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Don’t be like a “University Website”

A few weeks back, the popular comic strip xkcd posted an image titled “University Website“.  It was simply a Venn diagram that showed the difference between what universities put on the front of their website versus what users actually came to their site to find.

Your church site is likely the same way.

In reviewing a handful of church websites over the last week (and checking out dozens of others), I’ve found that many of them carry common traits that aren’t helpful to users.  Here’s some of what I found.

Unnecessary clutter on the front of church websites

  • Links to conference/denomination affiliation sites. Your average church member doesn’t come to your site looking for a link to umc.org, and I can promise that a first-time visitor isn’t interested in that either.  Being proud of your denomination is certainly great, but not as a primary item on the home page.
  • Hit counters. These are a relic of the past; they slow down your site loading speed, draw attention away from your content, and provide no real useful metrics for your church.  Install something like Google Analytics instead.
  • Upper Room devotional. Churches love to put Upper Room stuff on their site.  There’s certainly no problem with that, but not on your home page.
  • Auto-playing music. This isn’t good on any site, but churches seem to be the worst offender.  Never play audio of any kind for a user unless they specifically request it (when they click a video, etc).
  • Big photo of their building. I just mentioned this again yesterday, but I can’t say it enough.  While I’ve always said that a nice “facility” page is a great thing to include so that people know what the building looks like, but people need to come first.  Show smiling faces, not rows of bricks.
  • Online Giving. While you certainly want to make it easy for people to give online, don’t make this too much of a focus.  If you must include it on the home page, make sure it’s near the bottom.  Better yet, put it in a sub-page somewhere so you can keep the home page as clutter-free as possible.
  • Mission Statements. While a focused mission statement is important for a church to have (and follow), it likely doesn’t belong on the home page.  Most mission statements have roughly the same concept (Love Jesus and Serve Others), and they simply add clutter to your page.  I expect to be able to find it when I browse around the site, but consider it carefully before you add it to your home page.

What people really want to find quickly on church websites

  • Service times. They should certainly be on the front page, and ideally on every page (perhaps in a sidebar).  In addition, I should be able to click any of the services that you list and get more information about it.
  • Location/directions. Every page should include information about where you’re located, and that should always be linked to a “directions” page to help people get there.
  • General contact information. At the very least, including phone and email on the front page.  Your full “contact” page should also include your address, Twitter account, Facebook Page, and any other means that might be a useful way for someone to get in touch with you.
  • Staff Members. This doesn’t need to be on the front page, but needs to be easy to find.  A typical location would be a subpage under the “About Us” section.
    • If your church has more than 2-3 staff members, then build out a section devoted to your staff; a page that lists them all, with links to details on every one of them.
    • On the detail page, include a photo, phone number, email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  If I’m new to a church and I know I need to find the youth minister after the service, I’d LOVE to have a nice photo to look at beforehand so I know what they look like.
  • Upcoming Events. Include a few upcoming events on the home page, and link each one to more details.
    • Don’t tell me “Bible Study on Wednesday at 6pm”.  For who?  Where is it?
    • If you tell me “Men’s Bible Study on Wednesday at 6pm in the Fellowship Hall”, I still expect a link for more details.  What age men?  Where is the Fellowship Hall?  Always provide a link with more information.
  • Sermon Series. Some people (especially existing members) will come to the site to learn about the current sermon series, or to download notes or MP3s from recent sermons.  A quick blurb or icon on the home page with a link to more info is usually a good idea.

What did I miss? Anything you find particularly annoying on church sites?  Anything that is often missing?

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Mickey Mellen

Co-Founder and Technical Director

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Comments

  1. I’m definitely in agreement with you on NOT putting a picture of the church building on your home page. One of my pet peeves.

    Also don’t put a picture of the senior pastor and wife on the home page. Most churches’ that do end up doing this the picture looks like it was taken 15 years. And no flowers – I can’t stand flowers on church web pages .

  2. Large flashy banners that say things like:
    GOD is Good! All the Time! GOD is Good!

    Also sunsets through clouds are severely lame. 😛

    Local weather.

    Flash intros.

    (I’m just looking at a local church website and listing the things I hate about it.)

    • Those are good!

      Local weather certainly should have been in the list.

      Flash intros are (thankfully) much more rare these days, but certainly overused.

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