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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
United Methodist Churches and extension ministries may use any of the photos or videos posted to our sites and archives.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Watch for an instructional video coming soon on key elements for recording video of sermons each week during worship.
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.