There may be nothing more tedious, exhausting, and altogether annoying than the process of revamping a website. We all know the old adage that technology is constantly evolving and changing. By the time you’ve caught up with the latest and greatest features, someone has written a bestselling book on why your site is outdated and behind-the-times.
And then there’s the reality that most church websites — unlike the majority of niche business websites — have a wider audience with a more diverse range of needs and potentially tech-challenged users. Creating a site with exceptional functionality that operates within peak performance of the needs of each audience demographic inside and outside your church can seem like quite the insurmountable obstacle. It’s no wonder that David T. Bourgeois, Ph.D., an associate professor at Biola University’s Cromwell School of Business, discovered that two out of three churches consider their website to be “ineffective.” In fact, most churches rank their social media platforms as being more practical communication outlets than their websites. Everyone is connected on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, so that’s where many churches focus their communication strategies while unwittingly neglecting their websites.
Nevertheless, your website is often the first place that a potential visitor will land when searching for a local church in the area. If nothing else, it should at least contain pertinent information and be user-friendly. Giving it an occasional makeover isn’t just a good thing, it’s often necessary. Here are a few tips and thoughts to keep in mind as you navigate this process:
#1. Keep The Site Mobile-Friendly.
As of March 2020, over 52 percent of all worldwide global web traffic was coming from mobile phones. I’ll be the first to admit that I often ignore and even completely forget about these sort of statistics. It’s not that I intentionally set out to do that, but as the Communications Director for my church, I’m regularly viewing, updating, and redesigning our website on a 15.4-inch MacBook Pro Retina screen. I rarely, if ever, view our website on my 6-inch iPhone XR. I’ve become far too accustomed to the convenience of the MacBook ecosystem and to seeing the bigger picture. Not to mention that it would just be ridiculously frustrating and next to impossible to edit a website from a tiny cell phone screen. If you’re a Church Communicator, my guess is that you’re in a similar boat and rely on your laptop and/or desktop machine for just about everything you do.
But, the average visitor will be looking at your site on their smartphone or tablet. That’s why a mobile friendly user experience isn’t just something you should take care of when you have the time; it should be the number one objective in your overhaul of the website’s redesign and implementation process. Think through issues like navigation menus, text size and legibility, photo placement and text wrapping, button sizes, etc. Then, before you even launch the site, test the mobile version out with a few folks — be sure to assemble a group that varies in age and technology competency — so that you can get an idea of how well it will perform with your audience, especially your senior citizens. Ask for feedback and take notes on what they liked and didn’t like.
#2. Don't Mess With What Works.
Not unlike the Bible and its influence on the Christian life, there are a few timeless truths of web design that shouldn’t be upended for the sake of modernity or flashiness. Yes, there’s absolutely a place for creativity and originality in web design, but if you inadvertently [or purposefully] part ways with some of the more stable traditions, you will risk losing much of your audience. I can’t tell you how often I see this happen. No one wants to visit a site that is difficult to navigate or impossible to locate information on because the designer went overboard catering to visual appeal. When it comes to websites, most folks are accustomed to certain things being a certain way. They are used to some things being located in certain places. If you go haywire and change those things, they’ll get confused and leave in a heartbeat. Here are some examples:
Logos should typically be located at the top and centered above the menu bar and should also hyperlink to the homepage. This will allow the visitor to get back to your site’s homepage by simply clicking (or tapping) on the logo at any point.
Social media icons should be placed in your site’s footer section — along with your church’s street address, service times, and office hours — so that visitors have quick access to your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, iTunes, etc.
Important pages should not be buried as subpages. In other words, don’t bury your sermon audio/video page underneath “Ministries.” Make it a separate page so that it stands out on its own and can be seen and found easily and quickly. An endless hunt for something as important as your pastor’s messages will be a quick turnoff.
The menu bar should be prominently visible and easily accessible. It should be free from the clutter of any extravagant design elements, including illegible fonts. If a visitor can’t navigate his way around your site, he will leave.
The key idea here: Don’t get so caught up in fancy design that you destroy the basics of what makes a functional website.
#3. Always Be Mindful of The Unchurched.
As a 34-year-old P.K. with a dad who’s been in pastoral ministry for 40-plus years, I know that it can be easy and even natural to sling church terminology around without even realizing it. I’m guilty of it all the time. Eventually it just becomes an unconscious act. If you’ve been working in the church world for any length of time — or even just attending church — you know exactly what I mean. But your website could potentially be discovered by folks who have never darkened the doors of a physical church building. Even if a friend suggested your church to them, they might still have little to no church background themselves. This means that they don't speak "Christianese." They don't know the lingo. I always recommend that your menu bar include a “New Here” Page dedicated to visitors in this particular audience demographic. Make sure that the language on this page is welcoming and conversational in tone and not littered with terminology that only a seminary student could interpret. No one wants to see the definition of “supralapsarianism” on the same page as “We’ve intentionally built a casual worship atmosphere where you can always be yourself.” This just becomes confusing to a visitor.
What're Your Thoughts?
We didn’t get into other potential topics like Search Engine Optimization, data research and analytics, or digital giving platforms. There’s plenty more to discuss and confront when assessing your church website. Now I want to hear from you. Leave a comment with your thoughts!
Believe it or not, you can have a killer social media playbook and lose the game entirely.
How? By making really simple mistakes and overlooking obvious critical details. One of those is the infamous Facebook cover (or header) photo.
If you’ve established a Facebook Page for your church — which is likely where the majority of your congregants are hanging out on social media — then you’ve probably realized the visual nature of this platform by now. Granted it’s not quite like Instagram, where practically everything revolves around photos and videos, but it’s still crawling with people and Pages bent on expressing themselves through graphics, photography, videography, digital art, and more. That’s because most folks, especially brands, know that the quickest way to get your attention in that traffic jam called a “Newsfeed” is to stop your scroll with some sort of visually-appealing, eye-catching, or altogether absurd image or video (or even a meme.) Two or three sentences of text alone just won’t cut it. You’ll whiz right past a chunk of text without a second glance.
The same concept applies to the actual Page itself, which in this case translates to the header (or cover) photo. You know the one. It’s that little 820 pixel by 360 pixel snippet of real estate nestled at the top of the Page, just above the profile photo. Research shows that most of your audience won’t actually ever return to your Facebook Page after they’ve liked/followed it. Why? Because they expect to see your posts in their Newsfeed. After all, that was the whole point of liking the Page in the first place. (And let’s be honest: Most of your followers are just too lazy to manually type your Page’s name into the search bar and press “Enter” on their keyboard. Sad, but true.) Once you realize this, it can be tempting to not even worry about creating any sort of header photo/video at all. Why bother going to all that trouble if no one is going to see it, right?
Well, not so fast. I’ve watched too many churches make this mistake and it couldn’t be more detrimental to your social media strategy. Your Facebook Page will still be viewed regularly by 1) current church members who need information about a certain event, announcement, etc. 2) potential visitors using Facebook as a search engine to find churches in their area or 3) people who found your church’s website and then clicked on your Facebook social media icon to learn more about you.
All three of these audiences are unique and important in their own way. When they land on your Facebook Page, they should be greeted by a crisp, clean, well designed cover graphic/photo (or slideshow of multiple graphics/photos) or a cover video.
Here are some quick reasons why this space matters:
#1. It's the first thing they will notice. Make it count.
Humans are 90 percent visual beings. According to research by 3M Corporation, we process visual content 60,000 times faster than text. If that’s not enough to make your head spin, get this: Over 250 billion photos have been uploaded to Facebook, which equates to roughly 350 million photos per day.
This header section is your first — and possibly your only — chance to send a message to a visitor. What kind of message do you want to convey? What kind of impression will they have when they swing by for a few seconds? Will they want to come back? Will they be inclined to learn more about you? How will you visually communicate what your church is all about? And remember — whether we like it or not — the quality and professionalism of our Page will also be judged by what we place here. That might not be fair, but it’s simply human nature.
#2. It's a chance to showcase your church's unique atmosphere.
The average seeker — or even a longtime believer in search of a new church home — often has one question on their mind before making an in-person visit: “What am I getting myself into?” There are a lot of other questions wrapped up within this question, but you can help to answer a few of them and alleviate some of their apprehension by using your cover photo space to give your Facebook visitors a snapshot preview of the overall ambience and general vibe of your church. Some examples would be: 1) a high-definition action photo or video of one of your worship services encompassing the band and singers on stage as well as some congregants raising their hands in praise; 2) an action shot or video reel that highlights your church’s involvement in the local community; 3) a minimalistic graphic accompanied by your church’s catchphrase/slogan.
