Creating a Church Website

By Dan Simpson

So you want to launch a church website? Well, the Internet is a valuable medium of communication and will increasingly be more vital for a church to use well.

One of the great things about web developing -- the task of creating a web site -- is that virtually all the answers you are looking for can be found on the web.

You can start by taking a look at my links lists. There you will find a comprehensive list of various websites that I have accessed in my web development ventures.

In a nutshell here are the basic components that you need:

The first step in creating a web page is to determine the purpose of the site.

As in any communication medium, the critical element in web development is content. In real estate the mantra is location, location, location. But with the Internet it's content, content, content. You must have something worthwhile to say.

You'll want to work closely with your pastor, staff, and key ministry leaders to decide what you want to say. You should do a lot of planning on paper before you ever activate the web authoring software. You can start simple and let it grow and evolve. However, the more clear the picture you have of your final product, the better you will be able to design the site to grow into what you want it to be.

In looking for content, a good starting place is to look at your church bulletin, visitor's packets, and other printed pieces that communicate what you church is all about. And since most of the material was probably generated on a computer, you should be able to import the text electronically into your website without having to retype everything. You will, though, need to do a lot of reformatting and reworking the text and graphic layout. The web is very different from print.

As far as web publishing tools, there are a number of products on the market that make web publishing very doable for the non-professional. Your software store will have a selection of good products to choose from. Website like CNet do a great job of reviewing and comparing various tools.

In visiting hundreds of church websites, I have identified what I consider to be the most common errors. So keep these in mind as you develop your site and avoid repeating these mistake. If you already have a website, how many of these errors apply to yours?

12 Common Errors on Church Websites

1. Clutter. Resist the temptation to load your pages up with lots of animated graphics, 36 different type fonts, JavaScript, music files, and all sorts of bells and whistles. Keep the site clean and attractive. Simple is better.

2. Poor navigation. Help your site guests to navigate around your pages with a minimum of hassle. Make navigation bars and link menus easy and clear to follow. Work out your site architecture on paper. Organize the material logically. Always have links on every page that take the guest back to your home page. A site map can also be helpful. Make sure that all navigational links that are displayed as graphic images are also repeated in text from (in case the image does not load up on the guest's browser).

3. Lack of photos. The church is people. Therefore, show people on your website. Include photos of the pastors and staff as well as group shots of worship and various ministry activities. A photo of the building is good too. Make sure your photos are cropped, sized, and compressed as much as reasonable so that the pages are not too slow in loading on your guest's browser. And for goodness sake, use color! An exception to that would be if you go with an artsy design using a monochromatic concept. Here's an example of an attractive church website that is nicely done but misses the opportunity to use photos:

4. Failure to present Jesus Christ. It's amazing to me how many churches say nothing about Jesus on their website! Expect unbelievers to visit your site and share with them the good news of Christ's love. My links page provides a number of sites that do a great job of presenting the gospel.

5. Lack of site maintenance. If you are going to have a website, keep it up-to date. The Internet is as dynamic medium and its users expect current information. Review the update the site regularly. Assign different leaders to regularly provide content updates to their program areas.

6. Missing the mark in meeting needs. Determine who your audience is and make sure you are speaking relevantly to them. Before investing a lot of time and energy in building an elaborate website, find out how many people in your church actually have computers and are online. Survey the web users in your congregation and find out what information and site features would be most helpful to them. Use a web statistics package to monitor traffic and find out as much as you can about the usage of your site. View your site through the eyes of a person who is looking for a church home and address their inquires.

7. Omission of the critical data on the home page. Be sure to include the following on your home page: church name, address (including city, state, and zip), phone and fax numbers (with area code!), and email address. If this information is displayed as graphic images, also repeat it in text form.

8. Incongruent with the church image. Your website should have a look and feel that represents your church. Examine the way your church communicates itself and develop a consistent approach. Some of the graphic and visual elements that should be considered when designing your site include your logo, letterhead, sign, building, bulletin, and other printed literature. If you independently let a local print shop design your letterhead, a sign company design your architectural signage, a graphic artist design your logo, a phone company account representative design your yellow page ad, and a webmaster design your website -- you most likely will end up with a horrible mess of competing images and styles. Coordinate and unify an image which is used in every aspect of how your church presents itself. And your website's feel should reflect the personality of your congregation. If you are a small rural church, a fancy corporate-looking website just doesn't work.

9. Use of frames. I hate frames! They are cumbersome and restrictive and usually are used in a way that does not help the site. And they don't allow the user to bookmark pages within the site. There are huge numbers of Internet users who loathe frames. The rest are usually mildly annoyed by frames or are indifferent to them. And I've never met an Internet user who likes frames! When you use frames you have nothing to gain and everything to lose. With that said, if you insist on using frames, use only a top frame or a side frame, but not both. Avoid using scroll bars on frames -- make the content of the frame fit within the viewable area of the frame. Minimize the size of the frame so that it does not intrude too much into the main content area. Include a button so that the viewer can escape from the frame.

10. Neglect of the page titles. The page title is the words that appear at the top of the browser window when viewing the page. It's also the wording that the browser uses to label the bookmarks. A bookmark with the name "index" for home" is useless. The page title is also often displayed in the search engines. So deliberately title every page on the site.

Don't use irrelevant or useless words. For example, don't use as your home page title, "Welcome to First Community Church." Simply use your church's name: "First Community Church" or "First Community Church Home Page." It's best if each page is titled to reflect the page content. For example, "FCC - Welcome from the Pastor" or "First Community Church: Service Times." Avoid ALL CAPS.

11. Editorial mistakes. Don't skip the editing and proofreading process. You should have at least two proofreaders examine all content before it is posted. Don't rely simply on your computer's spelling and grammar check. Use them, but have human eyes be the final check. And don't forget to proofread the often overlook items: menu bars, page titles, phone numbers, and so on. Be consistent in the way you treat reoccurring items. For example, if you are going to capitalize personal pronouns referring to God (He, Him, etc.) be consistent throughout. Decide if you are going to use a dash or a parenthesis to separate the area code in a phone number, then do it throughout. Adopt a style guide and use it for all the publications of the church. Select one person to be the style editor for the website so that he or she can insure that all of the material that is submitted from various offices and ministries is consistent in editorial style.

12. Under construction signs. Regardless of how creative all those animated GIF "Under-Construction" signs are, if a page or website is under construction, it should not be posted for public display. If you have a site that is in draft form and you want to have a committee or circle of reviewers provide feedback or approval, post it in a preview directory. The site is always in a certain sense under construction. Therefore, you must decide how ready is ready enough, then post it; no signs, no disclaimers, no pages with the notice, "Information to come."

Copyright 1999 Daniel E. Simpson. All right reserved
Draft 2.2 - 3-2-04

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