Church Website Considerations

Peter’s Big Checklist of Congregational Website Considerations

If you are interested in growing, attracting younger families, young adults, youth, increasing pledge amounts – make sure your website is as amazing as you want to be. This is the easiest and most cost-effective way to improve how members, friends and the larger community perceive your congregation. Make it something you can be proud of.

Once upon a time people visited your congregation in person to learn about your community, your values, and to see if it is a good fit. No more!  Now nearly 100% of people visit your website first.  That is the first visit. Given many of the 1990’s style websites I see out there, that visit lasts about 10 seconds. That’s about long enough to think “Oh my gosh! This is hideous. Are they serious?  NO WAY am I visiting there.  I’m going back to see what my friends are doing on Facebook.  See ya! Tweet me when you catch up with the present…”

Post Freshness: This 2011 post has exceeded its freshness date and has been tagged for an update.  While many considerations still apply, the web has evolved considerably in recent years.  ~ Peter

The following is a draft list of design and content considerations. I have been compiling this list during my Spring and Summer presentations on social media, outreach, and online communications.  I’ll be updating this and then sharing as a more refined resource you can download and print.

75+ Congregational Website Design and Content Considerations
by Peter Bowden

  1. WHO IS SITE FOR?
    I like sites to have information for members, but be newcomer optimized.
  2.  People are LOOKING FOR FRIENDS, not a friendly church. PEOPLE!!
    Is site about people?  Do site visitors feel they are getting to know your community?  Is there information so people can connect, maybe like some people before even visiting?
  3. EASY URL  Is your website URL easy to remember?
  4.  Is your website URL (web address) printed on your roadside sign
    All publications and leaflets, letterheads, press adverts and news releases? Is it also included in email footers of official church emails?
  5.  WHAT STATE AND CITY above the fold.
  6. CONTACT INFO provided including city, state, zip, phone, email.
  7.  HOME ABOVE THE FOLD
    Most of homepage  should be on one screen
    1024 x 768 screen resolution.
  8. AVOID SPLASH PAGES
    Is home a jumping-off point or home page?
  9. AESTHETICS
    Are colors, white-space, text and graphics pleasing?
  10. WHO ARE YOU?
    Is that clear immediately.  Name, religious affiliation, what you’re about?
  11. WHAT KIND OF CONGREGATION
    Size, rental space or own building,  brand new or historic…
  12. FORMAL STATEMENTS
    Are formal statements newcomer friendly or are they going to freak people out?
    Mission, Vision, Purpose, Covenants
  13. POSITION STATEMENT
    What makes your congregation different compared to others I’ve visited?  Why choose you?
  14. VOICE
    Not too formal. Want to be approachable.  Be true to your congregation – if you are very formal with an equally formal dress code, reflect that.
  15.  PEOPLE ON HOME PAGE — I’ll keep repeating this…
    Is there a photo of real people on the homepage, more prominent than any picture of the church building?
  16. WELCOME VIDEO
    Simple message from minister. If you have a minister, people want to know who this is.  It isn’t ego, its putting relevant information front and center.
  17. BUILDING EXTERIOR
    Somewhere I want to see it so I know what to expect. Good to have people in shot so there is a sense that others are going as well.
  18.  BUILDING INTERIOR
    Again, so I know what to expect
  19.  BE BRIEF
    Make sure site is easy to scanning. Not too wordy.  Shorter is always better.
  20.  HUMOR
    Appropriate humor can be disarming.
  21. COMMUNITY CONTEXT
    Does site communicate community you are not only located in, but part of, engaged with, valued by?
  22. INVITATIONS
    Invite newcomers to specific events, with clear contacts. Sunday Worship isn’t the best way for newcomers to connect.
  23. SUNDAY SCHEDULE  /  SERVICE TIMES
    worship
    childrens educiation
    fellowship
    coffee hour
  24. SERVICE THEMES
    If you know them, share them.  I was against this until I moved and was looking for a place to bring our family.  This isn’t so members can pick and choose which of your services to go to. It is for people deciding whether to go for the first time.  Do they go to your congregation or the other place?  If they tell and you don’t, you are the unknown and therefore a more anxious choice.
  25. WHAT TO EXPECT
    How to dress
    What worship is like and why
    How long is service
    What kind of music?  Organ vs. jazz band
    Better yet, SHOW ME.
  26. EDUCATE
    Help PRE-QUALIFY people for visiting.  People now visit having done their homework. Do you help them do this via your site?  Make it easy.
  27. VIDEOS
    Can use videos from various sources embedded in site to educate people about Unitarian Universalism.
  28. AUDIO/PODCASTS
    Great way to help people give you a test drive. Some people I know have listened to local podcasts. That kept them connected until they were ready to visit.
  29. BOOKS
    Link to books people can purchase related to your values and beliefs.  Have a library? Make an online catalog for members and friends.
  30. MAP AND DIRECTIONS
    Embed Google map, link to other services.  It costs you nothing to add links to multiple sites.  Drives me crazy when I’m forced to use a map service other than Google Maps.
    Include your address as text on your map and directions page so people can copy it and paste into the mapping site of their choosing.
  31. TRANSPORTATION AND PARKING
    Where to park – lots, street, both?
    Car pooling?
  32. BIKING OPTION
    If biking is option, is there bike rack?  I know a lot of congregations wishing people would bike, yet they don’t have bike racks.
  33.  ACCESSIBILITY TO BUILDINGS
    If accessible, toot your horn. If not, clarify so people can make smart choices, other options.
  34. CHILD CARE
    Do you have it?   Tell me. Show me your facility.
  35. Use PROFESSIONAL STAFFED childcare
    Pay money to have preferably non-member child care professional with infants and toddlers.
  36. SAFETY
    Explain the child safety code, everything to comfort new families
    Check in / out policies
  37. CHILDRENS RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
    What are various grades doing?
    What is my kid going to experience?
    Philosophy, teachers, activities…
  38. GET INVOLVED (or SMALL GROUPS)
    Primary menu item / front page. People want to and need to get involved ASAP.  People should be connected to some kind of group connecting experience within weeks of attending. Another option is to have “Small Groups” in main menu.
  39. CALENDAR
    For both newcomers and members.  Make sure events that allow for connecting with others, participating, serving, helping, using gifts are clear.
  40. MEMBERSHIP PROCESS
    Make sure membership expectations are clear, including pledging information and events/how to join. Need to see from day one.
  41. SOCIAL JUSTICE
    What do you care about? Hold up justice work, people want to make a difference. Helps people choose right community.
  42. ONLINE GIVING
    This is becoming more popular.  Nice to give members this option.
  43. PEOPLE on every page. Did I mention that yet?
  44. STAFF and LEADERSHIP DIRECTORY
  45. PHOTOS OF LEADERS
    Staff, core leadership at a minimum.
  46. UPCOMING EVENTS / NEW NEWS easy to find
  47.  OPT IN
    Can people opt in to get more news and keep in touch
    Facebook
    Twitter
    RSS News Feed
    Enews subscribe on front page
    SITE NEWS /  RSS Feed
  48. DO NOT ask people to email the office if they want to get on your mailing list.
  49. OLD NEWS  Avoid old news, ancient dates.   Is there outdated news on the church website which should have been removed?
  50. CLEAR NAVIGATION
    Navigation makes location within site clear.
  51. MAIN MENU user-friendly. Not too many links. 10 max.
  52. Use GUEST not visitor.  Majority of people who visit are in some way GUESTS of your existing members.  That’s how you grow a congregation, through relationship.
  53. AVOID JARGON and ACRONYMS
    I work a lot with Unitarian Universalist congregations. May are filled with literature with UU this and UU that.  You ever see the old Sesame Street segment where the Bandit-X rides through town stamping everything with an X?  Avoid this. It creates an insider culture.
  54. MEMBER PROFILES
    I love sites that show real people including details about non-religions things. Help people connect via hobbies and other interests.
