You may or may not like this analogy, but sometimes I refer to a Church’s website as the “back door” into the Church.
I can’t prove it of course, but my guess is that the majority of people (unless invited) will check out a Church website before physically coming to the building. They have legitimate questions: what is the doctrine like, who is the pastor, will I like the music, is there a solid children’s program, will I like the culture/vibe… In a sense it’s like someone sneaking in the back door to check things out without having to commit or feel threatened.
People have real questions, and it’s important that we minister to them appropriately by meeting their needs and welcoming them properly. Here are a few tips and a few ideas for making your site more friendly for first time visitors:
- Place a welcome message for new visitors right on the home page. Provide some key links to pages that briefly describe what the Church is about. Try to imagine if you were inviting someone for the first time. What are their main questions? What main things would you like them to know? This could include something like a mission statement, meet the pastor page, Church history page, FAQs, new visitor info page, etc. Just do everything you can to make that first time visitor feel special and welcome just like you do on a Sunday.
- Make sure to list service times prominently on the home page. This seems to be one of the number one things people are looking for on a Church website.
- Are you holding an event at the Church where many first time visitors are expected to be there? Give the event some real estate on the home page so a new visitor won’t have to go digging on an unfamiliar website.
- Always make contact information readily available in the header and main nav. In online marketing sometimes we call this a lifeline. If people are frustrated and unable to find what they’re looking for often they will look for a way to reach out to a real person with their questions. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many Church websites make you dig for an email address or phone number. At the bare minimum you should have a phone number, email address and contact form. If you have a staff or ministry leaders listed on the website, make sure to include their email addresses.
- Imagine that a person is walking into the Church building or sanctuary for the first time. What do you want them to experience? Consider how the site design and colors match this vision. Most of all, assuming you are a Christ/Gospel/Bible centered Church, how can you convey that as the core priority of the website?
- This is more of a personal preference, but I wouldn’t have a bold call to action right in people’s faces to donate. People these days are so disillusioned by Church. Don’t go out of your way to cater to the 10% that donate online only to turn off the first time visitor. There are plenty of places you can still put a donation/giving link on the site without giving it visual preference.
- There is an old marketing principal that basically says you don’t sell people people by talking about yourself, but by talking about them. Look at the copy and graphics on the site. Are they too self-promotional? One of the core principals of the Church is to love and serve one another… brainstorm ways you can communicate the idea that the Church is about them. For me personally, there is nothing worse than a Church all about making a name for itself and simply existing to make itself bigger and more influential. Churches are made up of people, and the role of the Church is to serve. “The Son of man didn’t come to be served but to serve”
I pray that some of these tips were helpful for you. The Church website is a great opportunity to welcome first time visitors before they even walk in the door.
Sharing is Caring
This is the point in the post where I ask you to share this article with your Pastor, Church/Ministry webmaster, creative director, and just about anyone you know that manages a Christian website. I believe that there are massive opportunities being missed because of a lack of understanding of SEO. No hidden agenda here. Just want to be a helpful free resources for Churches and ministries. Thanks for your support.
Leave a comment if you have any questions or need help implementing what I described above.
Grace & Peace,