church-websites

Allow me to begin with a couple of negative comments.

Most church leaders don’t grasp the value of a website to get guests to their churches to hear the gospel.

Most church websites are terrible.

I just finished looking at over 100 websites from a variety of churches of a variety of sizes. I am not an expert in either design or technology, so my primary purpose was to look at the sites from the perspective of a person considering visiting the church. Forgive my judgmental words, but I was not impressed with most of the sites.

I do not have confirmation of these statistics, so I am hesitant to put them in writing. Nevertheless, the unconfirmed numbers indicate that between 75% and 90% of potential guests to your church will first look at the church’s website before making a final decision to attend.

Did you get that? As many as nine out of ten prospective guests will get their first impression of your church based on what they see when they go to the church website. That’s huge! It may be the most overlooked outreach tool we have. The church that minimizes the value of its website is the church that is missing many opportunities to reach people.

Certainly the website should have features for the members, but it’s the guests who are often overlooked. Allow me to share the greatest omissions on the websites; what I humorously call the seven deadly sins.

  1. The website is dated in both design and content. You are communicating an uncaring attitude and a sloppy approach to ministry.
  2. The website was built cheaply and looks like it. From a ministry perspective, the church is missing many opportunities. From a stewardship perspective, one guest who becomes a member will pay for the cost of a good site. Though some web designers and builders are too expensive, it makes absolutely no sense to try to get by with a cheap-looking site.
  3. The service times are either hard to find or non-existent. This information is probably the first information a guest tries to find. If the times are not clear and apparent, you probably have already lost the guest.
  4. The physical address of the church is either hard to find or non-existent. Most of your guests will likely put the address in their GPS system. They won’t be seeking your church in the Yellow Pages. You are probably missing out on the majority of your guests if you don’t have a clearly marked physical address.
  5. Not enough information on childcare. You’ve lost your young families with this omission.
  6. Minimal information on your staff. Guests want to know as much as possible about the staff of the church. The best sites I’ve seen include personal statements from the staff along with their photos.
  7. No place to listen to recent sermons. A number of your prospective guests will listen to an entire sermon before deciding to visit. They may assume that you are not very proud of the preaching ministry of the church if you don’t have podcasts easily available.

(Plus One). In recent years, more prospective guests have wanted to know the basic beliefs of the church. If you don’t have a statement of faith on the website, you will miss out on some of your more discerning guests.

For the last twenty-five years, the worship service has been declared to be the front door of the church. If we are to keep the metaphor consistent, the website is now the foyer. Guests may never make it through the front door if you have a lousy website.

I sense that many church leaders are underestimating the value of a great website. It should be a mandatory investment of all churches at a reasonable price. And the price is too great to pay if your church does not have a website.

How good is your church’s website? What are many sites lacking? What would you change on many of these sites, including your own?

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Comments

  1. says

    As a professional web developer when I am not a worship leader….you are right on!! Church websites are abismal and unfortunately I think that your comment about the undervaluing is true. I have worked on hundreds of church/ministry sites When I look at the statistics for my church’s website I see how necessary it is. We are a church of 150 and every guest we have had this last year, with the exception of 2 saw the website first.

    Might I add a slight change to the Plus One. I think most churches have the entire Doctrinal statements copied and pasted. We encourage churches to have those available, but first simplify them for brief viewing and allow the viewer the option to read the more detailed version.

    The thing that always amazes me is that we have churches that we talk with and they say, “We have a website.” So, I google the name of their church and the street it is on and even the search engines don’t know they exist. How would someone find your church if they can’t search for you. Again, good ponts.

  2. says

    Thom, as you know, I have sent letters to 500 churches in the last few months. For every letter without exception, I have searched for the church’s website. I wanted only to confirm the pastors’ names I had were still serving that church before sending the letter. From this experience, I can say “Thank you” you are exactly right. I’ve seen so many cheap and frustrating websites, that I am amazed. Often the pastor is not listed with the staff and is hidden in some remote corner of the site. I sometimes felt as if he was saying, “Please don’t visit us!” At other times the unintended message was “This site is for our members. What are you doing here!”