Red Rocks Church is currently killing it with their video header. Check it out here. Life.Church is always very creative with their sermon series cover photos (See example below.) Check them out on Facebook here. Even small churches can learn lessons from these bigger churches. Keep it simple, clean, and within your abilities to manage.
At the small church where I serve as Communications Director, I've currently got three graphics in the slideshow, starting with one that promos our catchphrase and our other social media platforms. (See photo below.) The other two graphics promote our 2020 vision and our current sermon series.
A larger Baptist church in my city has a shot of one of their worship services displayed prominently in the slideshow to let folks know about that atmosphere ambiance we mentioned a minute ago. (See photo below.)
Whatever you do, don’t showcase your building in your cover photo slot, unless you plan on doing it with a nice high-quality, well-produced aerial video or something like that. And even then, it should be part of a montage that includes footage of your pastor and your people. You know, your actual church. (Take a look at how Brentwood Baptist does theirs.) Most seekers couldn’t care less what your physical building looks like.
#3. You can use it to promote sermon series or upcoming events.
Although you should primarily use your Events tab to promote your church’s schedule, it’s perfectly fine to advertise a particularly noteworthy event in your cover photo slot — something that is above and beyond the “norm” for your church. For example, if a notable Christian author, speaker, or singer were to make an appearance at your church, you would want to design a customized graphic to display prominently at the top of your Facebook Page for that, in addition to creating/scheduling an actual event on your Page’s Events tab as well.
Cover photos are also a great place for promoting your pastor’s current sermon series. Yes, this is perhaps the most common usage of this space. Yes, everyone else is doing it. But, just because they're all doing it doesn't mean you shouldn't. It just means you need to work harder at designing a sermon series graphic that will stand out in the crowd.
Of course, this is all just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creatively using that little rectangle at the top of your church Facebook Page. There are a million other options. What did I leave out? What is your church doing? What has worked for you? What hasn't? Drop some suggestions and thoughts into the comment thread below!
Allow me to be honest: There are a lot of mistakes that you can make in your church’s marketing strategy and a lot of landmines on which you can inadvertently step. It’s not like you ever set out with the intention of blowing your ministry’s goals and ambitions to smithereens, but hey, it can happen before you even realize it. Some of you reading this know exactly what I’m talking about. You wonder why you’re not experiencing any engagement or connectivity with your local community, much less your own congregants. You wonder why you’re not seeing growth or even the slightest hint of enthusiasm from staff or volunteers. You might even be wondering why your church doesn’t seem to be taken seriously in some community venues.
It’s not until later that you realize you unwittingly neglected to adhere to the most basic principles of marketing, many of which would’ve inspired and encouraged your team and your church. I know some of you as pastors are probably thinking: I don’t like the idea of “marketing” my church. It sounds like I’m selling something.
Well, you are. It just so happens to be the free gift of salvation and the eternal message of hope and redemption found in Jesus Christ. What you’re “selling” doesn’t cost anything, which is pretty Good News if you ask me. (See what I did there?) And you’re also trying to persuade folks to join you on the journey of following this Jesus dude.
Anyway — whether you’re a church communications director or a senior pastor running everything yourself because you have no staff and haven’t trained your dog to manage social media — you should avoid these three painfully obvious marketing blunders:
#1. Failing to have a solid logo.
I’m not trying to insult your intelligence here, I promise, but you’d be surprised how many churches have been in existence for several decades without a basic logo. In fact, many of them try to dive into social media or websites without realizing they need a logo in order to distinctively brand themselves to their congregants, their local community, and the world. Here’s a pro tip: Don’t create a Facebook Page for your church and use a photo of your actual building as the profile photo (especially if your building isn’t much to look at.) This isn’t good marketing. Don’t even use a photo of your pastor and his wife. This will confuse people all the more. Photos of people should generally be reserved for personal profiles and personality Pages.
