Seven (Plus One) Deadly Sins of a Church Website

May 25, 2013

Allow me to begin with a couple of negative comments.

Most church leaders don’t grasp the value of a website to get guests to their churches to hear the gospel.

Most church websites are terrible.

I just finished looking at over 100 websites from a variety of churches of a variety of sizes. I am not an expert in either design or technology, so my primary purpose was to look at the sites from the perspective of a person considering visiting the church. Forgive my judgmental words, but I was not impressed with most of the sites.

I do not have confirmation of these statistics, so I am hesitant to put them in writing. Nevertheless, the unconfirmed numbers indicate that between 75% and 90% of potential guests to your church will first look at the church’s website before making a final decision to attend.

Did you get that? As many as nine out of ten prospective guests will get their first impression of your church based on what they see when they go to the church website. That’s huge! It may be the most overlooked outreach tool we have. The church that minimizes the value of its website is the church that is missing many opportunities to reach people.

Certainly the website should have features for the members, but it’s the guests who are often overlooked. Allow me to share the greatest omissions on the websites; what I humorously call the seven deadly sins.

  1. The website is dated in both design and content. You are communicating an uncaring attitude and a sloppy approach to ministry.
  2. The website was built cheaply and looks like it. From a ministry perspective, the church is missing many opportunities. From a stewardship perspective, one guest who becomes a member will pay for the cost of a good site. Though some web designers and builders are too expensive, it makes absolutely no sense to try to get by with a cheap-looking site.
  3. The service times are either hard to find or non-existent. This information is probably the first information a guest tries to find. If the times are not clear and apparent, you probably have already lost the guest.
  4. The physical address of the church is either hard to find or non-existent. Most of your guests will likely put the address in their GPS system. They won’t be seeking your church in the Yellow Pages. You are probably missing out on the majority of your guests if you don’t have a clearly marked physical address.
  5. Not enough information on childcare. You’ve lost your young families with this omission.
  6. Minimal information on your staff. Guests want to know as much as possible about the staff of the church. The best sites I’ve seen include personal statements from the staff along with their photos.
  7. No place to listen to recent sermons. A number of your prospective guests will listen to an entire sermon before deciding to visit. They may assume that you are not very proud of the preaching ministry of the church if you don’t have podcasts easily available.

(Plus One). In recent years, more prospective guests have wanted to know the basic beliefs of the church. If you don’t have a statement of faith on the website, you will miss out on some of your more discerning guests.

For the last twenty-five years, the worship service has been declared to be the front door of the church. If we are to keep the metaphor consistent, the website is now the foyer. Guests may never make it through the front door if you have a lousy website.

I sense that many church leaders are underestimating the value of a great website. It should be a mandatory investment of all churches at a reasonable price. And the price is too great to pay if your church does not have a website.

How good is your church’s website? What are many sites lacking? What would you change on many of these sites, including your own?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

88 Comments

  • Some great points but I would add two. First, we now live in a digital age of commerce and you had better have a good online giving portal that is easy to find. I don’t mean a blue light flashing but most churches make finding their giving page difficult. Why is that? Is it that we fear talking about money? The Red Cross sure doesn’t so why does the Church? I always find it interesting in post like these that the last thing that is thought about is the tool to help fully fund missions and ministry. For a great example of how to do this look at Elevation Church’s giving site.

    Next I would say that NOT having Social Media links that are easy to find is another huge mistake. Social Media is where you tell your story. When you tell your compelling story guess what, people will give money to support that story. Too many churches make you hunt to find how to connect to their Social Media sites. Social Media is where a church can show what amazing things they do thus making it fun to give to that church. The really great thing about Social Media is that is it free! Even the smallest church can have a great Facebook, Twitter, and other Social Media sites.

    My mantra is that we need to make giving easy and fun and then people will give to our church. Then we can afford to pay for a killer site.
    Mark Brooks

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Mark –

      Thank you for this input. You have offered some great insights and food for thought. Blessings friend.

    • YES! Social media is huge! almost everyone is on facebook, including many “older” folks…a wonderful tool! Thanks for mentioning it!

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Aaron Smith –

    You have been a great help. Thank you for helping these churches with your service and expertise.

    • Thanks for the kind words Mr. Rainer. I believe that this is an area that God has gifted me in and it would be apart from His will for my life to keep it for myself. Any chance I get to help fellow churches better utilize the web is a great opportunity to see the Gospel spread on the web. So, it is my pleasure to help. Your article has brought these folks here. So, thanks for your faithfulness to help encourage and spur on the church.