    You said it well, if the site results in only one new member it is free, a well done site is free. Shoppers look for everything from socks to automobiles online. They do comparison shopping. A cheap or poorly constructed website is like saying, “Other churches have something on the ball, we don’t. Why come here?”

    A good word for all of us, Thanks.

    • Thom Rainer says

      You’re right Steve. Not many people have been on church websites as extensively as you. You would certainly know.

        • Thom Rainer says

          James -

          Some of the readers have been doing that service. I hope they will do the same for you.

        • says

          Hello James,

          1. I would say my first suggestion would be to simplify the color scheme. On the homepage there are 5 major color of background alone. Try and simplify your backgrounds. Choose a dominant color and stick with it.

          2. I would simplify the right column images. For instance, on the online giving image, the text at the top and bottom are necessary, but the image of the glass and person are not. It will help people better use that space as most of your pages are being pushed way down due to the length of the right hand column.

          3. Instead of having “Contact the Webmaster” on every page, change it to a contact us link as well as your mailing address and phone number. That information on every page is helpful.

          4. Your “Give Online” link at the top needs to open in a new window. The one in the right column works. Just check and make sure to get that one fixed.

          5. Most of the pages look very nice and clean, except the base pages (eg. About Real Faith, Ministries, ). Every other page has good content and a relevant image. I would suggest adding a relevant image to those pages and maybe a bit more content on the About Real Faith page. Add service times, address, children’s programs, etc on that About Page. It is where most folks will click to find that information.

          6. This one is more personal. I feel that you should remove the “Staff Email” link. This conveys that people click here to email the staff. Instead it is taking you to where the staff go to get their email. Just don’t want people confused.

          All in all it is good. Just some tweaks to make it a bit more useful to folks when they visit you.

          • Thom Rainer says

            Aaron -

            Send your mailing address to Amy.Jordan@LifeWay..com. I want to send you a thank you gift for your ministry to all of these church leaders.

    • says

      John, a couple things I would suggest.

      1. The biggest thing I would suggest is a solid background behind your content. White is a good choice with this color scheme (on the homepage if you had a white background behind the middle content that is great). The problem with an active, or picture, background is that the text gets lost and that is the information that you want to convey. We have found in the web world that text with background is much much more likely to be read.

      2. General image size needs to be reduced. With a background change it will allow the text to stand out more and the images are just too large. Reduce the size and let the text do the talking.

      3. Text/Font consistency. The tell tail sign of a good website is readability. That does not happen when there are 5 font colors on one page, much less the number of times you change the font size. Pick a couple colors and 1 font and stick to it.

      4. Check your embed codes. One of the big issues I noticed is that your videos on the missions page and the video reel , your YouTube embed codes do not work in the newer versions of Internet Explorer. Might I suggest instead of embedding all those videos, use some well placed text links to YouTube. It will allow for all browsers to view it that way. Use maybe one embed code per page. It could just be an issue with trying to load all of those YouTube videos.

      I hope this helps. Blessings,
      Aaron Smith

  3. Jonathan Y. says

    There is definitely a need for a philosophical paradigm shift. The last church I served dropped me because I was not the cold-call door-to-door evangelist they wanted for the outreach portion of my job description. However, the time invested in the construction of a user and guest friendly church website was never considered part of my outreach role. I felt much like the scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou where the governor is going to broadcast on the radio an his son rebukes him for not greeting the individuals outside the radio station. “We ain’t one at a timin’ it here! We’re MASS Communicatin’!”

  4. says

    Mr. Rainer,
    Could you share some websites that were in your top 5 that you saw? We are always looking at ways to communicate better. It is our #1 HIT for people seeking to find a church, wanting to connect, find information about ministries. Top 3 hits weekly are: News, Ministries (childrens, students), Sermons.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Jean -

      What I may do is find ten outstanding sites, then get permission from the churches to use them in an upcoming blog. Church leaders don’t like it when I mention their churches without permission because they aren’t ready for the volume of inquiries that follow .

