There Are No Small Questions

When the big work of building your website is done, the questions that come up after you start using your website can seem small in comparison. But little questions can add up. And…Worship Times doesn’t think any of your questions are small or inconsequential. It’s why we built our video tutorial Learning Center and support ticket Support Center right into the Dashboard of our websites.

From questions like, “I forgot how to add a page?” to “How do I add pictures to my home page slider?” to “Can we change our theme?” or “What does our monthly membership fee pay for?” we are happy to answer your questions.

We would rather you ask a question you might think is small and silly, than for those questions to keep piling up, making your website a burden rather than a useful tool for your ministry.

Also, your “small” question may be a bigger deal than you think. Asking about what seems to be a tiny glitch could help uncover a larger problem. Members reporting small problems have led us to find and fix bugs quickly, before they became system-wide issues.

Your little questions can also lead you to a deeper understanding of how your website works, and using the tools Worship Times provides in new ways. We are always delighted when we can answer questions and our members say, “I learned something new today!”

And if something is just not working, or your website starts looking dated, please reach out. Don’t keep a frustration to yourself – we can help! If something isn’t working, or you need to do something new, or you just don’t like the color scheme anymore – ask us! We may have an easy answer, and if we need to do more research, we love diving deep into challenges as well. We want you to know you are not alone.

Our memberships exist so that Worship Times will continue to walk with you as partners in your digital ministry. You bring your message, and we bring the skills and experience to help you share that message. So, no question is too small. Ask us!

Website Layout and Organization

Why does it seem like churches are allergic to good design? From layout to color schemes to navigation and picture quality, many churches act like they are not worthy of a beautiful and professional website.

The other thing we hear from churches is that they don’t want their websites to look too “slick,” which often translates to, “look too expensive.” When it is simple to design a beautiful website for the same price as an ugly one, it is not as if an attractive website communicates a wasteful expenditure. No, a well-designed website is actually a smart use of your resources.

We must remember, too, that websites are for visitors, not for people already in the church. And we hope that many of those visitors are people who may not even know much or anything about Jesus or church. Those visitors will be accustomed to quickly judging a business or organization by its website.

Think about your own experience on the internet – if it is hard to navigate or find what you are looking for on a website, how do you feel about using it again or even giving business to that company? The same goes for church websites.

Good pictures, a friendly color scheme, important information clearly marked, menus that are easy to navigate, and language that is easy to understand – these are elements that make up any good website. If you spend some time on the internet, and your website feels old and clunky compared to other sites, it probably needs an update.

Here are some helpful articles as you evaluate your website’s design. For those that mention “customers” or “product,” you can easily substitute “visitors” and “Jesus” or “Gospel,” and see that good website design is for everyone.

Website Design Best Practices and Resources

and, of course, sign up for our e-book, 20 Mistakes Church Websites Are Making:

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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

Summer Review: Time for a New Theme?

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Fall in the United States typically comes with some standard themes – changing colors in the trees, cooler temperatures (in the Southern part of the U.S. it changes from unbearable heat to comfortable), and the standard school year begins. Even where there are no fall leaves or sweaters coming out of summer storage, new clothes and school supplies are purchased. Long after we are out of school, or perhaps our children are out of school, there is a feeling of longing for new things, a new look, perhaps.

Just as spring brings an urge to clean out our closets and dust the corners we only get at rarely, in the fall we are often seeking out new things, new projects. And as you are reviewing your website, you may want a new look for that as well.

There are lots of ways you can give your website a makeover. We’ve talked about cleaning up old information, replacing old pictures and making sure your website is organized in a way that is inviting and makes sense to visitors. With many website platforms and themes, you have the opportunity to move elements around on the home page and other pages in the site, to change fonts and heading sizes, all of which can update the look and feel of your site. But, what about changing the theme altogether?

With many platforms, this may be as easy as clicking a button, then making sure to adjust for different element areas and sizes. With some platforms, it may require actually moving content. You may need to pay an additional fee for a change or upgrade. If you are planning to simply change the look of your website with the same website provider or platform, you should check to see what that will require.

The Benefit of Worship Times Membership

If you are a Worship Times member, changing themes is simple. First, take a new look at our Divine Designs page – we regularly update our theme options to keep them fresh and up-to-date. Once you choose one or a few themes, use a support ticket to connect with Worship Times, and we will connect with you about updating your theme.

 

You can update your Worship Times theme at any time, and make any adjustments needed yourself. However, most of our members are, understandably, a little squeamish about making those updates on their own. The good news is that with your Worship Times membership comes the option for Worship Times to do a theme update for you up to once a year. Many of our members forget that option, but it is a great benefit of working with Worship Times.

