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?
Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week, and the managing editor of LifeWayPastors.com. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.
Easy to find links for online giving! (Though granted, that would be more for members than visitors)
That’s a good addition.
Sometimes those online giving links are needed by non members when an obituary lists that church as where the family would prefer donations in lieu of flowers. Also, please have the boxes for an acknowledgement to for memorial/honor donations. If nothing else, please have a mailing address for one who wish to mail a paper check.
This isn’t a unique response, I am sure, but I am amazed and appalled at most of the church websites I see. I retired from pastoral ministry 3 years ago and moved to a new area. I looked at Church websites of churches of my denomination to find a church. Of the 15 or so I saw, many didn’t have basics like service times, address, or staff names. Even after digging through links I couldn’t find them.
Another thing I notice… pastors seem to have a false modesty in not wanting their name/picture on the home page! I am amazed how often I can’t find out the name of the pastor on a church web site! Is that “humility?” Not wanting to look like they are too important in the life of the church? Whatever it is, the pastor is the first face of the church for most people.
Oh… and I gotta add… though I started looking at church websites in July after retiring, almost all of them were still announcing their Sunrise Services from the last Easter! Not ONE had up to date announcements about the life of the church.
OK… enough said! Thanks Tom for your work!
Great point about things needing to be updated.
Thanks, John, but this article was written by Jonathan.
I so agree. We have been looking for a new church home and the websites are not very helpful. The service times should be on the home page so you don’t have to look for where that particular church posts theirs (i.e. some it’s in their calendar, others in “new to the church” and some under other titles). Once you are a member of a church it is so helpful to be able to go directly to staff’s emails directly.
My husband is a pastor. I am office administrator at a different church.
One of the things that often irritates me is websites and bulletin boards in the church that are not up to date, so I try to be extra diligent in making sure they are up to date where I work. The first thing I do every Tuesday morning (the office is closed Monday) is update the website. Imagine my horror when I discovered at the end of February that I had forgotten to update the seniors page since Christmas!
Guess who now has a sticky note permanently attached to her computer to remind her to change the meeting date and speaker every month.
Since we are only human and often far too busy, things sometimes get overlooked or forgotten.
Perhaps sending a gentle email through the “contact us” spot on the website saying, “Hey, I was on your website looking at service times and I couldn’t help but notice that… Would you be able to forward that information to me please?”
You will likely get the information you want and hopefully it will be a reminder to the church, without making them feel bad, that they really do need to keep their info up to date.
Just a thought, since I come from it from both sides of the issue.
Also, good idea to have a mobile-friendly website. Google bumps websites up in the search results that are mobile friendly.
Totally agree with the mobile-friendly part. That will be in an upcoming post on design.
Great list. I appreciate it and learned from it. Particularly points 2, 4, and 6.
I think current sermon series topic (which may fall under calendar) and pictures from normal Sunday gatherings would also help out visitors to give them an idea of what they will be hearing and seeing on the Sunday the choose to come.
Both great additions, Nate.
Great Article Jonathan! I have been contacting churches in a six state area for more that 11 years. Most websites fall short in the areas you cover. Smaller churches may need a more generic approach with standard boiler plate covering the basics. A calendar must be optional if it can’t be kept current. Going to the website should allow you connect, to be able to call and email staff. It seems like we’re hiding with a castle mentality. To ask someone to submit their email and you’ll get back to them doesn’t seem very warm, open and inviting to me. I know how I feel when I call a business and get a recording. Is that what the church has become? Let’s hope not! When I consulted we asked the members to approach the their church with a “windshield survey.” Every church needs a website survey. You’ve given us a good one. Thank You!
It baffles me how many churches don’t have their address clearly stated on their home page. Time after time, I find myself having to dig down through a menu of “About Us” pages just to figure out what city and state a church is in. That’s insanity.
