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January 17, 2020
Learn how to make your church website your secret weapon of exponential growth and engagement.
January 15, 2020
Your church website is the digital home of your church.
If you have an up-to-date web strategy for your church, then many of the people in your town who Google “churches near me” should see your church in the top three results.
More than that, if you’re utilizing your website properly, then your members will be using it regularly as well—that is, if you don’t have a church app.
Here, we’re going to walk through a 7-step process to optimize your website strategy, implement that strategy, and increase the chances that a new visitor to your website will show up at your front door on Sunday. In other words, we’re going to make sure that you have all the tools to make a stellar first impression on as many people as possible who show up at your church’s digital front door.
Is your church a front door or a living room?
This is a lively debate among church communications professionals. You need to nail down your answer to this question: “Who is your ideal website user?” If your ideal users are members, your website needs to take on a more complex user interface to accommodate the many multiple needs various segments of your congregation will bring to your digital home. Just like a living room, which has a couch, a lamp, a television, a few windows, and a bookshelf, your church website will need to have multiple tools on its front page so that it is a useful tool for those who regularly access it.
On the other hand, if your church is for visitors, then your website is your church’s front door. The door doesn’t have a complex feature set. It has a knob with a keyhole, and if you’re fancy, you might have a knocker. That’s it. There’s one purpose of the outside of a front door: Entry.
If your church website is meant for visitors, it should be similarly stripped down. There should be one single call to action: Visit. “Visit our church!” “Plan your visit!” Whatever it is, give people one button that corresponds to your one desired action. And, if you’re a church, that single action should be getting people from your website to your physical building on a Sunday.
Not only do you need to have a call to action in mind, but you need to hone the way you articulate that call to action so that it is both (1) as effective as possible, and (2) as representative of your church’s distinctives and values as possible. This means that for some churches, it might be appropriate to have a single button that says “Attend a Mass,” whereas for others, it might say, “Plan your Sunday visit!” It all depends on your church’s visitor onboarding protocol, member acquisition strategy, and distinct denominational and demographic identity.
Your website should be beautiful. Plain and simple. If your website looks like a bunch of text with no pictures, no stylization, and no aesthetic that draws people in, they will get the sense that your church building and community operate with a similarly neglectful attitude toward the excellence of your church service and organization as a whole.
Too long, didn’t read? If your church is unsightly or ugly, people won’t visit. There’s no way around it. A simple wireframe for your website’s home page would have a beautiful picture of greeters outside your door on a Sunday morning with big smiles on their faces saying “Hello!” to someone walking in the door, with a button that is designed to match your site’s brand identity that has a 2-3 word call to action.
That button would lead people directly to a digital action which would schedule an appointment for them that syncs directly to their google calendar and your church onboarding team’s calendar. Ideally, that would kick off an email funnel that would prepare the new visitor for the service (telling them what kind of clothes people normally wear, what to bring, what you’ll provide for them (ideally a gift basket of some kind)), as well as post-service emails that help them to get integrated into the church.
Use your website analytics dashboard to see what’s working and what’s not. If you have a lot of traffic to your home page, but a high bounce rate (people leave your site without clicking through to another page), then you need to optimize your site so that people start taking actions. Again, this comes back to your website philosophy—is your website a living room or a front door? Personally, I fall on the “front door” side of that philosophy.
The less people have to think about your website, the more likely they are to take the action you desire. The more likely they are to take an action, the more likely your website will be a tool that produces real growth and engagement.
An “exit intent” pop-up tracks when your user’s cursor moves in the direction of the “X” or “Back” button on their web browser and offers them some premium incentive to take action before they leave the site.
People are more likely to leave a site if it feels static and unmonitored, and an exit-intent pop-up is a way of communication: “Before you leave, we want you to know that we care about you and would love you to visit!” Perhaps you can include a beautiful image of the gift basked people get when they set up a visit and attend your church. Or perhaps you could offer to schedule a meeting with one of the church leadership staff.
These pop-ups are a feature native to most website platforms—if it’s not, it’s usually as easy as installing a simple plugin.
We’ve already mentioned this for your home page, but this should be a regular practice in the web design of your entire website. No matter what page people are on, the images should be as big and beautiful as possible, and the text should be as short, dense, informative, and actionable as possible.
Even on pages that are intended to be information-rich, such as a “What We Believe” page, opt for embedding a short video from the senior pastor that offers to connect with new visitors over lunch to learn more about visitors and their search for a new church.
We’ve already mentioned this point as well, but it’s worth details elaboration. The words on your website should not feel stream-of-consciousness at all. If I visit a church website, and the first thing I read is “First Baptist Church was founded in 1975 on the belief that…” *snooze* I’m gone.
Write out your stream of consciousness thoughts, and then edit that copy down with this mindset: “How can I get this sentence below 10 words?” And for your buttons and calls to action, it should be 1-3 words. Join. Visit. Meet. Sign up. Local small groups. People get it. Visitors know what they’re looking for. Members know what they’re looking for. Your website is a trampoline, not destination.
At the end of the day, all of this comes back to point 1. If you don’t have a vision with your website, no matter how beautiful it is, your website will not make a good impression. Your website is a tool, and tools have value because they fill the gap between need and fulfillment. If you don’t have a specific vision, you’re not offering substantial fulfillment at any level measured along the lines of excellence.
If you’re not providing excellent fulfillment for a particular need, then every user will find your website disappointing and, very likely, will make a decision about whether to visit your church based on that experience. People can tell when they’re not the target audience of a website. And if you have no specific target audience—members vs. visitors—then your audience is no one. And people will feel it.
In summary, to overcome that problem, here’s what you need to do: