The members of Ascension Lutheran Church knew that they needed to do something with their aging website.
The 673-member congregation in Colorado Springs, Colo., created a website years ago, but never really used it to promote themselves or for internal communications. Now, with the digital age fully at hand, they knew they needed their website to do something more.
But as the church began to look into the website, the more they began to realize there was an issue with their overall communication as a congregation.
“We have a structure that works pretty well, but they can become silos,” Rev. Daniel Smith said. “So finding ways for those silos to talk to one another was important.”
Ascension created a task force to create a new communications plan, including a new website, to grow as a faith community. Andy Saunders, a member of the church who specializes in communications, was picked to lead the task force and knew right where to go for help.
Saunders had met Christopher Harris during their time in Odessa, Texas, and knew about Faith Growth. But his decision was less about the personal connection and more about the professionalism of the company and the modern look of its portfolio.
“I looked around at other competitive people, but I just didn’t like their work as much as I like what Faith Growth had done,” Saunders said. “I found them to be more modern, fresher and had a little more youthful look and feel to them, which was something were trying to go for.”
Work on a new website didn’t start immediately. Instead, on May 16, 2014, Harris flew up to Colorado Springs for two days of interviews to get to know the congregation better. He interviewed eight integral members of the congregation.
Saunders and Rev. Smith both said the interviews were as meaningful to them and the members of the task force as they were for Harris.
“It just helps you see things that are already there,” Rev. Smith said. “He did it in a way where he was trying to learn stuff instead of just immediately banging on us for not doing this right.
“I felt he was thorough which then meant we could trust his report even more so.”
Harris returned back to Dallas to begin putting together feedback for the congregation. In the meantime, the members of the church put together a quick new website to have the basic information.
Then in late 2015 work started on the church’s new website with designs being put together, and in December 2015, development work began on the website. Harris said creating the designs for the site went much smoother because the church new exactly what they wanted.
“They identified their core audiences and for them it was really two core audiences,” Harris said. “It was one, when people google ‘church on Sunday’, that they are able to find them and here’s where we are and here’s directions.
“So we designed [the website] to make that really easy.”
For Rev. Smith, seeing all of their ideas and thoughts come onto paper in the first draft was the most rewarding part of the process.
“To see how this could look … you didn’t know what was going to come out of it, so when it popped out it was neat,” Rev. Smith said.
By June 2016, the new website was in the hands of Ascension to a very warm reception.
“Most folks have enjoyed getting more in touch with the congregations than just in the bulletins on Sunday morning,” Rev. Smith said.
The new website no longer has the boxy feel of their old one. Gradient backgrounds have been replaced with solid colors and a more welcoming feel. Visitors now know exactly who this church is, where it’s located and what time they worship. Everything is now more organized for visitors and members alike to find.
And that’s helped out the church’s offline success with their ministries. Rev. Smith said the new website has helped them become more connected as a faith community and started to build faith through the website rather than just promoting events.
“We’re a medium-sized church and you don’t know what everybody is doing and that’s a way to get people connected,” Rev. Smith said.
“And as we post our sermons online, our hope is actual faith formation and nurturing instead of just events. So doing ministry through our website instead of just promoting.”
Ascension’s online success hasn’t just been limited to their website. Their Facebook group now has 213 likes and posts photos and links to sermons and blog roughly once a day. Harris said seeing the church share the stories of its ministries has been the most rewarding part of the project.
“I still follow them on Facebook, and I see when they are sharing articles, and now I know they’re sharing the sermons weekly, and then I’m seeing other little things,” Harris said. “I’m seeing they’re able to share their story online. They’re actually using what we gave them.
“I’m in Dallas and they’re in Colorado Springs and I’m still being affected by the stories of what their life as faith community is. That’s the power of this digital platform.”
And for the staff, the emailing and passing of files has been replaced with Google Drive, keeping everyone on the same page.
“It makes it so much more efficient,” Saunders said. “And it helps us all look at the same version of the same thing. When you look at a doc you’re looking at the latest one. It makes a lot of other problems go away.”
Now the church views communications in a whole new light. Ascension now sees communications as an opportunity instead of something they just have to do.
“We saw the more importance of communications and the opportunity,” Rev. Smith said. “I remember Andy [Saunders] saying, ‘You’re always communicating whether you know it or not, so a lack of communicating is communicating.’ We started thinking about how we are communicating in everything we do.”
Both Rev. Smith and Saunders admitted that they haven’t quite utilized the website to its fullest potential yet. Rev. Smith said they’re hoping to add in video and a place to give on the site.
But, while all churches and situations might be different, Harris, Rev. Smith and Saunders each said what Ascension did is something other churches should look at doing for their own communications.
“I think getting an overall picture of how you’re communicating and putting some thought into an overall strategy there helps a lot.,” Saunders said. “We’re addressing different people in away that fits them.”