    If diverse people visit site will they find a welcome for them?
  55. PROOF READ
    If you’re not good at this, like me, get someone else to do it.
    (I’ve included some typos in this post as an example. Do they drive you crazy?)
  56. HOSTING SERVICE
    Make sure site loads fast with no ads
  57.  SITE COMPATABLITY
    Try site on different devices and browsers.
    MAC and  PC
    Big Monitor
    Netbook
    Ipod, Iphone, Ipad
    Android devices
    etc…
  58. COMMUNITY DEVICE TESTING
    Invite people to test your site via devices, share response via simple form.
  59. USABILITY
    Have you testing site usability using volunteers, different tech ability, members, friends of members who aren’t affiliated with your congregation. Hey! What a great outreach idea. Have members share site with their non-member friends.
  60. ACCESSIBILITY
    Make sure standard accessibility design principles used
  61. FULL TITLE
    Are your name, town, and area, also clearly included in ‘title tag’ coding on your home page
  62. TITLES ON ALL PAGES
    Not repeat of main
  63. META DESCRIPTION
    This is information encoded on page. This helps search engines.
  64.  VALIDATION
    Getting techie. Make sure HTML and CSS is validated. Especially if someone is designing a site for you using something other than top platforms. Me? I’m a WordPress guy. They take care of the most techie of technicalities so I don’t have to.
  65. BOOKMAKING
    Make it easy to remember (bookmark) site
  66.  SHARE THIS
    Make it easy to click and share via popular social networking sites
  67. SITEMAP
    Do you have one?
    Is every page listed?
  68. LISTED ON BIG SEARCH SITES
    Make sure you are listed accurately on major search engines
  69. DENOMINATIONAL LISTING
    Other sites may list you, make sure information is up to date.
  70. GOOGLE PLACES
    Have you claimed your place?  This allows for customization of that page.  Also powerful tools to see who is looking for you.
  71. ANALYTICS
    Do you analyze your website visitor statistics?  I recommend Google Analytics. It is powerful and free.
  72.  TEAM APPROACH
    Is your webmaster and/or communications team part of ongoing outreach and growth conversations?
  73. CONTENT IN TEXT, not GRAPHICS
    Don’t hide content like address in graphics. People and search engines need to be able to read and copy this.
  74. AVOID FRAMES
    Bad for search engines.
  75.  KEYWORDS in URLS
    When naming URLs, the address of pages, name with relevant words.
    Calendar, Membership not page1, page2.
  76.  AVOID SCARY LONG URLS
    Some sites make the various subpages have very odd names. It should make sense if you read the address.
  77. THREE CLICKS to all major content
    Update: Okay, Jeff shared with me that this is a myth. See article & research links. Let’s amend that to navigation should be easy and not lead to frustration. If people are swearing at your website, something is wrong.
  78. DROP DOWNS
    If used, make accessible via basic links.

Note that I do offer website reviews for congregations. Hopefully you have a rockin’ communications team and can take this list and review on your own.  If not and you want an outside perspective, let me know.  Happy to help.  I review your website capturing my audio commentary and computer screen as I go.  The session audio and video are then shared with you. This way you can see exactly what I’m looking at, clicking, and so on.  Again, you can do this yourself using this list.  Contact me via email if you need assistance.


2 thoughts on “Peter’s Big Checklist of Congregational Website Considerations

  1. Peter, Thank you for all this advice! #48 confuses me. How should people ask to be put on a mailing list? Love the emphasis on people. We are just about to launch our new website. So exciting.

    1. These days people expect to be able to enter their email address, click a button, and be subscribed. If you say, “write us to subscribe” I think many people will not follow through. The serious people who know they’re very interested will, but the person who is tentative and still wanting to be anonymous may not. Is it worth streamlining the subscription process if you can increase percentage of visitors who subscribe? I think so. ~ Peter

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