In a 2015 blog report by Google it was reported that internet searches via mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) have now surpassed desktop access. This
may seem like a foregone conclusion in today’s culture, but this means everything to those of you attempting to reach your community.
As a community pastor, the majority of your focus lies outside the proverbial four walls and your method of connection means everything. Whether it’s equipping your home group leaders or encouraging your congregants to engage, having the right tools will either make or break your volunteer and constituent experience. Here are 5 ways that you can ensure you’re connected with your people:
1. Adoption is everything
You can have every powerful product in the market, but if user’s find the experience cumbersome, it should come as no surprise that they won’t use it.
The best experience is leaning on modern web-based portal solutions that recognize the user through authorized access, even linking to their social accounts. But if you consider the earlier stat on how people access, browser-based access isn’t enough and mobile responsive access will contribute to a much higher use (or adoption) rate when there’s no more pinch and swipe to get to where they need to go.
2. Give the power to the people
If the expectation of real time information of all your congregants is left to you or a select few staff or super volunteers, you run a significant risk of information
growing stale and an even lower likelihood of contribution by your congregants. Providing a portal that allows each individual to manage their own information,
including household, contribution statements, group involvement, and more, engages and empowers your congregants. And since it’s behind authorization
you can project confidence to your congregation. Win/Win.
3. Knowledge is power
It’s no secret. Events are challenging to pull off, but it’s almost impossible when you don’t know how many will be in attendance. A portal designed to deliver the
right event to the targeted individual ensures that you’ve got a true gauge of what events are connecting with your community. And when you’re equipped with an
intuitive platform, you eliminate the struggles of a cluttered calendar filled with past due events.
4. Foster generosity
Generosity comes in several forms. One definition could imply generosity of time. If that’s the case, providing your volunteer leaders (small group, home group,
etc.) with a platform to facilitate small group management eases the burden of management and instead, keeps the focus on ministry. If generosity is in the way of financial, provide a way for your congregants to give generously through online tools found in the very same portal. But donations aren’t enough, these same tools should provide a way for those congregants to see their contributions – including pledge status – without having to interrupt your front office folks.
5. Upload resources
Today’s technology can mean the sharing of information and files is very fragmented. With the ability to append notes and curriculum excerpts to a small group, you can ensure that your small group leaders are resourced with the necessary contents for their upcoming sessions in an easy to access location.
And speaking of resources, using small group finder included within your mobile responsive portal leaves no question of what small groups are still open to new attendees, who’s leading them, and where they are hosted in proximity to a community member’s location.
Community pastors struggle to find ways to form, communicate, and equip home groups. Find the platform, like the Elexio Deluxe Suite ChMS, to manage these critical points of engagement.
How does your church use mobile technology to reach your community?
Some church website homepages feature just about every piece of information a visitor could possibly search for, while others look like barren wastelands. So which way is right? What actually should be on this page?
Before you start throwing pictures and calendars and links up on your homepage, consider the overall function of your church website.
Who is your church website for and what is its purpose?
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the average attention span is now just 8.25 seconds—down from 12 seconds in 2000, and even less than that of a goldfish! That means your church website has only a few seconds to provide visitors with the information they need, or they’ll likely take off.
What your homepage should be
These items should be included on your homepage or just a click away through obvious links:
Location and campus information
Visitors can only attend your church if they know where to find you. If you’re a multisite church, provide details about each campus.
List the times for all your weekly services. Multisite churches should also make differing service times at various campuses extremely clear.
Don’t force people to spend ten minutes trying to reach you with questions about your church. Include your phone number, email address, and a contact form so visitors can quickly communicate with you in the way that’s most convenient for them.
What to expect
Some type of “I’m new” button should lead visitors to a page that tells them what to expect at your church—how people typically dress, where to park, what the worship style is, if you provide child care, etc.
If you have an online portal where people can give, sign up for small groups, and update their personal information, a link to a login page on your homepage will help them quickly access this tool.
Social icons that link to your profiles
Make it easy for people to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social network where your church is active.
Last-minute updates and changes
If you adjust service times for the holidays or need to cancel a program due to weather, keep those temporary updates front and center.
Although these items should all be present, you should still try to keep your homepage simple and avoid clutter. A simple menu and clear, easy navigation will help visitors find any additional information.
What doesn’t belong on your homepage
Give, give, give!
While online giving should be a function of your church website, it shouldn’t be the most obvious call-to-action on your homepage. Keep this within your online portal or link to the tool from within a menu item.
Don’t delve into deep theological issues on your homepage. A “What we believe” page is appropriate within your website, but it shouldn’t take over the first page visitors see.
Music, GIFs, and stock photography
Your homepage shouldn’t automatically belt out Amazing Grace when visitors land on your website or include religious GIFs or be plastered with stock photos. These are the online equivalent of cheesy church signs and won’t create the positive first impression you want.
