Search

I have never been one to encourage churches to chase the latest trends. The secret to successful ministry is that there is no secret. The most faithful and fruitful churches are those that plod in mission, persevere in godliness, and preach the word.

But increasingly, if your church does not have a decent website you’re uninviting a lot of people who might otherwise have plodded, persevered, and sat under good preaching with you.

I am out of town on sabbatical for most of this summer. That means I’ll be a church visitor again. And like most people under the age of 40 (or is it under 70?) when I check out churches I do most of my checking online. More often than not, when I meet a visitor at our church, they’ve already been to our website. Having a decent website is not about being hip or pursuing relevance. It’s about being welcoming and hospitable.

Your website is the front door of your church for many, many people. If you’d put a greeter at the front door of your physical church, and line up ushers in the sanctuary, and set up a hospitality center in the lobby, and make sure all the signs are attractive and pointing in the right direction, surely you ought to take the same care with your church’s website.

We may wish it weren’t so, but it’s reality: most people on the web looking for a church will never visit if your site stinks. What makes a church website stink? I’m no expert in web design, but as a new church visitor this summer, I can tell you what smells bad to me.

  • Extremely dated design. You don’t need to be cutting edge with all the latest gizmos. But if you haven’t changed your site in five years, you’re almost certainly aging rather poorly.
  • Getting by on the cheap. Sometimes even newer websites look dated because they were designed by a beloved 55 year old from the congregation with a little web know how and some time on his hands. Not trying to knock 55 year olds, but your website will be used primarily by the young, so make sure it doesn’t feel old. Again, you don’t need to spend a lot of money, but the difference between $2000 and free will convince you that $2000 was worth it.
  • No information on the staff. Visitors want to know who “runs” the place. Give us pictures. Tell us about your pastor.
  • Basic information is hard to find. You don’t need a lot of information on your site, but you need the most important items clearly marked. Service times, directions, contact information, and a statement of faith are some of the basics.
  • No opportunity to listen to recent sermons. What are you trying to hide?
  • Not enough information on childcare. Parents want to know what is available for their kids and whether they will lovingly cared for or sold to Ishmaelite traders.

While I’m at it, here are a few other things to think about:

  • More and more people get their information from smart phones. Consider building a church app, or at least see what your website looks like on a phone. Make sure the most important information is easy to find on a mobile device.
  • Bulletins are nice. I like to see what the order of worship is usually like and what’s going on at the church. But you do have to think about phone numbers, names, and prayer requests that will go public.
  • Give some thought to how well the feel of your website matches the feel of your church. If your church is stately and traditional, don’t design your site in all black, with hipster lettering, and a link to Relevant Magazine. Make the site feel fresh, but not inauthentic. People should be able to look up your church online and then visit in person without wondering if they showed up at the wrong building.

I bet many of you have experience with what works and what doesn’t. Feel free to leave some suggestions in the comments.


View Comments

Comments:


41 thoughts on “Be Welcoming, Get a Good Website”

  1. J. Dean says:

    A website needs to be attractive, but not gaudy. It needs to convey the essence of the church (including a doctrinal statement, which is one of the first things I look for when I get on a church website).

    And I can’t stand Relevant Magazine, btw.

  2. John Moody says:

    Good thoughts, Kevin. This Sunday, I’m starting my ministry as a bivocational pastor to a small (~25 people) church in rural WA state. Since I’m a Web programmer for my day job, I’m planning to get a website up for the church in the next couple of weeks. Here’s a question, though: My church is so small that there is no amplification or recording equipment at all, and I fear that trying to record my sermons would smack of self-promotion, which I very much want to avoid. Is the good of getting the sermons online worth it in this case, in your estimation?

  3. Andrew says:

    Make sure your church website is linked from the relevant directories, too.

    http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/network/church-directory
    http://churchsearch2.9marks.org/

  4. D Smits says:

    When you coming by Dyer,IN Kevin? I would hope Bob asked you to come on by during this time and we would love to have you stop by for a little conversation.

  5. Kevin DeYoung says:

    I was talking to Bob yesterday about this, trying to find a weekend to visit Faith. Maybe next weekend.

  6. Andrew says:

    One more idea: have some sort of resources page for visitors to see. A doctrinal statement may explain what a congregation is supposed to believe, but a list of recommended books often reveals what they’re excited to believe.

  7. Glenn says:

    Well I couldn’t agree more. Now if I can find $1500-$2000 in the budget with which to build a decent site :-) Trying to convince an older congregation of this necessity is like pulling teeth sometimes.

  8. james says:

    One of my pet peeves is a church that doesn’t have a statement of faith on their site. Core values don’t tell me what you believe! Put it on there! This happens a lot. Again, what are you trying to hide, church?

    Something on the general side of things: make it clean. As J. Dean said, don’t make it gaudy. I don’t want your website to look like a used car company’s site.

  9. Dave says:

    Relatively few of the children’s ministry volunteers at our church are actually Ishmaelite traders. Some of us may bear a passing resemblance, but that’s just a coincidence.

