Effective Home Pages for Churches

While I work with a variety of non-profits & small businesses, a good number of my clients are churches.  There are a few unique things about new media communication in this niche of non-profits, and I’ve been thinking lately about websites, and most especially about the home pages of church websites.

Churches create websites for at least two different groups of people– members and insiders on the one hand, and a target demographic of prospective attenders/members on the other.  The content of the website should be skewed at least 75% toward those prospective attenders.  As I talk to pastors today, almost everyone visiting their church on their own (without being brought by a friend or family member) has looked at the website of the church before ever showing up in person.  So your website is your chance to indicate whether it might be a “good fit” for folks.  And the Home page of your site is the first thing they see.

There are of course, other things to think about site-wide, but the Home page deserves a bit of special attention.

Think of your Home page as your welcome mat, or at least the entryway to your home.  When we visit someone’s home for the first time, we both consciously and unconsciously pick up clues about the family that lives in the home.  Are they more formal or relaxed?  Does the home feel sterile and unlived in, or so lived in that the messiness of daily life overwhelms the visitor?  Are there evidences of the family’s identity: cultural or religious clues (like a Jewish mezuzah on the doorpost, or African prints on the wall); books they are reading; whether they invite you first to the living room or to the kitchen?  Your Home page is your opportunity — in words and images to give both a welcome and share who you are as a faith community.

In both words and “feel”, your home page should:

  • Convey a warm welcome, and it’s design should connect with your target outreach demographic (for example, if your target is active retirees, your site will have larger fonts that if your target group is under-30’s).
  • Briefly tell something about who you are.  Churches are not one-size-fits-all, and church “shoppers” are looking for clues that they might fit in at your church: theologically, generationally, worship styles, opportunities for learning or service, even dress styles (formal/casual).  Express your congregation’s personality–for example, use humor if that’s who you are.  The real challenge is brevity–site visitors are usually scanning, and will skip reading long blocks of text.  Save the longer story of how you got to be the way you are for your “About us” page.
  • Have the worship times, in bold, visible on the opening screen with no scrolling.  And keep this up to date! If you are changing the time of next Sunday’s service, make sure that’s up on the home page by the Monday previous.
  • Provide easy links to other information that might be of interest: a “visitors’ FAQ” (frequently asked questions) if you have one; a description of your worship style (especially if you have more than one style of service).

Here are a few things to avoid on the home page:

  • Any outdated content.  Remove any dated content as soon as possible.  If you list the sermon title, scriptures, or preacher for “next Sunday”, this content ought to go up on Monday morning.
  • Put promotional announcements (“Car Wash Fundraiser this Sunday!”) in a sidebar if needed, but avoid this type of content in the main area of your home page.  You wouldn’t start forcing your kids’ soccer schedules or your household budget into the hands of a first time visitor to your home, so don’t do it with website visitors.
  • Ok, so this isn’t a “don’t” but a caution: Think twice about putting a flash or rotating images on your home page.  Depending on how they are constructed, they may pose issues for smart phone users.  Depending on how you put them together they can slow down page load times.  But the larger issue: most of the time, these slide shows are just not well done, and come off looking cheesy or worse.

I’m interested in dialogue here.  Anyone have any other Home page tips?

 

 

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Resources

Christian churches may be interested in the resource Spiritual Formation Newsletter Content, and online resource that makes available short articles on spiritual formation appropriate for email newsletters.