Assessing Your Church Website as a Ministry Platform
With our world increasingly moving toward digital, it’s imperative that churches have an effective online presence. By that I mean a dynamic, engaging church website that not only communicates what is happening at a church’s physical location but actively engages and builds a connection with those who will only experience your church online. If you’re not yet “digital,” it’s time to move there. Fast. Because people are searching for your church, experience online.
Increasingly, the church website is functioning as a church’s communication hub. Without a website, a church will lose its relevance and stagnate, at least in the minds of those using their smartphones to search for church info. Visitors want church websites to serve as the single portal they can visit to learn the church’s heartbeat: to watch sermon videos and live streaming, to peruse activity calendars, to interact with church staff, perhaps even to communicate with particular church committees or groups via private chat rooms. A website, increasingly, is so much more than a promotion for the weekly parish bulletin.
So how might you determine if your website is currently meeting—and will meet—the future needs of your church communities?
Step 1: Analyze your current website
A thorough understanding of how you are using your current website will help you to determine where and how it is falling short. This audit is how we start each Faith Growth project with clients. The audit enables us to get a clear view of where your church is—and where it needs to be, to meet the needs of your parish.
Questions to consider:
- Why do you feel you need a redesign of your current website?
- In what ways is your website stalling or preventing your communicating effectively?
- In what ways is your website not meeting parishioner needs?
- Is your website easy for your staff to update and maintain?
Step 2: Define and Evaluate Your Communication Workflows
Your church website will need to be regularly updated with new content. Why? To keep both Google and your viewers interested. A website with old content quickly grows stale—and useless. So, knowing that you will need to add new content regularly, you might as well build a website that is easy to update and maintain. One thing we always do when creating custom websites for our clients is to build staff workflow into the website—and do it early in the process to save ourselves coding time, and keep the website development costs within budget.
Questions to consider:
- What staff will be responsible for adding content to the website?
- What training will staff need to have to add content efficiently to the website?
- What new content needs to be added to the website?
- How frequently does each content category need to be added to keep the church website fresh?
- How does adding content to the website integrate with your other communication channels (print, email, etc.) to ensure it becomes the authoritative place for information?
Step 3: Define Your Potential Web Visitors and Identify Their Needs
As I said earlier, websites no longer have the luxury of being just “basic online brochures.” To function as powerful hubs, your church must look hard at the types of information your site visitors are seeking when they peruse your site—and how easy it is for them to find that info. The bottom line: make that search hard, and you will lose a lot of potential visitors and future community members. If you’re not sure how your website visitors are currently using your church site, you might have to ask them via surveys, polls, or simply by asking that comments be directed to specific staff via email.
Questions to consider:
- Who is visiting your website now? Who do you want to attract that you’re not?
- What “personas” (biographical sketches of your perceived web visitors) might you include?
- What tasks might these users be trying to accomplish on your church website?
- What information might these users be seeking?
- How can the website, and your other digital channels, further a relationship with them?
Websites, increasingly, are powerful tools for digital ministry. They have become the strong foundational hub that supports all church’s communication activities. They not only serve as the repository and archive for event information, but they can also serve as the place to curate content that deepens spiritual formation. Your new website can also power your church email newsletters, collect volunteer information, and so much more.
It’s important to think long-term when building your new website, so that your church website grows with you, able to handle features that you might not currently be ready to use. These might include a robust church calendar, managing event registration, and payments, accepting online donations, live streaming of worship, and chat rooms. We have these discussions with each of our clients so that we build in these functionalities, or at least build their new custom site in a way that will easily absorb these build-ins down the road.
Step 4: Define Ongoing Maintenance and Support Needs
It’s a given that your new website will need ongoing support and maintenance, just like your parish buildings. The website software will need to be updated periodically. The site will need ongoing protection from malware and hacking. Your site will need regular, if not daily, backups. Your domain name registration will need to be renewed annually. And from the start, your church site will need to be on a reliable host that guarantees you an optimized web server. Church staff can elect to manage this maintenance, as long as they create a schedule to ensure tasks are completed. But it’s a lot of work. Our maintenance plans at Faith Growth not only ensure peace of mind but guarantee site reliability and speed.
Step 5: Establish Your Budget
Budget is always the hardest part of this process, even if your parish has funds readily available. Your budget will determine how far you can build out your wish list—and create a timeline plan for adding in other wish list items. A good web developer will help you to lay this foundation for growth so that you don’t have to start over each time you wish to expand the functionality of your website. Faith Growth excels in this area.
Building a dynamic, custom church website is, frankly, a lot of work. But creating a website that meets your current needs—and grow with you when you need it to—is a smart investment. You can expect a website project to take as little as several months to complete, or several years, depending on where your church is specific to research, planning, staffing, and funds. Pricing can also range widely. It becomes easy to secure funds via capital solicitations.
Go and Do
Approach this as an iterative process that you will learn along the way. You will not start off perfect, but you need to start. Technology is rapidly changing so it is hard for anyone to master. What is important is that you get started engaging the world with the Good News of Christ in the digital arena. Planning for your next church website will get you one step closer to your digital ministry goals.
Faith Growth excels at church websites. Contact us if would like us to help.