There are lots of articles out there identifying the best church websites.
But here’s a twist…
For many years, Outreach Magazine and Lifeway Research have compiled an annual report documenting the top 100 fastest growing churches in the United States. These reports contain fantastic insight into the features and assimilation practices of America’s largest churches.
Based on this report, the Church Hacks team has examined the best church websites of the top 100 fastest growing churches to bring you our perspective on the best website practices and features being utilized by these churches.
The great news is, you don’t have to run hundreds and thousands in attendance across multiple church campuses to have a great, effective website. A church of any size with any budget can employ the website features we highlight in this post!
Here’s how we graded the websites:
Design: Is it dated, or cutting edge?
Navigation: Is the main menu long and intimidating (more than 1 tier) or compact and simple?
Layout: Is the layout cluttered and confusing, or open and minimalist?
Core: How easy is it to find contact and location info? More than 1 click?
CTA: Is there an obvious single call to action, or are there multiple choices above the fold?
Social: Is social media banished to footer icons, or does it get a more prevalent position on the home page?
Stories: Does the website tell stories? Are they well done?
Slideshow: Does the home page host a moving slideshow?
Video Background: Does it use a video background?
Responsive: Does the layout conform to tablet and smartphone screens?
Based on these criteria, we picked the following:
The Best Designs
The 3 most visually appealing designs:
We love the clean definitive branding, sticky menu bar, and the simple but beautiful sections. We dig the sharp graphic design for sermon series and header images.
Pine Lake chose beautiful flat design anchored with fantastic photography. This website is straightforward and delightful.
With dynamic “mobile-first” design and minimalist slide-out main navigation, this one is a real treat!
The Cleanest Layouts
The 3 simplest, least intimidating to navigate:
Calvary employs a smooth layout with lots of white space and a minimalist 4-option main navigation.
This basic 4-option main menu with a minimal slide-out sub navigation moves us right into easy-town. The large text links play beautifully with mobile devices.
Probably the cleanest layout on the list, Action Church rolls with a compact menu, header video and, six buttons. That’s it. Well done, Action Church. Less is more!
The Clearest Call to Action
The top 3 successes at soliciting an action from visitors:
River Valley hits the mark with a big bold call to action overlaid on the header video. If you’re visiting the RVC website, there’s no misunderstanding – they want you to Plan a Visit!
Visitors to the Preston Trail Community Church website will have no problem figuring out where to start. That big bold button will make sure of it.
Central Baptist Church would love for you to plan a visit. We know this, because of the huge gold words “PLAN A VISIT TODAY” emblazoned across the entire width of the website. This is a bold CTA if we’ve ever seen one. Well done Central!
The Most Socially Connected
The 3 best at connecting their site socially:
Venue Church gives premium header space to their array of social media accounts (at least in the desktop view) as well as a sliding Twitter feed on the home page. Let’s get social, Venue!
Calvary Fellowship wants to connect socially, and it won’t be hard to find out how. The home page sports gobs of social links. In fact, we counted 4 different sets of social media links on the desktop view, one of which is a sticky sidebar.
Sun Valley Community Church decided to make social media the call to action on their website. They dropped Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn icons front and center. Nicely played Sun Valley!
The Best Storytellers
The top 3 sites using clear powerful member testimonials:
Though a little tricky to find, the Newspring Church stories feature is incredible. They wrote them in long form story style complete with candid photos documenting the progression. While they doubtless have hundreds of hours into this exceptional collection, it is very powerful! https://newspring.cc/stories
Since 2013, Pinelake Church has consistently documented the life-change of its members using compelling video stories. As of this writing, their website holds 180+ powerful stories, with new ones being added every month. Thanks, Pinelake, for sharing the incredible work of Christ with us! http://pinelake.org/stories/
Sandals Church proves that you don’t have to have a professional video crew and 5-figure media budget to create compelling, inspiring stories. Their website lists dozens of short, engaging written stories that prove over and over that Jesus is greater and stronger than any trial. https://sandalschurch.com/stories/
The Best Responsive Layouts
The 3 best mobile device experiences:
Christ Fellowship created a fantastic mobile layout that feels like an app. A simple sticky iconic menu bar, first-time visitor call to action, and big bold buttons make this mobile layout a delight to navigate.
Turning Point Church offers a bright, high-contrast mobile layout. The page greets us with core info followed by a healthy list of social media links. We also love the sticky semi-transparent “back to top” button that resides in the bottom right corner of the long-scroll home page.