If you’re dead set on showing off your building, then create a custom cover photo for your Facebook Page using a simple graphic design platform like Canva and place it up there at the top. The profile photo, however, should always be your logo. Before you even attempt to have a web presence of any kind, make sure you have a contemporary, attractive, well-designed logo that reflects your church’s brand identity, messaging, or overall personality. This logo will eventually be placed on everything from t-shirts to car decals so make sure you’re happy with it.
#2. Lack of web presence.
Speaking of websites and social media, your church needs a digital strategy in order to survive in today’s culture. Start by asking yourself some basic questions like: What do I wish to achieve by putting my church on social media? Do I only have time to manage one platform? What platform is most popular among my congregants? (Hint: It’s probably Facebook.) Will I be uploading sermon audio/video at some point? How do I plan to most effectively communicate with my congregants? Will the majority of my congregants be confused by links to other sites like YouTube and Vimeo? Do they even know what these platforms are?
Once you’ve got a basic website and/or Facebook Page, don’t neglect them. In this world, you can’t afford to go weeks or even days without regularly posting content and updating your site. It defeats the purpose and honestly you’ll just be shooting yourself in the foot. If you’re going to have any chance of building a decent web presence and a social media following, you’ll need to post and engage on a consistent basis, even if it’s just once a day. (For more on this, see my column on social media engagement here.)
#3. Remaining oblivious to your target audience.
Too many small churches fall under the impression that they have to compete with the megachurches in order to stand out on social media or gain any traction. This just isn’t the case. Take a deep breath. Chill out. You have a completely different demographic of congregants and a different local community than they do. And if you’re a senior pastor running everything yourself, your congregants are likely to be more understanding and forgiving if your Facebook Page and/or website lacks a little professionalism or creativity. No one knows your people and what kind of church you are better than you do. And remember that, oftentimes, small is actually what many people are looking for in a church. There’s no reason to be insecure just because you only have 60 people on Sunday mornings. Use this to your advantage. Play it as a strength. Tailor your digital and social media around this and allow your platforms to reflect it. Your target audience will be drawn to the honest community atmosphere and will be more likely to engage with it.
There’s plenty of other marketing blunders that you should avoid and landmines you should be able to sidestep, but these are a good start when it comes to the fundamentals. Stick with it and before long you’ll basically be the Rambo of church marketing. And who doesn't want to be Rambo?
Before I even launch into this post, let me just start out by asking some loaded questions: How are you guys doing? Hanging in there? Still maintaining your sanity? Has anyone else been tempted to put their fist through a laptop screen or hurl a camera and tripod into the eternal fires of Mordor? Maybe kick down your pastor’s door and tell him he’s asking too much of his staff and volunteers in the midst of a global health crisis? (Bad idea. You’ll probably be banished to a Zoom anger management class and that just sounds, well, awful.) Have you been wondering why your church’s technology, equipment, and software worked flawlessly right up until a deadly virus shut down the entire planet?
Or perhaps you’ve been on the verge of calling up Facebook’s corporate hotline and demanding to speak with ‘ole Zuck about why your church’s livestream videos keep crashing week after week? (Like he would really care, right?)
Let me see a show of hands. Anybody?
No? Well, ok then. Moving right along.
At this point, at least two things are clear about the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic: It’s not going away tomorrow and it has forever reshaped the way we do and think about church. Yes, forever. I hate to burst your bubble, but things won’t just return to normal overnight once this national quarantine has ended. That’s going to take time. Months. Years, even. In fact, things may never look, be, or feel the same again. You may have to adapt to a new “normal.” You can hate that all you want, but it’s just a simple fact of life. I’ll elaborate more in a moment.
As we continue to navigate these uncharted waters together, you’re probably starting to wonder what our society — and our churches — will look like once the dust settles. Me too. Personally, I think we’ll return to our buildings at some point, but the process is going to be slow and gradual, at least in most places. And even when we do finally get the clearance to return, some folks will remain hesitant and distant for weeks or months. As leaders, we will need to be patient and understanding with these people. This is a new reality and we can’t just ignore it or pretend that it never happened. Think about it like this: Most Americans didn’t go rushing back to airports the day after September 11, 2001. Granted, a virus isn’t the same as a terrorist attack, but the principles of fear, anxiety, trepidation, and paranoia remain the same. That’s human nature.
