The Front Page: The New Front Door

The front door of a church tells you a lot about the distinctive identity of the faith community. It’s the first impression people have of your church. For example, a carved oak door on an two hundred year church speaks to its history. But when a church’s front doors aren’t well marked or are in poor condition, what does that say to a first time guest? It’s not friendly or welcoming. It’s confusing and intimidating.

The new front door for churches that makes a first impression on potential visitors is your website’s front page.

Many potential visitors will check out your website before considering attending a worship service. Some will be looking for details like what denomination your church is a part of. Some will be seeing what mission you’re involved in. Some will be looking for a vibrant youth group. But if your front page is cluttered or difficult to navigate, you’re going to lose a lot of potential visitors.

Phone Book

A conversation with a millennial employee.

Many churches advertise their services and events around their town. You may hang up posters in the local coffee shops before an open mike night. You may have a booth at the local spring festival. You may pay for yellow page ads in the phone book or the newspaper.

There are good reasons why you may want to re-think using your church’s budget for things like traditional print ads. To the left is a conversation between our Worship Times’ owner Michael and a millennial-aged employee. You may hear a lot about the millennial generation “killing off” things like mass-produced beers or the paper napkin industry. What do these things have in common with your local phone book? Millennials aren’t the only ones who see them as wasteful and unnecessary.

Likewise, millennials aren’t the only ones who almost exclusively use the internet to search for a new church, and check out a church’s website before they visit, regardless of where they heard about you.

“I want to see a congregation’s identity on the front page,” this employee said. “And don’t just tell me–show me!” Research shows you only have a few seconds to capture people’s attention on your website.

Make sure your church’s personality and mission can be seen within the first few seconds. High resolution photos and clear, concise writing go a long way to making your new front door seem open and inviting.

If we do not want our churches to become like phone books or paper napkins – useful, but unnecessary, we need to regularly attend to our front doors. What do you want your front doors to show the world?

Get Started With A New Website

Shout It Out: Intro to Social Media

shout it out image smallFacebook is only 12 years old, and Twitter recently turned 10. Just a moment in time compared to the millennia that the church has been in existence, an institution, yet no one can deny the power and influence of the many forms of social media in such a short time. And, lest you think this is just an American or Western phenomena, there are numerous platforms and accounts beyond Western borders. All of these things are important considerations as the church thinks about how to engage and evangelize using social media. For the question is no longer, “Should we use social media,” but rather, “How are we going to use social media?”

At Worship Times, social media is deeply linked to our main work of building websites. In fact, we often are called upon to help answer wider communication and evangelism questions and concerns as a website is but one piece of that puzzle. As we look toward Pentecost, we are kicking off a blog series about the ins and outs of social media. We don’t know everything about every new platform or technology, but we hope we can offer some good starting points and questions to ask as you think about how your ministry can and should be engaged in a wider social arena.

First, some resources. Whether you are dipping your toe in, or an early adopter who remembers back when MySpace and Friendster were the hot new kids on the block (pre-Facebook! What?!), a great place to learn and share questions and experience is the weekly Church Social Media (#chsocm) on Twitter. A Tuesday evening (or Wednesday lunch for those in Australia and New Zealand) chat – 9pm ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT, for US time zones – you can find out more here: Twitter, Facebook, ChSocM Blog.

You will also find more information on their Facebook page about a closed Church Communicators group that has spun off from ChSocM, and has wonderful links, resources and conversations from a wide variety of church communicators – professional, volunteer, representing tiny and large churches and many denominations and styles. Ask to join, and you will find a very supportive community that really believes no question is too small – they’ve probably asked it themselves when they were getting started.

Next, as you get ready to get out there on social media, don’t go gonzo. You don’t need to create accounts on every platform you’ve ever heard of, and those ones that you’ve only heard your kids talking about. Start simply, and get comfortable with one or two formats before you expand (and you may find your comfort zone with just a few accounts, and never add any more – that’s ok).