What do you think? What should or shouldn’t be on a church website’s homepage?
Check out these other resources for more church website tips:
Hi, welcome to an Elexio Whiteboard. In 1935, the company Parker Brothers created the game Monopoly, and they say, if you believe their website, one billion people have played that game since 1935. I bet some of you are some of that one billion. I know I am. It’s been many years for me, and I started thinking about it. I don’t even own a game of Monopoly anymore. If I went to the store and bought it, took it home, started playing, I would jump right in and start playing without reading the rules, which is probably a bad idea. What if Parker Brothers had changed the rules and I didn’t even know about it? There was a way they made the game more fun, or maybe there’s a new way that you actually win at the game.
Today in our Whiteboard, we are talking about a rule change that’s potentially way more important than the rules of a game changing. And that is a change by Google in how they rank search results. If you know anything about Google, they have a variety of algorithms out there, that when you search on their browser, they rank their results. Have you ever wondered why some things come up first and then something else is second and on down? Of course, you can pay Google and you can pay to be on top, but I am talking about the true, organic search results that are returned to you. These algorithms that Google has do a ranking off of a lot of criteria, the criteria way too detailed for us to go into in this particular Whiteboard. What we are really talking about is search engine optimization. But back to the rule change.
Google has announced a new rule that could impact your church. The rule relates to whether or not your site is mobile-friendly, and the rule only applies to search results delivered on mobile devices so think smartphones, think tablets. Okay, let’s talk about a real world example of what I mean. When this rule goes into effect, which if you are scoring at home, the rule goes into effect on April 21st of 2015. Well, for interest, I Googled the word church on my smartphone today, the day we are taping this video. It delivered several results to me, and one of the things that I noticed that Google noted for me is that some of the sites that it came back and told me it put a word in front of the description that said they were mobile-friendly. These are some church names although I changed the names so it’s not anybody who is local to me, but let’s just pretend that the Ascension Church came up first and it notes, “Hey, it’s mobile-friendly.” Engage Church came up second, not mobile-friendly so there isn’t this little indication. Wikipedia entry came up as third and it did say that they were mobile-friendly. We’ll just abbreviate it as mobile. Bethel Church came up fourth, not mobile-friendly. Park City Church, mobile-friendly.
Okay, so what does all this mean? With the rule change that’s coming, right now, Google is being kind. They are giving the browser information so if you are using your smartphone, you can know, hey I am going to have a really good experience on Ascension Church’s website through my phone because it is mobile-friendly. When the rule change goes into effect, it’s going to cause the results to reorder. So Engage Church coming up second right now, probably not. I am going to say they are going to move down, certainly into fifth place in this example but maybe even further down because I only am listing one through five. The sixth result could have also been mobile friendly and that might push Engage Church down to second page which you certainly don’t want to be on a second page of Google’s results. That’s the rule change that it is coming so now the question is what do I do about it? What do you mean by mobile-friendly?
Well, the first thing I would suggest is you got to figure out whether you are mobile-friendly or not. There’s a great tool that Google has created. If you’ll just simply go on to the internet and Google mobile-friendly tester or mobile-friendly check. A lot of searches will get you ultimately to a page created by Google, and they will tell you whether they think your site is mobile-friendly. All you have to do is put in the church’s website address and push go, and it comes back and it tells you the results. So my encouragement to you is the first thing you need to do is find out is your site mobile-friendly and I also encourage you don’t just do your homepage. Look at your other pages that might make sense. So you can test any of the URLs from your church’s website. Ultimately you are going to get results mobile-friendly or not and then you come to the point at which you got to do something.
You know we have used the example here of the rules changing in Monopoly. Well, if you just ignore it, you are going to play that game all wrong. You can’t afford to ignore this. Well, once you find out mobile-friendly or not, then you got to look for help. And that really starts with where is your current website coming from? If you are using a third party, a guy in the church or some marketing agency, you need to contact them and talk about the word responsive. That’s really what you want to look for. You want your site to be responsive. Elexio can help with that if you are kind of lost and you don’t have a place, Elexio is a provider of a CMS tool. That’s content management system or software, and we can help you change your church’s website. But there are other companies as well. The important point is find out first and then develop a game plan. We actually have another Whiteboard that we talk a little bit about responsive website and what some of those solutions are there.
Now, you may be listening to all this and talking about rule changes and even the comparison to a game makes you just sort of feel like aw, church stuff like this shouldn’t be a competition. You know maybe you think well, let’s just let it all kind of just happen naturally. So what if Engage Church ends up down here? Well, I would suggest that maybe you’re right. Maybe you shouldn’t think of it like a competition, but let me challenge you with this. Let’s pretend this is your church’s building and you probably, I am going to guess like most churches, you certainly care whether or not it looks good. So what if the window broke, you would of course, immediately fix it. I mean, there’s a lot of reasons why you would probably fix it, but aesthetics could certainly be one of them. What if the paint in the front was sort of crackling and you are like that doesn’t look very good, you do something about it or really drastic things. What if a gutter fell off? Well, you are going to fix those things because you want your church building to look good, and I would say the same thing about your web presence. If it doesn’t look good, it says something about who your church is.
