You may not think your church really needs a website. After all, you’re in a small or medium-sized community. Most people who live there know you’re there. Right?
Brian Harris, owner of Dogwood Media Solutions in Montgomery, a ministry partner of The Alabama Baptist (TAB), said he would encourage you to revisit that thought.
“These days, having a website is like being in the Yellow Pages. Churches used to invest in the Yellow Pages back in the day, but now people go online and search for churches that way instead,” he said.
If you don’t have a website, people may not know you’re there, Harris said. He said it doesn’t have to be a complicated site — just something that shows your church’s basic information in an attractive manner.
He and other media experts offered some thoughts on how to get established on the web in the simplest and most effective way possible.
1. Feel the weight of its importance.
People are searching for something in life, and if your church is on the internet, there’s a greater chance people’s search will bring them there, said Mark MacDonald, director of church communication at Generis.
Historically churches as a whole have done well with internal communication — such as Sunday bulletins — but not so great at reaching the community with their message, he said.
‘Go and tell’
“I tell small churches that if you continually communicate internally and don’t focus on the external, you’re going to continue to shrink,” MacDonald said. “We’re commanded to go and tell and make disciples and oftentimes when we’re working internally, we lose sight of the community we’re working in.”
James Hammack, TAB digital services manager and web developer at Hosted Church, affirmed that a web presence is critical even for small churches.
“The majority of people who are looking for a church who are new to the area or who are just moving on from where they are — they look online first,” he said.
2. Decide what you can do.
The most important thing you can do is get the basic facts about your church online — information such as service times, where to park and how people dress for worship.
Get people in the door
“Just get things up there that will get people through the door, tell them where to go and help them feel comfortable,” Harris said.
You may decide from there that you would like to do a more involved site if you have the manpower to maintain it, but the most important thing is to start with the vital information.
“You don’t have to go into this thinking that you’re going to be podcasting or taking on some major project,” Harris said. “Just build a static website that looks good — something that doesn’t have to be updated every month.”
If your church doesn’t have someone on staff with the time and ability to build and maintain a site, it’s possible that the best person for the job could be a layperson, he said.
Churches also could enlist someone with media expertise to offer advice, do the initial build or help them keep it updated.
“Whatever you choose, you want it to work for you, not create more work for you,” he said.
For a minimal monthly fee, churches can partner with TAB to host and manage a basic church website. For more information, visit hostedchurch.com or contact TAB digital services associate Haley Piersol.
3. Choose a platform.
Once you’ve decided to move forward with a website, it’s time to weigh the options regarding enlisting help or keeping the work in-house. If you decide not to enlist help beyond your church, then the next step is to choose the platform where you will build your site.
Harris said he loves WordPress for its simplicity — not to mention that it can be done for free, depending on which services you select. He also recommended Squarespace, a platform that’s easy to use and offers drag-and-drop design, though it has some costs involved in the setup.
“Whichever one you pick, make sure you get a responsive theme so it looks good on mobile devices,” Harris said.
“More people are looking for churches on their phones than they are from a computer. You don’t want it to be tiny type.”
And as Hammack said, Facebook is always an option.
With any of these possibilities, Harris said a few hours spent reading about the platform’s services online should make you feel confident to take the first steps toward building.
4. Use real photography.
When working on your website’s design, you might be tempted to use stock photography of people, but Harris said the important thing is for your page to show what your church is actually like.
Visitors to your website need to be able to see things like the building, the parking lot where they will park and a picture of the pastor. That way if they bump into him in the hall, they will know who he is, Harris said.
Show who you are
Knowing about the place they’re visiting may help them feel more at home, he said.
Hammack agreed. “The temptation can be to represent yourself in a way that’s not 100 percent accurate,” he said.
“Stay away from that. Show good pictures of who you are, but show who you really are.”
5. Make sure you’re registered properly with Google.
After you’ve built your site, make sure it’s registered properly with Google, Hammack said.
“That way, when people look up churches on Google maps, it won’t just give them directions to your church — it will also link them to your website so they can see your front face from afar and learn about who you are,” he said.
To do this, you must first create a Gmail account for your church, then go to google.com/business and log in. There, you can find out if your church is already in Google’s list.
If it is, you can add information to it and link your website to it there. If it’s not, you can create it and add all the same data. Offer as many helpful pieces of information as you can.
6. Carefully consider how to expand.
Once you’ve got a basic web presence, Harris recommends considering carefully how you branch out. For instance, some churches with a Facebook fan page are starting to use the Facebook live technology to stream their services.
While Harris said this might offer benefits for some, he doesn’t believe that’s always the case. For example, sometimes churches choose to stream their entire service, and Harris said he believes this potentially could do more damage than good when it comes to attracting new members.
“If audio or music isn’t getting retooled for broadcast, it can be very distorted and sound bad, or there may be things happening during the service that are confusing to people who don’t go there,” he said.
Sermons work better, he said, because most of the time the pastor has a microphone with better levels and that helps with distortion. But he said he still recommends recording the sermon and uploading it later, after you’ve had a chance to test the sound quality.
“Think it through before you just jump in,” Harris said.
Take your web presence up a notch
Ready to take your web presence up a notch? Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Determine who’s in charge. You’ll need a person ready and willing to spearhead and take ownership of the site. This might mean you need to look to hire a company to help.
- Go with an online content management system. You will be able to access it from any computer wherever you are. I ran a Google search for “Church Websites” and came up with many responses.
- Responsive sites have become the standard for websites. Having a responsive site means that it will automatically adjust and “respond” to the display size that someone is viewing your site on. In a mobile world having this bit of technology is a must.
- Start small with your content and grow from there. Focus on information a visitor needs — service times, directions, pastor/staff.
- Be consistent in your content. Having out-of-date information on the site is actually worse than not having a site at all. It must be consistently updated.
Hopefully this will help you get a great start on improving your web presence or getting your church on the web for the first time.
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