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Your Church Website Sucks (And 5 Ways to Improve It)

Browsing in the darkOver the past few weeks I’ve visited well over 1,000 individual, local church websites.

Let me tell you: There’s a lot of truly crappy church websites out there.

Next to word of mouth recommendations from the people in your church, your church website is the most important connection tool you have.

For example, let’s say you are having coffee with a co-worker who is telling you about some frustrations in her marriage. Naturally, you relate your marriage to your faith and talk about having a common faith draws you together as a couple. You casually say, “This helps us, maybe it’d be worth a shot? Do you want to come to church with us once to try it out?” Your co-worker thinks that’s a good idea and agrees to meet you there before the service.

What happens next? Your co-worker needs to know where the church is, what time it meets, and get an idea of what to expect.

Can your church website deliver that? Sadly. Most can’t. Most church websites suck! They are either hopelessly outdated or have 700 things that aren’t relevant to the central reason most people come to your church website— To check you out.

5 Ways to Improve Every Church Website

  1. Add the church name, address, phone number, and a link to directions in the footer of every page. Think like a visitor. If I’m going to come to church I need to know how to get there. Bonus: Doing this will get your church address to show up in search results, meaning people won’t even have to visit your church website to find you. Double bonus: Sign-up for Places for Business at Google and even more accurate information will show up in searches about your church.
  2. Focus your homepage on visitors. Most churches have far too much information on their homepage. I’ve built enough church websites to know that most traffic is never going to leave your homepage… 90% of the traffic will visit that one page then leave. So communicate clearly when you meet, where you meet, and something about the vibe of your church there. Think about it emotively, not with words. When someone visits your site, what do you want them to feel about you?
  3. Unless your church looks like this, have pictures of people on your site and not your building. A picture of the church is the default “we don’t know what the heck to do” image. But 4-5 beautiful pictures of people in your church doing church-y stuff will go a long way. When you do this: Think like a marketer. (Because you are marketing!) Feature images of the people you’d like to see in your congregation. Read into that what you’d like. Don’t have great photography? Hire a local photographer. It’ll be worth the $500.
  4. Make it easy to contact you. The 3 most popular pages on most non-profit organizations websites are: Home, About Us, and Staff. Think about it like this… People need to know “Who are we, what are we about, how do I connect with you?” Make it as easy as possible to contact your staff. Also, a pet peeve is that the youth worker is almost always listed last on the staff page. Seriously? Just do it alphabetically. The staff page should have the name, title, and contact info. (Phone, email. Twitter and Facebook are great if you want a personal touch.)
  5. Make it mobile-friendly. Go to your church website on your phone or tablet right now. Do you have to pinch? If you do, you lose. I can safely say that 50% of the traffic coming to your church site is coming from a smart phone and tablet. Since 2011, every web projects I’ve managed has had a mobile-first mentality. We design for tablets and phones as the primary users because we know that when you have that conversation at lunch… your friend is going to the car and will check you out there. (Or they pile the kids in the car and think, “Shoot… where is that church at?

A word about church-based content management systems. As I’m out looking at church sites I see tons that were developed by church-based CMS companies. (Ezekiel and Clover seem to be the most dominant.) I’ve met and know some of the people who run these companies and they are lovely people. But the church market is just not big enough and those things are antiquated. They simply can’t keep up. That’s why I only build with WordPress. 19% of the internet is run by WordPress right now. Seriously, if you do-it yourself, you could run a church website for $100 per year.

Will you help us? Of course. About 1/3 of my business is web development. In fact, I have a team of fantastic developers who all have a ministry background. Contact me and we can talk. Even if it’s just a one-hour Skype call to look at your site and recommend some fixes, we can do that. (Just note I’m not offering for me or my team to do anything for free. We’re ministry-minded people… with mortgages.)

12 Responses to Your Church Website Sucks (And 5 Ways to Improve It)

  1. Steven Gliebe September 30, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    Hey Adam, it certainly is true there are a lot of church websites out there that need help. Like you say, WordPress is a great solution since it’s so well-established after 10 years and has matured into a full-blown CMS, yet is simple to use.

    I haven’t used a church website builder services but I have checked their prices. Some are more reasonable than others and they might all be worth the cost (still cheaper than full blown custom design), but one barrier that I see for smaller churches is the start up cost is sometimes is $500 or $1,000, right? Then $20 – $50/month on hosting.

