by John Carley
Sometimes it becomes hard to discern what is essential and what is non-essential. This has certainly become the case with church Web sites. In an effort to provide some guidance, I’ve outlined nine essential features or items of consideration for every church site. Then I give a brief glimpse into some of the most cutting-edge, forward-thinking technologies churches are using to enhance their sites. These are, of course, the non-essentials. But first, here are some things you need.
1. Develop a design that attracts the people in your community.
Remember who your audience is. A strong, simple and relevant design is important because it’s the first thing visitors will notice when they arrive at your site. A static or uninteresting design can deter visitors before you even have a chance to tell them about your ministry.
2. Remember the basic information.
Sometimes the most basic information can be overlooked. Don’t forget to include – on your home page or another obvious location – your church’s service times, locations, directions, office schedule and anything else considered to be basic information for your ministry.
3. Tell people what’s going on.
Your Web site needs to include an “Announcements” or “Upcoming Events” section. This is one way that you can communicate with your visitors about news and updates with your church. This information should be very accessible and readily available to visitors as soon as they arrive at your site.
4. Make it easy for people to get involved.
All churches need volunteers, so make sure visitors have access to a roster of church leaders to contact in case they want to get involved. In the business world, these are known as “calls to action” – even your Web site needs to call people to get involved.
5. Give visitors a place to ask for more information.
Visitors to your site should have access to a general “contact us” area. This area could include options to register for a weekly newsletter and sign up to receive information about events or small-group information.
6. Give them tools and resources.
You need to offer them something that will keep them coming back. A “resources” page with downloadable sermon notes, bulletins, and group or event descriptions can provide visitors with tools they need; but it will also be a place to which they come back often to see what new items have been posted.
7. Make online giving easy and convenient.
Constituents will be more inclined to give freely if the process is effortless. Since people are less and less likely to carry cash or bring checkbooks into services, setting up a direct deposit or e-mail reminder can be a fruitful way to increase donations for your ministry. This can be as simple you want, or it can be integrated into your church accounting software – either way, it’s a must.
8. Feature updated and relevant content.
Make sure you look for a Web host who can provide your church with a simple and easy tool that anyone in your ministry can use to update the content on your site. Don’t get caught in a situation where you can’t afford to update your site’s content after the initial launch.
9. Make it easy to navigate.
We often become impressed by unique and creative navigation, but the bottom line is, you need to make sure people can find what they’re looking for.
Once you’ve included all of your Web site essentials, it’s important to look toward the future and consider upcoming trends. Many non-essential features (or at least those with a lower priority) are appearing on church sites; and they’ve been known to add value for visitors. Here is a list of some additional features your church may want to consider in the near future as your ministry continues to grow:
1. Archive your sermons on the site.
2. Stream video onto your site.
3. Launch live Webcasts for some of your most important events.
4. Include applications for small groups to register, communicate, share and connect online.
5. Develop micro-sites or even social networking pages for some of your ministry groups.
John Carley is president of Trinet Internet Solutions Inc. To see these principles applied, go to www.trinetsolutions.com/9essentials.