- Teaching & Learning"A church website is a tool for teaching and learning."
- Using images"Showing images of the worshiping life of the church is vital."
- something different"Add a unique experience to your website, consider using technology to offer features that are different."
- Keeping it simple"It's always worth while asking others for input, they will approach things with a fresh perspective."
- Website welcome"Welcome statement is the online version of putting out the welcome matt."
Basics of Church Websites
All of our websites are developed using a model of best practice that has been honed and adapted
over the past few years. This page looks at some of the key aspects of good church website development. For each key feature we have introduced one of our websites that we feel successfully demonstrates the feature being discussed. Use this independently to improve an existing website, or as an introduction to how we can help support your church redevelop an existing site / build a bespoke solution based on your unique needs.
- First time visitors - what they want to see
- Using strong images for impact
- What are you trying to sell?
- Keep the site up-to-date
- Don't use jargon
- Have something eye catching: video, audio, photography
- Focus on faith - remember who it's about
- Keep it simple
- Welcome Statement is key!
- A tool for teaching and learning
- Keep up with the Joneses: discussion forums
- Extending website welcome to physical church welcome
- Do something different
Consider the First time visitor – what they want to see
Taking a step back and observing your church as an outsider is a difficult task. Your website must always be written for the person who has yet to find you, using simple language that is easy to understand. The homepage is not a place for language that only the theologians of your congregation will understand, neither is it a place to bombard the visitor with all that you are doing each week.
Websites are used increasingly as a way of keeping the church community up-to-date with what’s going on, but every site must be developed, at least on its homepage, with strangers in mind: people who have perhaps heard of the church and want to learn more.
Stibbard Methodist Church launched their website on 1st May 2010. The focus for this project was always set firmly on those who do not attend church. During the many hours of discussion and content generation it was determined that the final product must use language that demonstrates an understanding and an appreciation of the difficulties people face in the community. It does this and also demonstrates an acceptance of the person the other end of the computer screen, regardless of circumstances or life situation. Their website continues to call people forward to know the love of God.
Visit the Stibbard Methodist Church website for an example: www.stibbardmethodists.org.uk
Use strong images
A good picture is worth a thousand words. Distributing images evenly throughout all pages of your website allows each page to become a mini photo gallery. Images are also the first thing visitors observe upon entering a new page and so the connection between image and text is vital. It is also important to match photos to the style of worship people will expect to find – you do not want to misrepresent yourself and put people off when they visit if they find something different to what they saw on the website.
Showing images of the worshipping life of the church is vital, covering all aspects of tradition and age where possible. Try, wherever possible, not to stage the photographs – photographing services and events as they happen is always the best way forward. People will soon start to forget you are taking photographs so it’s worth waiting a few minutes before jumping in with the camera. Finally, use flash sparingly. Try not to use it at all during a service. We use solidly built tripods with no flash for most of our church photography, an essential piece of equipment for any church photographer.
The Reepham Benefice website was launched on 11th November 2008. It was voted one of the ‘Top 10 Best Church Websites’ of 2009 (as voted by the Christian Aid website, Surefish). One of the major successes of this project has been the photography. All images used on the website are taken from the many services and events that we attended.
Visit the Reepham Benefice website for an example: www.reephambenefice.org.uk
What are you trying to sell?
Your website needs to sell your church very quickly. Through using a good blend of text and images your introduction or welcome should quickly tell people who you are and what they may expect from you during a Sunday morning visit. The homepage is not the place for a long-winded mission statement or a jargon-filled sound-bite. You want people to quickly understand what you have to say; let them choose to explore your site in more detail, and they will do so if you have done a good job. Your church will never appeal to everyone so do not try to be something you are not.
The Harling Benefice website was launched on 31st January 2010. It uses a blend of photographs and text to quickly tell you all you need to know about the type of church it is: sacramental with a focus on youth work. The Benefice is made up of 5 churches and it was therefore essential to create text, structure and imagery that spoke for all of the churches in the group.
Visit the Harling Benefice website for an example: www.walkingwithyou.org.uk
Keep the site up-to-date, keeping visitors wanting more
If your website promises regular updates, then it is best to ensure you keep to your promise as visitors will quickly stop visiting if your site remains stagnant. Only 10% of your website needs to be considered as ‘fluid’: areas of the website that require weekly or monthly updating. Be quick to remove out of date information, replacing it promptly with new material as soon as possible.