Well again, just a quick summary. Google is changing the rules. April 21st mobile friendly matters a whole lot more than it used to. Used to be something they presented as a, “Oh, by the way, this site is mobile-friendly.” In the future, when this algorithm goes into effect, it’s going to change the way they rank results. So thanks for watching an Elexio Whiteboard. If you need help, we are glad to help. But get somebody to help you solve a lack of mobile-friendliness in your church’s website.
Did you know that 25% of Americans will only access the internet from mobile devices? By the end of 2014, 79% of all online traffic is expected to go through mobile devices. And it’s not just teenagers—56% of American adults own a smartphone. Does your church have a responsive website to accommodate all that mobile traffic?
What is responsive design?
Responsive web design refers to a website that will automatically adjust to fit the device a viewer is using—“one site for every screen.” So whether you’re pulling up your church website on an iPhone or a desktop, you’ll largely see the same content, but in the ideal format for that particular screen size.
But we have a mobile app!
A mobile app typically provides tools like event registration, giving, and check-in for the church community. As Steve Fogg explains, church apps “are for insiders, mobile web is for outsiders. That means that if a church is on a mission it should also create an experience crafted for the great commission.”
So while a mobile app is a wise investment for your church, it’s your website that will make the first impression to potential visitors. If they’re just trying to learn more about you before they attend a service, why would they install your app—or even know you have one?
Why Responsive Design?
Some churches are sticking to their regular websites and are not adjusting to the shift toward mobile. Others are opting for mobile websites. But responsive design is still the best option for most churches.
If a website is not responsive and requires a lot of pinching or scrolling, 99.5% of mobile userswill not proceed past the homepage.
A responsive design usually renders the best experience for mobile users. Mobile sites require a redirect which will slow down load speeds—and most people won’t wait. But they’ll probably stick around longer with the improved usability of a responsive website.
And with only one URL—rather than a separate URL for a mobile website—responsive websites offer simplicity to potential visitors.
A responsive site will also provide a more consistent and fluid user experience.
FOR YOUR CHURCH
Although a responsive website could mean some extra work or cost for your church in the beginning, it will be much easier to manage in the long run. You’ll only have to manage and maintain one website—rather than two separate sites—and duplicate content won’t be an issue.
It also means only one SEO campaign to monitor. If you’re sending people to both a desktop site and a mobile site, you’ll do twice the work to get people there. With a responsive website, all links will go to that single site rather than splitting traffic, and your organic search traffic won’t be negatively impacted.
Responsive design is also Google’s recommended configuration. Googlebots will only need to crawl your responsive website once (rather than multiple times with different agents for a mobile site). According to Google’s Webmasters, “this improvement in crawling efficiency can indirectly help Google index more of the site’s contents and keep it fresh.”
In fact, your website could be penalized if you don’t adjust. Google is currently testing a variety of methods to help mobile users identify mobile-friendly websites in search results. But these changes could also negatively impact websites that don’t respond well to mobile devices.
A lot of churches struggle to create websites with great design and function. In today’s Whiteboard session, Elexio team member Rodney discusses what makes a church website ugly and what you can do if your church is making those mistakes.
Hi, and welcome to an Elexio Whiteboard. Today we are talking about ugly which can be a bit of a sensitive topic. If I’m saying your baby is ugly, or your shirt is ugly, you might feel a little offended by that. Hopefully, you won’t be offended today when we talk about ugly church websites. And before you turn off the video thinking that, “Hey, my site looks great,” we’re going to talk about how sites can be ugly on the outside and ugly on the inside. Let’s get started with outside ugliness.
One of the fastest ways you can make your site ugly on the outside is an overuse of kingdom color. What I mean by that is there are colors that the church uses: royal blue, purple, maroon, deep red. Those are some of the colors that we sometimes associate with Jesus. It’s a great thing for the Easter cantata, not such a good thing for your church website. If you’ve overused or exclusively used kingdom colors on your site, it’s a great way to get started down the path of an ugly church website.
Let’s look at number two, warped faces. You know, I love it when I go to a church’s website and they’ve chosen to put the staff directory on the site. It’s a great way to connect and feel like you maybe know these people and really get used to who the pastors are, but it can really go wrong if those faces look like this or like this. They’re all stretched out one way or another, or maybe they’re a little fuzzy. Well, that’s a sign that when you loaded up the picture it didn’t fit properly. And things go wrong when we don’t pay attention to the quality of our photographs on our site. So if you’re looking for ways to make sure that your church website isn’t ugly on the outside, take a hard look at the photos that you are using. Are they fuzzy? Are they warped? You’re down a path of ugliness if they are.
