10 Ways to Take Your Church Website to the Next Level!

1. A CLEAR CALL TO ACTION

Here’s something you may not have considered: What is the first thing you want people to do when they visit your website? That’s what they should see first. Beyond that, there should be a clear path to that action. Some examples for a good call to action might be:

1. We’re saving a seat for you. Clear path: a link to directions, or what to expect.
2. Plan a visit. Clear path: a link to a campus map and voucher for a free gift.
3. Register for VBS. Clear path: a signup form or a link to the signup page.
4. Sign up for our newsletter. Clear path: email form or link to the signup page.

Here are a few things you may want to avoid:

1. Sliders They tend to overwhelm people with information. They either offer too many calls to action, or they just give information that’s useless. In fact, I’ve seen several church sites that have default images they use when they don’t have enough on the calendar to fill up the slider.
2. A stock image People visit your website to find out about YOUR church.
3. “Welcome” This is often presented in several ways: “Welcome to our site”, “Thanks for visiting”, “We hope you find what you’re looking for”… I would compare this to a visitor walking into your church, receiving a welcome, then being left to find their own way. It sounds great, but it’s more of a challenge than a call to action. To a website visitor, it sounds like: “We got you on our website, good luck finding what you’re looking for!”

2. REAL PICTURES

People who visit your website expect to see REAL PICTURES of what your church looks like. Stock photos won’t cut it. If you have to hire a local photographer to come to take pictures of your next big service, do it! Here are a few things people want to see:

1. A wide shot of the building or campus –What’s the first thing they’ll see when they visit?
2. The auditorium or worship center during a service –How are people dressed, how big is the church?
3. The nursery and children’s ministries –How are they going to treat my children? What do they have to offer them?
4. Friendly faces –Do I need to explain this? You’d be surprised what comes to someone’s mind when they think of church.

Things to avoid:

1. Detail shots –Nobody visits your website to see a close up of the communion table. You may have an entire library of bible shots, again, not needed here.
2. Dark images –Sometimes it’s hard to get a picture that’s properly exposed, especially in a church. Hire a pro if you have to!
3. Children, without permission –Don’t get me wrong, you want pictures of happy children. But some parents don’t feel comfortable with pictures of their children posted on your website. Just make sure you have permission!
4. Old pictures –Assign someone in the church to take pictures regularly, then make sure they’re on your website!

3. A STAFF DIRECTORY WITH PROFESSIONAL PHOTOS

Visitors and members will both find this section of your website helpful. I almost didn’t include this, but so many people skip it or leave it unfinished. Make sure you remember these things:

1. Matching pictures –Don’t take the pastor’s picture in a studio and the youth pastor’s picture in a field.
2. Contact information –It doesn’t have to be a personal cell phone, but an email is a great place to start.
3. Title and brief job description
4. Personal bio –This is where that Bible College degree pays off! It goes in the bio. List their children or grandchildren. Tell people how much they love homemade cookies. This isn’t just a bio, it’s a personal bio.

Things to avoid:

1. Submitted photos –I know your church secretary has that one picture she uses for EVERYTHING. It’s 8 years old and she was a few pounds lighter. It won’t work.
2. Mismatched emails –Invest in email addresses @yourwebsite.com. Follow the same structure for every email. First name @yourwebsite.com is great! First initial, last name @yourwebsite.com works fine too!
3. Mismatched bios — “Pastor has been married to Vicky for 36 years, they have 11 children and 24 grandchildren. He loves Starbucks, no-bake brownies and long walks on the beach.” vs “Edna, Secretary, 8 cats”

4. LIVE CHAT

Churches are notorious for being impossible to get in touch with! A live chat isn’t something that I see a lot of churches embracing, but it’s easier than it’s ever been and it could really set you apart! You can set a live chat to send a message to a visitor after they’ve been on your website for a set amount of time, and you’ll get a push notification if they send you a message from your website. This can really add a personal touch to your website.
Here are 5 free chat services worth looking into, in no particular order:

5. A WELCOME VIDEO

A welcome video on your homepage is a great way for people to feel like they’ve met you, before they’ve ever even been to your church! This is your chance to make a great first impression. According to a recent study done by Mist Media, a visitor spends 88% more time on a website that has a video, and according to analyst Dr. James McQuivey, a one minute video has the same value as 1.8 million words.

Hiring a professional is always worth it, but making a welcome video is easier than you think!
Here are a few tips:

1. Good audio, this is a must. Before you even start to think about video, make sure you have the best audio you can possibly get.
• A lapel mic is best, a shotgun is great too.
• If you film in a high traffic area, eliminate traffic or don’t film there.
• Using the mic built into the camera should be a last resort, but if you must, don’t get too far from the camera.
2. Include the Pastor, even if he’s not ‘good on camera’. It may surprise you how often I’ve seen a website welcome video, done by the Youth Pastor, starring the Youth Pastor. That’s a great start, but a visitor wants to hear from the Pastor!
3. Soft lighting, not just light, soft light! I imagine the conversation goes something like this: “It’s to dark in here, let’s go outside” and the resulting video is a pastor sweating and squinting into the camera, standing in direct sunlight. If you go outside, standing in a shadow is best. Inside: Soft, direct light.
4. Short runtime, aim for about 90 seconds. Only your mother will watch the 5-minute version, and she already goes to your church.
5. Positive language, don’t tell them what your church DOESN’T do. Don’t tell them what they WON’T find. Tell them what your church does, what they’ll find, and why they should come!
6. Hard sell, this is your chance to invite them to your church! Don’t blow it with “We hope you’ll consider giving us a visit.” INVITE THEM TO YOUR CHURCH. “Join us this week, we’ve saved you a seat!” “I’ll see you Sunday!”