Many ministries update their websites as they are doing discernment about the future. They may start with a theme that is perfect your current mission and community, and as they evolve they find it no longer fits. If you find that your theme no longer fits your identity, we’re happy to help figure out which theme is a better fit at this point, and help make that update.

Never be afraid to ask us about a new theme. It doesn’t hurt our feelings when people want a new look for their site, and our intention is that your website doesn’t get stale. The industry standard for a particular look for a website is around three years. If you get to that point with your particular theme, we’ll start nudging you to look at an update, anyway.

So, as you do your website reviews, keep the overall look in mind as well as the structure and content. And let us know if you are ready for an update!

Black computer keyboard with a 'Connect' key in place of the 'Enter' key

Summer Review: Accessibility

This week, we are honored to hear from a guest author, the Rev. Laura Bratton, about the importance of making your websites accessible to those with different physical and mental abilities. Rev. Bratton is a coach and consultant who works with people to face difficult situations with courage. You can find out more about Rev. Bratton’s work on her website, Ubi Global, and you can find out more about reviewing and improving the accessibility of your website through the links she has provided at the end of her post.


Black computer keyboard with a 'Connect' key in place of the 'Enter' keyIs your website accessible to people with disabilities? Typically this question is not at the top of our list of things to do. As churches, ministries, and nonprofits, we often strive to make our buildings accessible. What about our websites? It is true that only a small percentage of the people going to our website will have a disability. Yet what a powerful message we can send when even our website is accessible. A message that indeed all people are welcome and included!

As a person who is blind, accessible websites are the only way I can navigate the internet. The wonderful advancements of technology have allowed me and other people with disabilities the opportunity to have the same access to information. Through the use of a screen reader, such as Apple Voice Over, I am able to navigate the computer and internet. Both personally and professionally I use the internet constantly. When I come across a website that is not accessible, I am quickly frustrated. It means that I have to wait until someone can describe the website to me and help me navigate the site.

There are many resources that are available to help make websites accessible. Below are three links to help you create a website that is user friendly to all people. Thank you for your effort to have an accessible website so that everyone can use it equally.

https://webaccess.berkeley.edu/resources/tips/web-accessibility

http://www.w3.org/WAI/gettingstarted/Overview.html

http://www.afb.org/info/accessibility/creating-accessible-websites/23

-Laura Bratton

Summer Review: Organization

website organizationFollowing up on last week’s post, we are talking about doing some website review and cleanup as we close out the summer. Last week we talked about getting rid of old and outdates information and photos, and this week we want to talk about your website’s organization.

Many people don’t think much about how their website is organized once the initial design and build is complete, and the website is launched. However, like any system, as people use it, you will find places that your organization doesn’t make much sense, or is overwhelming. Websites are dynamic, and sites built on WordPress, like Worship Times sites, are meant to be changed easily. If something isn’t working, rearrange!

Some things to think about for menus:

  • Does the menu make sense – does the order flow in the way you would expect if you were visiting another church or ministry’s website?
  • Do you need all the menu items you currently have? Clutter is overwhelming, can you move page links to header pages instead? You do not need to list every page in the site on the menu.
  • Is there anything glaring missing? (Like staff pages or your calendar.)
  • Are your menu items clear? Do they use common, rather than insider language, i.e. would anyone outside your membership know what they mean?
  • Do you have sub-menus? This goes back to the clutter issue, and sub-menus are not always as mobile-friendly as your main menu.

Some things to think about for general organization:

  • If you have programs or events mentioned in several places, are they linked in those places?
  • Check your menu and in-page links to make sure they are all working. If not, you may have lost a link in a previous re-organization, or you may just need to freshen up the link.
  • Look at content on individual pages. If there is a lot of information on one page, you can add separate pages for programs/items listed on that page that link back to that page, but don’t also need to be listed on the menu. You could also insert a summary, with a link to “Read More Here,” if they are interested (especially for history page).
  • Additional pages do not need to be added to your menu (this applies to the previous point as well as any new pages you add for new programs, events, forms, etc.) Do link them on the appropriate pages but, once again, not everything needs to be on the menu.

Some things to think about for layout:

  • Are your pictures the right size and in the right locations?
  • Do any of your front page widgets need updating? Information, size, display? If they don’t make sense as they are, you might think about trying them in new locations. If you have a place for sermons that never got uploaded, delete or replace it with another widget.
  • Look at styling – header sizes, bold and italics – on different pages. Do they look proportional? Are the bold and italicized items necessary, or do they detract from the look of your pages?