Speaking of new realities, we’re all utilizing digital technology more than ever before. I’ve been mulling over the future ramifications of this and asking myself how we can reshape and enhance communications in order to be more effective. Here are a few things that I believe we should be pondering:
VIRTUAL CHURCH AS A CONNECTION POINT:
Whether our pastors like it or not, this whole digital church thing has and will become the norm for many people and let’s just be honest: The people are getting used to it. They’re getting used to staying in their pajamas while singing “Raise A Hallelujah” with the worship band and watching the pastor’s sermon while cooking breakfast for the kiddos after changing stinky diapers. They’re getting used to gathering their whole family around the computer or TV for “church.” Some of them are even more comfortable sharing thoughts and emotions over Zoom or Facebook Live than they ever would be in person. This might not be right. Some would argue it’s not even biblical. But nevertheless, it’s what is happening. Digital church. Digital discipleship. Digital small groups. These will become weekly or even daily occurrences.
Rather than fight this new reality and create unnecessary drama and tension where it need not exist, let’s instead focus more heavily on using our virtual services as connection points to keep our people engaged with one another and with the local community throughout the week. Besides, most churches that have gone full-scale digital have experienced tremendous growth in terms of viewership, engagement, and interaction from people who had never previously darkened the doors of a physical building. People who were never interested in Christianity are now asking questions. We should be celebrating that. We should be finding out who these new folks are and drawing them into a deeper relationship with Jesus. You know, that whole discipleship thing.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t meet corporately as the Body of Christ. (So don’t start slaying me in the comment threads.) I’m simply saying that Online Church is a reality. It’s not going anywhere. And it will only become more polished, effective, and normal as time goes on. If you’re going to prioritize people, you’re going to have to prioritize Online Church. Period.
DITCH THE PERFECTIONISM, BRO. AIN'T NOBODY GOT TIME FO' DAT.
I’m preaching to the choir with this one, but right now isn’t the time to be stressed about broadcasting the perfect service or designing the best social media graphics. We’re all under enough pressures in our personal lives due to the pandemic. Seriously, there’s no need to be Superman. In fact, at this point, if you’re using Facebook Live and managing to make it through your entire service without a crash, you’re doing great. Give yourself a pat on the back and stop worrying about what other churches are doing. There will be plenty of time to work out the kinks when this is all over. For the sake of everyone’s mental, physical, and emotional health, be cautious of placing unnecessary strain on yourself and your team. Do your best and leave the rest in God’s hands. The most important priority is that the Gospel is still being presented and is readily accessible.
ADAPT TO THE NEW NORM, LEST YE BECOME A FORGOTTEN RELIC OF THE PAST.
The more you as an individual — and your communications team and your church as a whole — can adapt to COVID-19, the more likely you will survive and come out stronger on the other side. Don’t resist or condemn every change brought about by this crisis. People are going to view church differently when this is all said and done. Seek to leverage the tools you have at your disposal during and after the quarantine to foster as much connectivity within your congregation as possible in order to remain relevant to them and to the culture while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of the Gospel. Yes, it can be done.
WHAT DID I MISS?
Enough rambling from me. I want to hear your thoughts on how COVID-19 is reshaping Church Comms. Drop some wordage in the comment thread below! And more than that, I want you to know I’m praying for you and cheering you on. You guys are doing great and I believe the Church is going to be stronger than ever when this is over. Hang in there!
“How should my church handle the Coronavirus?”
That’s the million dollar question on the mind of every local pastor, staff member, lay leader, volunteer and congregant. And rightfully so. As the situation continues to unfold and change rapidly — with new information, guidelines, gathering size recommendations, and restrictions being released every day — many churches have moved to online-only until this thing blows over. Churches of 100+ congregants are choosing not to meet at all or are streaming their worship services via Facebook Live, YouTube, broadcasting on their websites, church apps, and other various platforms. Many church small groups are taking advantage of video conferencing tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, FaceTime, and others, especially since you can’t even meet at a local Starbucks right now (which is probably a sign of the Apocalypse, but I digress.)
Anyway, megachurches naturally have to be careful as they’re, well, bigger than everyone else. I get that. Precaution is a good thing. God gave us brains. Let’s be good little human beings and use them.
