Gospel Driven Websites
Welcoming your Visitors, Part 2

Joshua La Macchia
Nov 9, 2017 · 9 min read

This is part 3 of a 6 part series on developing better church websites.
Post 1: Gospel Driven ideas, Part 2: Welcoming your Visitors

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A brief aside — Why Language Matters

We had a slogan for our programs that we do during the week. We thought that since there was something for all ages and stages of life, we chose the slogan, “Something for Everyone.” We said… “We have something for everyone from Kid’s Clubs, Youth Groups, Young Adults Network and Adult Small Groups, and everything in between.”

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But there’s a problem with this slogan. It’s just not true. Our Senior Minister pointed out within the ‘boundaries’ of our parish, 25% of the surrounding households are Chinese. Yet we don’t currently do anything for the Chinese community. Probably a Chinese Mother out there is looking at what we do and says, “but will I know anyone at this place?” This leads to another question; should we do something for the Chinese Community? Well, there are a many of Chinese churches that meet in Schools and Community centres. Do we need another congregation? Or should we partner with one of these churches?

And what about University Students, and our Seniors, and the disadvantaged in our area? What are we going to do about them?

You see the problem, we don’t really have “Something for Everyone.” In its best of times, it’s false advertising. In its worst, it could show our mis-comings.

So what do we replace it with?

In Steve Krug’s Book “Don’t Make Me Think”, he says it’s better to use words and phrases that describe the most obvious term. If you have business and you are looking to hire people, do you call your career’s page something that sounds nice and fits into some business plan (“caree-o-rama”), or would you call this what it actually is? (“Careers”) The more obvious something is, the more usable the site becomes.

So instead of calling the section “Something for Everyone”, try “What we do”, “During the week”, or “Weekly Programs”? But how can we ask this question when we need to know what the church does?

3 — What the Church Does

You may recall that our new church website, we’re starting from scratch to help our enquirers to our website. So how to we do this?

Here’s the thing, different churches will need to advertise different ministries in different areas and regions. What works for one church in Raleigh, North Carolina, may not work for a church in Paris, France or in Sydney, Australia. In fact, something that works well in the Hills district of Sydney, may not work in Annandale or Campbelltown.

The Hills district is considered in the Bible Belt of Sydney, with a large population of Christian families living and working. Compare that to Eastwood, which in the last 25 years, is in an area of a large amount of mainland Chinese and Korean groups. In many situations, Christians find that, for them, it’s the first time that they hear anything about the gospel. Annandale is part of an area in Sydney where statistically the least religious. Many of the churches there work hard to speak to the culture in this area. Yet they still talk. Different areas have different cultures which have different world views who ask different questions.

At St Paul’s Castle Hill, they used to have a section of their site called “How we help.” They list their ministries into 9 different life stages, and in that there’s either one or more ministries in each life stage. Now they call the section “Community”, but they still break it down into life stages but also now includes Special Needs.

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At Annandale, they focus on the variety of events they put on for their community. That includes their “Introduction to Christianity” dinners, and their English Classes. They also break things down into Kids & Youth, as well as Men & Women.

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In 2015, the church included their Marriage Counselling and Divorce Care ministries on their site. This was due to the fallout of the recent Ashley Madison website hack, a dating site for married adults. The hack released to the public web compromised customer details, for anyone to see. Annandale had one of the largest user bases in Sydney, with 455 accounts listed in the hack. The church made a banner outside their church showing the statistic, and explaining that Jesus Brings hope in these situations. It directed people to a page on their site which had a video and text messages from the Senior Minister, and ways that the church supports couples. Nowadays, they list Marriage Counselling and Divorce Care as part of their list of their main ministries.

Now does this make the church look more like a service to the community rather than a family of believers? Possibly. But remember, often the things that you do as a church is the reason why enquirers are coming to your site. And, I’ll speak later about content where you explain why you meet as a church.

Thinking about site structure

So how could you organise your church’s ministries? Let’s say you’ve got this list of church ministries that you’d like to promote on your site.

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How could you showcase these different ministries in a thoughtful way for your visitors? From the sites I’ve seen, I’ve seen two main ways churches have thought about site structure.

When I started working on our church site back in 2012, we broke things down generationally. This is where you break down the different ministries based upon the intended age for their audience.

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But, some argue that this engrains a view that church can be segregated for different generations, rather than having a biblical view that all parts of the body of christ support one another. Some churches recently have moved away from this model to adopt in their marketing material a Life stage structure. A Life Stage structure is where you group the different ministries into logical life stages or types.

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How to find a site navigation structure

Trying to organise a site navigation structure can be hard, so here’s a way in which we did it.

In one of our first afternoons as a website team, I used a method called Card Sorting. This is where you ask users to break down the different ministries into grouped categories. You can use software, but I decided to go and used some index cards, and write down down all the ministries that we had at our church. I then gave the list of cards to a small team to group the ministries and give it a category name. Although we agreed on what should be on the site and where, the hardest part was what ministries we were going showcase.

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Writing the Descriptions

We then wrote new descriptions of each of the ministries, trying to cull our currently drawn-out descriptions. Just as one example, here’s our description for our Youth Group.

MAC Youth is our youth group for Teens in years 6–12 at school. If that’s you — you’re welcome to come along! We meet for 2 hours on a Friday Night!

Who: School Years 6–12
When: Fridays, 7pm — 9pm
Where: Hall @ 100 Balaclava Rd, Eastwood

It’s a Christian group, so you can be guaranteed that we will read the Bible, try figure out what it’s saying to us, and even talk to the guy who wrote it (God!). But it’s also Friday Night — so you can also be guaranteed that we’ll have a whole lot of fun in doing that, through games, challenges, bible talks, social events, supper and plenty of time to just hang out and support each other.

Want to come along? No worries! Just show up any Friday Night (term time) at 100 Balaclava Rd Eastwood. However we’d appreciate if you would fill out our Registration Form before you do, just so we know who to call in an emergency.

Looking at this, there’s already a lot of repeated information throughout the blurb. It’s funny to see that “Friday night” appears 4 times! Our descriptions for each of our ministries were so drawn out and repetitive that they felt that we were meeting some word count.

Steve Krug points out that each word on a webpage should have point behind it, and all others should be left on the cutting room floor. His mantra is, “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.” We edited, cut and refined many of our descriptions. Now, this is how our Youth Group descriptions reads.

MAC Youth
For teens in school years 6–12 — hanging out, snacks, games, music, Bible discussion groups.
7:00–9:00pm Fridays in school terms at 100 Balaclava Road.
Link to PROGRAM. Link to REGISTER Form.

It’s now a lot clearer what and where Mac Youth is. If an enquirer wants to find out more, they can contact us to find more information.

What about special Services?

If your church runs special services (baptisms, weddings & funerals) for visitors, then it maybe worth showing it online. How big that focus is depends on the church. If you do special services, then a short paragraph asking for enquirers to contact you would be enough. But some churches have it as their own separate ministry, whether that’s because they have a nice building, or a reputation for running good weddings or baptisms. In those cases, you may want to make a bigger deal out of your special services, such as a page, or what to expect if you were to go with your church. One church in North Sydney is so popular with weddings, they run their Wedding ministry on their own separate site! But, in most cases, a short paragraph will suffice.

Finally, in a hostile climate towards churches, I believe it is important to show how your local church does for the community. It could show how the church helps in food drives, monetary giving, donation bins, and care for the elderly and poor. We decided to include a paragraph that shows that we support two local Christian organisations who support the homeless during Christmas and winter.

So, In Summary

  • Different Churches need advertise different ministries in different areas and regions. What might work in one place might not work in another. So knowing what your enquirers are looking for in your general area is important.
  • There are different ways you may want to organise your different ministries outside church. The one that maybe the best for you could be to organise all your ministries that you want enquirers to know about.
  • Sit down and break down your ministries for yourself, or with a team. Find what needs to be on your site, and how you can organise your ministries. I’ve suggested two ways you could organise your ministries.
    - Generationally - Children’s & youth, young adults, Adults, Seniors.
    - Life stage & type - Families, Other Groups
  • Write blurbs that get to the core of what your ministry does, and what enquirers need to know about it.
  • If your church allows for special services such as baptisms, weddings, funerals etc. for enquirers, then there should be focus made available. Some churches have it as their own ministry. Otherwise, a short paragraph will suffice.
  • Remember to include what the church does for the local community.

In Part 4, we’ll look at the final thing that enquirers look for on a church website, the way you speak about Jesus. I’ll show some creative ways that churches have done so, as well as a discussion about sermon libraries.

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