Frustrated by Multi-Site Church Websites? These 5 Questions Will Help You Find Clarity
June 14, 2022
Churches with campuses in more than one location (known as multi-site churches) face unique challenges: how to design, develop, and maintain a website to meet the needs of a diverse congregation. If building and maintaining a single church website is complicated, the multi-site church website design takes complicated to a new level.
In our last post, we kicked off a blog series on church website development. If you’re just joining in, check out our previous post, which applies to single and multi-site churches: Church Website Design: How to Lay a Foundation for Success! In this post, we are speaking directly to the unique needs of multi-site church website design.
The multi-site church model is not new. Even so, no one has truly discovered the perfect way to do multi-site church websites. The considerations, priorities, and needs change from church to church, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to the multi-site church website problem. But there are a handful of foundational questions you can ask to help guide your strategy.
Gather your website team together and work through the following questions. Your answers can help you discover the recipe for multi-site church website success in your own unique church context.
5 Considerations for Multi-Site Church Websites
1. Is your multi-campus church model centralized or decentralized?
We mentioned above, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to multi-site church websites. But if you are in a multi-site church, you have probably spent considerable time on a few of the more established multi-site church websites looking for ideas and inspiration.
In some cases, you’ll see some churches fully centralized, and in other cases, churches are giving their campuses complete website autonomy—for example, the website model of Life.Church is very centralized, while the website model of North Point Community Church is more decentralized (with very consistent branding).
Both of these are good examples of effective multi-site church website design, but as you can see, they vary drastically based upon the individual strategy of each church. The point here is that the people responsible for website design, development, messaging, and maintenance should be fully informed regarding these strategies. This ensures that your website structure and messaging align with the overall multi-site strategy for the church.
In the best-case scenario, church leaders will offer that person “a seat at the table” anytime internal communication is on the agenda. This ensures that the dissemination of church-wide information considers any campus-level implications from a communications perspective. Furthermore, it helps the website team ensure that the website’s user experience remains aligned with the multi-site strategy.
2. Who manages, updates, and maintains your multi-site church website?
The answer to the question will vary considerably depending on your church’s structure and size. In most cases, people at the central and campus levels have co-ownership over different parts of the website. If this is the case in your church, it’s helpful to build a team, conduct regular meetings to share information, and equip those responsible with the tools and resources needed to do their jobs well.
Define roles, responsibilities, and user access/permission levels for the website’s backend so that each team member understands how their work contributes to the larger mission. Defined roles and robust internal communication best practices help avoid misunderstandings and ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
Furthermore, it is absolutely essential that multi-site churches develop brand standards and train staff and volunteers to follow a branding guide. Without brand standards in place, you risk major problems down the road. Even with autonomy, basic principles must be upheld to protect the integrity of the brand.
3. Do you offer livestreaming church services from one campus or all campuses?
Some multi-site church models allow campus pastors to preach at their own locations, while others adopt a video-venue approach where all congregants view the same sermon at once via live broadcast. If your church falls into the first camp and desires to offer livestreaming for churches from each campus, this will have a big impact on how your website is structured.
At this level, it becomes integral to hire experts to ensure that the connectivity between livestreaming services and website functionality is producing the desired results without hindering campus-specific goals. Whether you hire a full-time person to manage this internally or partner with a church website development company, you won’t regret investing in this level of expertise.
4. Will you use subdirectories or subdomains?
This is a super-technical question but an important one for multi-site churches. If you are unfamiliar with the difference between website subdirectories and subdomains, it’s time for a short lesson.
- Website subdirectory — A website subdirectory is a folder within the main directory of a website that contains information about a specific topic. For example, if a website has a directory for images, the subdirectory might be used to store images of products. Web admins can use subdirectories to organize information on a website and make it easier for visitors to find what they are looking for. You can also use them to improve the search engine optimization (SEO) of a website by helping search engines index the site’s content more effectively.
- Website subdomain — A website subdomain is an extension of the main domain name that allows organizations to create a separate website section with unique content and address. For example, if the main domain for a multi-site church’s website is “www.example.com,” its subdomain could be “cityname.example.com.” Subdomains are often used to concentrate specific types of content on a single area of a website, making it easier for users to find what they’re looking for and improving the overall experience of using the site. In many cases, setting up a subdomain is simple and can be done without technical knowledge. However, it’s always best to consult your web hosting provider or development team before making any changes to your domain structure.
Some multi-site churches use the subdomain approach for their campuses, others prefer to use a subdirectory strategy, and others may prefer to give their campus its unique URL. At the end of the day, there really isn’t one right way to do this. However, from a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective, it is best to avoid burying campus-specific information in a subdomain.
For a deeper dive into this topic, check out this article from the SEO experts at Semrush: Subdomain vs. Subdirectory: Which Is Better for SEO?
5. How will you leverage local SEO?
The number one term people search for relative to churches is “churches near me,” but how do you rank one website for that term when it has multiple locations? This is a very important discussion to have with your team before designing or redesigning your website.
Ultimately, we advise developing and designing each campus’s website to complement all local SEO opportunities and efforts. The last thing you want to do is hamstring your campus when local searches for church service times and directions send people to a different location.
There are two ways you can accomplish this. One way would be to give each campus its own unique landing page within your main website using a subdirectory for the URLe.g. mychurch.com/campusname. You can optimize that specific page the same way franchise businesses optimize for locations based in multiple cities. The other option is to give each church its own unique URL. For an example of this, check out North Point Community Church’s locations page. That may actually be the best option, but acceptance of this at the executive level will vary for reasons extending beyond website development and design.
Read More: How SEO Can Improve Your Digital Footprint
We Can Help You Design a Multi-Site Church Website!
While these five questions serve as a litmus test of sorts, they are by no means a silver bullet. To be sure, there will be exceptions and special circumstances that require deeper discussion. If that is the case, we are here to help! We’ve developed and designed websites for churches of all shapes and sizes for decades. It would be our privilege to assist you in this process. Please send us a message and we can get started right away!