    With WordPress, a theme made specifically for churches you pay $40 to $80 a pop. Add a $15 domain and $10/mo hosting (there’s even free hosting for non-profits) and that’s really doable. It’s also without compromise because most premium WordPress themes have 2 or 3 months of development in them, which means the church gets several tens of thousands of dollars of design and features for $50, since the cost is divided amongst other users of the theme.

    We’re helping push the use of WordPress with the launch of http://churchthemes.com this week. Have a look at our first theme, Resurrect. This is full-time work for us now.

    • adam mclane October 1, 2013 at 6:45 am #

      @steve – I’m not familiar with that theme. There are lots of good ones out there, just make sure the code is good. Personally, I make sure I use themes from reputable theme developers.

      In truth, most churches would do just fine with a modified version of Thwenty-Twelve or Twenty-Thirteen and a couple plugins. It’d be way better than 50% of the crappy ones in my study.

  2. Heather September 30, 2013 at 8:29 am #

    I just wanted to give a shout-out to Sharefaith, which is a wordpress-based template system. They have pre-made wordpress templates for churches with plugins for things like sermons, and rotating banners on the homepage. Also, they provide support, and they keep making upgrades. They are definitely thinking about the mobile experience, and when I found out our sermon player was in flash and therefore wasn’t working on apple mobile devices, I contacted them, and they upgraded my page the same day. It costs around $300/year for the templates, support and hosting. We’re using them at http://www.arlingtonfm.com.

  3. Jill September 30, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    I think every church should be blogging, and so I absolutely think they all should use WordPress. This is a great article…helps them to know what directions to move in. And the Google Places is a MUST DO!
    I just think that churches need to use blogging as a means to help people get to know the church/people/vibe, and to feel connected sooner after they decide to come. It is SO HARD even as a lifelong Christian to try and walk into a megachurch. It literally takes a year+ to feel any personal connection at all. I have experience! It is sad.

  4. John Finkelde September 30, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    I tell client churches to put their weekend service times and link to a map in a prominent position on their home page. I also advise smaller churches to have a one page website and develop a very good Facebook page. Less expense and hassle.

    Smaller churches can’t afford monthly web site fees.

  5. mattbalogh October 1, 2013 at 5:59 am #

    Awesome validation for what we just did. We were using clover which was great for us in 2008. We were very unsure of our brand and exactly what to do with our website and clover made it easy to look good. We then realized what you said it had become antiquated and wasn’t versatile enough to fit our needs. we moved to a wordpress theme developed by themealohics and love and it has been working great. we definitely have somewhere to go with it still but wordpress is awesome.

    Fellowshipchurchct.com

  6. Branson October 1, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Would love to see examples of some great church websites… I have tried looking for inspiration to redo ours, and you are right… there are a lot that need work out there!

  7. Rev. Dr. Dan Schroeder October 1, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    I agree that there are a lot of church websites that are sorely lacking in a variety of ways. We have had our website up and going for almost 10 years, and we average about 1,000 hits PER DAY, and have for the last several years. I put it together knowing virtualy nothing about how to do it; I just included stuff I like to see. I almost can’t believe that we get the response that we been getting! But I wouldn’t mind getting helpful suggestions too. Check it out: http://www.mightyfortress.us

  8. Rachel Blom October 4, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more. Having just looked at a whole bunch of church websites because we’e moving and I’m browsing for churches in our area, I sadly have to confirm your findings. As for #3: I actually do find it helpful when a picture of the church is included, so you know what to look for when you try to visit it. Especially if it doesn’t look like a church, it’s helpful to know what to look for (we visited a church once that was located above a furniture store, took us a long time to find that one).

  9. Daniel From Churchdev.com November 29, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    DIY wordpress websites are great. But to do anything more than just a basic layout you need to know some html/CSS. And Lets face it there are some really bad church websites out there setup with the very best of intentions for sure but by inexperienced webmasters. We do the complete design for just $199. The website can be managed with a really easy drag and drop system that makes complex layouts simple and no coding required. Your church needs a website for sure but a bad website may be worse that no website at all. That said if you have some knowledge of html and CSS a diy wordpress site may be the right choice if you’re on a tight budget.

    I agree with Rachel Blom on #3. If you’re church is not great looking building don’t put it front and center on the home page but at least add it to the location page so if someone wants to visit they know what they are looking for. After all half of the reason to have a good website is to attract new members. If they visit they are going to see the church. Also a quality picture goes a long way to making your church look it’s best.

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