What You Need to Know Before Building Your Church's Website: A Recap from ENGAGE Conference 2020

This blog post comes from Katie Allred’s presentation at Engage Conference. Katie is a professor of digital media and advertising at the University of Mobile. Katie founded ChurchCommunications.com to help churches with their marketing and communications problems. In this session, Katie lays out guidelines to help clarify website content, guide users, and help bring website visitors to your church.

A Lifeway Research study found that about one-fifth of churches in America do not have a website. Cost, lack of time, or lack of knowledge can all contribute to a church not having a website.  And churches not having a website is a problem.

Cost is usually a huge factor for churches.  Some churches can spend up to $30,000 on a website. But that’s not the majority.  How much, realistically, should a church budget to create a website? It all depends on your size and the amount of features that you want. Do you want your sermons online? Do you want Group Finder? Do you want visitors to be able to fill out forms online? In spite of the high costs of some sites, smaller churches can build a functional website for about $1,000 if necessary.

Outsourcing website creation is completely fine to do. If you just don’t have enough time to learn how to build your website or you just don’t care to learn, hire someone to do it for you. Having a website is extremely important. 

If you aren’t able to outsource your website’s creation, ask yourself 5 questions as you plan and design a site for yourself:

1. Who visits your church website?

2. What is your church’s tagline?

3. Is there a clear call to action?

4. Have you made it too fancy?

5. What will you put in your footer?

1. Who visits your church website? 

Website visitors can be placed into two groups: people who already attend your church or people who might/are considering attending your church. After surveying her customers, Katie discovered that 80% of website users were new while only 20% were returning. This means that the majority of your website traffic is new people, people who are considering attending your church.  So, your website should exist, primarily, for new people. Creating a clear call to action to place front and center or prominently displaying “Plan a Visit” options are more important than displaying your upcoming events or your most recent sermon. 

Your website is the front door to your church. Since your website, as we discovered, is mainly for guests, your site content should communicate that. Great content begins with your above the fold content, that place visitors see before they have to scroll down. Great above the fold content contains a tagline where you quickly explain who you are and a call to action explaining where visitors should go next. Five Guys homepage is a great example (yes, the burger place). They have a tagline, “Handcrafted Burgers and Fries,” and a clear call to action, “Order.” From Five Guys homepage you can easily discover what they do, who they are, and where they are. Now, I know churches don’t have a product we need people to order, but we do have an action we want them to take.  Whether it’s show up to church, get connected, plan a visit, fill out your form, etc. you have a call to action and a tagline you can, adn should, state clearly. We will dive deeper into both of these topics in the next couple paragraphs.

2. What is your church’s tagline? 

A tagline should help wrap up your mission and vision into a short, brief statement. Some examples from church websites include:

“You Matter.” 

“Love God. Love Each Other. Love Our World.”

“Grow Spiritually This Summer,” (a seasonally specific tagline). 

“Church is not something you attend. It’s a family where you belong. We invite you to join our family.”

“Needing Jesus Together.” 

A great tagline is succinct and memorable to your visitors.

3. Is there a clear call to action?

Your website also needs a clear call to action. The tagline examples above also all have clear calls to action above their folds. “Find a location” was one. “ One site had two calls to action: “Find a location” and “Discover.” The seasonal tagline also had a seasonal call to action: “See Summer Schedule.” “Plan your visit” and “I’m new here” are other examples. 

After the tagline and the call to action, make sure you have an image. Resist the urge to use a picture of your church building. Your church is more than a building. It’s a group of people who care about and love one another. Show that. 

As you plan your site, imagine how much time it takes you to scroll down the home page or click links. Make sure that your website informs guests when and where you meet in five seconds or less. That information can be placed on the page that opens when your “Plan a visit” or “I’m new here” button is clicked, but it’s helpful to also have it directly under the fold, too. 

4. Is it too fancy? 

You don’t need fancy, you need functional. A page with a lot of features also takes a lot of time to load, and a fast load time is really important.  One way to check your site for load time is to search for “page speed insights” on Google. You’ll find an option to enter your church’s website, and you’ll get a grade for how quickly your page loads. You will lose guests if your site doesn’t load within 5 seconds. Google will also give you tips and tricks to optimize your load speed. Sometimes slow load speeds can be caused by your web host. Some great hosts include: Flywheel, WPEngine, WordPress, and Square Space. Avoid cheap hosting sites. One of the ways they are able to be cheaper is because they are slower. Many hosting sites offer discounts to non-profits. You can also get free web hosting through DreamHost. DreamHost is a shared hosting site, so this is only recommended if you are a small church on a very tight budget. 

5. What will you put in the footer?

The footer to your page is also important. Footers are not junk drawers! Put all of your contact information in the footer: your church’s name, phone number, email address, and as many physical addresses as are reasonable if you are multi-site. Expand your menu and include all of your options in the footer as well. 

Your church’s website is your front door, now more than ever. If you are among the one in five churches that do not have a website, you are missing an incredible opportunity to engage your community during this season. If you have a website, this is a great opportunity to evaluate how effective your site is in connecting visitors to your church and make any necessary changes. Katie’s suggestions are a great template for both starting from scratch and evaluating existing sites.