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Your church website impacts first-time visitors [1 of 3]

Church visitor lessonsSince settling in the Cincinnati area a few weeks ago, my wife and I have had a couple of reoccurring experiences while visiting churches.

Being a first-time church visitor is a bit different for me because I’ve always been in the role of the church leader, not the visitor. When I was the leader, I did my best to try to see the first-timer’s experience as they would see it, but now I know that some things are a bigger deal than I thought they were and other things that I thought were a big deal really don’t matter much at all.

There are three main things we’ve noticed as first-time visitors that hopefully will be helpful for you and the church you serve. Admittedly, how important these things are depends on the individual who’s visiting and what your church values, but I hope some of this still helps you and your ministries have a better perspective of your church as an outsider based on my very limited experience.

1. Your website makes a big impact

After we attended some churches with friends, we struck out on our own and naturally went to Google Maps to see what was around us. We checked out the websites of several churches and, surprisingly, many of them were unhelpful and unattractive. Having built several church websites in the past, I’ve always known that good design equals perceived credibility and that providing helpful information can make a big difference in whether a site visitor checks out the church on Sunday or not. But being on the other side of that now, I realize just how true it really is. The first impression many people will have of your church is not the building nor if someone greets them at the door. It actually starts long before they even decide to drive to the building in the first place: your website.

If your church website is weak, you may be a great faith community, but I may not visit on Sunday if a different church has a website that’s attractive and helpful. It’s not that I’m judging you or anything, it’s just that, as a completely neutral party who knows nothing about your church other than what you’ve presented to me, I feel like attending the other church is less of a shot in the dark. I feel that church cares about their message and who they are. I’m not saying your website has to be super-slick and state-of-the-art, it just has to be helpful, easy-to-navigate, and look presentable.

Four tips I noticed regarding church websites:

1. Be intentional about communicating who you are and what makes you different. If the website tells me that you’re a church that loves God, loves each other, and loves the world, that’s not very helpful because I just read basically the same thing on five other church sites in the area. Your distinctives in what you value, who you are, where you’re going, what you do, what you believe, etc., are very helpful and help me be excited about who you guys are.

2. A short little welcome video goes a long way in establishing credibility and giving me a flavor of what your church is like. Again, this is one of those things that I already knew and have even helped other churches produce simple welcome videos for their website, but man, it really does make a big difference. It humanizes your church, makes your pastor feel personable, makes the community feel real, and helps communicate the vibe of Sunday mornings in ways written text never can.

The videos worked on me and my wife, anyway. Two Sundays ago we attended a new church plant not because the website was that great, but because their pastor shared a clear and compelling vision in a pretty amateur video on their website that was probably shot with an iPhone.

3. Having a mobile-friendly version of your church’s website is actually more important that I thought. Twice my wife and I were driving to a church and had question we wanted to look up about the church or something on the website we wanted to re-read. But viewing and navigating those church’s websites on our phone in the car was cumbersome at best.

4. And a very helpful little touch on any church website is to link your address to it’s pin-drop on Google Maps. While we’re driving and needing some quick directions, being able to easily find your location by simply tapping your address is very helpful. On most mobile devices, it will open your address in Google Maps and allow us to get quick and easy directions to your church from our location on the road.

Your ideas

I asked on the LISM Facebook Page and Twitter what elements you guys think a church website should have for perspective visitors, and here are some other good things to consider.

Terry Goodwin: “Clear programming (time and place). Defined vision for the church. Clear directions to the building. NO CLUTTER! Get rid of stuff that isn’t a priority.”

Kerensa Huffman: “Talk in terms of expecting them to visit. Pics of staff with short, honest descriptions of what they do/like. Remove Christianese lingo. Terminology can be scary. Remove all the extras, if it’s for the perspective visitor they don’t need all the additional stuff that’s geared toward your church fam.”

Dave Libbon: “Simple welcome page… way to much clutter and inside language a visitor needs to sort through.”

Rob Johnston: “1) real pictures of real members doing real things. 2) real stories of real members sharing real failures (and successes)”

question
QUESTION: What have you noticed is important for visitors on a church website?

Posted on May 15, 2012

  • Dave Libbon

    You might cover this later but I do think a pic is worth a thousand words. Let me rephrase that… a current picture of people not things is worth a thousand words. I know it can be full time job keeping them updated but it’s worth the effort. (and a great job for a volunteer to run with)

    • http://adammclane.com Adam McLane

      Yeah, pictures of the church are lame.

    • http://timschmoyer.com/ Tim Schmoyer

      I think a picture of the building can be helpful if it helps me know what to look for when I get close to your address and it can also help affirm for me that I’ve arrived at the right place, but other than that, yeah, pictures of people and community are way better.

      • http://twitter.com/jimmyhudson Jimmy Hudson

        I totally agree about a picture of the facility. My wife and I were out of town and wanted to visit somewhere. We were very leery of just attending somewhere based on the website info alone. We wanted to know that the place we were going wasn’t a whole in the wall. A picture of the facility honestly helped us decide where to go that day.

  • http://adammclane.com Adam McLane

    This is a great point of discussion. I’ve done a fair amount of consulting and building of church websites. And lemme tell ya, it’s not easy money.

    I think you’re drilling into the most important thing church websites lack: A single audience perspective.

    Church ARE a complex social network. But, in my opinion, the best church websites are geared towards the 1-3 time visitor. People aren’t going to stay at your church because you have a great website. But they might decide to visit.

    Here’s an example of a site I did for my own church, which I think illustrates what you’re talking about well:
    http://journeycommunitychurch.com/

    While there are literally dozens of programs… we don’t list them all on the site. Instead, we just talk about stuff that visitors will need to know.

    And for members? We have a login to our ChMS, Church Community Builder.

    I’ve learned that I need to kindly bully churches into this idea. They just have to trust their designer… otherwise the homepage becomes a place that every ministry fights for real estate on!

    • http://timschmoyer.com/ Tim Schmoyer

      Yeah, I totally agree. I was going to talk about that, but the post is long enough as it is. One of the church’s we visited uses that model exactly of gearing their website toward new visitors and having the stuff for members and regular attenders in a login area of the site. Great way to do it.

  • http://joshhevans.wordpress.com/ Josh Evans

    Excellent post Tim! I think we are moving into this direction where church websites are becoming the largest marketing tool for a church out there. They probably have been for a while, but most churches are not up to speed (trust me, we have learned from experience).

    On the contrary, I tend to believe a few pics of the facility can be helpful to certain people. The building does tell about the church more than one may think.

  • Juan C.

    Tim, great article. I am all ears on this because recently I took over our church website and had to revamp the entire site. Do you have any recommended sites that would be good examples to learn from? Here is the site I made, would love to here what looks good or could be changed http://www.ctksanctuary.com

  • Pingback: The stories you tell impact first-time visitors | Life In Student Ministry

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