Number three, I’ve seen that guy. What I mean by that is in my line of work I have an opportunity to visit a lot of church websites. I’ll notice that the same photos are used on different sites. And it’s the use of stock photography, which certainly has its place, but if you take a look at your site and it’s exclusively using stock photography, you may have a problem. Also, I would say, take a look at the churches in your area. Look at their sites. If you see some of the same pictures being used, you have the potential of ugliness on your website because you overused stock photography.
The last way that you might make your church website ugly on the outside really relates to content as opposed to design. Most of these things are about design. Papa Bear here is a way that you can make your site ugly on the outside because it has too much content. Or I might say in Papa Bear terms, it’s hot with content, because we know Papa Bear’s porridge was just too hot. Your home page can get in that same way if you’ve tried to put everything there. You’re talking about upcoming events, and what your church’s methods are, and beliefs are, and you’ve got a thousand pictures, and all those things, and you’ve overloaded your home page. You may have good choices here but a bad choice here, you’ve got Papa Bear syndrome and your website has stepped over into the world of ugly.
Well, there are potentially other ways that your site could be ugly. Here’s what I would say to fix it. Gather a team of people who are willing to speak frankly about what the site looks like. Take a hard look. Look at other sites of churches in your community across the nation and then get help of some sort. There are professional organizations that can help you. Find a pathway to solve these problems. It’s really not that hard.
Now, let’s look at something that is a little bit harder, though. What if your church website is ugly on the inside? Now, what I mean by that is, first of all, Web 2.0, and it came and you missed it. Now, I know what some of you are doing, because you’re that kind of folks. You’re out looking for some update you were supposed to install to the internet that is Web 2.0. That’s not what that means. It’s simply a phrase to refer to a movement in websites that would make them more interactive. Think Facebook. I mean, that’s the poster child of Web 2.0.
But church websites can do it as well. I’ll give you an example. Wouldn’t it be great if your regular attenders could hit your website and not only do online donations but be able to run their own contribution statement right from your site, and not just for things they’ve given online, for all types of gifts. That’s a great way to simply make your website 2.0 compatible.
There’s others. How about small groups? Could you give your small group leaders the ability to take attendance from your website for the small group meeting that’s happening at their house? That’s also a great way to make your site lovely on the inside, because it has functionality for the people who attend your church. Web 2.0 strategies, those are some things. And there are many more. Dream up what could our site be as a resource for our church. Web 2.0.
The third way, I think, your site can be or could be ugly on the inside is one size fits some. In other words, your site is one size fits some. Now, you may have already noticed on the video that I have an extremely large head. When I go to buy hats, I’ll sometimes pick up a hat that says one size fits all. And I pick up the hat thinking it’s going to fit great, and I put it on, and it doesn’t, because it’s really one size fits some. And I would say the same thing about some of your website. If your site doesn’t respond well to mobile device traffic, in other words somebody visits your site through a mobile device and they have to do a lot of pinching and scrolling to make it look right and even see what the content is, your site isn’t responding well to mobile devices. You can solve that problem. You can make your site, have design that fixes that problem.
The third thing that I would say could make your site be ugly on the inside is Fernando’s Hideaway. Now, stick with me here. There was a skit on Saturday Night Live done by Billy Crystal, and the guy’s name was Fernando. He hosted a show, and he was over the top, he spoke with an Argentinian accent, and he had a catchphrase at the end of his show. And the catchphrase was this, “I’d rather look good than feel good any day.”
And I would say that the same thing happens with some websites, and it’s actually the opposite of the problems we talked about over here. You’ve gone so far down the path of great design that you’ve forgotten that 43% of the people who visit your site, any site, all church sites, those people are looking for your service times. If you’ve made it so cool that they don’t see this quickly, you may have a site that has gone ugly on the inside because it’s not helping the people who visit it.
There’s other ways that you could make an ugly on the inside mistake. There are other ways you can make an ugly on the outside mistake. We’ve just mentioned some of them here today. The key point for all of these is you need to be the hero at your church. And I would say that you can do that simply by gathering a group of people together, taking that frank look, and then finally get some help. There are ways to help here. These are potentially a little more complex. This is one of those areas you’ve got to look at your church management softwareand see does it connect potentially with our website, and if it doesn’t what are we going to do about that.
Well, I want to close by just simply saying this is Biblical. Now, I may be out there a little bit, because I know what you’re thinking, “There’s nothing in the Bible about good design or websites at all,” and I agree, there’s certainly not. But there are things that talk about that the folks who are singers in any service where we’re honoring and worshiping God, that those people should be well trained. The Old Testament specifically talks about that.
And I would say the same thing about these. This is the modern world, and if your site has ugliness in one way or another, and you’re just trying to solve it on your own, you could be in danger of not having a fix. So, again, be the hero at your church. Thanks for watching an Elexio Whiteboard.
