12 Steps to a Better Church Website
When was the last time you sat down to improve your website? Not just to add this month’s events to the calendar, but to actively improve the site? Good news: Right now is a great time to make some simple improvements to your church’s website.
Here’s a checklist of 12 steps to improving your site. If you can check every box on this page, your website is in great shape. If – like most churches – you’re not there yet, here’s how to improve. Don’t try to do all of this at once! Go through and make a list of what needs improving, then don’t be afraid to delegate!
1. Physical Address
Can a visitor find your church? If your address isn’t prominently visible on the front page of your site, start by adding it. The top right corner is a great place to list your street address. You should also add it to your site’s footer, so someone landing on any page can easily find see where you are. Depending on your site design, a sidebar can also be a good place for this.
See the text in the top of your browser window or tab? That’s the Title of your page. Since this is what visitors to a search engine such as Google will see, it’s a good idea to include your city in your site title. If your church name includes the city, then this is easy. Otherwise, perhaps something like, “Resurrection Lutheran Church – Come Worship With Us In Pasadena” will work.
Prominently listing your city and state helps visitors make sure they’ve found the right church. It also has the added benefit of making your church’s site more likely to come up when someone searches for a phrase like “Methodist churches in Lena, Illinois” by helping your SEO (Don’t know what SEO is or why churches should care? Read Church SEO 101).
Address on the front page
Address in footer
City and church name in page title
2. Contact Information
As someone visiting your website, how do I get more information? Everywhere your street address is listed, make sure you also have a telephone number and email address listed. You might consider including hours the church office is staffed as well.
Once you have the contact information listed with the address on every page, it should be easy to create a dedicated Contact page and add a link to it from the footer. This page should have a greeting and an invitation to contact the church. Give a few reasons why someone might want to contact you. The goal here is to reassure people that they’re in the right place, so let them know you want to hear from them. Think about it like the greeting in a voicemail message.
At a minimum, you should have contact information for the church office, but consider including contact info for the pastor and any other staff here too. Even if you have a different page for the pastor or for staff, it’s nice to have all the contact information on one central page.
Also, make clear who receives a contact email. Does it go to the church office administrator, or to the pastor?
Consider including an online contact form. If you’re using WordPress for the site, something like the Contact Form 7 plugin is simple to set up. Otherwise, you can use something like Kontactr or even a Google Doc for a form. Whatever you’re using, make sure to test your contact form. Not responding to an email or contact request sends a message that you don’t care about the person who took the time to contact you. Responding to an online contact request should be no different than responding to a voicemail.
Every page has at least a phone number listed
Website has a contact page
Website footer links to contact page
Contact page includes a greeting
Contact page includes an online contact form
Online contact form works
3. Directions Page
Beyond the bare minimum of having your address listed on every page, it’s important to have a dedicated page to help visitors find your building. Call it something like “How to Find Us” or “Where We Are.”
Include written out directions from several directions and major crossroads, instructions from public transit, a picture of the church so people know what they’re looking for, and parking instructions or pictures if applicable.
Also, consider including an interactive map from Google, Bing, or Mapquest on this page. Here’s how to embed a Google Map in your site.
Prominently placed “Find Us” page
Driving route directions included on “Find Us” page
Picture of the church included on “Find Us” page
Interactive map included on “Find Us” page
4. Service Times
This one’s simple. Many people come to church websites for information about attending a worship service. You’ve already covered the “where,” so now make sure they can find the “when.”
Worship service information should be (at a minimum) displayed on the front page, and if you have a dedicated Worship page, times should be there too. If you shift worship times seasonally, make sure to update the times on the website. Remember to add times for special services (Christmas, Lent, Easter, etc) at least a month ahead of time.
Tip: Putting the times on the contact page might take care of answering your most frequently asked question.
Current worship service times prominent on front page
5. What To Expect Page
I’m firmly convinced that churches who expect visitors and go out of their way to be intentionally welcoming are the ones who get visitors. Many of the people who visit your website are looking for information on attending a worship service. Visiting a church is a huge act of faith, but you can make it easier by letting visitors know what to expect.
Link to this page from the home page. If you have a page on worship, some of the information will probably overlap, but that’s ok. Make sure you link from the worship page to this What to Expect page.
“Churches who expect visitors and go out of their way to be intentionally welcoming are the ones who get visitors.”
On this page, put at least one picture of a real worship service. Link to what you believe as a church, and explain what you expect of visitors, particularly for sticky areas like communion. Describe the type of music you have. If you have worship bulletins online from previous services, this is a great place to link to them.
Include information like how early to arrive for services, how to dress, how long services are, and whether there’s refreshment time afterwards. Also, make sure there’s a link to the directions page.
If you want to go above and beyond, try putting together a brief (30 seconds to 5 minutes long) video of what worship is like and embedding it within this page.
Prominent links to a What to Expect page for visitors
Images of what worship is like
Visitor information on dress expectations, service length, etc
A welcome video showing what a worship service is like
5. Belief Statement
Before visiting a church, many people will want to know what that church believes. Visitors frequently expect some sort of creedal, doctrinal, or creedal statement to be available on the website. I’ve written an entire post on whether church websites should have a doctrinal statement, but basically, you should because people expect it. However, it shouldn’t be the first thing people see when they come to the site. This is a good thing to put on its own page and link to from a general “About Us” page.
It’s also important to be careful of using complex theological or “churchy” language that can alienate people not steeped in church culture. You might even consider having a simple, plain-English version and a more theologically precise version available. If you’re part of a larger denomination, link to the denomination’s belief statement as well.
Readable statement of belief
Link to denominational beliefs
Creedal doctrine is not the first thing visitors see
6. Pastor and Staff Pages
On many church websites, the most viewed page after the home page is the pastor’s page. Having a brief biography of the pastor helps people feel more connected and more comfortable. Having a picture of the pastor also helps people know who they’re looking for when they visit.
Include contact information on this page in addition to the information on the general Contact page to save a step for visitors who have a pastoral question. If you have sermons or podcasts posted online either on the church’s site or on a personal site, include a link here.
Consider having a video greeting from the pastor directly to visitors embedded on this page.
If you have other church staff beyond a pastor, they should be listed on a staff page. Having pictures is helpful as well, since it allows people to put a face with the name. Include individual contact information here too. Include everyone who is paid staff on this page. It’s up to you whether to include key volunteers and council members as well. If anyone on staff has his or her own website, it’s nice to put a link to that here too.
Pastor page with contact information and picture
Welcome video from pastor
Brief biography of pastor
Staff page with contact information and pictures
7. About Us Page
Every website, including churches, needs to have an “About Us” page. Check out mine here. The most likely visitors to this page are people who know little or nothing about your church, so this is your chance to make a great first impression. This is your chance to give visitors a glimpse into the story of what God is up to in this community.
This page ought to include a greeting to visitors, a little about the church, a link to the denomination, a link to the belief page, the church address, an invitation to worship including service times, a link to the pastor’s page, and perhaps a welcome video.
It’s ok to include a little bit of church history here, but don’t go over a paragraph or two. Tell the story of what God is doing here and now, not just in the past. If you do want to include a detailed church history, go ahead and make a dedicated page for it and put a link on the About page.
About Us page has a greeting to visitors
About Us page has links to other pages visitors might be interested in
8. Social Media
If your church has social media accounts, make sure that they’re linked from the website. A particular caution: If you’re using a template for your website, there might be icons already provided to link to church pages on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc. Make sure all of the links work, and hide any links to networks your church doesn’t use.
It’s a good idea to link to social media sites from the Contact page, the About Us page, and the front page.
Also, make sure each social media page has a link back to the website. This helps your website be found, both by people looking at your profile pages and by search engines. If you have any social media pages that aren’t regularly updated, consider deleting them. It’s better to not have a presence on a given network than to have a dead profile.
Church website has links to all social media pages
All social media profiles link back to church website
All social media profiles are active
Pictures are important to have on your site, but there are a few caveats to keep in mind. The point of having pictures is to give visitors a glimpse into your community, so keep that in mind. It’s nice to have a picture or two of the church building on the site to help people recognize where they’re going, but the building should not be the most prominent thing on the site. The church is about what God is doing among people, not about the building.
Pictures from worship are good, because they help people know what to expect. The most important thing about pictures is that they should be authentic. Using church stock photos of people from the internet might look professional, but it’s basically false advertising. If your church has 3 youth in it, it’s a lie to have the photo on your youth group page show 20 perfect looking people serving food. It’s ok to use some stock graphics for things like a cross or for sermon illustrations, but use pictures actually from your church whenever possible.
At the same time, using quality photos is important. Poorly lit, out of focus photos from the church basement send a message that you don’t care very much about how the website looks. Your goal is to authentically put your best face forward. If you don’t have good photos, odds are that someone in your congregation has the skills to take some decent snapshots. What a great way to use someone’s gifts!
As you’re looking through the pictures on your website, avoid anything that blinks or flashes. While that might have been popular in the 1990’s, today it just looks dated and obnoxious.
Also, if you have dates on photos, make sure there’s nothing too old. If I look at your website and the only pictures are from the 2005 mission trip dinner, I will assume your church has done nothing photo-worthy since then. Either remove the photos, or if they’re timeless, remove the date.
Finally, a word on privacy. Before you post any photo of a child, you need to have a signed photo release from their parent or guardian. Also, think carefully about whether you want to post names with photos, even of adults.
Church website has photos
The church building is not the most prominent photo on the site
All photos of people are actually from your community
No blinking or flashing images
No photos of children without permision
10. Overall First Impression
The website is likely the first impression a visitor has of your church. Take a minute and look at your site as though you’ve never seen it before. What draws your attention first? What would you expect to find that’s not there? Better yet, try getting someone not from your church, or even someone not at all church affiliated to look at your site and ask them what they think.
Consider the first impression made by your website
Ask someone else’s first impression of your site
11. Miscellaneous Things to Remove
In web design, simple is generally better. Complicated sites confuse visitors. When someone views your web page, they’ll look at it for just a few seconds. What do you want them to see during the few seconds you have their attention? If something’s not relevant to your website’s purpose, get rid of it. That means weather widgets, hit counters, blinking text, scrolling text, cute clip-art, and “Under Construction” graphics.
As a courtesy to visitors, make sure any link that downloads a file is clearly labeled. For instance, if you have a link to information about the upcoming ham dinner and it goes to a PDF or Word document, clearly indicate that in the link text.
Most importantly, remove anything outdated. Remove pages for ministries you don’t have any more, staff no longer at the church, dated pictures from events from years before, and any announcements for events that have already happened. This includes website things that aren’t up to date. By that, I mean if you used to post podcasts, sermons, bulletins, or newsletters online, but haven’t kept up, it’s better to remove the old ones until you’re ready to commit to posting them regularly. While you’re at it, set up a monthly calendar alert to remind you to go through and remove out-dated material.
No visible vanity hit counters
No weather widgets
No links to abandoned social media pages
Check that every link works (Try BrokenLinkCheck.com)
No unlabeled download links (PDFs, etc)
Absolutely no auto-playing music!
12. Miscellaneous Things to Add
Finally, here are few more things to think about to improve your church website.
How easy is it to quickly post an alert on the site for emergency notifications? For instance, if worship services are cancelled due to weather, can the pastor quickly update the site from home, or do updates require access to the church computer by a volunteer who might be out of town?
Have you checked how your site looks from a mobile device? From an iPhone? From an Android phone? From a Windows tablet? From an iPad?
If your church accepts donations online, how prominent is the “Donate Now” or “Online Offering” button? It’s off-putting to visitors if their first impression of the church is an ask for money, but you also want the offering option easily accessible for those who do want to donate.
Also, have you tested the online donation system recently to make sure it’s working? If it’s not working, not only will you not get money through it, but it gives a terrible impression of your site.
Able to easily post cancellation information
Site is mobile-ready
Online donation request is not the first impression
Online donation system has been tested
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of the checklist. Your website is well on its way to being more effective in serving the ministry of your church.
What did I forget? Share your best checklist items for church websites in the comments.