If your site includes a blog or community forum, ensure it is added to by a moderator on a regular basis. Blog posts don’t have to be complex, sometimes a simple question to start discussion will do. These simple steps can make your site look fluid and constantly changing to visitors. Perhaps consider having a section on your homepage that publishes ‘new material’ so your visitors have somewhere to go for the most recent additions to the site.
Fakenham Parish Church was relaunched on 23rd March 2008. This was a redevelopment of an existing website, one that was in need of upgrading. The church felt it was important to expand the site to include regular features such as ‘Thought for the Week’, publication of the parish magazine, articles and much more. The site is updated regularly every week; the ‘Thought for the Week’ providing most popular interest.
Visit the Fakenham Parish Church for an example: www.fakenhamparishchurch.org.uk
Don’t use jargon
Be careful with your use of language throughout every page of the website. Churches forget when they use words like BCP and NT that these are church-specific words, words perhaps that most outsiders will not understand.
Remember not to blast your site full of theological terms, keeping in mind at all times the average visitor will have little or no understanding of church terminology. You do not have to dumb down; just keep your audience in mind: if you use ‘jargon’, be sure to provide an explanation of what it means.
All Saints’ Mattishall website was relaunched on 20th December 2009. The website supports the ministry of 7 parishes, focusing predominantly on the parish church of Mattishall. The material written by the team at Mattishall engages visitors in a crisp and direct way. A great deal of editing and revision of text was undertaken by the Website Action Group (WAG) that created what you see today. The benefice currently have responsibility for maintaining and updating the site.
Visit the All Saints’ Mattishall website for an example: www.allsaintsmattishall.org.uk
Have something eye catching: video, audio, photography
There’s nothing better than a clickable video or audio link to most online users. In an online age where YouTube is setting the tone for visitor expectations, putting a simple video greeting onto your website goes a long way to extending the hand of welcome through your website. Some churches use audio only, especially if they do not have the technical equipment and expertise to put a video together. These can include a voice-over welcome when visitors land on the homepage, through to adding Christian music to key pages of the site.
All Saints’ Church King's Lynn website was launched on 1st November 2007. It comprises 156 pages, offering the widest range of topics on Christian teaching and history than any of our websites. It does, however, include some wonderful video clips from the introduction page (an introduction to the church by the Rector) as well as a remarkable presentation of the Anchorhold on the south side of the chancel.
Visit the All Saints’ King’s Lynn website for an example: www.allsaintskingslynn.org.uk
Focus on faith – remember who it is about
Many churches forget to include anything about Christianity when building their website. If you have undertaken research on what other websites have done, you will probably find that most forget to include information about Jesus (and in some cases any reference to God). Be sure of your readership before you include faith-based material. Statements, like “Even a cursory examination reveals that, while the Synoptic Gospels make extended use of incidents, parables and aphorisms…”, need to be sure of who will be reading the page.
St John’s King's Lynn website was launched on 27th September 2009. Like so many of our websites, the St John’s website includes a number of educational tools. Visit the ‘Learn and Explore’ section to find information about Faith Journeys, Frequently Asked Questions, Church Reflections and ‘Pause for Thought’ material that is published regularly. While the core of this content doesn’t change, except for the ‘Pause for Thought’, it remains a popular part of the site.
Visit the St John’s King’s Lynn website for an example: www.stjohnskingslynn.org.uk
Keep it simple
We are great believers in providing as much information about aspects of your church as possible; however there are key areas where this needs to be kept to a minimum, such as the homepage welcome, introduction to worship and all manner of groups at your church. Including a ‘more’ button can allow those who wish to explore deeper a way to learn more about your church without feeling overwhelmed with text.
Introductory statements need to be no more than 100 words, although it is preferable to keep them down to 50 words. This provides a challenge for many churches and you may find yourselves rewriting content time and again to get it right. It’s always worthwhile asking others for input, they will perhaps approach things with a fresh perspective and may give you ideas you hadn’t considered.
Pickering Church website was launched on 15th December 2009. The layout of Pickering Church website was chosen because the content wasn’t extensive – we were therefore able to make use of large portions of the page to display images and promote key areas of the site. Two thirds of the space is graphics and images – the remainder is text (giving the feeling of an online magazine, according to some of the congregation). Much of the text is brief and concise; however there is much interesting information on the history of the medieval wall paintings.