As with any communications strategy, you need to ask yourself who you are trying to reach and what your goals are in reaching them. Where are the people you hope to reach? How do they use different platforms (almost everyone uses Facebook, but different ages and cultures use it in very different ways)? Do you have easy ways to post content that you are already creating – sermon text, audio or video? Pictures of events, memes or thought-provoking quotes? What platforms would be the best for sharing those? Does your ministry have talent in creating worship music, art or other liturgy? Do you have an creative curriculum team? And how might you put pieces of those together that make the most sense on Facebook vs. Twitter vs. Instagram vs. Pinterest?

We cannot answer those questions for you, but conversations with other communicators, or communication consultants you may be working with, can be helpful in clarifying and pinpointing your area of expertise to share with the world, and the best way of sharing that expertise.

Most of all, remember that what we do is to tell a grand story. An ancient story. And the best stories are ones that draw in their audience, make them think and then act. How do you tell our story in your words/pictures/dance/prayers/video? Take that unique story-telling style, and think about how it can be shared beyond your walls, and you will be on your way to creating your social media foothold and style.

 

Next Week: A deeper look at some of the different social media platforms.

So, You’re Ready for a New Website: Content

content blog imageA Good Church Website Communicates:

  1. A reflection of who your church is.
  2. Your commitment to communication in various forms.
  3. Your awareness to reach outside your walls.
  4. Ability to generate discussion and connection.
  5. As body language, grammar, and eye contact are to personal communication, a well-designed website is to digital communication.
  6. “Design isn’t just what it looks and feels like, it’s also how it works.” Steve Jobs

What are the things that should be included in our new website?

Here are Worship Times’ Top 11 things people want in your church’s website:

11. Organized Navigation: too many menu items and dropdowns can be overwhelming. Cull what’s not needed and organize!

10. Text, but not too wordy. Do you want to read pages upon pages of text when you visit a website? Neither do your visitors.

9. Audio/Video of sermons. 50% of visitors to a church website downloaded a sermon (it’s a great preview) 80% of first-time church visitors listened to a sermon online before they attended a particular church.

8. Updated information. Your site isn’t vintage. It’s old. Update it.

7. Coordinating colors. Rainbows and neon green don’t look good. Period.

6. Visitor-centric language – Using churchy language or language that’s unique or insider to your congregation or ministry is exclusive. Be inclusive and include information that’s easy to understand for all visitors and members, alike.

5. PICTURES/images. Of people actually in your church/ministry. A picture of the building is nice, put what goes on there? Sharing the life of your church tells a story. Great pictures can tell it well.

4. How to contact someone. Email a staff person. Fill out a contact form. How they call the church. 60% of visitors to a church website couldn’t find the information they were looking for or even a way to find it out!

3. When Worship Services are! It’s amazing how many church websites we’ve visited that didn’t list their worship times, anywhere.

2. YOUR LOCATION! The two indispensable items guests want on a website are address and times of service. It’s that basic!

#1 – A website. It’s 2016, and many churches still don’t have a website. It’s the new front door. 85% of people who are first time visitors to a church visited the website, first. 

What messages need to be included in our church website?

  1. Who are you as a church.
  2. What you offer: for spiritual growth, Christian education, mission and fellowship.
  3. How visitors can benefit from being part of your community.
  4. What you would want to know about the church.
  5. If it doesn’t answer the questions above, get rid of it.
Mouse hovering over the "Settings" option on the WordPress Dashboard menu

So You’re Ready for a New Website: Choosing a Web Company

Choosing the right website company is important in building your new website.

Mouse hovering over the "Settings" option on the WordPress Dashboard menuCost is an important factor in most ministry budgets, but there are other important considerations when choosing a company to build your ministry’s website.

General Website Builders vs. Ministry Specialists

Though we all too often try to treat the church like a business, the church world is just different. Decisions take longer, money is often tighter, and well-intentioned volunteers can’t easily be let go. There are sensitivities not mirrored in the business world. In addition, a company that understands the missions and stories of ministries realizes that a website isn’t just a tool for information. It’s a tool to reach people with THE story, and connect people with the congregation’s call in the world.

This does not mean that a website company that does not specialize in ministry will not understand your needs. Likewise, not every church-based website company will automatically meet your needs. Pay attention to how well the company is able to anticipate or respond to your unique needs. Creative design ideas or solutions come from designers who listen well and ask good questions.

Design

Custom vs. Template-Based: It’s all about having options. Templates often offer quick and simple solutions, which is appealing. However, custom options can offer a range of flexibility that fit the many facets of ministry. Once again, a company that listens to and understands your needs can make the process easier. You may want to use a platform or tools the company simply doesn’t have expertise in or offer. A good website company will be honest about what they can do for you and what they cannot.

Platforms

What is the best platform for your site. Choosing a platform that you understand or that can easily be learned is crucial. Our time is valuable. Learning a new language, be that computer can feel like a foreign language. Whether it’s WordPress, Rails, Joomla, or another, platforms need to meet skill set and needs. Keep in mind, any platform will have a learning curve.

Features: Consider your needs and your user’s experience. Do you want publications or an event management system included in your site? Do you use a specific directory or online giving program that you want to access from your site? Making sure the company you use has the tools you need or can assist you in creating the needed tools is key.

Price

With most ministries, budget is a concern. Finding a company that can work with your budget is important. Remember, you get what you pay for. Cheap websites are often just that. Going with a reputable company that can work with your budget can be more beneficial to your bottom line than the path of least expense. You also want to ask questions up front about additional costs or hidden fees so there won’t be unpleasant surprises down the road.

Being very clear about your needs up front, and what it might cost if you change your mind about particular elements is important – some costs may be included in the initial price, and some may not.

Support

When you need help, help should be there. When looking for a company, ask about their support system and typical response times. Keep in mind some support needs are unique, but response and attention is key.


These are some of the major considerations that go into choosing a website company, but you probably have some specific questions and concerns we haven’t addressed. Make sure any website company you talk to is willing and able to clearly address your questions and concerns in your initial conversations with them. And if you have any other suggestions or questions about the process of choosing the right website company for your ministry’s website, please let us know in the comments.

So, You’re Ready for a New Website: Leadership Questions

articulated-male-818202_640So, you are ready for a new website. There are many things to think about in building a new website, so we will be doing a series talking about some different aspects as you prepare to take the next steps.

The first thing you need in place is buy-in from your leadership. If you need help with this, we can give you some good tools to help talk about the need for a new website with your leadership. Once the decision is made to get a new website, the next question will be, who should make the decisions about design, content, etc.

Just as different ministries have different leadership models, they have different ideas about who will make decisions when you are figuring out if and how to build a new website. However decisions are made in your ministry, having a team or committee accompany you through this process and who should be on a team is a big decision. The leadership involved can help or hinder a site build project. Many times our staff are asked, “How long does the process take to build a new site?” Inevitably, the answer is, it depends on you or your team.

Whether you work with a team of people or not, having someone as the project manager is key. This will be the direct link between you and your website builder as we gather the necessary information for your site.

Keep in mind, your point person or website team doesn’t have to have website building experience, but rather it’s best to have people that know your church/ministry, know and understand how to express your vision and mission, are open-minded, know where to find needed information, and can keep the project on task.

 

If you plan to use a team, here are some suggestions on who you should be looking for:

(we recommend keeping it small, three key people is an ideal number)

Communications representative: Knows what tools the church needs and uses to communicate. This can be the admin assistant or communications director or a volunteer that assists with newsletters, updating the site, etc.

A staff member: They know the day-to-day activities of the church or ministry, as well as hold institutional memory about vision and mission.

A visitor or new member: a visitor or new member will be able to point out the things needed that might be overlooked because it is information that you assume “everybody knows” (worship times and locations, parking and nursery info, etc.). They will be able to talk about items that are important to visitors looking for information for the first time, and point out language that might be confusing or “insider baseball” – terminology that long-time members and staff might understand, but wouldn’t be known by new people.

 

Remember to be open-minded, understanding that a website is dynamic, not static, so the decisions you make now about design and content can and should be adapted as your ministry changes and adapts over time – a good website will adapt to the life of the ministry.

 

The Real Cost of Building a Good Website

 

"Money" spelled out in Scrabble tiles

Picture from StockMonkey

You want a new website for your ministry.

You want a site that’s clean, organized, but also secure and has the tools you need to share the information you need and tell your story.

