How churches can get established online in simplest, most effective way
By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
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 Harris Media Solutions in Montgomery and ministry partner with 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, strategic communication catalyst for the Florida Baptist Convention.
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,” said MacDonald, who is currently building a network of communicators in Florida to help small churches with their media needs. “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, a Prattville-based web developer and designer, 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.
Hammack has partnered with TAB to offer a cost-effective service to churches that provides professional help setting up a website and establishing a presence on social media. For a minimal monthly fee, churches can partner with Hammack and TAB to host and manage a basic church website.
TAB also partners with the Center for Congregational Resources at Samford University in Birmingham to offer peer learning groups for churches looking to learn more about using technology.
Through this partnership TAB can assist with the initial setup of a website and train someone in your church to manage it for a one-time fee, which includes the first year of web hosting. Both offer affordable and flexible financial options.
While working through the thought process of setting up a website, the experts suggest launching a Facebook fan page — another way TAB can help.
Fast and free
Hammack said, “It’s fast, free and easy to set up, and maintaining that would give you a feel for how you would do with regular maintenance of a more involved website if you upgraded to that.”
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.
Think twice before writing Facebook off completely
Are you thinking about building a Facebook fan page for your church but recent news about the social media platform has you wondering if you want to be on it at all?
Brian Harris, owner of Harris Media Solutions, encourages churches to think twice before writing off Facebook completely.
“The data breach is something people should be concerned about,” he said — referring to recent news that a London-based company had improperly gained access to the personal data of more than 87 million Facebook users — but not overly concerned.
In most cases, that data was limited to public profiles, page likes, birthdays and current cities. The information was purchased by Cambridge Analytica from an app developer who took advantage of its access to personal information, Facebook reported.
The Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation into Facebook on March 20, and Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, appeared before Congress in mid-April.
“It’s a serious issue,” Harris said. “But I would hate for someone to throw out something that has been a great tool, even with the issues.”
Justin Massey, student pastor at The Baptist Church at McAdory, agreed. “Facebook is a mission field,” he wrote on Twitter. “Removing a church from Facebook because of a data breach is like removing a missionary from the field because of the slightest of danger.”
Harris said he personally didn’t feel the breach was severe enough to make him feel unsafe on Facebook. And he said he didn’t expect the reach of churches would be affected by mass numbers of people dropping their Facebook accounts.
“Some may drop it, but even if they do, I doubt it will be in droves,” Harris said. Not only that, but Facebook fan pages are public, so people searching the internet can get to them without having a Facebook account.
“Like anything else, as a Facebook user you have to be careful — for instance, don’t over share information and make sure your privacy settings are set appropriately,” Harris said. “But in my opinion, churches can’t give up on it. It’s too useful a tool, and it reaches lots of people.” (Grace Thornton)
BAND could help your church communicate better
So you’re looking at ways for your church to communicate better with your community.
What about internally?
One possible tool you could consider using is BAND, a free group management app. It works for your youth group, worship team, Bible study, church staff or any other group you might want to pull together.
The app provides a private social network “with valuable team management tools to help enhance your congregation’s fellowship and spiritual growth,” the BAND website says.
It also provides:
- A community board where you can pin forum-style posts that everyone can read. Group members will receive notifications when messages are posted. This could be used for anything from prayer requests to Bible verses to urgent updates. You can also see who has read the post and who hasn’t.
- A calendar where you can schedule events, send out RSVPs and set reminders. You can even do things like sign up for dishes to bring to a potluck dinner.
- A polling feature that lets you collect a quick opinion from the group, like what songs people might want to sing at your next gathering.
- A chat room that you or any group member can use to send messages to the whole group quickly. Private messaging also is available for user-to-user messages.
- Voice chat, which lets you make a voice call to one person or to the whole chat room. These calls are free nationally and internationally.
- A to-do list that can be checked off by anyone as items are completed.
- Photo albums to which all group members can contribute.
- The ability to share and store files inside a group.
A number of churches have already picked up the app and found it to be useful, according to the BAND website. And you aren’t limited to just one group — you can create multiple bands inside your BAND app. (TAB)