Visit the Pickering Church website for an example: www.pickeringchurch.com
Welcome statement is key!
The welcome statement is the online version of putting out the welcome mat – it must be brief, concise and use language that is emotive and appeals directly to each individual who enters the site. The challenge is to create a paragraph that makes each person who visits your site feel like you are reaching out to them and only them.
St Peter’s Church, Morley website was launched on 5th July 2009. The welcome statement of this website was born out of a group discussion on the need to challenge stereotypes, to let people know that St Peter’s was not a ‘traditional piped organ’ church. The language was refined over a number of meetings – what you see is the culmination of hours of work. The core of the material was created during one of our Workshops at St Peter’s and was very much a group activity. The statement uses the language ‘beyond church’ to challenge stereotypes and is mentioned a number of times in the text; this is mirrored in the domain title and the title used at the top of the website.
Visit the St Peter’s Morley website for an example: www.beyondchurch.org.uk
A tool for teaching and learning
At its very best a church website is a tool for teaching and learning; a platform for visitors to expand upon their understanding of faith, their beliefs and the bible. This can be in the form of sermons; answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about faith; articles questionning who is Jesus; blog discussions on what it means to be a Christian; faith journeys that explore the realities of walking with Jesus. These and so much more can be active ways to engage visitors to your website, enabling the church to lead the way in educating and helping people to know the love of God through Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom Living Church website was relaunched on 4th April 2010. This website was redeveloped to incorporate a large section on sermon podcasting, as well as information helping people to understand a bit more about who they were as a church and what you may expect from a visit. The sermons continue to be published as an accessible teaching tool, an extension of the teaching that takes place at the church every Sunday.
Visit the Kingdom Living Pentecostal Church, Staines for an example: www.kingdom-living.net
Keeping up with the Joneses: community discussion
The future of the Internet is set to focus on community-based forums, online communities and blogs – valued extensions of their own community, not simply a replacement. Churches should consider embracing this fast-growing medium through the use of blogs and online discussions. At its simplest a blog can pose a list of questions to which everyone can give their own answer in an environment that is safe and without prejudice. A blog can be used to make statements about news events that in turn promote discussion and learning.
St Peter’s Church, Morley website was launched on 5th July 2009. The blog on the Morley site was developed to engage visitors who are not part of the worshipping community. A number of threads have developed on the blog since the site was launched; one particular topic has 10 responses.
Visit the St Peter’s Morley blog for an example: www.beyondchurch.org.uk/blog
Extending website welcome to church welcome
Most, if not all, church websites exist to bring people physically through the door on Sunday mornings. Most websites offer warm welcomes using language that reassures and implies the church to be a friendly environment. Sadly this is not always followed up by the reality of the physical ‘church welcome’ – visitors can often be ignored and side-lined during a first visit, not the impression they were given on the website. No matter how good your welcome may seem, look at it again with a critical eye: how would the stranger on a Sunday morning feel about it?
St Barnabas Church website was launched on 25th June 2007. The combination of words, images and sound blend together to create a very accurate picture of what the worshiping life at St Barnabas is like. More importantly, the physical welcome at the church reflects the expectation of the online visitor: a warm, inviting and accepting group of people who offer a sincere welcome to all.
Visit the St Barnabas Church website for an example: www.saintbarnabaschurch.org.uk
Do something different
Standing out from the crowd is not easy on the internet, especially with an online community of 1.8 billion individuals. To keep people coming back, or to add a unique experience to your website, consider using technology to offer features that are different. Interviewing your congregation using simple audio recording equipment can add tremendous value to your website. Look at the many different ways that you can use an audio recorder or even a video recorder if you have the equipment and expertise. Why not let your youth church interview your Minister, with questions of their choosing? Think about how you can use imagery and audio to assist spiritual development and meditation.
All Saints’ Church website was launched on 1st November 2007. The Rector has included a unique feature: ‘Top 10 Holy Places & Holy Spaces’, an audio-visual tour of 10 of Norfolk’s best spiritual places. The visitor is conducted on an audio tour of each of the places listed, accompanied by an image to reflect upon. Using a simple audio recording device, Fr. Paul takes you to each place by creating wonderfully atmospheric recordings – you really do feel like you are there with him.
Visit the All Saints' website for an example www.allsaintskingslynn.org.ukE-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org