The latest buzzword surrounding churches focused on growth is millennials—young adults primarily in their 20s right now.
While church attendance as a whole has seen a dip in recent years, Barna found that the number of unchurched millennials has grown from 44% to 52% in the last decade.
In an effort to appeal to the millennial population, many churches are switching up worship styles, changing service formats, and adding coffee shops. And then there are the pastors donning tattoos and a soul patch to appear relatable. Some go so far as softening their stance on hot button issues to seem more approachable and welcoming. But even that doesn’t seem to keep them around for the long haul.
Take it from a millennial—you don’t need to water down the gospel or change your identity to be accessible to that generation. But you can make a few small changes to your processes to make it easier for them to get plugged in and grow:
1. Website Presence
Whether they hear about your church from a friend or a flyer in Starbucks catches their eye, millennials will go online to learn more about your church before visiting. Once they get there, what will they find? Is your website responsive and user-friendly? Can they find the information they need like service times and what to expect? If millennials discover an outdated website, they may never give your church a chance.
2. Social Media
Is your church on social media? While not every platform is right for every church, these networks are where millennials spend a bulk of their time. Find the ones that work best for your unique situation and start engaging.
Millennials are relational. If they go to a church for six months but still slip out each Sunday unnoticed, there’s a good chance they won’t stick around much longer. Have you made it easy for them to find and sign up for a small group? Age-based groups are great for introducing millennials to others at the same stage of life, but don’t overlook the value of mentorship and intergenerational fellowship.
4. Service Opportunities
Most millennials have grandiose dreams of changing the world and leaving a lasting mark. While some of these goals seem lofty, unlikely even, churches should provide opportunities for them to get involved and serve. Is your church focused on missional ministry? Have you made it easy for millennials—and the rest of your church—to find service opportunities?
5. Media Center
According to Barna, 31% of all millennials watch videos online pertaining to their faith and 30% search for spiritual content online. Have you made content like sermon series and further study materials accessible from your website? You could even reach millennials across the country with video resources in your Media Center.
6. Giving Options
Along with the desire to make a difference through service, most millennials want to contribute financially to causes and organizations they care about. But a lot of them don’t carry cash and have never written a check. The option to donate online, through mobile, or at a giving kiosk—and to the fund of their choosing—will appeal to millennials who only carry plastic.
Do you consider who you’re trying to reach before determining which communication methodto use? Each situation will be different, but a quick text, Facebook update, or brief email is usually best for reaching millennials who are glued to their smartphones at all times.
Millennials can do just about anything on their iPhones now—look up Scripture, pay bills, interact with friends and family. So they’ve come to expect this kind of flexibility in every area of life. Your church can adjust to this shift toward mobile through a church app that allows millennials to register and pay for events, access a church directory, or listen to the latest sermon audio.
When you’re trying to engage millennials, it’s important to stay current with technology trends in order to be relevant. It’s not about getting the pastor into a pair of skinny jeans or changing the message. Millennials want transparency and authenticity. Don’t change who you are as a church or a pastor—just find ways to incorporate their expectations into your processes.
Check out some other great resources on reaching millennials:
If you’re utilizing the right ChMS for your church, you already know what a huge time—and headache—saver you’ve got on your hands. A database that allows you to manage everything from contributions to people to events already cuts your work load in half. But did you know that integrating your church database with your website could save you even more time? And did I mention that it’s simple and will help get your church community involved?
Scratch a few items off your to-do list and let your church community do the following online:
Online giving not only makes it quick and easy for your people to make their weekly contributions from home any day of the week, but it can also lead to an increase in giving for your church. Donors can save their payment information—whether it’s a credit card, debit card, or bank account—and set up recurring giving. Allowing them to set up an account online will likely result in more consistent giving for your church. They can even view their giving history online and print their own statements—saving your staff a significant amount of time come tax season!
2. Update personal information
No matter the size of your church, managing the details of each person in your database can be tedious and time-consuming. Remembering to change an address or update a phone number could easily slip your mind while working with so many people. But when your website is integrated with the church database, your people can log into a portal and make those changes on their own in minutes. As an administrator, set controls to monitor who sees these details, and your people can access this information to engage with others in the church family.
3. Find and connect with a small group
One of the best ways to ensure that people don’t just come to your church but they stay is to help them get connected. You can make it easy for your people to find the right small groupwhen it’s convenient for them. They can search for groups based on a variety of criteria and see where those groups meet on a map. Group leaders can share links to online study materials or meeting location details. They can also enter group attendance here rather than keeping a printed record to be entered into the database manually later.
4. Register and pay for events
When you announce an upcoming event on Sunday, you don’t want people to go home to check their calendars and then try to remember to sign up next Sunday for the retreat or conference. They’ll probably forget. You can make it easy for them to register online for an event as soon as they know their availability. They can even pay for those events that have a cost associated with them right away from any device.
