Church Website Dos and Don’ts

I’ve built a lot of websites for Christian churches of varying denominations, and I’ve noticed several trends when it comes to things that are commonly forgotten by the staff people maintaining the site.

Do: show your affiliation

If your church is a member of a certain group of churches, make that evident. If someone if visiting your area and is looking for a church that has certain traditions that match with theirs, you don’t want them to skip past your church because they can’t figure out if you match with their beliefs.

This is especially true if your church doesn’t include its denomination in its name (like saying Somewhereville Community Church when you’re a member of the Lutheran Brethren), or there are multiple groups with similar names (like the Canadian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America).

Do: make it relatively easy to find a basic statement of faith

Following up showing your affiliation, it’s good to show, or link to, some type of statement of faith. This is especially true if your church is independent and not connected with a larger group with a published belief statement. Someone who is new to the area, or new to Christianity, will want to be able to figure out what your basic beliefs are.

Do: service times should be front and centre

Chances are, the number one reason why a guest is visiting your website is that they want to know when a regularly scheduled thing, like your Sunday morning service, is scheduled. If the basic info isn’t included clearly on the home page, you should link to this in a way that it’s one of the first things people see.

This is even more important when there’s a special event, like extra services for Easter or Mass times for a Holy Day of Obligation. Even the most-regular attenders won’t inherently know that timing might vary when it comes to Christmas or something like that, and you don’t want to have someone suffer the embarrassment of arriving halfway through because your website didn’t have enough information—spoken as someone who's done that at least once.

Don’t: post your bulletins as .pdf files

A large number of churches have a weekly printed bulletin that includes some basic info about the church and a summary of what’s going on in the coming weeks. This is great for people on a Sunday morning, as many will take one home and read it over lunch, but it has its downsides as well. Many people won’t take one, or lose theirs, and that just helps ruin the cost:benefit ratio, which is already getting worse and worse as society becomes more and more paperless.

What’s the solution? Well, many churches will post images of their bulletin on social media and add a .pdf file to their websites. This seems like a good idea, and sure is an easy addition to the secretary’s to-do list, but it is barely helpful. It’s a pain to read something that is letter-sized while on a phone, which most people are, and there’s added costs of downloading the file if on mobile data as well. The bulletin should be treated as a weekly summary of the content on the website, and not the other way around.

Don't: allow information to become out of date

The worst of all bad things anyone can do to their website is to allow information to become out of date. This is also relevant for churches. If there’s areas of the website that are challenging to update, keep them simple enough that they don’t get out of date. For example, if you’ve got a detailed bio and photo for every person on staff or volunteering, but it’s a pain to track down a good photo or to write that bio, maybe just have a bio of the key people, like the pastor, and the contact info for the other staff. Or even just say to contact the office for further info. It’s better to keep things simple and accurate than detailed but only accurate for a month.

My advice

Think of your church’s online presence like the digital version of the bulletin. (And not as just another place to put the bulletin.) Like the bulletin, it should be updated at least once a week, with upcoming events, relevant scripture and/or pastor’s commentaries or references to sermon topics, accurate times for regular services, and contact info for relevant departments or ministries.

This could be as advanced as having a website with an event calendar and rsvp/registration functionality, a weekly email newsletter version of the bulletin’s content, a newsfeed of recent happenings within the church, a directory of all the different departments and relevant people one might want to contact, a blog for the pastor, and social media feeds sharing the new things that are posted on the website as they happen. It could also be as simple as a one-page website with regular Mass times and the office’s contact info.

Just don't let it get out of date! The number one priority should be accurate information, followed by time-sensitive information. Including a .pdf copy of the bulletin is miles down the list in terms of priority.