Getting Started / Web Hosting

The first thing you have to do once you’ve decided to launch a church website is to find a host and the software to build the site. There almost as many options as there are churches. Some things to consider:

  • Cost – Is it easier for the church to have a larger upfront cost and a minimal monthly payment? Or is it better to pay a little more each month to avoid a larger upfront fee? Different services have different billing practices, so it’s important to know your church’s situation and to seek out companies that fit your financial reality.
  • Who will administer the page – As we shared in the previous section, know whether one person or a team of people will be handing the website.
  • How the page will be administered – Will this site be updated only from the church office? Will people need access to update it from home or elsewhere? The answer to those questions further help you define your church’s realities.

While there are plenty of options for web hosts, the following are companies and organizations with which we have had positive relationships and have seen good results. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list, and you should not feel obligated to select only from this list for your church’s needs.

  • United Methodist Communications – This service of UMCOM provides a WordPress-environment site and provides several price tiers depending on how sophisticated you want your site to appear.
  • UMC Word Press – This ministry started with the unification of the Great Plains Conference. This also provides WordPress-environment sites but features more one-on-one and group-learning customer service from a person who lives and serves within the conference boundaries.
  • Aboundant – This WordPress-environment site feature many templates and themes and is a ministry of a United Methodist deacon from the Iowa Conference.
  • Brick River – This company from the East Coast serves many United Methodist conferences, including the Great Plains, and offers an option for local churches.

 

Recording Sermons

One often-overlooked opportunity for evangelism in the 21st century is the recording and archiving of sermons. Video provides the best option for grabbing a potential guest’s attention, but don’t underestimate the power audio can have as well.

Video

Watch for an instructional video coming soon on key elements for recording video of sermons each week during worship.

Audio / Podcasts

The Rev. Ben Hanne, campus minister at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, assists with podcasts during General Conference and graciously agreed to record a video with basic how-to information on creating podcasts in your church.

Embed link to https://vimeo.com/263588228.