Integrating your church database and website will allow your people to take care of these functions and more to lighten the load on the shoulders of your staff.
Sounds great, but how do I get my church to use it?
As with any new system, it may take some time for your church community to adjust. The younger generation will likely be quicker to adopt these changes, but below are some tips for getting your people on board:
Advertise this new tool to your congregation in the bulletin or within a screen announcement and remind them to take advantage of it periodically.
Share information and links to help your people get started through email and social media.
START FROM THE TOP
Are you the pastor? Well, practice what you preach. Log in and make a contribution or update your address. Show them that it’s really that easy.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SOME GREAT RESOURCES
Already an Elexio client? We have plenty of resources to help you communicate these changes with your people.
How has your church benefited from integrating its ChMS and website?
Churches have several choices today when it comes to content management systems (CMS). They can choose a low cost CMS for putting together a basic website with a few simple pages. They can use a CMS with add-on features such as event management. Or they can use a robust CMS integrated with church management software, check-in solutions and mobile apps. Which CMS is right for your church?
Choosing the right CMS for your church website depends on several factors.
Your website is your most valuable online asset. It speaks volumes about your church. It might say, “We’re growing, we’re relevant, and we care about the impression we make.” Or it can say, “We’re small but we still take the time to look professional.” Hopefully it doesn’t say, “We didn’t give our website much thought, it is managed by volunteers with no experience, and it shows.” Sadly, an astonishing number of churches fall into the last category.
Define Your Website’s Purpose
Before you decide which CMS is right for your church, clearly define the purpose of your website. There are four basic purposes:
1. Be found
2. Provide information
3. Generate interest
4. Create a virtual church experience
You need to have a clear purpose in mind for your website to understand which CMS is best suited to your needs.
Decide Who Will Manage Your Website
This is one of the most important decisions you can make. Your website is a marketing tool. It should be managed by an experienced digital marketing professional. Just because nearly anyone can put together a basic website using free templates available from hosting companies doesn’t mean they will put together a good website.
What experience does the person have with websites? They might be excellent at writing content but have no real website administration experience. Conversely, they might be good with the technical aspects of putting together a website but have no experience with creating content that engages visitors and gets found by search engines. Again, just because someone is capable of putting together a basic website, doesn’t mean it is a good website.
Choose a Content Management System
Let’s look at the two most popular choices for churches: church website CMS and WordPress
A church website CMS is designed specifically to address the unique requirements of churches. A good church website CMS should be fairly simple to use, include standard templates or allow for custom design, integrate with your church database, and include features such as a media center and an event management tool.
WordPress is an open source blogging and website CMS. It is based on themes and a plug-in software architecture. Numerous designers sell templates for WordPress sites; these templates vary greatly in terms of functionality and ease of use.
There are a lot of factors to consider when comparing a church website CMS to WordPress:
Whereas most church website CMS providers host the website on their servers, organizations using the WordPress CMS need to select a hosting company for their website. Important hosting features to compare include routine site backup, security, data storage, number of emails, number of domains and subdomains included, and support. Prices vary from provider to provider so it is important to compare apples-to-apples and research the reputation of the hosting company.
Websites are constantly under attack from groups that want to inject the site with malware, steal personal information, or both. Sadly, too many people fail to take security seriously. Besides the basics of having secure passwords, website administrators need to understand security vulnerabilities of their site and how to safeguard against them. You need to protect your data AND your members’ data. One of the reasons websites based on open source CMS such as WordPress are under constant attack is because users fail to implement proper security measures. Of course, even experienced site administrators can become victims of aggressive hackers, but you need to think very carefully about who will set up your website and manage it.
3. Software Updates
Who is responsible for software updates? Security threats often necessitate software updates. New features or changes to existing ones also require software updates. A church website CMS provider is responsible for updates. If you use an open source CMS, you have to track updates and decide whether or not to implement them. Because many of the templates and plugins used for open source sites are free or low cost, you are depending on the programmer to update the template or plugin each time the CMS updates. You have no way of knowing how a software update will affect the template or other plugins you are using. This is where reputation and experience really matter. Sometimes an update is seamless. Sometimes your site stops working until you figure out which software update caused the issue. How experienced are you at managing software updates?
4. Content and Features
What do you want your website to include? You need to look at this from two perspectives: what your site visitors will see and what you will have access to in the CMS (in other words, what’s under the hood?).
Typical church website features for site visitors include an events calendar, media library, online giving, staff blogs, links to the church’s social media sites, and the ability for visitors to share content from the church’s website to their personal social networks.
The ease of setting all this up on the backend depends on the CMS, the template and plugins used if open-source CMS, and the experience of the website administrator. A good church website CMS also allows for integration with church management software, mass communications, check-in solutions and mobile apps.
