The first media column I wrote for Word&Way in 1999 asked the question, “Should my church have a web page?” In that pre-social media world, it was luxury that was slowly becoming a necessity. Today, some sort of online presence is almost required to reach out beyond the church’s four walls to increase its “webside” attraction, just as we care about our curbside appeal. That’s especially true in a pandemic world.
Back then, I opened my column with “being on the Internet means that nobody knows if your parking lot needs paving.” (Or, I would have, had it not been edited for space. Took me two decades, but I finally got it in!)
Done right, a website can allow a church of any size to rise above almost any limitation as it communicates. The reverse is true as well: No matter how large and prosperous your church is, a poorly designed site can give you the same kind of notoriety as dirty bathrooms. Recently, I had the opportunity to look at dozens of church websites and created a list based on my pet peeves:
- Can your website be found? Search for your church online and see how prominent it is in your results.
- Can it be remembered? A easy-to-learn domain can help people find you later.
- What does your listing say? You control what your search result says. Is it current? Does it easily identify you?
- Does it load quickly? People won’t wait if it is slow to load.
- Does it load correctly? Or do squashed pictures it give a funhouse feel?
- Does it load everywhere? Will your site work equally well on a computer, tablet and smartphone?
- Does what it loads work? Do you regularly check links to make sure they work and are not out of date?
- Are there mystery ministers? A site that lists the pastor as “Bro. Doug”(no last name) or not at all could be viewed as secretive rather than friendly.
- Can people find you? Is it easy to find your address, including city and state?
Can people get to you? Do you have a phone number and email address? If you have an email form, has it been tested? Does the sender receive an acknowledgment it was received?
- Does my site contain surprises? For years, I know of a site that either plays music on every page, or if that is blocked, downloads MIDI music files for each page visited. Unrequested downloads are bad news. Pop up videos are just as bad.
- Is it current? For sites I manage with a lot of pages, this is the hardest question. It requires regularly reviewing and input from staff. Remove old events, last December’s mission offering, and update bios. Are there people who have moved or passed away?
- Is it useful? A site should have a purpose, whether it is to inform, educate, inspire, or call the viewer to action. What’s yours?
- Finally, is it all necessary? If you do not have dedicated time and help to maintain a site, simplify. A page that lists every Sunday School teacher, for example, is something that will need to be constantly updated. Balance usefulness with dependability.
If you don’t know how to make changes yourself or need a new look, contact a web designer with a good track record.
And if it is there, share it! Promoting your site in all of your church communication and publicity can help your site be an asset to both ministry and message.
Even if your parking lot isn’t paved.