But now comes the scary part, talking about the cost. We all hate talking about money. And in ministry settings, it seems impolite, even a bit dirty. But the reality is, ministries take money to run, or resources of some kind, and many are not free.

Last week we talked about the costs of having a poor website, or no website at all for your ministry – it’s not about putting butts in pews or having the flashiest promotional material on the web, it’s about telling this beautiful story of faith well. And a good website that is easily updated and used well does cost some money. Worship Times endeavors to use your money wisely with a unique package of tools designed for ministries, as well as a team of people who see our work as not just a quality business, but as supporting ministries in their mission.

On our What’s Included page, we list the great features included in our sites, but we wanted to go a bit deeper into these tools, so you truly understand what’s included in your Worship Times site:

Word Press is an easy to use platform to update and manage your website.  Word Press is open source. Therefore, you’re never locked into WT’s own system. If you are ever dissatisfied, you can take your site, and host it elsewhere.

Gravity Forms: assists in making building forms, registration, surveys, donations, and other forms a breeze. All you have to do is drag and drop!

Backup Buddy: every week your files and data is backed up, zipped, and sent to a separate server on Amazon S3.

Support System: We are always here to help. Our support system is built into your website. You have access to our team. Support is never outsourced.

Learning Center: A video tutorial library is built into your system to assist with every section of your site.

Publications: You can easily add MP3, PDFs, video, and other media to your website. We built a publications tools you can easily add and display sermons, newsletters, Bible studies, meeting minutes, and so much more!

Staff Manager: You can easily add and update staff! Visitors can search for your staff and contact them directly from the website. Sorting by department or ministry team is available. Many ministries use this tool to display their current board or session.

Media: You can display your 3rd party creations. Easily display videos from YouTube and Vimeo, live stream from Ustream, play clips from Hulu, offer directions with Google Maps, take a survey with Poll Daddy, share musical selections with Spotify, and much more!

Social Media: We’ve made it easy to display social media buttons to your favorite accounts.  You can also display feeds from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. As new social media is invented, our offerings grow. Our team stays on top of the trends, and updates our offerings to you.

Members Only: With the click of a button, you can restrict certain parts of your website to be viewed only by members who are logged into your website.

Google Analytics: Track your website visitors with the robust Google tools. We use Google Analytics for WordPress by Yoast to tie your website into Google’s program.

StudioPress Themes: Professionally designed premium WordPress themes.  StudioPress developed Genesis which is the industry standard in WordPress designed frameworks. Most of our website solutions begin with a StudioPress theme. Our members have access to our constantly growing design catalog and can switch themes at anytime at no additional cost.

VaultPress: VaultPress is a subscription-based security and backup service for self-hosted WordPress sites. VaultPress is built on the same grid that reliably serves many millions of WordPress.com sites.

Cloud Flare Pro: CloudFlare protects and accelerates your website. Block threats and limit abusive bots and crawlers. CloudFlare-powered website see significant improvements in performance and a decrease in spam and other attacks.

Max CDN: With a content delivery network (CDN) your larger files are spread out over many different servers to vastly speed up your website.

Liquid Web Dedicated Server: Liquid Web is our hosting company with an unwavering dedication to providing the best hosting product available. We use a dedicated quad –core box with upgrades for security and speed.

This sounds great, but what’s it cost. (We understand church budgets. 😉

 

Cost Comparison:

To match us you’d spend, $8,017.95 in your first year, and $7, 549.00 in following years (without any upgrades or site design changes)

To use the middle ground on your own: $2,629.95 your first year and $2,161.00 in following years.

To use the cheap path on your own: $2,208. 95 your first year and $1, 740.00 in following years.

With Worship Times, your standard package is $1063 in the first year, and $564 in following years. That includes unlimited theme changes on your own and a once-a-year change of theme with assistance from our staff.

Worship Times, not only saves you money, where in most ministry and non-profit budgets every penny counts. Worship Times saves time. We help set you up, and train you to make the most out of your website. Your time is precious. Ignoring the site is not an option. Our self-updating calendars, event management system, and scheduled posts help you stay on top of  those communications tasks that often take a back seat to other needs.