  10. Melody says:

    Great advise! When I was in college and needed to find a church, of course I did a google search. Churches with no website or a hard to use website were automatically out – I wasn’t going in blind!

    Some churches kinda seem to be offended by the idea of a nice website, catering to those punk kids I guess, but I’ve been at churches that are going to die out soon because they don’t HAVE any of those punk kids. Get a nice website.

  11. Paula says:

    Three years ago our family found ourselves in church-search mode. Our kids were 17 and 14 at the time, so we didn’t have 2 years to visit every church in the area. We were desperate to avoid “seeker sensitive” models, so websites that led with “Loving God, loving people” were (fairly or unfairly) immediately suspect. Usually a trip to the youth ministry page would confirm my suspicions. [Note to senior pastors: do you know what’s on your youth ministry page and what is linked there?]

    Statements of faith/doctrine were also important, but sadly, they often didn’t match the ministry model (you say you rely on the Bible and the HS for the regeneration of souls, but your ministry model indicates you rely on a hip band and lifestyle enhancement sermons).

    Ultimately, we ended up with a handful we wanted to visit, including the one whose youth ministry page unashamedly said, “We teach the Bible aggressively, verse by verse.” The church delivered on that and it was a consistent church-wide policy. And that is how we came to be members of a GARB church, despite a poorly-designed website.

    I’ve tried to convince our pastor that a crappy website is like visitors driving past the church and seeing peeling paint and missing shingles. Because the truth is, my (now) 19-year-old son likely would have looked at that website and never visited that church. His generation is much more likely to judge the church by the first impression they get from the website.

  12. Thanks for the comments, Kevin. Any interest in a follow-up post with some screenshots of different sites you check out and comments on what does/doesn’t make them effective?

  13. Joanna says:

    Another thing I have hunted for on church websites is pictures from church services or other gatherings to work out how it is considered appropriate to dress at that particular church. It is a fairly uncomfortable experience to show up dressed way too casual or way too formal.

  14. Erik says:

    Excellent, thoughtful points Kevin.

    You’re spot on…those under 40 usually will view the church website before they enter into the church. I know I did.

    As odd as it sounds, viewing the church website is sort of like those online dating sites, in the sense that you can sort of narrow down the potential dates only after viewing the person’s religion, political stance, hobbies, etc.

    I know, I know…not the best analogy, but they are quite alike. ;)

  15. Sam Greenlee says:

    Sorry to advertise on here, but I specialize in designing affordable websites for churches, and whether or not your church can afford a web designer, I recommend designing a site with the WordPress.org platform

  16. Kevin, Good points on why the website is today’s “face” for a church. One caveat: As a 50 year old, I believe you’re wrong in implying that an “older” person isn’t too helpful in designing a good quality web site. I’ve designed several a few years ago for churches and they used them successfully for awhile. While I agree there are generational differences in design and content, I quite frankly feel your post promotes a form of ageism that permeates the culture, although I know it wasn’t your intent, brother.

  17. David says:

    Very true. Whenever I visit a business (which I do more often than churches) that is well run and professional but has a terrible website, I’m shocked. And they’re lucky I came in at all. Your website is absolutely your 21st century front door.

  18. Liam Moran says:

    Nowadays, if a church wants to have a viable ministry in the community, I would argue they must have a website for the various reasons listed. This is how many even find a church is through the web. Interestingly enough, some of the most struggling churches I have encountered are also ones that don’t have a website. Obviously having does not guarantee an effective ministry but in my experience churches that are struggling and declining are in that situation because of a mentality which is also keeping them from having a website. They don’t have a viable ministry and therefore do not as a result see the significance of having a good website about their church.

  19. Richard Simpson says:

    Thanks for highlight this, Kevin. I actually came across an ad while reading elsewhere on this GC site for Sharefaith.com, which apparently offers both church media and church website templates for about $130 per year. We are going to be signing up our church for this next month–our old stuff is so tacky!

  20. Paul Bruggink says:

    Re your “And like most people under the age of 40 (or is it under 70?)”:

    You might want to make that “under 100.” My Dad is 94 and still gets most of his information on the internet. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to church as frequently as he used to. Mom (92) is somewhat less than thrilled about his driving.

    BTW, I agree completely with your blog post. Like it or not, a professional-looking website is important. My wife and I owned and operated a small business for 8 years, and I have reason to believe that our website was responsible for around 80% of our new customers.

  21. Tyler says:

    I agree, and it is a good point making the distinction that “Having a decent website is not about being hip or pursuing relevance. It’s about being welcoming and hospitable.”

    Anyone interested should check out Media Salt (www.mediasalt.com). I’m not associated with them in anyway, so this isn’t a toot my own horn sort of thing. The group helps facilitate the discussion of keeping the church and ministries relevant through media on their blog and does some creating of technologies and media as well. Their slogan is “God isn’t bland. The Church shouldn’t be, either.”

  22. Hugh says:

    Hi Kevin, I love your blog so much I followed the link to your church to find out more, especially about the music ministry at your church and what it was like. Bummer. I came up empty . . . I think many folks are interested in the worship atmosphere, aka style, at a church. Did I just miss it? Or are you trying to hide something? (a big wink here!)

