When our church consulting teams hire “spies” to visit churches, we usually give them only the name and address of the church. We want them to see if the church has a website and if the website is actually attractive and helpful. Here are several problems our “spies” have found with websites.
- The church doesn’t have a website. It’s almost hard to believe today that a congregation has no Internet presence, but it does happen. A church without a website seems almost non-existent in a world where potential guests first turn to the Internet to learn about them.
- The website looks cheap or out of date. Ask some young people to critique your church’s site. If they tell you it’s not attractive, it’s probably not. You likely already know if the site was cheap.
- The site has no contact information. Maybe it’s just an oversight, or perhaps the church has no one to answer phones or respond to emails. Either way, the church has closed the door on a primary means of communication.
- The site provides no information about the services. Again, it’s almost unbelievable that a church would have a website with no service information. On the other hand, a church that thinks about only its own members probably sees no need to include service times (and, our experience is that the church with no service information on their site also doesn’t respond to requests for information).
- The information is out of date. It’s always nice to know the details about the church’s community-wide Thanksgiving dinner – except when it’s January of the next year! Sometimes the dated information is deeper in the site than the home page, but any dated material is almost useless material.
- Spelling or grammar errors are common. I realize that website writing does not always require complete sentences, etc., but the errors we’re talking about here are basic writing errors such as misspelled words. Somebody in the church should catch these problems before the public catches them.
- Links don’t work. Sometimes links to pages about other events go nowhere. Sign-ups for upcoming events aren’t functioning properly. Home page links to staff information go to blank pages. Again, potential guests should not be the first to recognize these problems.
- No driving directions are provided. Providing a clearly identified street address for the church is a start. With the numerous options available for linking to maps and driving directions, though, not providing those links is a serious omission.
- Stock pictures don’t reflect the church. The pictures may reflect the “vision” of the church, but website visitors will not know that. If the pictures are all young families and the congregation is only senior adults, the visiting family with preschoolers will probably be surprised.
- No recorded or streamed sermons are available. Like it or not, potential guests may choose to listen to a sermon before deciding whether to attend. Not making sermons available may well make the decision for those guests.
- Childcare information is not provided. Young families will likely look elsewhere if this information is not available.
- The site does not include an easily located, clearly described plan of salvation. You never know who may visit your site. If a non-believer checks out the site, will he/she have the opportunity to read and respond to the gospel?
What other marks of bad websites have you seen?
Posted on June 3, 2020
Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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This could not be more timely for me as I’ve just been given the responsibility to revise and update our church’s website. I’ve been working on it for a couple of days, and according to this post I’m at about 70%. I’m getting there!
Thank you for this!
Well done! We did our own study of church websites and you hit the nail on the head. The kicker is that 9 of the 12 items you mentioned can be fixed by the church right now with little or no outside help.
We see so many churches failing to adequately use their website and online presence and the biggest factor is that they undervalue the role that it plays in outreach and growing the Kingdom of God. The same people we are trying to reach are using online tools and websites every day to make decisions about entertainment, lifestyle, shopping and so much more. We need to deliver the same (or better) experience when they are considering a visit to our church as when they are shopping for anything else online.
Many of the pastors and leadership teams we talk to believe the visitor or guest experience begins in the parking lot or when a person walks through the front doors—when in fact—it begins when they land on your website.
Good stuff, Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Shane, for your affirmation.
Another sign of an unhelpful church website is lack of a clear statement of faith with scriptural support. If they include more of their systematic theology than the very basics, so much the better. That is the first area of a church website I will read when selecting a church to visit.
Good point, Ellen.
Number 5, Number 5, Number 5! I served a term as a Regional Lay Representative and can’t tell you how annoying it was to plan a visit to a church, pull up their website and see that the most recent information on their home page was the Annual Meeting notification from 4 years ago.
I sense your frustration, Lyn.
Seriously??? Driving directions? From where? You just had to have 12. I very much dislike journalism like this.
Thank you for your honesty, Mark.
Driving directions, referring to some sort of map with a location (i.e. Google maps) so people can see the location of the church and then click the map to expand or enter their address for specific directions if they wish. Not everyone knows how to get to your church, especially people new to the community.
One group posted that prayer was their number one priority. Yet, you had to drill down five layers to find what the church did with prayer. When it was brought to their attention, they made a little sign-up pop-up that greeted first-time visitors to the church website.
That’s often the case with prayer, Mark. That’s regrettable.
Other information that I seen missing on Church website is information about staff especially any info about the Pastor. Also information about the church mission and vision. Also no place on the website to give a donation.
Because of COVID, more and more churches are offering options for online giving. Thanks!
Any time that I am contacted by a church and I am asked to consider them as a new place to serve, I look to see if they have a website. If they do not, that to me is red flag. If they do, I use their website to see what they have been doing in the life of the church. What I have seen consistently is that most churches do not keep their website updated. Usually what I have seen is VBS pictures from the year before. My current church does a decent job of keeping our website updated after we realized that it had been neglected for too long.
I agree it’s a good move to check out a church via its website. You can learn something, for certain.
Pushing potential givers to a third-party site is one of the greatest mistakes of church websites.
You would never ask a giver to visit another location to make a gift, why would you push them to another website? In order to create a sense of community and engagement, keep ALL visitors on your churches website and ensure the above list (12 items) are implemented.
Thank you Chuck for putting together this helpful list!
Some churches don’t have the website capability and security to take credit cards. I see nothing wrong with a third party payment processor for a secure transaction. Medical clinics sometimes use 3rd parties too for payments.
Thank you for your reply! And you are right, there are some churches that do not have a website. (Although I hope they are getting one as soon as possible…)
But for those that do have one, there are available solutions to process gifts directly on the church’s website versus redirecting the giver to a merchant card processor.
Regarding security, most givers TRUST their church far more than they trust a random card processor they have never heard of. And there are patented technologies that allow churches to process credit cards without having to maintain the security compliance themselves.
It’s a win-win for both the church and the giver. The church keeps givers on their site and the giver knows where their gift is going and that their information is secure.
Thank you, Lowell, for being a reader.
Just an amen to your list! I’m a retired pastor. Moved to a new community and looked online for churches of my denomination. Found probably 15 within driving distance. ONLY ONE web site was up to date and gave clear directions for times, services, and ministries. This was in July, and almost all of them were still announcing their Easter Sunrise Services! Needless to say, I visited only the one that had clear directions.
Thanks, John, for your years of service as a pastor — and for your reflections here.
I would add a lack of information on church leadership. People want to know who will be standing in front of them when they attend, especially in children’s and youth ministry areas.
Thanks, Shelton, for your thoughts.
Words like “sound” and “conservative” automatically indicate more about your church than you can imagine.
Also, any list of what you are against. Some churches are or appear to be for nothing and against everything.
Thanks, Mark. I agree with you about the lists.