We’re refreshed by the clear airy feel of the Mountain Church mobile layout. Core information sits right at the top with an easy 5-option drop-down navigation and prominent social media connections. It’s straight, simple, and to-the-point. While we love it to death, our only complaint is that you cannot swipe between slides in the slideshow.
The Common Denominators
The top trends identified and analyzed:
Percentage of websites with home page slideshow: 38%
While this feature was the popular trend in recent years, the explosion of mobile device traffic has driven the use of homepage slideshows backward significantly. Their performance on mobile devices can be sporadic. More than anything else, visitors simply don’t want to sit and wait for the slides to cruise by on their screen.
Action Point: Consider eliminating the slideshow on your home page and simply replacing it with that one big thing that you’d like church visitors to be captured by immediately. However, if you do choose to stick with the slider, try to keep it to no more than three slides, or whatever can be shown within 5-7 seconds. Anything longer than that will most likely be ignored.
Percentage of websites with video background: 23%
This feature has spiked in popularity recently. It can be a nice, eye-catching feature provided the following are true:
- The video is not too wild and crazy (think Photosensitive Epileptic Seizures)
2. The contrast with overlaid elements is good. (white text on white sky = bad)
3. The video quality is not awful. (flip phone footage = bad)
Action Point: Video backgrounds can be a very engaging option for your website. If you use them, make sure to reference the pointers above. Also, consider toning the video down with a color overlay and some transparency to give it a muted background feel.
The worship band may have a killer guitarist and Vegas-worthy light show, but your home page header is not the best place for that clip. Think “interesting” rather than “distracting.”
Percentage of sites with static header: 39%
Just over one-third of all surveyed websites simply chose to go with a static header image – no background video, no moving slideshow. This “back to the basics” trend has developed largely in response to the high volume of mobile traffic. For these churches, clean, sleek, and fast is just what the doctor ordered.
Action Point: It’s obvious that many churches have come full circle on the website headers, opting to give the prominent place on their homepage to a single image or graphic. This is a safe healthy trend that we’re all for. If you go this route, make sure that your header image is relevant and frequently updated. While the simplicity is great, without multiple slides to hide it, the graphic promoting the “Current Sermon Series” that ended a month ago will stick out like a sore thumb.
In addition, you could employ a header script that loads a random image from a pool of images every time the page is refreshed. This gives the variety of a slideshow without the monotonous transition animations.
Percentage of sites using stories: 31%
Nearly one-third of the top 100 fastest growing churches in America have employed “stories” on their websites. Some are written stories, and most are video stories. In every case, they are real-life scenarios of individuals and families whose lives have been impacted and revolutionized by the power of the gospel through their local church.
Stories are incredibly effective, as they bring the viewer to ask themselves the introspective question “why not me?”
Check out these helpful articles about the power of story-telling:
Action Point: Use stories. While researching this article, I was brought to tears over and over experiencing the grace of God in peoples lives. Don’t let the lack of video budget, expertise, or experience stop you from getting your foot in the door. If you have those resources, by all means use them, but there are no real excuses for avoiding storytelling.The fact is, if there are no stories to tell in our churches, we’re doing something wrong! Start by simply interviewing some of your members, and you will be amazed at the gold mine of grace you’ll discover. Furthermore, make sure that your members get the opportunity to review the story before you post it to avoid misunderstandings or errors.
Percentage of responsive sites: 95%
A responsive website is simply a website whose base code is engineered in such a way that the layout arranges automatically for optimal viewing on any screen or device, whether a laptop, desktop, mobile phone, or tablet.
Since mobile web traffic has now officially passed desktop web traffic, responsive web design is non-negotiable.
Is it possible to reach people without a responsive website? Of course. In fact, 5 out of the 100 fastest growing churches in America have non-responsive websites. The point is, in order to stay relevant with your website, you’ve got to go responsive with your layout.
Action Point: If your current website is not responsive, plan to upgrade to a responsive layout as soon as possible. While it still works, a legacy non-responsive layout is hurting the effectiveness of your website, period.
While the 100 fastest growing churches in America typically have multi-million dollar budgets, multiple campuses, and full-time media department staff, none of the observations and recommendations in this article require those resource levels.
Don’t read these trends and decide that they are out of your reach. That’s simply not true!
Choose one or two improvements and decide to implement them before the end of the year. You’ll be that much closer to an effective church website for your community.
Care to see the Church Hacks grade report that we used to score the best church websites of 100 fastest growing churches in America?
Click below to download the full PDF report, complete with hyperlinks!