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Streamlining your website and keeping it up-to-date

A church’s website is often the first thing that visitors see. For those who are planning to visit the church they will likely look it up. During a time of mission--and especially in our twenty-first-century society--a church’s website can be used to great effect and have a tremendous impact for the gospel.

This article is aimed at church staff teams or volunteers who have an established website but are looking to develop it further. 

Clarify your website goals

This may feel like a total contradiction to my last paragraph but one easy way to streamline changing your website is answering the following question: What is your website for?

I manage my church website and our purpose is in the following areas:

• To showcase the full spectrum of our church community

• To encourage people to engage in discipleship (both those with and without faith) 

• To inform people of our missional activity such as local events and services

Knowing that these three things are the purpose for our website helps me make decisions around content and design. For instance, my church website doesn’t have a ‘Church Staff’ page, but an ‘I’m New’ page to make it as easy as possible for new people to find key information for an in-person visit. We also have a live chat function which sends messages directly to our team, again making engagement as easy as possible. This clear vision helps us streamline what we include and exclude on our website. 

This clear vision helps us streamline what we include and exclude on our website. 

Is your website provider suited to your needs?

In my experience of working with churches, the following situation is quite a common one to find yourself in:

At one stage your church didn’t have a website and then someone pioneered the idea and built one. They picked a content management system like WordPress or Squarespace or even started paying a company. It initially had some pictures and some basic information. As the years have gone by, you’ve added and extended bits and now, although it works, it doesn’t quite do what you want it to.

The current content provider or content management system (CMS) may not be suitable for your specific needs as a church. For instance, if you’re wanting to lean into a sermon search engine feature, most secular content management systems don’t quite fit. Most are designed for blogs and a sermon isn’t quite a blog.

How do you manage events and notices?

You may already be doing this, and if so skip this paragraph, but many websites I come across have not found a good and usable way of updating events and/or notices on their website. Before I go into details though, let’s get our definitions right. 

A notice: A piece of information that isn’t necessarily fixed to a specific time or date relating to your church community. 

An event: A piece of information that has a fixed time and date relating to your church community. 

Notices work quite well utilising the blog function on most CMS’s. Typically with blogs you get the space for a heading and some details, as well as giving you some metadata around the time and date the notice was first shared online. Perfect! 

However, events complicate things. Events are not utilised to use the blog function on most CMS’s and, in fact, it can become very confusing particularly when the blog post date and event date aren’t clearly classified. If you’re working with WordPress or Squarespace it’s worth seeking out their event-specific plugins and features. These features are designed for information which has specific time and date details. Some CMS’s allow you to mix notices and events to make it seem like one stream of information; others will require you to have different pages. It’s worth the time to understand how events work on your website and how they complement the notices. 

Is your website your single source of information?

If I had to check one place to know details of an event, where would you tell me to check? How would I know if an event is cancelled? Where would I look to see if the time had changed? If I need to find more details, where should I look?

The value in your website being the most accurate and up-to-date source of information cannot be overstated. If you consistently use your church website in this way then those who use it will learn to check there before anywhere else. This, in turn, will mean you will only need to update your website and not other social channels or newsletters as well. This in the long run makes less work for you; in the short term, it requires you to keep your website up to date. This can be time-consuming, which brings me to my next point. 

Are you building a team?

Regardless of whether you’re paid staff or a volunteer, managing your church website yourself will mean hitting a ceiling pretty quickly. If you’re looking to ensure your website is the most up-to-date and accurate source of information for your church, you need to share administrative access with a wider team.

If you’re looking to ensure your website is the most up-to-date and accurate source of information for your church, you need to share administrative access with a wider team.

The church website I currently manage has several static pages that run themselves. However, there are several pages (not just the events page) which require regular updates: Kids Ministry, Youth Ministry, Messy Church, House Groups etc. I – as a volunteer – can’t be in every church meeting and so need others to share the responsibility of updating the website. 

Our Sunday school leader has edit access to our kids and youth pages, and our social committee chair has access to the events page and can create and edit events. Whilst this doesn’t remove me completely, it means I can step back from the treadmill of regularly changing content. 

When I’ve said this before to people, however, it’s at this point where they usually say, ‘But my volunteers aren’t that technical.’ Which brings me back to point 2: is your website provider and content management system suited for your needs? If it is currently too technical, it might be that you need a simpler user interface. Or are you creating systems that are too complicated for willing volunteers to use? Consider how you could lower the technical requirements to help engage a wider volunteer base.

Geraint Harries

Geraint Harries is a computer scientist based in Lancashire with a background in software engineering and website development. Like many he volunteers at his local church with the skills and abilities he has; in this case technology. His church gained national attention due to their innovative approach to digital technology, of which Geraint was a significant driver. He is passionate to share his knowledge with other churches to see people move closer to Jesus through new and exciting ways.