One of my favorite hymns is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (ELW 807). It is one of my favorite songs to sing in worship. The lyrics made an impact on me once a long time ago, and they have stuck with me ever since. The ELW version of the hymn has some different verses in stanza 1. The version I am familiar with says, “Teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.” The flaming tongues provide a throwback to Acts 2 and Pentecost when the crowd was able to understand the preaching in their own languages about the marvels of God. God’s love is truly like a mountain, steadfast and unchanging throughout generations. Check this out if you want to see even more variations on the text.
In the years that I’ve been serving churches as a pastoral musician, the church website has fallen on my plate fairly consistently. Sometimes I volunteer to do it after I realize there is no one else doing it. Sometimes the responsibility is listed on the formal job description. Ten years ago, a church with a website was kind of a novelty. Launching a church website ten years ago was sort of like undertaking a mission to the moon. Today the church website is often the first piece in place when a church begins (before services begin, ministries start, etc). There is also a huge market catered to the religious industry, offering customized templates, financial giving services, and member social networking.
As simple or complex as your church website may be, here are the essential things that your church website needs to be useful (and some explanation why they are important):
- Name of Church/Ministry: This should be prominent, easy to read, and consistent across all pages. You usually place the name of the church in the “header” or “banner” area of your website. If you have a church logo with the name incorporated into it, you want to use it here and make sure the branding is consistent across all the pages of the website. If you don’t have a logo with the name incorporated into it, avoid just throwing the name of the church up there in Times New Roman or Comic Sans font. Doing so will be a visual indicator that the information is irrelevant or that you lack the time/ability to do things well.
- Service Times: The service time information should be the next best placed on the page. It can be incorporated into the “banner” area with the name of the church, or it can appear in the “sidebar” area. Make it as easy to understand as possible, listing each individual service opportunity line by line. Include times and “am” or “pm.” If you have midweek or Sunday evening gatherings, list them as well. Many visitors will try a church at a time other than Sunday morning because they are committed somewhere else then. When service times change, update the website the week before the changes take place. When there is a special seasonal worship gathering, update the website with the information a month before the service takes place.
- Location/Maps/Directions: It should be very easy to find directions to your gathering from your website. There are several ways to provide this information, some better than others. You can provide a link to Google Maps where people can type in their address and get directions. You can embed a Google Map in your website. You can insert a different map into your website with cross streets and prominent features/businesses to help people locate your gathering. You can provide step-by-step verbal instructions for drivers coming from several directions. If possible you should include information about public transportation opportunities and provide links to local time tables. You could also create a downloadable map/direction sheet for people to print out.
- Photos: Some pictures on the home page are always a good idea – they put a human face on your organization. Avoid using stock photography. Stock photography can give a “plastic” look to your church, like only happy, perfect, physically attractive people belong to your church. Ideally you want to use pictures of your own people. If you can, hire a professional photographer to capture images of your gatherings and use the images on the website. Photos are also a way to be subversive in your church. If you’re trying to reach out to the young adult demographic, put pictures of young adults on your home page. If you’re trying to build a more racially diverse congregation, include multi-ethnic people on your home page. Avoid using pictures of your church building, worship space, or other facilities on the home page. They are less personal than human faces. It is acceptable to use pictures of the building on other pages within the website. Thou shalt not use clip art (doves, rainbows, crosses, praying hands, etc.).
- Ideally all these items are visible “before the fold.” In other words, you can visibly see all these items on the page without having to scroll down to the bottom.
- View your church website in a variety of internet browsers (IE, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc.) and on a variety of monitor sizes (laptop and desktop) to make sure the page formatting and photos look consistently good across them all.
- Avoid using more than 8 pages on the main menu listing. If you need more use subpages listed under the 8 main pages.
- An “About Us” page should be listed in your main menu. This section can include subpages that describes the mission, vision, and core values of your church. Another subpage to include is a staff listing. List the staff person’s name, email address, position, picture, and a brief biography to help connect to the leadership of the church. A beliefs subpage is also important. You want people to easily understand what brand of Christianity your church subscribes to. Your denominational website should offer language that you can borrow. Local adaptation is always preferred though – make it your own.
- A “Contact Us” page should be listed in your main menu. This page lists how to get in contact with the church office. Physical address, mailing address, church office email address, phone number, fax number, emergency contact number, school or mother’s day out number, etc. This is also a great place to provide links to the church’s social networking pages: Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc. If you offer people a way to connect to your church, list the info here.
- A “Guests” page should be listed in your main menu. This page has to be completely tailored for the person that has never been to your church before. Keep the language simple and jargon-free. Explain everything that a first-time guest would need to know: nursery, restrooms, children’s activities, parking lot, front entrance, coffee/refreshments, etc. Tell them exactly what they can expect when they pull into your church for the first time. Don’t turn it into a wishlist – make it accurate to what actually is. Assure them that they won’t be singled out as guests during the service. Give a breakdown of what the worship service might be like, describing the music, liturgy, and content of the service. If you have a gift for guests, tell them where they can find it. Be sure to conclude this page with an invitation to contact you either by email or phone with any questions they may have, and state that you look forward to seeing them at one of your events or services.
- A “Ministries” page should be listed in your main menu. If small groups are a foundational part of your church’s mission they should have their own main menu page. Create a subpage for every major department or ministry area of the church. Give a description of what the ministry does, who can participate, and when they meet or serve. Provide contact information for how to get more information about each ministry.
- A “Messages” page should be listed in your main menu. Use the page to link to audio/video from your weekly sermon. If you’re not recording at minimum the audio from your messages you should start. The technology and equipment required are easily accessible. Ask your favorite techie for help. You don’t have to have the message available every week, but you should at least offer some examples of a typical sermon. Guests want to know what you sound like and your style before they show up.
- If you use online giving (and you should) a “Give” page should be listed in your main menu. There are many options for how to set this up and different providers to use. Do the research, consult your financial leaders in the church, and use a tool that works for you.
- The footer is the area at the bottom of each webpage. You want to have a consistent footer on the bottom of each page, in small print. Include the physical address of the church, the main email address, and the phone number.