Gospel Driven Websites
Welcoming your Visitors

This is part 2 of a ‘6’ part series on developing better church websites.

Welcome! How can I help you?

In my last post, I talked about how I wanted to go to a church, but failed to get there because their site did not give them all the details that I needed to go to their church. Now I don’t want to totally dis on the site that make me think through all of these ideas; it was a very good site that talked about how it was helping the community and it was doing it because of the Gospel. Many of the things I talked about in the last section it was doing very well, but when it came to the things that I wanted to know about, it sucked at doing these things. How can a site be successful if it cannot give you the information that you need to visit them?

There has been a recent trend to make the website the for the visitor of your church, and no longer for your regulars. This is due to the upward trend in using church centric social networks and Church Member Databases to contact your regulars. Many people who work in church website development think that this is a very good thing! (Sidenote: If you are interested in see how your church can use church management systems, Steve Kuger’s posts of this subject is suggested reading.) So, what are your visitors looking for when they go to your website?

In my last post, I also linked to an American study into why people check out ‘places of worship’ sites. Here’s the full table that’s at the end of their press release.

Research © Grey Matter 2012. See their website for html version of this table. Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

There’s some interesting themes and antidotes in this table, but they don't appear without a bit of analysis. If I was to only look at the top 10 things people who don't attend a worship service regularly, and then graphed it, and then put it in descending order, it’ll looked like this.

Image based on Research © Grey Matter 2012

When I look at this, I first notice that although there are many things to that a church site could do and explain, ultimately, there are 4 things that should be done effectively.

1.Checked to see their time of services 2. Checked for a map or directions to their location 3. Checked to see what they offer 4. Checked to see what their religious beliefs are.

Or to put it another way…

  1. The Church’s Service Times
  2. Locations and how to get there
  3. What the Church Does
  4. What the Church believes.

So let me break it down in that way.

1&2 — Service Times and Locations.

You might be thinking, “Our street address is there. People can just plug it into Google Maps themselves and get directions.” Yup, that’s true. But, consider this: these days, your first opportunity to treat guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, and generous way (1 Peter 4:9; Hebrews 13:2) isn’t when people arrive in the parking lot on Sunday morning. That opportunity occurs when they arrive on your website. — Grace McCrorie, Church Website Ideas

Front and Center.

I was surprised at so many church sites, ranging from small local churches to large mega-churches which make these details really hard to find.

Like really difficult.

Like “it’s on our front page, but hidden in a hard to read footer or some hard to find menu” or “We do have services, but we call them gatherings or events.” or “we rely on our listing on Google Maps or on Facebook.”

Why do we put the number 1 reason people go to a church site so hard to find for visitors? Now I’m not saying not to do these things, but I am mealy saying that they shouldn’t be you’re only place you can find your service times and location.

Like, go right now, get your phone out, go to your stopwatch app, open a new tab (or a few) on your computer, search for some church websites in some areas around you, maybe from another denomination or from a large/mega-church, and time yourself; how long does it get you to find the service time(s) and location(s) for that church. Then do it on your own site.

Then, if you can, do the same thing on your tablet and your smart phone. (This will come in handy in later posts.)

Now, how long on each site did it take to find that information? If it was longer than 1 minute, your website doesn’t do a good job at providing your users the most important information. If it was 30 seconds, it’s better, but not too much better. 10 seconds is good, but 1 second, having your locations and times front and centre, is best.

Information about your locations and service times should be front and centre on your site.

How front and centre does this information need to be? Like this.

St Pauls Castle Hill, Sydney, Australia http://www.spch.org.au/

The First thing you see is “We'd love to meet you… CHURCH THIS SUNDAY” with times of their services. They also have at on the front page their address. The most important details that a visitor is looking for is front and center on their front page.

Here’s another example,

Hope Culture Church http://hopeculture.tv/

The first thing you see is “SUNDAYS 10AM” and where it is. This is one of these churches which don’t have ‘services’ but ‘experiences.’ I’m not here to comment of what they call church here, but this is just another example of having this type of detail on the front and center of their front page.

But what if you have more than one campus or building? Here’s just one last example…

LifePoint Church. lifepointchurch.org

When you first go to their church site, you can see what campus is closest to you and use that to find out the information that is local to their church. You know, I would have like that option at the church that I was thinking of going.

Of course, in this example, it doesn’t really deal with the problem doesn't help us, as we have two churches in our parish in the same suburb, so currently we just put both of our addresses similar to what St Pauls does.

The Locations and times Page.

But as I showed in my quote from Gracie, although they have their most important information front and center, it’s also important to treat guests and visitors in a warm, friendly, and generous way by guiding them through how to get to where you meet.

Here are some example sites that do this well.

St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford, UK http://www.stebbes.org.uk/when-we-meet

Here at St Ebbe’s Church, they separate their Service Times and Locations pages. Their Service Times page includes a brief introduction to their services, and who is the congregation minister to contact if they have any questions.

Their Location page includes detailed instructions on how to get there, parking information, as well as public transport information. They link to Bing Maps for instructions, which is helpful, but could be done better by embedding a map.

In fact, although they have some good ideas, I think they could do this a lot better. How? Like this.

C3 Church, Ryde’s Visiting Church page: http://c3churchryde.com.au/visiting-church/

Probably the best locations and times page is here at C3 Church, Ryde. They kinda need it, since where they’re located is pretty hard to find. It has a few features that help with getting you to their church.

  • A Google Map that allows you to get directions from wherever you are,
  • What all the times are (doesn’t mention anything about what type of service it is)
  • A brief paragraph on what to expect.
  • Some images to help you familiarise yourself what is inside the building and how the building is used on a Sunday. I’ve seen churches show their premises on their website and they show empty buildings, because they thought it would be easier for everyone. But it’s important to see how the church it’s lively on Sunday, not when it’s dormant.
  • They have a short video that explains how to find parking at their church. This is quite important as they explain that they don’t have a lot of parking on site. Also notice their tone and of voice in the video. How does this set the tone at their church?
  • It also give details for public transport options that are available for them. It’s really important to realize that not everyone has an car, so make sure you are catering for them.

I believe that every single one of these ideas are helpful in spelling out how to get to your congregations service.

Using Emerging Technologies

I want to leave is one last idea. I haven’t seen any churches do this, so keep this as a “To be aware” of at this point of time. Google has a Street View option where you can invite a Google Representative to your premises and photograph public areas of your premise. They then can use these images to create a virtual tour of the building you worship in.

Now I’ve only seen this for some shops and buildings, as well as their data center. But it is an option available. However, you could easily do this with photos.

So, In Summary

  • Make sure that Location and Service times are front and centre on your site. You don’t know what the user is going through, so make it incredibly easy to find this information on the home page.
  • Consider giving a brief short sentence or two on what to your service(s) are catered for.
  • If one of your staff is the congregation minister, have them as the contact for that service.
  • Make your Location obvious, use Google or Bing Maps to show your location and so they can get directions.
  • If it’s difficult to park, Explain were you can park
  • Provide directions for those traveling via public transport.
  • Consider Using Google Street View to allow those who would like go inside your buildings.

In Part 3, we look at how to explain what churches do during the week. How do you explain and structure this type of information?

Recommended Reading