  • Thank you, this was very informative and you are right. We admit we have been behind using technology but we see its importance and plan to cast our “net” over our city. Blessings

  • I am working on updating our webpage since we got a new internet service and it comes with a web site. It is a simplified version of our previous website which is still viewable on the web so I have two to keep up. And yes I have address Pastor info and service times plus events right now. I find your articles helpful and hope to add more things as I learn my way around the new site. At first I couldn’t get the sddress to work so I keep testing it to see if it is working for our guests. Thank You and god Bless.

  • Two problems: 1) Good websites are expensive. We really want to beef ours up, but it costs so much money for set up. We have no web designers in our church (well, none who have offered to help us with this).

    2) Maintenance is time-consuming – to keep things running right. I see a lot of sites that look great but are not kept up-to-date. I just don’t understand all the code and junk you have to maintain to do it.

    For a church like ours, in which none of the staff is a web guru, it is a constant struggle. I fully agree with what you say, Dr. Rainer, but there is a reason that our websites are often not maintained well. Smaller churches in this day just don’t always have the money and manpower to accomplish it.

    We set up a team a few weeks ago to work on this. I’ve already sent them this helpful article!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks Dave. I’m sure your situation is common in many churches. From what I’m seeing, the future possibilities look good. Web design and build prices are tracking downward. Also, you no longer have to know code to keep a site updated. It’s as simple as plug and play for many sites.

    • Nancy Goss says on

      Our web page is not well run because we really don’t know what we are doing! I work for our association of churches and try from time to time to help them be more aware.
      I would be interested in a few small church example of a web page.
      We live in a community of older folks and most of our church does not have anything to do with computers. The Web page is for visitors pretty much.
      Thank you for your comments I will be trying to “make it so”!

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Thank you Nancy.

      • Dave and Nancy,

        I pastor a small church and we have been through a lot of thinking regarding our website. After a lot of searching, we finally landed with faithconnector.com because they are relatively cheap and offer great service and a great product. We pay just under $900 for the whole year and updating the site is as easy as using Microsoft Word. Our part-time ministry assistant is able to get on and quickly update content without taking much time out of her day. Also, there are so many free graphic websites that people can use those nice graphics to keep their site looking updated and modern. We certainly don’t have everything the way it should be but I just wanted to share what has helped our small church.

    • As a pastor who helps churches maintain and build websites, I know that keeping them up to date is one of the greatest hurdles for the reasons Dave describes. Most churches don’t have the time or expertise to maintain sites, even when they’re relatively easy to maintain. Following Thom’s metaphor of the website a the foyer, churches will hire contractors to fix the building when necessary, yet many are unwilling to pay professionals to build and maintain sites. The lure of free and “easy-to-maintain” sites draw in many churches but do not serve well their needs. If we’re willing to spend considerable amounts of money on brick and mortar each year, why aren’t we willing to invest in the front door of the 21st century?

  • This is the reason we just updated our church website. Please check it out and let me know what we can improve: http://www.mhbcbelton.com

    thanks.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I hope the readers will give some feedback.

    • Justin, it looks well done for the most part. A thought for you:
      Consistency on the pages. For instance, some of your pages (About Us & What We Do) have the large image header. Where the Contact Us page does not. I would suggest removing the large image headers as it forces the reader to scroll before ever seeing any actual content. Maybe take those images, make them smaller and place them in the content of that page. It would keep it a bit more consistent with the pages with no header image.

      Hope that is helpful,
      Aaron Smith

  • Don Matthews says on

    Two things I would add. 1. Sing up for Bible Study. 2. Clear presentation of the Gospel .

  • Mr. Rainer,
    Could you share some websites that were in your top 5 that you saw? We are always looking at ways to communicate better. It is our #1 HIT for people seeking to find a church, wanting to connect, find information about ministries. Top 3 hits weekly are: News, Ministries (childrens, students), Sermons.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Jean –

      What I may do is find ten outstanding sites, then get permission from the churches to use them in an upcoming blog. Church leaders don’t like it when I mention their churches without permission because they aren’t ready for the volume of inquiries that follow .

  • Jonathan Y. says on

    There is definitely a need for a philosophical paradigm shift. The last church I served dropped me because I was not the cold-call door-to-door evangelist they wanted for the outreach portion of my job description. However, the time invested in the construction of a user and guest friendly church website was never considered part of my outreach role. I felt much like the scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou where the governor is going to broadcast on the radio an his son rebukes him for not greeting the individuals outside the radio station. “We ain’t one at a timin’ it here! We’re MASS Communicatin’!”