    • says

      Justin, it looks well done for the most part. A thought for you:
      Consistency on the pages. For instance, some of your pages (About Us & What We Do) have the large image header. Where the Contact Us page does not. I would suggest removing the large image headers as it forces the reader to scroll before ever seeing any actual content. Maybe take those images, make them smaller and place them in the content of that page. It would keep it a bit more consistent with the pages with no header image.

      Hope that is helpful,
      Aaron Smith

  5. says

    Two problems: 1) Good websites are expensive. We really want to beef ours up, but it costs so much money for set up. We have no web designers in our church (well, none who have offered to help us with this).

    2) Maintenance is time-consuming – to keep things running right. I see a lot of sites that look great but are not kept up-to-date. I just don’t understand all the code and junk you have to maintain to do it.

    For a church like ours, in which none of the staff is a web guru, it is a constant struggle. I fully agree with what you say, Dr. Rainer, but there is a reason that our websites are often not maintained well. Smaller churches in this day just don’t always have the money and manpower to accomplish it.

    We set up a team a few weeks ago to work on this. I’ve already sent them this helpful article!

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Dave. I’m sure your situation is common in many churches. From what I’m seeing, the future possibilities look good. Web design and build prices are tracking downward. Also, you no longer have to know code to keep a site updated. It’s as simple as plug and play for many sites.

    • Nancy Goss says

      Our web page is not well run because we really don’t know what we are doing! I work for our association of churches and try from time to time to help them be more aware.
      I would be interested in a few small church example of a web page.
      We live in a community of older folks and most of our church does not have anything to do with computers. The Web page is for visitors pretty much.
      Thank you for your comments I will be trying to “make it so”!

      • says

        Dave and Nancy,

        I pastor a small church and we have been through a lot of thinking regarding our website. After a lot of searching, we finally landed with faithconnector.com because they are relatively cheap and offer great service and a great product. We pay just under $900 for the whole year and updating the site is as easy as using Microsoft Word. Our part-time ministry assistant is able to get on and quickly update content without taking much time out of her day. Also, there are so many free graphic websites that people can use those nice graphics to keep their site looking updated and modern. We certainly don’t have everything the way it should be but I just wanted to share what has helped our small church.

  6. says

    I am working on updating our webpage since we got a new internet service and it comes with a web site. It is a simplified version of our previous website which is still viewable on the web so I have two to keep up. And yes I have address Pastor info and service times plus events right now. I find your articles helpful and hope to add more things as I learn my way around the new site. At first I couldn’t get the sddress to work so I keep testing it to see if it is working for our guests. Thank You and god Bless.

  7. says

    Thank you, this was very informative and you are right. We admit we have been behind using technology but we see its importance and plan to cast our “net” over our city. Blessings

  8. Thom Rainer says

    Aaron Smith -

    You have been a great help. Thank you for helping these churches with your service and expertise.

    • says

      Thanks for the kind words Mr. Rainer. I believe that this is an area that God has gifted me in and it would be apart from His will for my life to keep it for myself. Any chance I get to help fellow churches better utilize the web is a great opportunity to see the Gospel spread on the web. So, it is my pleasure to help. Your article has brought these folks here. So, thanks for your faithfulness to help encourage and spur on the church.

  9. says

    Some great points but I would add two. First, we now live in a digital age of commerce and you had better have a good online giving portal that is easy to find. I don’t mean a blue light flashing but most churches make finding their giving page difficult. Why is that? Is it that we fear talking about money? The Red Cross sure doesn’t so why does the Church? I always find it interesting in post like these that the last thing that is thought about is the tool to help fully fund missions and ministry. For a great example of how to do this look at Elevation Church’s giving site.

    Next I would say that NOT having Social Media links that are easy to find is another huge mistake. Social Media is where you tell your story. When you tell your compelling story guess what, people will give money to support that story. Too many churches make you hunt to find how to connect to their Social Media sites. Social Media is where a church can show what amazing things they do thus making it fun to give to that church. The really great thing about Social Media is that is it free! Even the smallest church can have a great Facebook, Twitter, and other Social Media sites.

