Church Website Design: How to Lay a Foundation for Success!
June 9, 2022
We’ve worked with churches across the country for decades and can safely say that we’ve seen it all when it comes to church website design. There are some really great church websites out there, but there are even more that are mediocre, stale, and just plain painful to look at.
Not to sound too harsh; we know that church staffers have more to do than time to do it. But at the same time, in the digital age, churches literally cannot afford to neglect website development. From usability and functionality to branding and strategy, churches need websites just as much—if not more—than other nonprofit organizations.
Every single Sunday, you have a carved-out opportunity to reach people with your message online. People are looking for a church nearby or an online church service to view from home. If your website isn’t properly designed, the people searching will not be able to find you online.
The stakes are high, but you’re not alone. We are here to help. This summer, we are writing a series of blogs written specifically for church communications directors, leaders, volunteers, or whoever is responsible for your church website. We will provide as many ideas, resources, and helpful information as possible to equip you for church website success. So without further adieu, let’s jump into all things church website!
Here are the steps you need to take to ensure that your church website is working for you, not against you.
1. Decide Who Owns It
Website ownership can carry many different meanings. When we say “decide who owns it,” we mean that you need to have a specific person or team specifically tasked with managing your website. May we humbly suggest that this person is not your senior pastor.
Obviously, your pastors and elders will have a significant impact and oversight regarding the content of your website. That said, after years of working with churches, we’ve observed that it works best when the responsibility of monitoring, updating, and maintaining a church website is delegated to a trusted staff member or volunteer.
Let’s sit with this for a minute because it is crucial to the success of your website. In our experience, the number one reason church websites fail is that they’re neglected. The good news is that this is a simple fix! Prayerfully consider and decide who will own it. Then delegate the responsibility and empower your designee to be proactive and do what’s necessary to keep the website in top working order.
Keep in mind this doesn’t necessarily need to be a staff position. Frankly, most churches don’t have the budget to hire a full-time webmaster or communications director. That is the beauty of the body of Christ. We are confident that you have more than a few talented individuals sitting in your pews every Sunday who would gladly serve your church in this way. We will address best practices for utilizing volunteers in a future post.
Finally, make the website a priority. Make meetings with your website team a priority. Listen carefully and act on their recommendations. These internal processes will literally make or break the effectiveness of your website.
2. Define Your Budget
Consider this: your church website carries an equivocal value to your congregation as the church building. Think about how much you invest time and budget in your Sunday morning experience. You should invest at least a comparable amount in communicating via your website with seekers, visitors, and regular attendees.
People get antsy when we talk about church website budgets, but it’s unavoidable. Just like your church building care and maintenance comes with a price, so does your website. Imagine if churches invested even one-tenth of what they invested in their building in their website. Most churches don’t think about website development in this way, but the digital age demands that they should.
The return on your website investment is higher than you may think. When speaking with business owners, we often talk about how your website is like your digital doorstep. It’s the same with the church!
People will always Google your church name and check out your website before visiting. If they see an outdated website that is difficult to navigate, they probably won’t ever show up to experience your Sunday services. To avoid this, prioritize website design and development in your budget.
Now you may be thinking, “how much do church websites cost?” No one can answer that question definitively. There are many ways to accomplish church website design and development, and the cost will vary significantly depending on your church’s ministry objectives and goals. It’s best to create a website RFP and schedule meetings with several potential companies or freelancers before making a decision.
Also, don’t be afraid to express your needs to your congregation. There may be people in your midst who would be more than willing to offer discounts or in-kind donations of products or services to meet your website development needs.
3. Prioritize Function Over Form
We do nearly everything online in the digital age. From telemed appointments and banking to shopping for our most basic necessities, we do life online. Some may admit this through gritted teeth, but we can’t ignore these realities. People need the church now more than ever, so we must meet them where they are, and we can assure you that they’re all online.
So how does that relate to prioritizing function over form? Simply put, your website doesn’t need to be super fancy with lots of bells and whistles, but it does need to work as expected and display messages and images consistent with the in-real-life experience you offer attendees.
At the most basic level, church websites should:
- Be secure. There are basic steps you can take to accomplish this. Read our post on website security for more information.
- Clearly communicate your purpose, mission, and vision at the top of the page. Using navigational links, make it very easy for users to find more information on what you believe, your leadership, and other relevant staff information.
- Frontload the important info, e.g., service times, directions, email, and phone number.
- Work as expected on a mobile device. The majority of your web traffic is likely coming from a mobile device so please do not miss this point!
- Explain services for kids and teens. This will likely be the most important information new families are looking for when they visit your website. If they can’t find explicit info regarding what their children will experience they may not come.
- Maintain consistent visual branding to ensure a seamless experience between online and in-person gatherings.
- Incorporate professional photography (this is a great volunteer opportunity!) Please avoid using stock photography on your church website.
Include white space and other design elements to make it easy for your visitor to quickly understand your messages.
- Follow an intuitive path for navigating important information. Test your website from an end-user perspective. It’s easy to get caught up in internal jargon and processes that may not translate well to a website visitor.
- Prominently display the event calendar or other information on getting involved in church activities.
- Provide a link to sermon recordings, podcasts, and other relevant resources.
- If you offer online church services, place a live link in the header of your website during service times.
- Integrate seamlessly with your people management and giving software.
- Be easy to update content on the backend. Most websites today are built on the
- WordPress content management system which is very user-friendly to update and maintain.
- Be optimized for search engine optimization (SEO).
- Incorporate links to your social media channels.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list but these are the basics required for a church website that is user-friendly and supportive of your mission. Whether you’re using a proprietary church website builder, developing a site from scratch with volunteers, or managing development in partnership with a marketing company for churches, the points above will ensure that you are set up for church website success.
It’s also worth mentioning that these tips apply to other nonprofits and businesses as well as churches. Ultimately, you want your church website to be easy to find and navigate to the most important information—much like any local business. Adopting these best practices will provide your website with a solid foundation on which to build.
As mentioned above, this is only the beginning of a summer series on church website development, so stay tuned for future posts to dig deeper into the wonderful world of church communications! In the meantime, feel free to contact us with any questions you have about church website design!
Here are a few more resources we think you’ll find useful: