For many people, your website will be the first face of the church they see, or even the reason they come. We know this because churches we’ve worked for – both small and large, rural and urban – have told us of newcomers who have cited the website content or design as their reason for coming. And this was before the pandemic!
We’re not talking about aesthetic taste here, either. Just like your body language and tone of voice when you meet someone, the images, language and design of your church website give an impression of what your church is like: welcoming or unfriendly; traditional or modern; rational or less so.
Good quality design can help create trust. By quality, however, we don’t mean flashy. A good design is clean, clear, and strikes the right tone for your audience. Equally, your language and photography will either welcome people or make them feel like outsiders.
Your website tells Callum and Aiysha (who live down the road) about your values, interests and the benefit to your community.
And it can do even more than that! We’ve been excited to see the church awaken to the opportunities of written and online outreach during the pandemic. Websites are a means through which a church can reach many more of the lost people around them than they might be able to using only in-person manpower.
Websites can also provide a more effective way to communicate with those you do have contact with. We’d love to see churches continue to invest in using online means to sow seeds and share the gospel, even after the pandemic lifts and we can do more in person.
As graphic designers, we have talked to churches of all sizes. From those who struggle with technology to those who are more tech-savvy.
We believe churches of any size can use their website to help with their outreach. Here are our top tips.
Consider what your brand says
A brand is not just about secular marketing with financial aims. It is simply the ‘look and feel’ that Callum and Aiysha find when they visit your website. Every church has a brand, whether they realise it or not. Your brand is made up of all your messaging, including your website, social media and flyers. It is both what these say and how they say it.
What does your brand say to Callum and Aiysha down the road? Or to Rasheed and Agnieszka, who are colleagues of one of your church members?
When you evaluate your logo or website design, don’t just ask, ‘Is this a good design?’ This question provokes objective, analytical thinking which is not how most people will respond to your branding. Instead ask, ‘Would you go to this church?’ Or better, ‘Would Agnieszka go to this church?’
Know your audience
When Paul preached the gospel in different contexts in Acts, his message was the same, but he adapted his approach and language to the cultural background of his audience.
Who will visit your website, what are they looking for, and what actions do you want them to take? Your visitors are likely to be non-Christians, Christians looking for a church, and existing members. Some will search for the information they need; others need to be engaged immediately. Will the content on your homepage help or hinder these various people in taking the actions you would like them to take?
If Aiysha is invited to a craft evening and checks out the website, what she needs may be to feel reassured about coming and be clear on where to park. She may need to see happy, relaxed photos of people from different backgrounds and ages, or content written in everyday language, in order for the event to feel approachable.
Maybe Callum needs to find that the website talks about things he is searching for, such as a local community. Rasheed might respond if he sees topics he has questions about mentioned right there on the homepage.
If you want to offer people what you know they really need, you have to consider first what it is that they are looking for or care about, to help you connect with them.
Does your strapline say something like ‘Glorifying Christ and making Him known’? That’s a great message to those who truly understand it, but what does that mean to Callum and Aiysha?
Perhaps consider local needs and how your church meets them. Are there broken families in your community? If so, a strapline like ‘A loving community for all’ may show the beauty of what you offer in Christ and attract locals.
Even informal language, such as ‘loving Jesus’ or ‘living and speaking for Jesus’, may sound strange and mean little to those who don’t know Jesus. But they may have questions about who God or Jesus are. They may be seeking some kind of spirituality to help with life challenges. Use words they might respond to.
It’s important to include your beliefs on your website, but perhaps you don’t need to outline your vision in the first few words people see. Your mission-minded vision is best expressed to Christians and non-Christians by putting this into practice in how you welcome visitors to your site.
Be clear and personal
Be clear about venues, times, how to book, and who to contact, for all your ministries. Attending a service can be daunting. What do I wear? Do I have to do or say anything? Are there toilets or a crèche? An ‘I’m New’ area describing a typical service is a big help to those unfamiliar with church culture.
We also recommend using professional photography, so images look genuine and capture the warmth and love of your church family. If your budget is tight, consider a less bespoke website design to allow you to invest in photography instead.
Being clear also means a clear navigation and up-to-date content. It may be better not to have a calendar than an out-of-date one. Think about who will edit the site and how much leeway they have to be creative at the expense of quality and clarity.
Try recorded messages and stories
Some churches record welcome messages, or highlight sermons that touch on evangelistic topics. Remember to be warm and welcoming in introductory video messages, and use language that Callum from down the road will understand.
Jesus regularly used storytelling to communicate. Do you have anyone in your church family who has struggled with mental health, singleness, poverty, illness, grief, divorce, infertility or redundancy, who could write a blog post or record their story?
Be thoughtful in how you do this. Fascinating life stories can be told in an impersonal way and lose impact. Include personal details from the speaker’s background. Ask them to talk through crucial moments in their story, including the feelings and thoughts going through their mind. Prompt them to explain any Christian jargon. Content is much more important than jazzy video effects!
Respond to current events
What hope do Callum and Aiysha have in the face of difficult world events? A great way to share the Bible’s answers is through a blog on your website where you can respond to topical issues. Your posts can be shared on social media. Use short paragraphs and keep posts to under 1,000 words for best engagement. Or share engaging articles by others on these topics on your site.
Think about how your audience communicates. Our local school used to send out 5,000-word printed newsletters in formal language to parents. These were lost on a community that preferred text messages and social media, and where, for many, English was a second language.
Be creative with the skills you have
One church we work with organised trails at Christmas and Easter. Wooden pallets were cut into tree or egg shapes and painted colourfully, with a QR code attached. They were placed in church members’ front gardens. Scanning each QR code led to a different page on the church website, revealing a Christmas or Easter character and related message.
Some churches have shared Spotify playlists on their website, with appealing themes such as ‘Christmas’, ‘Comfort and Peace’ and ‘Kids’. Music is a memorable and powerful way to share biblical truths.
Pointing to charities is another way to show you are aware of and care about local people’s practical needs. List organisations you trust to help people in your community.
Finally, use others
Don’t feel overwhelmed, use what others have done – point to resource pages on other church websites. Borrow ideas! This is a golden age of Christian content. Why not set up an ‘Explore’ page on your website and point to books, podcasts, Bible reading plans, apps, music, videos … the list is endless!
For more ideas, ask your web or flyer designer for help. As designers, we love to help churches with creative ideas for outreach.
Today we have an incredible platform to communicate with a wide audience through the web and social media. Our prayer is that as a church we can use this so that many more will hear of Jesus and come to know him.