    My mantra is that we need to make giving easy and fun and then people will give to our church. Then we can afford to pay for a killer site.
    Mark Brooks

    • Thom Rainer says

      Mark -

      Thank you for this input. You have offered some great insights and food for thought. Blessings friend.

    • says

      YES! Social media is huge! almost everyone is on facebook, including many “older” folks…a wonderful tool! Thanks for mentioning it!

  10. Clay says

    I live in a rural area where it seems that many of the 55-and-over crowd are recently discovering the internet. Of course the 40-and-under crowd are plugged-in regularly. However, the ratio (in the community; we lean younger as a church) of 55+:40- is somewhere around 1.5:1. (There isn’t industry here and we’re too far from the nearest city to be honestly considered a “bedroom community” so the younger adults don’t stick around long after high school or college.)

    What advice could you offer to me, a pastor, as I try to help the older crowd place a realistic value on a professional website for our church? Modern, but not necessarily ultra-modern, technology might as well be one of my “love languages”. :-)

    (In their defense somewhat is the fact that we are reaching those 40- who actually do live here.)

    • Thom Rainer says

      Clay -

      Form a task force of four or five key influencers in the church. Give them supporting material such as this post. Ask them to look at several church sites (give them the URL addresses). Then ask them to share with you and some other key leaders what they see as the benefits of a website. In other words, let the influence come from the grassroots rather than the top. Make certain the task force disbands after four or five weeks or you will have another committee draining time from the church.

    • says

      The church I attend has similar demographics. What I’ve seen to be helpful as the older generation comes to grips with the twentieth-century, is to approach a website/online presence/podcast/etc. as a part of evangelism and missions, both global and local. The older Christians I talk with get excited when they hear, for example, that the sermons we have available on Sermon Audio are being downloaded by people all around the world and sometimes in “closed” countries. Similarly, they can send their kids and grandkids (who may never set foot in a church building) to the church website/podcast to listen to sermons on their way to work, etc..
      Just some thoughts. God bless!

  11. Erik Maloy says

    Great post!!! I have said for years that churches need to put up quality websites that share pertinent and up to date information. I know a guy who does great, affordable work. He just re-did our site, http://www.srfcowlitz.com check it out and if anyone is interested in having him do one I can connect you. I know he would appreciate it.

  12. Kenneth Freeman says

    I really appreciate the enlightenment on your opinions on websites. My church website is in the process of being designed. The points that you brought to my attention will be quite helpful in designing the website. Thanks

  13. says

    I echo the sentiments of Dave Miller above; and would add that many times the helpful suggestions that people give don’t take into account those of us who are still taking taking baby steps in trying to start a church website.

  14. says

    Thom is right about this: modern, professional looking websites are getting so cheap and easy to use that there really is no excuse for a church with a bad website. Last year our church of twenty people got a new website, and I guarantee that if you are computer savvy enough to be reading this blog, you could keep our site up to date. Check it out: libertyspringspca.com

    • says

      Jeff, I don’t doubt what you say about cheap and easy (and your site looks very nice!). Regarding expensive, I was thinking more of paying someone to do a professional web site. What may be happening with some of us older non-techie types is that we didn’t know enough to pick the best web hosting site that can be made professional looking and/or that is user-friendly. My wife is much more computer savvy than I, and yet she had to fight with the devil to get our sermons uploaded to the web site. Perhaps that is a sign that we didn’t begin well and should even junk it and start over with else when our year is up.

  15. says

    I wholeheartedly agree with your work here, Dr. Rainer. After taking a small church last year, I immediately set out to setup a website, and I was able to find a hosting site that used modern templates that were attractive and easy to update. My experience would echo much of what you said, but these pointers may be helpful additions:
    1 – I spent a considerable amount of time searching and browsing a great host and variety of websites and decided what I did and didn’t want. That research made my choices much easier.
    2 – I spent considerable time selecting a domain name. Many churches share the same name and simple domains are already in use, and I didn’t want my site hidden because the site domain was obscure, confusing, and hard to remember. I also choose to use .com instead of .org because it is the most commonly recognized domain.

    How that helps someone. Please keep the blog articles coming!