Accessibility info is an absolute must for those with disabilities. Wheelchair users need to know if they can actually get into a church, where the accessible entrance is etc. Those with sight issues need to know if there is large print/braille support. And do you have blue badge parking spaces, plus lots more.
You will find that many with disabilities will check websites for this sort of info before even attempting to come. If it’s not there, they won’t try to come.
Wow. I’ve never considered those points. Thanks!
Though with ADA regulations as they are, most should be complying already. If a church is not ADA compliant, there are other issues at hand. I can’t remember the last time I was in a building that was not compliant, church or otherwise.
I live in the UK, where some church buildings are still inaccessible due to rules concerning old buildings. For those accessible on the outside, many are not accessible on the inside unless you take a certain route due to furnishings and/or internal steps. This is a small part of issues in our churches here. The provision of accessible printed material is however an international issue :o)
I’d love to see a website with this information. That will make it easier for me to see how the information is displayed so I can add it to our church website. Thanks!!
Just between us, I think the statement of faith thing is a little tired. It puts us into categories where division is not only evident, but practiced as doctrinal exclusion. If we are truly the Body of Christ, shouldn’t we act like it instead of promoting how great of a “pinkie toe” we are? IMHO, if the doctrine is trash, that will become self-evident to anyone paying attention within a visit or two. Just my thoughts — the rest though — directly on point and definitely provides all the information that a seeker online would want. Thanks for sharing your heart and all that you do for us. Blessings Jonathan!
TJ…A statement of faith is quite necessary. There are so many churches out there now moving into the heresy of the emergent church movement where they claim no doctrinal stance. People want to know where the church stands on major doctrines. I would want to know if a church believes in the practice of sign gifts, what they believe the Gospel really is, or,where they stand on deacons and/or deacons and elders. To say you don’t need a doctrinal statement is really saying you hold no solid beliefs that distinguish you from anyone else.
When I visit a church website that doesn’t have a clear statement of faith, my assumption is that theology is not going to be an emphasis there. If I’m looking for a church and they aren’t forthright about their doctrinal positions, I am not going to waste a few weeks at each church trying to investigate. If a doctrine is going to divide by stating it clearly on the website, it’s going to divide two weeks later after someone discovers at while visiting. Just be up front about who you are and what you believe.
I think the single most important thing a church site should include is a “What to Edpect” page for first-time guests. When should I arrive? Where should I park? How should I dress? How long will church last? Is there childcare for my kids? This page should essentially be a FAQ for first-timers.
Here’s a good example: http://www.life.church/what-to-expect/
Yes!! This is huge!! Jeans? Suits? Where do I take my kids?
Answering these questions on the website makes it easier for 1st time guests!!
If the front door of the church is now it’s website, leaving out contact info & service times is like forgetting to install a doorknob.
I visited a number of churches last summer. There’s was one church that I didn’t make it to because it failed to list the time for their Sunday morning service. Or maybe they have multiple services – I don’t know because not only was it not on the website, there was no one to answer the phone when I called.
Good article. For a church barely averaging 200 in attendance, I think we follow Johnathan’s guidelines pretty well at Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. Check out http://www.wieuca.org. We have online giving, live webcasting, embedded video testimonials, regular blogging by our Senior Pastor. Until we recently changed our webcasting partner, we had almost 3 years of sermons archived online. Active in social media including our own YouTube channel. We also have our own mobile app with many of the same features as our website including being able to stream live worship services to your phone or tablet. Technology can be a powerful ministry tools that does not have to be all that costly & can expand the reach of a church.
Great job, Calvin.
We would love to be able to reach more millennial families in our rural area, however, we don’t have the tech-savy members in our church. What resources could you recommend for a beginner level person? We do have a social media presence using Facebook but no website or mobile apps.
To reach millennials, your church needs to have a presence where these people spend so much of their time….online & on their smart phones. I would guess that most of your current members also have smart phones.
There are quite a few companies that specialize in turnkey & template-based church web sites & church mobile apps that are really quite affordable.
Two that I am familiar with are http://www.siteorganic.com for a church web site and http://www.churchlink.com for a church mobile app. There are others.
Good luck & God bless!
Calvin D. Johnson
I know of one that caters to the financially and/or technology challenged:
There is also information about planning a church website there.
I know the comment is a bit late date wise but this article is great so I hope you don’t mind me adding my 2 cents.
The keeping content up to date is so huge and there are so many ways to avoid this and other common errs due to inexperience. As far as that goes creating timed content that starts on a certain date then archives itself when it expires is the way to go.
Can I be candid? It seems this is about building numbers not reaching souls? How about the Gospel? I know that websites are important for bringing people into your church, as I build our church’s first website over 17 years ago and have maintained it ever since with ever growing material. But my heartbreak was to read the article and all the posts which mentioned nothing about saving truth being on the website. I promise I’m not trying to belittle what was said as I agree with it all, but to simply beg the question – what’s our goal? Build church numbers or see folks saved? There is a difference. I’m sorry if I sound condescending I am just concerned. Thanks for your patience.
1. Make sure you include the church city and state – and even country! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen something on Facebook (for example) about an upcoming program or concert at “St Swithins” on “4th & J Streets” – and even when you follow the link to the church web site, you still can’t find out if the church in question is even remotely close to where you live.
2. Put a date line (including the year) at the beginning or end of every news item or announcement you publish. It’s often impossible to tell if the “new pastor” arrived last month or 5 years ago, for example.
Good points. Especially the date of posts.
I understand that many use cell phones or may even have some program in their vehicle to aid in driving directions from one point to another, but would a small map with at least the major streets to use in locating the church be a good inclusion–so people would at least know what area of town to be looking for as they search?
much needed and valuable post. thanks. way off the subject but we travel a lot and at time try to find church times on signs at the church and often they are not listed. maybe a suggestion on church signs at a later date.
Update, update, update!!! That’s the most frustrated thing I experienced in most church websites.
My personal pet peeve is many churches neglect the most obvious. Their OWN ADDRESS, either hidden somewhere or missing all together. It’s smart thing to do to put it on every single sub-page. I often look for it for someone else who ask me to find a church for them at or close by a certain city.
Worship times and if you have ongoing on-campus bible study include these times too. On the few times I travel on weekends or desire to attend a Wednesday night service, I’m amazed how many churches don’t post the worship times. It should be in a prominent place or easily titled and located.
Though this is aesthetic, I think a Church website should be up to date and not look like it was made in 1997. I think when some people see a website that looks out of date it can visually convey that the organization behind it is out of touch. I fear people dismiss paying attention to sites like that due to thinking the information may be irrelevant even though it’s not, due to the way it is presented. I think of how even Jesus presented long enduring spiritual truths through parables in such a way that people in modern life (back then) could relate to.
Right on Jonathan! One that I would add is a clear call to action. So often churches dump information on people and forget to ask people to respond to something. Like a good sermon, a website needs to have a response, a next step for people to take. Visit us this Sunday! Like us on Facebook. Submit a Prayer Request. I have found that churches get much better results when they simply ask website visitors to respond.
Great points. Make it easy to take the next step. I like it!
I would have to say all the spelling and punctuation errors are a real turn-off for professional church websites, as well as the spelling and punctuation worship song lyric errors plastered on a song slide during praise service (these are distractions, and the enemy points it out to us)!
I would add a directions page with an address that works in GPS, a picture of the parish, and a Google embed map that offers directions from the starting location.
This was really helpful! Thanks for posting it!
I think it’s important to take a look at your church’s website through the eyes of a new visitor. What information would they want to know? Is it easy to find? We can become so accustomed to seeing our websites that it seems apparent to us but it may not be to your new web visitor.
All the things you have mentioned are so important. Great ;post!
Hi. When you mention staff members on a website, is that including the Treasurer, SS, Head Deacon etc.