  • We’ve been slowly working on ours and it’s getting better. Will someone check it out and give me some feedback? Pretty please?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Can any of you readers give John feedback?

    • I will have a look and get back with you here shortly.

    • John, a couple things I would suggest.

      1. The biggest thing I would suggest is a solid background behind your content. White is a good choice with this color scheme (on the homepage if you had a white background behind the middle content that is great). The problem with an active, or picture, background is that the text gets lost and that is the information that you want to convey. We have found in the web world that text with background is much much more likely to be read.

      2. General image size needs to be reduced. With a background change it will allow the text to stand out more and the images are just too large. Reduce the size and let the text do the talking.

      3. Text/Font consistency. The tell tail sign of a good website is readability. That does not happen when there are 5 font colors on one page, much less the number of times you change the font size. Pick a couple colors and 1 font and stick to it.

      4. Check your embed codes. One of the big issues I noticed is that your videos on the missions page and the video reel , your YouTube embed codes do not work in the newer versions of Internet Explorer. Might I suggest instead of embedding all those videos, use some well placed text links to YouTube. It will allow for all browsers to view it that way. Use maybe one embed code per page. It could just be an issue with trying to load all of those YouTube videos.

      I hope this helps. Blessings,
      Aaron Smith

  • Thom, as you know, I have sent letters to 500 churches in the last few months. For every letter without exception, I have searched for the church’s website. I wanted only to confirm the pastors’ names I had were still serving that church before sending the letter. From this experience, I can say “Thank you” you are exactly right. I’ve seen so many cheap and frustrating websites, that I am amazed. Often the pastor is not listed with the staff and is hidden in some remote corner of the site. I sometimes felt as if he was saying, “Please don’t visit us!” At other times the unintended message was “This site is for our members. What are you doing here!”

    You said it well, if the site results in only one new member it is free, a well done site is free. Shoppers look for everything from socks to automobiles online. They do comparison shopping. A cheap or poorly constructed website is like saying, “Other churches have something on the ball, we don’t. Why come here?”

    A good word for all of us, Thanks.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      You’re right Steve. Not many people have been on church websites as extensively as you. You would certainly know.

      • This article was a great read!! I am hoping you can visit my church’s website and shed some light on what I can do to improve it.

        http://www.realfaithcc.org

      • Thom Rainer says on

        James –

        Some of the readers have been doing that service. I hope they will do the same for you.

      • Hello James,

        1. I would say my first suggestion would be to simplify the color scheme. On the homepage there are 5 major color of background alone. Try and simplify your backgrounds. Choose a dominant color and stick with it.

        2. I would simplify the right column images. For instance, on the online giving image, the text at the top and bottom are necessary, but the image of the glass and person are not. It will help people better use that space as most of your pages are being pushed way down due to the length of the right hand column.

        3. Instead of having “Contact the Webmaster” on every page, change it to a contact us link as well as your mailing address and phone number. That information on every page is helpful.

        4. Your “Give Online” link at the top needs to open in a new window. The one in the right column works. Just check and make sure to get that one fixed.

        5. Most of the pages look very nice and clean, except the base pages (eg. About Real Faith, Ministries, ). Every other page has good content and a relevant image. I would suggest adding a relevant image to those pages and maybe a bit more content on the About Real Faith page. Add service times, address, children’s programs, etc on that About Page. It is where most folks will click to find that information.

        6. This one is more personal. I feel that you should remove the “Staff Email” link. This conveys that people click here to email the staff. Instead it is taking you to where the staff go to get their email. Just don’t want people confused.

        All in all it is good. Just some tweaks to make it a bit more useful to folks when they visit you.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Aaron –

        Send your mailing address to [email protected] I want to send you a thank you gift for your ministry to all of these church leaders.

      • This is a very helpful post Thom. Could Aaron possibly look at our site and make recommendations? We always want to do a better job.

  • As a professional web developer when I am not a worship leader….you are right on!! Church websites are abismal and unfortunately I think that your comment about the undervaluing is true. I have worked on hundreds of church/ministry sites When I look at the statistics for my church’s website I see how necessary it is. We are a church of 150 and every guest we have had this last year, with the exception of 2 saw the website first.

    Might I add a slight change to the Plus One. I think most churches have the entire Doctrinal statements copied and pasted. We encourage churches to have those available, but first simplify them for brief viewing and allow the viewer the option to read the more detailed version.

    The thing that always amazes me is that we have churches that we talk with and they say, “We have a website.” So, I google the name of their church and the street it is on and even the search engines don’t know they exist. How would someone find your church if they can’t search for you. Again, good ponts.

1 2 3 5