So, come talk to us about your website needs, we want to hear your story.

stack of old books and lamp on a table

Telling Your Story: How to Do It Well

stack of old books and lamp on a tableThe mission of Christians is clearly laid out in Matthew 28 (paraphrasing): Go, make disciples, baptize, and teach – in all the nations. However, by looking at most church websites you might think the way to follow Jesus is to go to meetings and potlucks and join sewing circles or the choir. Not that any of those things are bad, but so many churches and church websites are focused on who is already in the doors, and forget that there is a whole world of people out there looking for meaning, in the world and their lives, people who may not connect those meetings and potlucks with something bigger – God’s love, hope, caring for the sick, imprisoned or poor, and a rich story.

Additionally, many church websites seem to be telling the same story, rather than showing the beautiful tapestry of communities that celebrate God, share this story and their lives, in a multitude of ways. Not all faith gatherings are alike, and we should celebrate that! People come in a variety of shapes, sizes, learning styles and gifts, and so do our churches. We need to show that there is a place for you, no matter who you are. But if all of our websites look the same, and don’t share the rich life of faith with the world, why would anyone want to join us?

We need to stop thinking about our church websites as a member’s portal. First, your members either already know the information, find it out in person, or are finding things on your site through direct links in newsletter. They already know the lay of the land, and will be able to find what they are looking for quickly in any well-designed site.

Your website is not primarily for members, it is for those you are commissioned to go and seek out in Matthew 28. So when you think of your layout, pictures and organization, think about what communicates your unique story quickly and plainly to people who may not know anything about Jesus. Can people tell who Jesus and his followers are just by looking at your site? We hope so.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Use pictures of your actual members so people know who they might meet at your church.
  • Show pictures of those members doing something meaningful you do together (not something you did once 5 years ago), and not posed for group shots.
  • Use plain language – how would you explain what you do and what you believe to people who have never been to a church?
  • Keep it clean – no, not language, organization. Too many churches think they need to put all the information about all of their beliefs, programs, classes and history on the front page. No! Let people explore your story naturally, and you want them to go deeper into your site. Just make the navigation clear and simple, and they’ll find their way to everything you want them to find. (Likewise, don’t put every page in the site in the menus – that’s overwhelming and confusing.)
  • Do include the most important information on the front page – location, worship times, clear links to directions, education program info and childcare (if you have it, where, who)
  • Be authentic – if you only have one black family in your church, don’t put their pictures all over your website to intimate racial diversity that doesn’t exist. Just be honest about who you are and what you do.

As you look at how to tell your story with your website as your front door and front page, these are important first steps. If you stopped there, you would have a great website. But if you are up for more, there are lots of other great ways to help tell your story, and we’ll talk about more of those next week. Until then, go, make disciples, baptize and tell the story of Jesus in every way you can.

Sample Social Media Job/Volunteer Descriptions Part 2

Earlier we posted a sample social media volunteer description, and today we’re going to show you a sample digital community leaders description. This is a mid-level position between the volunteer 5-6 hours a week level and the full-time position we’ll be posting later.

Ideally, someone with a job like the digital community leader would be in a church where a vision of digital ministry has already been developed.

 

Digital Community Leader

Overview: The Digital Community Leader will coordinate the church’s social media, write for the church’s blog, and engage the online community

Spiritual Gifts Needed: organization, writing, working as part of a team, speaking in love

Goals: clear communication, supporting other ministries, creating new content, and building up the church’s online community

Commitment: ~15 hours a week (paid staff member recommended)

 

Does Not Include: website management, development of social media vision

 

Yearly:

-Report to the congregation about the social media ministry

Quarterly:

-Meet with pastor/committee to review the church’s social media strategy (the why and how) and address any issues

Monthly:

-Keep up on social media news

-Check church calendar & put events that need to be posted on social media on your calendar when you need to post them

-Plan posts to coordinate with or report on upcoming events if possible

Weekly:

-Double check dates & times of events posted

-Attend staff meetings & support other staff through social media if possible

-Write a new post for the church’s blog

Daily:

-Pray for the staff, the members, and the social media ministry of the church

-Check the church’s social media sites

-Start conversations & engage with the conversations happening

-Set up advanced posts (if needed)

-Alert pastors or staff to any urgent issues or issues you feel someone else can speak to better