With the rapid advances in modern technology, constant pressure on markets and sales, and the ever-increasing demand for stylish software updates and upgrades, it’s really no wonder that more Americans than ever own a smartphone and/or tablet. Having user-friendly portable tech within arms reach has become the norm these days. I figure it won’t be long before we’re all walking around like mindless cyborgs in some sort of Twilight Zone episode, which, in all honestly, actually sounds kind of cool.
Anyway, cyborgs or not, this constantly changes the landscape for those of us who work in the web design and digital media marketing world. It means that the vast majority of folks who want to know more about our business or church can whip out their device, perform a quick Google search, and land on our website or social media platforms within milliseconds (unless you live in Citronelle, Alabama, in which case you may be waiting a few hours for pages to load.) And it also means that most potential first-time guests in your town or city will take a long (or short) look at your online presence before they even remotely consider making an in-person visit to your physical campus. Oftentimes your website will be the first impression they receive. And you've only got about 50 milliseconds to make a good impression.
This is why, as Communications Ministers, we pound on the "Front Door" concept — the understanding that your website and social media platforms are the digital front doors to your church. They need to be as warm and welcoming as possible. Here are a few simple things you can do to ensure that happens:
#1. Have some sort of welcome message right on the homepage.
This might seem like an insultingly obvious first suggestion, but you'd be shocked at how many church websites fall short here. Even if it's just four or five sentences above or below your main photo, graphic, logo, slider, or whatever, there should at least be some sort of wording that lets me know you're happy I am there and that you're trying to connect with me. There's nothing worse than a church that's just a faceless logo, graphic, or building.
Now, if you want to take it a step further, you could shoot a welcome video as well. Video is far more personal and more engaging than text. It doesn't have to be complex or elaborate. A short welcome message from the pastor will get the job done. No one is asking you to fly drones over your building for amazing aerial shots. (Unless you want to. Then knock yourself out.) This video can be placed on your New Here page or a subpage called "A message from our pastor" or whatever fits within the context and theme of your particular site. But it should definitely be on a page where a seeker would look for it first.
#2. Oh yeah, speaking of that New Here page...
You should definitely have an entire page on your site dedicated to seekers. Seekers are people who want to know more about your church; people who are trying to decide if they want to visit you in-person. This page should have very friendly language, greetings, and it should answer a lot of basic questions:
#3. Use real photos over stock photos whenever and wherever possible.
I'll be blunt here: Visitors want to see the real you. Not the fake you. Remember, they're not just on the site to absorb information, they're also there to experience the site and gain an idea of what to expect. Adding some photos and/or videos of your congregation during worship, the inside of your building, small groups and casual campus interactions, etc. can all go a long way in helping a potential visitor feel comfortable about deciding whether they want to make an in-person appearance. Bottom line? If your site is overloaded with graphics and stock photos — and not enough real photos — people might assume that you're a stale, lifeless, and boring church.
#4. Make the staff page easy to find.
People want to connect with other people. They want to know more about them, especially before working up the courage to arrive on a Sunday morning. On your church website, this initial discovery moment can happen on the staff page. It's sort of like the "get to know you" before the "get to know you." But if your staff page is buried in a half a dozen subpages or complicated menus, the average seeker will be far less inclined to visit your church in-person. And who could blame them? They wouldn't be able to associate a human face with any aspect of your church.
Also, please make sure that staff members are smiling in their photos. I can't believe this is even an issue in 2021. No one wants to be greeted by the assistant pastor's prison mugshot. I mean, seriously. At least try to look like you're happy to be serving the Lord.
Another great thing to include is contact info for each individual — e-mail address, social media platforms, etc. This tells potential visitors: It really does matter to us that you're able to connect with us.
Time to reflect.
How's your website? I know these might seem like painfully obvious suggestions, but take some time to sit down and peruse your church's site. Put yourself in the shoes of a first-time guest; someone who knows little to nothing at all about your church. Hold your site up against these four basic standards. Do you feel like your site is friendly and welcoming? Do you need to enhance or change some wording somewhere? How's the homepage?
What stock photos or graphics could you live without? Which ones could easily be replaced with real photos?
How's your New Here page? Do you even have one? Is the language friendly? Does it answer lots of questions?
If you need to address these issues, then do it. Remember: your website will likely be the first impression potential guests have of your church. A bad impression can cause them to write you off in a heartbeat. That might not seem fair, but it's just reality these days. I promise that in the end your work will be worth the effort.
I'm here for you.