5. Training and Support
Training for setting up your church website comes in several forms: personal training, documentation, and video libraries. What type of initial and ongoing training do you and your staff require? If personal training with Q&A sessions are required for your church, than make sure that option is available when purchasing a church website CMS. An open source CMS such as WordPress does not include personal training.
What type of support is available for resolving issues? How quickly can you expect an answer? Who is providing the support – the CMS provider, the hosting company, the template provider, or the plugin provider? Who has ownership for resolving the issue?
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First impressions matter a great deal. First impressions last. And your ministry’s website is increasingly the place where your church makes its first impression on a visitor.
A visit to your website is often the first opportunity you have to tell someone about your church and help them to decide whether it’s a good fit. If it makes a good impression and helps to draw them into your church family, the website will help them stay connected.
Your church’s website is more important now than ever. It’s Information Central for visitors, attenders, and members alike.
People now expect to have instant access to the information they want. And they want their church information to be just as accessible as the details about their favorite restaurant or sports team. So it’s worth the effort to create and maintain a great website for your ministry.
THE QUALITIES OF A GREAT CHURCH WEBSITE
Two things matter most: how good your website looks and how well it works. Great content is important, but if your website is unattractive and frustrating to use, visitors won’t stick around long enough to hear what you have to say.
Your website should contain:
• Information especially for visitors, such as your location, directions, service times
• Media—worship services, sermons, video testimonies and announcements
• Contact information
• A basic statement (at minimum) that describes your ministry
Appearance—how good does your website look?
Your website is your church’s virtual front door. Does it have “curb appeal”? Is it inviting, or does it put visitors off with harsh colors or cluttered pages? With the professionally designed templates now available, it’s easier than ever to create an attractive website.
The effectiveness and visual appeal of your site can be enhanced by the use of video, slideshows, even and even static images. Keep the focus on people and activities, not buildings. Just be sure to use real church members, not stock photos. Visitors to your website want to see images that actually represent your church.
Function—how well does your website work?
Do visitors have to navigate a virtual obstacle course to find the information they’re looking for? If your church website is cluttered or disorganized, visitors will quickly move on. Easy navigation around the site should be a priority when designing a website for your ministry.
Can you update your site yourself? Your software should include a CMS (Content Management System) so that you can quickly and easily update your site’s content.
Does your website load quickly—in less than five seconds? That’s about how long the average person will wait before deciding to move on from a slow-loading page. If your site loads slowly, it’s worth having an IT professional evaluate it to see what’s causing the problem.
KNOW THE “SHELF LIFE” OF YOUR WEBSITE DESIGN
Your ministry’s website needs a combination of the fresh and the familiar—fresh content for everyone, and a familiar look for regular users. An attractive and smoothly functioning site will attract more and more regular users over time. Not only will users learn what to expect when they visit, but increased traffic will help your site rise in search engine rankings.
You want to consistently add fresh content, but the overall design should be more stable. Big design changes should be relatively infrequent—two to three years for a redesign. Small changes should be made gradually without disturbing the familiar look that regular users have grown accustomed to.
GIVE GOOGLE WHAT IT’S LOOKING FOR
When they’re doing an Internet search, most users don’t look past the first page of search results. So it’s important to help your site rank as high as possible in the results. Since Google is the most popular search engine, make sure your site contains what Google looks for as it ranks web pages.
Google Analytics can help you to determine how visitors interact with your site, including whether people are navigating any deeper than your home page.
There are over 200 SEO (Search Engine Optimization) factors that Google looks for, but rankings are based primarily on these elements:
Keywords and keyword phrases. For example, if your church ministers to the disabled, putting keywords such as disability and special needs will cause your site to appear in the results when someone searches one of those terms. But to rank higher, consider using keyword phrases—such as ministry to the disabled or help for disabled adults.
Density—how often your keyword or keyword phrase is used. Don’t stuff a page with keywords or overuse keyword phrases. Try to stick with one subject/keyword phrase per page, so Google doesn’t think you are trying to trick it into raising your ranking position. Google screens out pages that are jammed with keywords.It’s important to speak naturally rather than force numerous keywords onto the pages. Strive for clear writing.
Local search optimization. Ensure that the community can find you on their smartphones and mobile devices. Search engines are placing more and more value on this approach, and services are invaluable for navigating this aspect making the most of searches done by “near users”. Remember, you’re not trying to touch the other side of the nation, but you’re trying to reach those in your ”backyard”.
Hyperlink names—Use links with actual terms links, like the one link in the previous bullet point, as opposed to “click here and here.” (And check to make sure your hyperlinks actually work!)
Named pages with relevant metadata. To go back to our disability ministry example, an effective name for the page that describes it might be “First Community Church Special Needs Ministry”.
Search-friendly graphics. Avoid Flash; it causes problems with some operating systems.
Frequently-updated content. This should be easy to dokeep up with, since the details of your weekly church events change constantly.