  16. says

    Thom,
    This is a great article. I’m going to put a link to it in our blog. I’ve been a Creative Director for a web site design firm that also specializes in developing custom-branded church websites that are very simple to update (http://churches.yourcreativepeople.com), logos, custom-branded print materials, etc. We also provide an app for all of our ministry clients called Ministry Compass (www.ministrycompassapp.com). Probably the biggest hurdle we see churches consider is whether to simply buy a template off the shelf, or establish a recognizable brand within their community. The latter works, the former is cheap and works for maybe a short time but not long-term. I didn’t see that as one of your points, but it might be a help to someone here! We have found that most of the content management tools out there are very complicated, so we created one called Backstage CMS that’s very intuitive, powerful, and easy to use (http://yourcreativepeople.com/backstage-cms). Thanks for your thoughts and your ministry. I enjoy reading your blog and posts about this topic.

  17. says

    I’d say a major missing problem with church sites is that too few are mobile Friendly. If you don’t have a responsive theme theme then your missing out on a majority of your people.

    • says

      Absolutely right. By next year, that may be the top of the list. Your site must look good and function well on phones, pads, tablets, etc. By the way, a “responsive” website is one that is functional on multiple devices.

  18. Jane Q says

    As an RVer who is on the road, I use the web to find a nearby church. Sometimes you really have to surf around to find the location and service times which I find frustrating. I also get frustrated when I’m sent to a website that exists in name only.

  19. says

    Hi there our cherished one! I have to express that benefits and drawbacks awesome, nice authored are available with just about all essential infos. I must find a lot more threads in this way .

    • says

      Hello fellow Aaron, The site is very clean and easy to navigate. A few small things…
      1. The banners on the front need to slow down a bit. You need to give folks the time to settle in and view the banners. They are moving a bit quick for me.
      2. On the homepage you have the calendar twice at the bottom of the page.
      3. Make sure that any links off your site, especially facebook, twitter, etc. open in another tab. You don’t want to send people away from your site you want them to go there and come back. It is much easier to get back if you just have to close another window or tab and get back to where you were.
      4. The main page I want to visit is empty. When clicking “About Us” you go back to the homepage. That page is a priority.
      5. Your top level navigation that has drop down at the top of the page does nothing (ie Church and Ministries) If someone were to click on the top level send them to your most important (or first) of the sections below.
      6. Bottom navigation needs to be less. The bottom navigation is more to get you to the main sections, not to send you to any page. So, you want the basics down there to mirror the navigation at the top. Currently it is just a jumble of pages listed outside of their sections which makes it a bit difficult to use as a navigation section.
      7. Giving page – You might not want to list your bank account number for all to see. I would put an explanation of your church’s beliefs on giving and let people know they have an option for direct deposit and push them to contact you for more information. Unfortunately there are malicious people out there who may attempt to do bad things with that information.

      Conclusion, the site is well done. It holds to standards of font uniformity and viewability. It just needs some minor tweaks. Hopefully this is helpful.

      Blessings,
      Aaron Smith

    • says

      Also forgot that on a couple pages (ie Giving, Beliefs, Vision, Contact Us and others) you will want to disable the comment section at the bottom. Should be a simple option for that page. Not sure you want to allow people to register and comment on your pages. CMS (Content Management Systems) usually have that on by default.

  20. says

    Thom,

    Thank you for this informative article. The tip on incorporating personal messages from the staff is something I would like to incorporate in our website and I hope you have time to provide more recommendations for church web designers/administrators.

    Recently I have taken on the task of redesigning our church website (bellamyumc.org) since this is an area I have a little experience with. I have restructed the site using the Joomla CMS and believe I have the site to a decent state. However, I would like some constructive criticism on what we can do to make this website better and more appealing to visitors. I appreciate anyones critique on this. Thank you for your time.