But, what about the small churches? The tiny rural ones? What about those churches, like mine, where only 40 people show up on an average Sunday? Should the pastor really cancel worship services and midweek gatherings right now?
Well, I’ll be the first to say, particularly as the son of a pastor, that this decision should obviously rest on the shoulders of the pastor and elders and should be made on a case-by-case basis as we all continue to pray and follow the latest news updates. Just because the small church around the corner cancelled doesn’t mean we have to cancel. My church met last week even though most of those in our surrounding community didn’t and more likely won’t next Sunday. My dad believes very strongly in what the author of Hebrews says in chapter 10, verse 25: “…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (ESV)
So, at least for the foreseeable future, we’ll still be gettin’ our Jesus on. Did some folks stay home last week? Yeah. But, that was bound to happen.
Now, with that being said, let me be very clear: Small churches where the majority of the congregation is made up of senior citizens would be wise to temporarily suspend worship services during this pandemic as the elderly are at an increased risk of contracting the virus, as well as those individuals with preexisting or underlying health conditions. This is where modern technology like live-streaming and social media communication will, and has, come in handy for the Church.
For small churches who have never attempted to broadcast their services or even implement social media into their church communications strategy this can all seem incredibly overwhelming and daunting. Suddenly you’ve found yourself thrust into a world you don’t understand and everyone is recommending that you execute a halfway decent production on Sunday so that they can watch from home. But don’t be discouraged. You don’t need to have the budget of Marvel Studios or the camera equipment of Elevation Church to deliver your sermon to your people. If you have a smartphone and dependable WiFi, you’re halfway there.
Which Streaming Service Is Best For Me?
Before deciding whether you’re going to go with Facebook Live, YouTube, or something else, ask yourself where the majority of your congregation hangs out online or where they would be most inclined to visit. I would be willing to guess most of them are on Facebook.
Is It OK To Livestream To My Personal Profile?
I work with and help a lot of pastors at small churches who don’t have Communications Directors or people to manage and run digital and social media for their ministry. Some of them are lucky just to have PowerPoint in their sanctuaries. For this reason, their church usually doesn’t even have a Facebook Page or YouTube channel because the pastor doesn’t have the knowledge and training — much less the time — to implement it and operate it. That’s not his fault, it’s just reality.
So yes, if you’re a small church pastor needing to communicate with your people via Facebook during COVID-19, live-streaming to your personal profile is perfectly fine. If there’s anyone in the church who’s not currently on your friends list, now is the time to take care of that. Use your livestreams to speak hope and encouragement to your people, preach your sermons, do Bible study lessons, whatever you like. You can worry about creating a Facebook Page and/or Facebook Group for your church after our nation pulls through this whole ordeal. (And it will.)
What Should We Be Posting To Our Social Media Channels During COVID-19?
People are scared, anxious, fearful, and even downright paranoid and terrified. And many of them are now in quarantine in their homes consuming way too much TV news and spending endless hours scrolling social media newsfeeds cluttered with depressing headlines, wild conspiracy theories, and stories about death and disease. If your church is on any or all of the major platforms — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — you have the opportunity to bring some faith, encouragement, and reassurance into the midst of this bleak ordeal.
But you’ve gotta be able to do what we in the Church Comms World refer to as “Stop the scroll.” You’ve got to be able to craft a post and an accompanying graphic that is linguistically and visually engaging enough to cause someone to stop the scroll and think, “Hey I want to check that out.” Whether it’s an encouraging Scripture verse, a funny question designed to elicit comments, a quote from your pastor, a video snippet, whatever the case may be — make sure it’s visually engaging enough to grab their attention. You can see my previous blog post for some thoughts and tips on social media engagement.
Things Will Be Different For A While, And That’s OK.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist nor do I have a crystal ball, but there’s something I believe we all need to wrap our heads around: This whole Coronavirus thing isn’t going to disappear overnight. It won’t be gone tomorrow. It won’t be gone next week or next month. We need to start adjusting now to the changes we’re going to have to implement in order to continue to function as the Church. Yes, churches will eventually return to their physical buildings at some point, but right now we need to concentrate on meeting our people where they are. Even if that means meeting them on Facebook.