Elexio has solutions to help you create a beautiful website with features like calendars, blogs, audio and video, online donations, and event registration. Website CMS is Elexio’s church website content management system (CMS). Design offers creative website design options. Both are part of Elexio’s Deluxe suite of church management software solutions.
As a church leader, you want each person who walks through your church’s doors to find a welcoming environment. An inviting church website – your virtual front door – can be the first place to help them feel that friendly welcome.
If there is anything worse than not knowing where you stand with your church constituency, it’s finding out.
It can be disheartening to hear unkind, unfiltered opinions. You’ve made significant sacrifices and life decisions to serve a group of people. It can be demoralizing to be faced with negative comments and criticisms about your organization after you’ve worked so hard to succeed.
But there is something worse than hearing this feedback, and it is coming your way. It is online feedback posted on social platforms for you and everyone else to read and easily share universally. For businesses and organizations, this typically takes the form of reviews.
Since reviews have become the new norm, more and more types of business, organizations and even ministries are receiving online comments by a fast-growing portion of the population. It’s a growing trend, and it isn’t going away any time soon. Like it or not, online feedback about your church is coming, and this is no time to wait and watch how it plays out before taking action. Here’s why.
Google recognizes the significance of reviews and has tied this into their ranking algorithm for local rankings. In other words, winning at the “review” game will have an impact on how many searchers may actually find you next year. While you’re taking a “wait and see” approach to this whole matter, your church may lose important visibility and fall well behind others who have stepped up their efforts.
People read and are influenced by reviews. Comments written by local peers tend to have even more influence as readers identify with and trust the author more than a “distant” stranger. A recent study done at Berkeley produced such strong evidence of the impact of online reviews that it was used as admissible evidence in a court case involving Yelp.com, a popular online review site. Reviews influence people, and as we all realize, they’re not always fair. It’s a new reality every responsible leader needs to embrace—now.
There are a few steps you should consider. The first is to set up a system to monitor any mentions of your brand. Check into Google Alerts if you haven’t already, and be sure to be the first to hear if people are talking about you online. Next, set up a “release valve” for your constituency. Having a simple feedback form on your website or in another “touch-point” with your community might capture some random venting or unpleasant opinions and keep them from being posted publicly. Many businesses and organizations are taking pre-emptive action in the review area by asking their constituents to write reviews. Done well, this is a great strategy, but without careful understanding of how review sites operate, it will likely get you in trouble if you attempt to manipulate your review profile. For example, encouraging people to use a computer station at your location will not work because review sites will recognize multiple posts coming from your one IP address. Asking a group of people to write reviews won’t work because it interrupts the expected number of reviews a site would normally get for your type of organization. The reviews won’t be posted and will be marked as spam. Asking someone to write a review on Google+ will be frustrating for that individual if they don’t have an active gmail account. Posting reviews about yourself and asking friends and family to fabricate reviews on your behalf can be risky as well. Review sites are using amazing technologies that find and filter out fabricated reviews from ones they perceive as authentic. The author’s trustworthiness, based on their review history, is another factor, as is the choice of words used in the review. New technologies are quick to spot superlatives commonly used by your best friend trying to do you an online favor.
Managing your online reputation, making sure your church website ranks in search engines results, taking care to maintain accurate NAP/W (name, address, phone/website) information across the web is complicated, constantly changing, yet increasingly important. But don’t look at this as yet another overwhelming aspect of your job. Instead, deal with it straight on, even if technology isn’t your thing. You may find that getting the help you need with these specialized issues is well within reach of your budget.
There’s a growing number of Internet marketing firms that specialize in all things related to local search optimization, including review management. Start with the company that built your church website and ask for referrals. Remember that you are looking specifically for local search optimization expertise, not traditional SEO (search engine optimization).
Alternatively you can do it yourself or take it in-house. Budget several hours a week for ongoing learning, and be ready to make an ongoing commitment for continuing education in this area. Once you know what you’re doing, plan on dedicating about ten hours a month for working on your online presence. But, before you rush into doing it yourself, remember that wise leaders delegate and smart leaders outsource specialized services, especially when the landscape is changing rapidly. Also, keep in mind that every minute that you or your team is focusing on this, it means time away from focusing on your church’s core mission.
If you do seek outside help, be prepared for multiple “computer geeks” to self-qualify and recommend themselves. It might be awkward to tell your secretary that her nephew isn’t your first choice even if he’s been writing code since he was four years old. But managing your online NAP/W data is complicated, specialized, and seems easy only to the uninformed. Your online presence is very important and worthy of hiring the right help and allocating appropriate financial resources.
Author bio: Steve Wolgemuth is CEO of YDOP, Inc, a Christian-owned company dedicated to helping businesses and organizations reach a proximate target audience. Their Near-user marketing approach incorporates local search engine optimization, discovery optimization and social strategies to create phone rings, email dings, and door swings.