MARTIN DAVIS is expert at helping congregations grow through connecting with the world in new ways. Some call it evangelism; some call it media consulting—but the simple truth is: The vast majority of communities need this help. Earlier, Davis wrote about rethinking your newsletter. Today, he’s got valuable advice about your website.
to a Successful
By Martin Davis
These four tips aren’t a mystery—but, looking at a host of ineffective congregational websites, they seem to be secrets in many communities.
I’m less concerned about aesthetics—the overall “look” of your website—because those concerns can vary widely depending on your religious tradition and culture. I live near Washington D.C. and debating visual design on religious websites begins to sound a lot like debating Washington Nationals vs. Baltimore Orioles in this part of the country. What we all can agree on is this: If we choose to visit a ball park, we all want a comfortable seat, unobstructed view, convenient restroom, clear scoreboard and tasty food.
I hear from church leaders across the nation, asking about communication strategies, and I know how much anxiety and guilt flows through congregations when the discussion turns to “our website.” So, I always begin with this advice:
As with anything requiring skill and knowledge, beginning small improves your chances for success. Lay a solid foundation, then build as you become more skillful. Focus on the basics, and grow from there.
OR LOOKING OUTSIDE?
The most basic website question: Should we build a site focused on those inside our community already, or those on the outside?
In general, my advice is: Whether you are just launching a site or looking to invigorate your existing site—there is good reason to place your emphasis on those outside your congregation. Think of it as your front door, now. Increasingly, the web is where people look to find congregations—and just about everything else. Various web consultants and nonprofit groups have been tracking this trend. Surveys vary, but the data clearly show that at least half of people looking for a congregation say that the Internet is important in their decision. That’s sure to grow with the widespread use of location-specific Apps on handheld devices.
The 4 ‘Secrets’ to a Successful Website
When I meet with congregational leaders, everyone has an opinion about what must be on the website’s home page. “For our people, we have to put this on the front page!” Perhaps you’ve heard that from your own pastor, lay leader or webmaster. As I said, I don’t engage in debates that essentially are: Nationals vs. Orioles. The list of home page essentials may vary by region, religious tradition and culture.
But, like my list of ballpark essentials—here are my 4 non-negotiables for congregational home pages:
Give Us a Name! It’s amazing how many congregations don’t put the name of the pastor—or religious leader—on the home page. A lot of churches like to say: “Where everyone is a minister.” Really!?! Once you become an insider, it may feel like that—but newcomers want to know about the clergy setting the tone. A name, a photo and a profile will tell people a lot about you as a congregation. Omit that information, and what are you saying? To an outsider, you’re telling them your staff is inaccessible. Folks quickly pass on to the next site.
What Times Are Your Services? If you want folks to show, they need to know when. No one wants to guess about times—and fewer are willing to go three pages deep in your website to find them. You would be amazed at the number of congregations that don’t post this vital information on the home page—or, forget to update the times for special seasons.
Say Cheese! Pictures really make a difference, and I’m not talking about slick stock photos. In fact, a number of congregations nationwide have been shocked to learn that a well-meaning webmaster forgot to properly purchase or license a stock photo. Oops! You may find that error only when an attorney’s letter arrives, asking for steep royalties. In fact, you don’t need stock photos! Don’t be afraid to show who you really are. Regularly updating photos—and making them easily available right off your home page—is inviting to newcomers. And, your insiders can feel free to spread the word by sharing their favorite photos on Facebook (or other social media). These days, photos are evangelism.
Draw Me a Map! Give your address on the home page—and use the Google map tool to show people where you are. Why? Because proximity consistently emerges as the most important determining factor in people’s attendance.
That’s it. Simple, straight to the point—and effective.
Will you win Webby Awards for your site with these 4 ‘Secrets’? No. But you will have a solid ground from which to grow.
Learn more from Martin Davis …
For more than 20 years, Martin Davis has helped congregations grow through improved communication. He is the founder of Sacred Language Communications, which helps congregational leaders make better use of communication. Davis is a graduate of the University of Chicago Divinity School and has written for publications ranging from National Journal to The Washington Post. He also led the Congregational Resource Guide at the Alban Institute through a re-design that made it one of the nation’s leading destinations for church resources and information. In 2013, he began writing occasional columns for Read The Spirit—and is working on a guidebook for congregations.
Visit his new Sacred Language Communications by clicking here (or on the logo above) and look for:
- More columns about the communication challenges encountered by congregations nationwide. Davis’s columns range from reviews of popular software tools to practical advice from his years of consulting.
- Online classes, including a Webinar starting August 8 on improving your congregation’s e-newsletter.
- Options for consultation on topics ranging from website development to writing techniques.
Please, spread the word:
- Trying to steer your congregation? Try a stunt kite!
- Congregational consultant Martin Davis: Your newsletter may shock you—and these possibilites will excite you
- 4 ‘Secrets’ to a Successful Website for Your Congregation
Benjamin Pratt says
Marty, Excellent job!!! Keep up the good advice. Benjamin
Nancy Kirk says
I would only add that one of the photos should show the congregation in worship so people know what to wear. Visitors want to fit in and not stick out as a “stranger” either because they dressed too formally or informally.
Martin Davis says
Excellent recommendation, Nancy!