Things to avoid:

1. Shaky video USE A TRIPOD. If you don’t have one, set the camera down on something.
2. Wide Angles It might look really cool to have the church sign in the shot or even the entire building, but that’s not for this video. This is a personal welcome. The most important visual here is a human face.
3. Bad lights You can get a video light on Amazon for around $30. Use a video light or daylight (through a window is fine). Otherwise, your video can look very warm or yellow. This is usually a white balance issue, often times, a good light source will fix the problem.
4. Church Talk A welcome video isn’t the time to explain blood atonement or why you don’t believe in transubstantiation. You really just want to scratch the surface of what your church does and leave them wanting to come and see it for themselves! I realize that there are “church people” that want to know what version of the bible you use and what color your hymn books are, but they’ll find that in another section of your website.

BONUS TIP: The thumbnail matters! Choose a thumbnail that will make people want to watch!

6. EMAIL SIGNUP

This is something that churches are simply overlooking. An email list isn’t a replacement for anything, but it also can’t be replaced. Mail postcards, post content on social media, invite people face to face, but build an email list.  Here’s why:

1. Mailings cost money, sending emails is free, and they make it to your inbox faster. An email can compliment a mailing very nicely. Emails also contain a call to action that is, well, actionable. You can’t ‘click here’ on a mailing.
2. Social media doesn’t reach everyone. I recently heard someone say that relying on social media to get your message out is like building a house on rented land. Nearly all of the major players in social media now control what is seen and what isn’t, based on their own algorithms.
3. Emails give you a point of contact. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll get a website visitor to give you a phone number or address. Not everyone will give you an email, but it is far more likely, especially if you offer them something. (i.e. “Give us your email and we’ll send you voucher for a free coffee in our coffee shop” or “For every email that registers for our newsletter we send $1 to help [insert local charity]) Now you can make a second effort to get them to your church. Maybe they visited your website in February and never made it to your church, send out an email reminding your entire email list about Easter.

Things to avoid:

1. One list If a visitor gives you their email, they don’t want to be added to your prayer chain. Make sure that website sign ups don’t go to the same list as regular members.
2. Sign up sheets Don’t put a signup sheet at the back of the auditorium and ask people to signup for your email list, if they won’t go to your website and do it, they probably don’t check their email anyway.
3. Spam Don’t start sending out daily emails to a new subscriber.

Here are a few email management solutions that you may want to look into. Any one of these will give you a place to manage your emails as well as make sure the emails you send look their best.

MailChimp.com
Mailerlite.com
SendinBlue.com
myMail (WordPress plugin)

7. ONLINE GIVING

If you have millennials attending your church and you only accept cash or check, I promise you’re offerings are lower than they could be. Instead of frustrating members and visitors that don’t carry cash or checks, offer a way for them to give online. When people are given the opportunity to give, often times, they will. Here are some online giving platforms you’ll love:

8. TYPOGRAPHY

It’s not 2008 anymore, you can have more than one typeface on your website now! With the rebirth of flat designs and the popularity of minimalism, typography now has a starring role in web design! Here are some great examples of typography on church website:

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Things to avoid:

1. Too many fonts Pick a 2 or 3 fonts that compliment each other and don’t use any others.
2. Too much text Typography is great for big, bold titles, or even smaller subtitles. But for a paragraph, you need to use a font that’s easy to read.
3. Not enough contrast Take note of the examples above. All of the images have an overlay or adjustment designed to create contrast. Make sure the text is easy to read.
4. Papyrus and Scriptina I’m begging you. Don’t use these fonts.

9. ICONS

If you can, use icons instead of text for links. You could even use icons to complement the text. Icons give people a great visual, and we’re already used to seeing icons on our phones every day. Notice in the examples below how icons are being used and consider what it would look like with text instead of an icon.

_icon _icon2

Here are some places you can find some really great, free icons:

10. DOMAIN NAME

Your domain name is a big deal! It needs to be something that’s short, clear, and easy to remember. When I got out of bible college, I joined a church staff and took on the responsibility of helping with their website. We chose a domain that was thirty letters long, before you even typed the suffix. Just sending me an email could cause tendonitis. Some things to consider when choosing your domain name:

1. LengthThis is a domain name, not a doctrinal statement. Consider removing your denominational affiliation or the word church. You may just want to use your city name and the word church, or just use your church name without the word church.
2. KeywordsIf possible, try to include the words that people may search for, in your domain name. This is one example where your city name and the word church is perfect!
3. NumbersNumbers in a domain name are a bad idea, it creates confusion about whether to type the number or the word. But if you must, be sure to secure both domains, firstbaptist.suffix and 1stbaptist.suffix
4. HyphensHyphens and underscores are also something you’ll want to stay away from.
5. WordsAvoid confusing or easily misspelled words. Here’s something I’ve learned, most Americans don’t know how to spell the word ‘shepherd’. Along these same lines, don’t start removing vowels in order to find the domain you want or shorten the one you have. Flickr.com eventually had to purchase flicker.com. It’s never a good idea to create new spellings to fit your domain name.

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, what are some things I’m missing? I’d love to hear some other great ideas!

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