Introduction to Websites

It seems that everyone wants a website these days, but to what end? What is it that you want your website to do for you? What steps can you take to make it an effective tool for your church? I’ve wanted for some time to write a series on websites–design tips, content and marketing. While I’ve had plenty of experience in the design and content areas, marketing is something that is essential to the success of your website, and something I’ve learned more about in the last 6 months than in the previous 15 years of working with websites.

So, today I embark on a journey to try to put in words what I’ve learned over the past 15 years about church web sites. I will endeavor not to be too technical, though some points will require writing about technical things that will not make sense to you if you have no website design experience. That said, creating an effective website must be a partnership between the pastor, church leadership and webmaster. Everyone on the team will need to understand the basics about content so that what you put on your website will enable it to be effective in its mission.

This will be a series of articles, and I won’t be advertising each new article in the Weekly Update. I will try to make this a weekly feature until I’ve exhausted the topic, but other duties may also interfere with that schedule. Keep coming back to read more.

Why a website?

Just what are you trying to accomplish? Yes, it’s a good thing to have. But a website without a mission will automatically be ineffective. I’ve been on the website team for three different churches now. On the first two, it was always me trying to pull content from wherever I could find it with not that much thought to defining the website’s mission or how the content I added supported that. On my current team, I’m not always that person. We have regular meetings to discuss it, and we work toward making it an effective tool to bring in new people. Yes, that’s the primary mission for us really–to make people aware of our church and hopefully help them decide to visit. There are other secondary functions to be sure. We provide contact information which can be a reference for our members. There are always announcements of what’s happening. We can listen to past messages. There are links to other places we have information like facebook and blogspot. And people can donate online. But the primary mission remains–introducing the church to new people.

So, is that your website’s mission? It warrants some thought and discussion. For a church, I can’t think of a better mission for the website. After all, you can’t feed people with the spiritual food God’s given you if they don’t come. For the remainder of this series, I will assume you agree with me.

How will they find your church?

If you were looking for a church, how would you find it? I’m not discounting the fact that many of our members and pastors are older. So finding a church for you might mean looking in the phone book or driving your neighborhood. But for most younger people, they’d google it. OK, fine, but google it HOW? If a person knows nothing about GCI or your church, how would they search for a church? And would they find yours?

Where are we going?

I do actually have a plan. That is to lead you through the process of defining the mission of your web site, writing the text that will support that mission, setting specific page elements to help search engines rank your site higher, other things you can do to market your website, and give some basic graphic design and overall advice about church websites. Today I just scratched the surface enough to get you thinking about the mission of your website. Next time we’ll look at how people might search for your church and writing text that will help them find it.

Update: due to an inability to promote this series in the weekly update, the next in the series has been postponed until the GC2 Equipper is published in February.

Bret Miller is the Manager of Information Technology for Grace Communion International. He developed the original website for the international headquarters and continues to provide technical support for the current website. In addition, he has led the development of web sites for three local churches.