  23. This is a great point and many churches would benefit in great ways if they had a better displayed website. I’m the owner of Six23 Website Design LLC based out of Mesa, Arizona and we would love to help reformed churches gain a better web presence in displaying their information on the web. We’re a Christian owned company who hold to the doctrines of grace and would love to update many sites out there on the web. Our pricing is competitive and we will make your church website up to date in style and functionality! Visit our website for more information and contact us today for a free quote on making your website a better platform for the gospel.

  24. Very practical advice Kevin. Thanks for blogging on the subject. I think any church – when considering their website – should look first to your statement that “The most faithful and fruitful churches are those that plod in mission, persevere in godliness, and preach the word.” But I also want to caution… you mention that people what to know abou the church staff – “who runs the place” – but make sure the site does not become ALL ABOUT the pastor or select staff. The last thing a church needs is a site with a picture of the pastor on every page. It needs to reflect the mission and glorify God more than it does the pastor who runs the place. :)

  25. Ronald L. Redder says:

    Kevin, one of the best blogs on the internet – especially coming from the RCA perspective – mistake: it’s the best!

  26. Kevin-

    If you have a few minutes to speak in regards to working with Six23 to help churches in other countries in need of a good website but cannot afford one then please respond via email or phone and I would like to share some ideas with you on how we can promote doing that.

    Thanks Kevin,

    Trevor

    trevor@six23webdesign.com
    602.796.3953

  27. Ray Pennoyer says:

    I recently compiled a directory of churches in the region for the New England School of Theology and it is AMAZING how bad many church websites are. Some are not even clear about where they meet – OR – the font is so small as to make it nearly impossible to read. Great advice from Kevin all around!

  28. Danielle says:

    Great thoughts! The only thing I would add is to consider safety [ie. not having contact info for any female epmloyees of the church]. :)

  29. Paul says:

    Excellent advice.

    I will add one thing. Churches also need to think about where they appear in a search engine if someone types “church name-of-city” into google. Ideally, if you want to attract younger people who are new to your city, you want google to have your church appear on the first page of hits (although, of course, if you’re in a big city, that might be hard to do).

    Also, churches need to think about what negative stuff appears about them when someone types in the name of the church or head pastor into google. (As a fun exercise, try typing “Kevin DeYoung” into google and see what comes up on the first page of hits.) You can’t get rid of the bad stuff but you can swamp it with good stuff (so that the bad stuff becomes hard to find) if you know what you are doing.

    Paul

  30. wyclif says:

    This is all good advice, but I would recommend not putting entire sermons on your church site. You give away a taste, but not the entire ice cream sundae. If people can hear the whole sermon without coming by and worshiping with your congregation and getting to know you, they may mistakenly think they can get to know you by listening to your sermons in their bunny slippers at home.

  31. Paul Bruggink says:

    Wyclif,
    If a personal friend of mine, who happens to be the pastor of a church other than the one that I attend, followed your recommendation, then I would never get to hear my friend’s entire sermons. ;-(

  32. Laura says:

    wyclif, who on earth intends to go to church but, seeing full sermons on a church website, decides to stay home instead? Who listens to a short preview of a sermon, and responds, “Gee, I’m so intrigued by this 30-second clip that I’ll show up to listen to a totally different sermon in person this Sunday!”?

  33. Andrew says:

    A good church website is always a must. I personally always like to check out a church’s website before visiting them where possible. It gives me a good idea of who their staff is, what they believe, and some of the ministries that they are involved in.

    @Wyclif, if you are to only give people a taste of the sermons, what about those regulars who miss a week of church, should they be excluded and not able to catch up because you only want to give visitors a taste of the sermons.

    The majority of people who actually download sermons for most churches are people from within the congregation wanting to listen a second or third time. It really is only the larger churches that have non-regulars listening to their sermons.

  34. Wilson says:

    I burst out laughing when I saw “Ishmaelite traders”. Good point.

  35. Great post Kevin.

  36. Kevin- We have just launched our first church website. We are a small rural church attempting to draw people “out” to our location. Would you mind taking a look at our site and giving us some feedback?

  37. Justin Wise says:

    These are phenomenal points, Kevin. You raise questions that virtually every church planter/pastor should be thinking through. Thanks for making this point!

    One of the things we’re finding at Monk is that more and more, the church website is the new “front door.” Like a commenter above said, more and more older people are finding their information online, including where to go to church! If churches don’t take part int his opportunity, they may be squandering an opportunity to build the Kingdom!

    Thanks again. Great words!

  38. T. J. Jones says:

    All good points.

    I’ve worked for Monk Development, an internet technology company that services churches, and all of this has been consistent with our research.

    Justin, my colleague who posted above, is to modest to mention this, but we actually provide a lot of valuable information for churches to take part in. If you’re looking to “figure it out” then please join us on our monthly webinars we do that help tackle some of the implementation issues that come up.

    Justin is leading one tomorrow actually.

    Details below:

    http://monk.so/monkdevweb3_reg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Search this blog


About


Kevin DeYoung photo

Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

Kevin DeYoung's Books