By Jonathan Howe
“Must” is a strong word, and I realize that. But hear me out.
Over the past few years, when we’ve written or discussed church websites, Dr. Rainer and I have continually stated “the two most important elements you need to have on the front page are the church address and service times.”
Many of you have agreed and even complied when your church’s site was lacking one or both. Others have asked “what next?” So here are the next eight things to include on your church’s website:
- Staff Names and Titles — Most of the viewers on your church website will be visitors to your church, not members. In fact, a church’s website should be more geared to visitors than to the members. Post names and titles of your staff so when a visitor arrives, they at least have a frame of reference for whom they will be meeting. I would also strongly encourage you to list contact info, and include a picture of your staff members if at all possible. Putting a name with a face always helps, and being able to contact a staff member directly lowers barriers with guests who may have specific questions.
- Information about Your Children’s Ministry and Youth Ministry — Since the front door of the church is now the website, make sure parents will know what to expect when they arrive with kids or youth. Millennials are highly interested in knowing their kids will be safe and cared for well at church. They also want to know they will be receiving sound instruction while at your church. Let them know what their kids will experience before they show up on Sunday morning.
- Sermon Archives — While video is best, audio is acceptable as well. Theologically astute guests will do a greater amount of research on a church before visiting. What is being preached from the pulpit on a Sunday is of utmost importance. There should be no hesitation in posting sermons online, not only to inform potential visitors, but also to benefit those who might not be able to make it to the service each week.
- Church Calendar — You can only mention so much in your announcements, and only so many things can fit in a bulletin each week. But with an online calendar, you can list as much as you’d like. The key is keeping the calendar up-to-date. Weekly calendaring meetings might be necessary at first, but once a routine is established, your church members and guests will always have the most up-to-date information at their fingertips.
- Contact Info — This may seem like an obvious inclusion. But if it were obvious, I wouldn’t visit so many church websites that lacked a contact page or contact information. An important follow-up to this item is having someone responsible for responding to inquiries. Every contact to a church should receive a response within 24 hours, if not sooner. We live in a connected society, and there is no reason why a church can’t respond to inquiries in a timely fashion.
- Statement of Beliefs — This is not only for the theologically minded, but also for those who move from another church or town. A Methodist church in Iowa might not have the same beliefs as one in South Carolina—just as a Baptist church in Texas might not have the same beliefs as one in New Hampshire. And with the proliferation of non-denominational churches, and those with indiscernible denomination affiliation names (e.g. First Community Church), a statement of beliefs helps clarify that for guests. Also, if you are affiliated with a denomination, it’s better to list it than to give the appearance you are trying to hide it.
- Links to Social Media Profiles — The inclusion of this item would mean that your church would need to be active on social media. These links do no good if your social media channels are inactive or defunct. I will be writing in the future about social media strategies for churches. But at the very least, a church should be present where its people are—and that place is on social media.
- Major Church News Items — Not everyone is present each at church week. So if you roll out a major initiative, make a major announcement, or just have news that’s really important, put it on the website and make it easy to find.
These are just eight non-negotiables I find missing on many church websites. Does your church have these on its site? What would you add to this list?