    Very Respectfully,
    David

  21. says

    Hello Dr Rainer! Your article, ‘The Seven Deadly Sins of a Church Website’ popped up on a Yahoo search for The Seven Deadly Sins. I am sure it was God at the helm as the church website has been forefront in my concerns for several months now. Do I change the look, do I tone it down, jazz it up? After reading your article I now have a focused vision of what I need most….continuity between the pages. Our website varies from 51 – 80 pages, depending on what the children are doing that I can upload to the site. Children…and their parents…love to see themselves on the internet and everyone loves to see happy and smiling faces. I do realise that is a massive size for a church website, especially considering there are no sermons either in podcast or script form. I assumed the website 8 years ago when it was just a few pages and quite generically bland. If we had considered coming to the church on the basis of the website alone, I think my husband and I would gave relaxed in the sun and read the Bible to each other, praising God for the miracle of singing birds and baby lambs bleating across the field. My aim was to create a website where there was something where every member could read, enjoy and learn. One webpage I recently removed was World News Headlines of particular interest to Christians. From sightings of Jesus in an empty lasagne pan, to the plight of Christians suffering for religious freedom in China, it was all grist for my mill of knowledge. Aside from focusing my website for the members, I presented everything in a way that also appeals to the potential attendee, but equally important, to the website visitors from other lands. I was noticing on the administration page that the site was gathering attention from countries all over the world in numbers which now surpass viewer numbers for the host nation! We have developed a massive following in India, Afghanistan !!!, Indonesia, Africa, Thailand, Brazil,…. You get the point and the list is lengthy. Therefor, I also see the website as a powerful tool to minister to people all over the world who are searching for the word of God. I tithe the website to the church, including the domain name, the annual fees, the graphics, research, daily updates and photos. I get no support, response or feedback from the church, except when there is an error. While I took the site over as stewardship to the church, I have come to believe the worldwide outreach is my reward. We are promised our riches in Heaven, but presenting God to strangers all over the world can never be undervalued. Thank you for reading and especially for your brilliant article and most helpful blog. We are just a small village in Scotland, but through the church’s internet website, our arms embrace the world. Judy Newton-Harzer, http://www.newmacharchurch.net

  22. says

    Hi Dr. Rainer, Your comments on different church websites are very informative and very helpful to small churches like ours. Our website is not functioning the way we want it. Instead of the church promoting the programs of the ministry, we are bombarded instead of all the promotions for our website provider. We do not get any technical support because I requested my pastor to work with them because he is knowledgeable on the technical support system but I’m not. The website provider insisted that I am thedomain’s administrative contact, and therefore, would not allow our pastor to work with them. Our website is not running the way it should and we just continue paying our monthly fee. Dr. Rainer, I request you to please go to our website and see what we can do to improve it. Could you please recommend a good church website designer who can also help us design our church logo, and for a reasonable monthly service fee for a small church like ours.
    Thank you.

    • says

      Hi! I am also part of a small church, and for our website, we use an adapted WordPress blog (www.wordpress.com). Their websites look very professional, can be customized to meet your needs, don’t require any technical support/maintenance, and won’t break your budget! A basic website is available for free, but I would recommend a couple of their upgrades (“No Ads” and “Domain Registration”) at a very reasonable rate. For example, our church website only costs $78/year and it has worked well for us. We don’t have the website quite where we want it to be yet, but if you would like to see what we are using as a possible example, our web address is http://www.opendoorhudson.org.

      Also, if you record your sermons (which I highly recommend doing) and would like them available on the internet (which I also recommend for many reasons), I would encourage you to consider SermonAudio (www.sermonaudio.com). Their site and ministry is very user friendly and accessed often by people around the world, and it only costs $30/month to host your sermons!

      I’m not an expert on this stuff and have been learning as I go, but I hope my comments are an encouragement to you and your church that there are definitely beneficial and budget-friendly options available (I’m sure there are also other options as well).

Trackbacks

  1. […] THINK THE WEBSITE’S NOT IMPORTANT?  THINK AGAIN!  Update the website, update the website, update the website!  The internet is littered with outdated church websites that contain information that hasn’t been updated in months, if not years.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a Generation Y person/couple/family moves to a new town and “googles” your church and finds that your website/facebook/twitter etc. has not been updated in a long time, THEY WILL NOT COME TO YOUR CONGREGATION!  Click here for this article about the Deadly Sins of a Church Website. […]

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