That’s enough to think about to get started. It’s also good to get fresh eyes on your site – ask other staff and members for their input as well as friends or neighbors who may not use your site often or at all. They may be able to spot problematic areas that you can’t see by working on the site more often. You don’t need to make every change other people suggest (there definitely can be too many cooks in the kitchen), but you can get an idea of places you might want to look at updating your organization for the best user experience.

And if you need a refresher about how to edit your menu(s), add or edit links, customizing your front page and other widget areas, or other tasks, our tutorial videos are always there to help you out.

Worship Times: Some Reflections from the PC(USA) General Assembly in Portland

A month ago, Worship Times flew home from the 222nd PC(USA) General Assembly in Portland, OR, tired but delighted. We were able to speak to hundreds of people, many of whom are longtime members we have only met by phone or email that we finally got to meet in person.

There were many highlights from our conversations over the week we were visiting with the Presbyterians (well, this branch of the Presbys, at least), but our favorite conversations were the ones that started with, “Do you need help with your website?” Which often prompted this expression:

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“Yes! We really do. Tell us more.”

We are blessed to be in a business that helps people. And doesn’t just help people, but helps people be faithful in the world, and share that faith with others. Throughout the year we get to speak to many people on the phone, and by email, and we love these conversations, but there is nothing like seeing that relief and joy in someone’s face when they find out that we can help them do what they do better, more easily.

The PC(USA) General Assembly isn’t the only denominational gathering we have gone to, but, so far, it’s the largest. Each time we go to one of these gatherings, it gives us the opportunity to have conversations that often range far beyond websites. We were able to provide a place for people to take a break, charge their devices, and just chat about their lives, their ministries, their passions for their work and the world. Though there is some cynicism present in any large church gathering, for the most part, the people who participate, from commissioners to denominational leaders to volunteers to observers to students to people representing organizations throughout the church – mission, camp and conferences, affinity groups – are passionate about this mission we share together, even when we disagree. And we got to hear their stories. Your stories. And think together about how we can help tell those stories.

The work that happens at large church gatherings are just a beginning, or continuation, of the work. Worship Times is currently hard at work following up on all of the conversations we started in Portland, and building on deeper conversations we were able to have with current members.

If you have the opportunity to take part of the larger conversations your churches or denominations are having, take part! Sometimes we get isolated from each other in our little corners of the world, and we need to be reminded that we are not in this alone. We never have been.

Blessings and gratitude for all of you,
Worship Times Team

 

**If you think Worship Times should be at your denominational gathering, please comment below, or send us a note. We can’t be at everything, but if it fits, we would love to be there. Please include dates and contact info for organizers.

We also have done trainings with regional church bodies and leadership organizations. If you are interested in booking Worship Times for a deeper look at websites and church communications, we’d be happy to talk to you about that, too.**

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.

Featured Client: Presbytery of Philadelphia

pby of philThe Presbytery of Philadelphia is a long-time member of Worship Times, and we were excited to recently build and launch a brand new site for the presbytery that includes updated design, navigation and other usability features. You might think we get sad when our members start talking about a website facelift, but we actually think it’s great.

We encourage our members to update the look of their sites every couple of years to keep them fresh and working well. Design and web tools change and improve over time, and we want our members to take advantage of new tools that have been created or added since their last updates. Also, we hope your ministries are growing and changing as well, and the website you created three years ago might not fit you anymore.

Our work with the Presbytery of Philadelphia also reflects the kind of relationship we like to have with our members. As the presbytery recognized the need for an updated look, and a website that better highlighted the specific work and mission of their presbytery, they began conversations with Worship Times.

When we work with our members, we appreciate these conversations about what the goals of a particular website need to be, the character of a particular ministry, and the needs of visitors to that ministry’s website. Our goal is to use our own ministry experience and web design skills to translate your ministry’s mission to a website that fits the ministry’s character and is easily accessible and understandable for users. As your ministry needs and mission are grown, updated, or become outdated, we want to continue to be part of those conversations.

The Presbytery of Philadelphia wanted to reorganize their blog, make navigation of their resources for each regional group of churches clearer, and better highlight ministry happening throughout the presbytery, all in a design that flowed from their updated logo and color scheme. The result is clean and user-friendly, and lifts up in new ways their innovative Ministry and Leadership Incubator, the work being done in camp and conference ministry, community outreach and connectional ministries.

Presbyteries do a lot of work, and have a wide audience, so their websites can be complicated. Being able to showcase that work in a beautiful and easy-to-use website is a satisfying job that we are happy to share with you. So, go take a look!