The 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.