I'm not going to lie. I've looked at a lot of church websites.
This is due to my having recently considered over a hundred cities in which to move and live. I know, right? A bit much. But it became something of a hobby, cracking open my laptop, firing up Google Maps, along with various church directories, intent on finding a new place to settle down.
Having since rumbled across the country in a moving truck, finally landing Pensacola, the dust has settled. No need for more feverish research. But through the process, I've emerged on the other side with a black belt in "What I want to see in a church website."
By "What I want to see in a church website" I mean pretty much exactly that. When I go to a church website in order to investigate what they're all about, what attracts me and what doesn't?
Now the purpose in airing my thoughts isn't to flaunt some kind of special insight of mine. Not at all. I have no special insight. This is merely a matter of opinion. But they're opinions fresh out of the oven, and they’re rooted in real desires looking to be met.
So what's what?
The truth is that prospective visitors judge a book by its cover. I do it all the time. And you know what? In the majority of instances where the website is outdated or sloppy or cheesy, it does reflect the church to some degree. There is a correlation between the two.
But let's imagine it doesn't. It simply doesn’t matter if the pastor is amazing, or whether the people are godly, if the church website strikes the prospective visitor as hokey or disheveled (a relic of the past), they’re likely going to move along.
Go with a clean, crisp, sharp, more minimalistic look.
The truth is that prospective visitors want pictures. I want pictures! Not a family album of pictures. But a fair number of pictures to give me a genuine feel. I want to see the pastor(s). The session. The congregation. And a bit of church life. When a church website hides their identity like a person in a witness protection program, I get frustrated. I’m snooping here, people. Let me peek in the window!
The truth is that prospective visitors want to know what you believe. Now there’s a balance to be preserved here. If a church website details their beliefs with a host of positional papers, I get a slightly uneasy feeling. Sometimes the militant do that. But not always. My preference is to see a tight mission statement along with links to the creeds to which they subscribe. That gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.
The truth is that prospective visitors want to hear the pastor. Videos are great. Online sermons are a must. They key here (as with pictures) is to get a feel. We want to attend before we attend. We want to make sure we’re not stepping into something that is going to make us want to slide out the back door, or run! If you haven’t had to visit an unfamiliar church in a while, then you forget how it feels. Make people feel invited and assured.
The truth is that prospective visitors want to see a diversity of ages in the congregation. If I am a twenty something or thirty something or a forty something with a family, I want there to be other families in my age bracket. It’s true. There’s no getting around it. So if you happen to have a fair bit of diversity in the congregation, make it evident. Show it off on the website. Now if you don’t... well, I don’t know what to say. It’s going to be hard attracting families. Birds of a feather flock together, after all.
The truth is that prospective visitors want to know about your programs. They want to know about small groups. They want to know about children programs. Outreach. Missions. They want to know what you are all about, not merely in the big picture sense, but in the tangible, week-to-week things you do. Is there evidence of life? If so, what does it look like? Pictures are much welcomed.