Building a Great Church Website Starts with Careful Planning

Church Website Design Best Practices

green church
A web site is no longer solely the provenance of designers. A web site is your way of connecting to your larger community, and interacting with them.

Creating a great website for your church is all about functionality and content. You want to offer people information that they need, and you want them to be able to find that information as easily as possible. Additionally, you may wish to invest in features like chat rooms or message boards which allow members of your congregation to interact with each other in new and interesting ways.

Web Site Considerations
Form a website committee so that all the responsibility doesn't fall to just one person.

The first question you should ask is how you want to interact with the people who come to your web site. Are they seeking information, or guidance? Do they require a reply?

The next issue to consider is who will be updating content and how comfortable are they using tools for editing HTML, the markup language in which web pages are written?

You can spend as much time and money as you like designing your web site. The one guarantee is that you will learn more about how the web site will work after you launch it -- so be sure to allow time after the first release to make changes and have people ready to stand by and address problems that may arise.

Look at other church websites and see which ones you admire. You may also consult with members of your congregation to see which features they would most like to see in a website. Some of them may even be able to help you plan, build, and implement your project.

Web Site Content Components
Web site content refers to the images, schedules, articles, text, media files, and other resources you offer to those who visit your site. When choosing what to offer, consider the following:

Basic information: Where you are located, how to get there, who works at your church, how to contact them, and when services are held. Address, phone number, and contact should be easy to find on every page. It's a good idea to include directions, and a map if possible. A statement of philosophy or description of your church's size and membership may also help visitors to your website know whether they would like to come visit.

Schedule: worship services, special events, upcoming events.

Educational content: Sunday school programs. Youth ministry. Enrollment dates and costs. Perhaps you want to show student writing or artwork.

Inspirational content: Texts from past sermons. Quotes on seasonal topics.

Blog: Does a member of your church want to write regularly for the website? Software such as Blogger (blogger.com) and WordPress (wordpress.com) are free. Blogging is different from writing for print; remember that most people read only a screen of text at a time. Blogs are best when they are short and timely. They may include pictures of recent events or links to interesting events or favorite quotations. A blog may also have guest authors.

E-mail newsletter: Do you want to be able to gather parishioner names and be able to contact them? How often will the newsletter be writtten? Don't overpromise. If today you send out a quarterly newsletter, then consider moving that slowly to e-mail. You can always send out additional issues as time allows.

Other questions to consider: Is the web site for members only? Does it need a password-protected area for members of the church to be able to sign in? Should there be a forum or community area? If yes, who will moderate it to remove inappropriate posts, or respond to questions or support issues?

Web Site Design
Does your church have a logo? Would a photo or an illustration be appropriate? Ask the graphic designer to create an illustration for you to use and provide it in formats for web, e-mail, and print.

You may want to offer a big type option for older or visually impaired members.

Production Tips
Identify up front what kind of computer will be used to update the website or blog and who will do it.

Put aside some of your website budget for training. Ask your designer to create a site that you can easily update. For example, even if you hire her or him to design the site, people at your church will want to be able to update the calendar. Then have a workshop where the designer teaches your staff how to use the site.

Marketing and networking
Finally, you may want to join an organization of local web volunteers, such as http://www.christian-web-masters.com/. The web is filled with forums and resources for connecting like-minded individuals. It's a chance to share your expertise and learn from each other's experiences.

Written by: Diana Wynne