C reating a great church website starts with being crystal clear about who the website is for. Your church website can’t be everything to everyone. And for church websites, the most important group to serve is visitors.
Your website will be your very first impression on many potential visitors to your church. And their experience with your website will play an important role in determining if they decide to join you for worship. While your current members might visit your website every now and then, you have many other ways to connect with them. They aren’t depending on your website for information like visitors are.
When you’re considering what should be on your website, try to see it through the eyes of a visitor. What will be most important to them? What should they know about your church?
Qualities of a good website
- Provides what you’re looking for:
- Digestible and engaging content
- Clear and simple purpose for every page
- Strong visual storytelling
- Accurate and up to date
- Easy to navigate
- Works great on your phone
- Loads quickly
- Looks great
Where a website goes wrong
- Doesn’t provide what you’re looking for
- Confusing to navigate
- Outdated or inaccurate information
- Not enough information
- Too much information
- Takes a long time to load
- Hard to use on a phone
- Unattractive design
Six essentials every church website should have
These are the six essential items your church website absolutely needs to include in order to serve potential visitors well. There are many more things you could include on your website. There are even some I’d specifically recommend. (We’ll get to those a little later.) But ultimately, you could create an effective church website by just doing these six things justice.
1. Church name and location
This might seem like a given, but sometimes the most obvious things get overlooked. You need to include the name of your church on your website—-the full name, not just the acronym members use. Put your church’s name front and center in the title of your homepage, your website’s name/URL, and in the design of both your homepage and the menu bar.
Just like people, churches tend to share names with other churches. And when people look for a new church online, they’ll often search for “churches near me.” To ensure your church is easy for people in your area to find, it’s also very important to clearly establish your location.
Highlight your location in the text of your homepage meta-description (this is the technical lingo for a webpage description that shows up in search engine results). Include your specific location in the footer (the section at the bottom of a website where you see the copyright information) of every page on your website. You can even embed a pin of your location on Google Maps in the footer.
2. Beliefs and mission
When someone is deciding whether to join or visit a church, they usually want to find a church that aligns with their beliefs and values. The theological spectrum of beliefs that churches hold is vast. So most people will want to get a sense of your church’s approach to Christian faith and practices before they commit to joining or even visiting.
Everyone has different priorities, and some people might have more specific theological concerns than others. (For example, not every visitor needs to know your church’s beliefs about baptism, but that might be very important to some.) You don’t need to anticipate and address every theological question a visitor might have on your website. Just do your best to cover your church’s most important foundational beliefs.
A good rule of thumb when you’re unsure about whether to include a belief on your website: If you need to agree with this belief in order to be a member of your church, it’s probably important enough to include.
3. An invitation to join
You might think the invitation is implied, but how many parties have you attended based on an implied invitation? Your website is one of your first chances to show people that your church is hospitable and eager to welcome them in. Use your homepage to enthusiastically and intentionally invite people to join your community!
Don’t stop there, either. Back up your enthusiasm with information and support to make visiting your church as comfortable and inviting as you can.
4. How to worship with you
Visiting a new church can be stressful and intimidating. You can welcome and put people at ease with clear and simple directions for worshiping with you both virtually and in person. This is an important expression of digital hospitality!
Many visitors will prefer to watch a past service or join a livestream of your worship before they commit to an in-person visit. Make watching a recent service easy by embedding a YouTube video of a recent service directly on your homepage. That way, a visitor can start playing a worship service instantly. They won’t have to navigate to a specific section of the site or even leave the homepage to experience your worship.
Ensure instructions for joining livestream or Zoom worship services on Sundays are clear and easy for visitors to find. Highlight joining virtual worship prominently both on your homepage and in your site menu.
Although online worship is a frequent first step for visitors, many people will eventually want to come for an in-person visit. So it’s still important to help people plan for an in-person visit. In addition to your service times and address, you can prepare visitors with information about parking, childcare/children’s programming, health and safety, and accessibility. A “what to expect when you visit” section is a great way to cover these amenities and other common questions people may have.
5. How to get in touch with you
Your website can’t cover everything someone might need from your church. Plus, you ultimately want to develop a personal relationship with the people who come to your church website. Help people get in touch with you directly for what they need by including your contact information on your website.
If possible, offer a few ways to reach out to you: an email address, a phone number, and a contact form are three solid options.
6. Your unique essence
Because your website is often your first impression on someone, it’s important to give them a sense of who you are on your website. Tell the story of your ministry and your church’s communal life.
Show some of your personality in the text of your website. If your church is liturgical and traditional in style, use beautiful but more formal language. If your church is casual and contemporary, adopt a more casual tone.
Work to represent your essence visually on your website as well. Feature authentic pictures of your church in action. An iPhone photo of your church worshiping together is a better way to tell your story than a professional stock photo. Use videos to give people an even better sense of who you are.
Other valuable things to include on a church website
Although you can create a great church website without these things, including them can definitely enhance your church’s website in a lot of cases.
Put a video together that offers a taste of who you are and what worshiping with you is like in five minutes or less. This can be a great way to represent your church’s essence on your website.
To make your video, consider enlisting a high school or college student with an interest in videography! Or take it to the next level by hiring a videographer to capture high-quality video of your church in action. Local wedding and event videographers would be a good place to start, if you want to contract with someone.
Small group ministry opportunities
Worship probably isn’t the only way for someone to engage with your church. If you have small groups and Bible studies that are open to anyone who wants to join one, provide information about how to get involved. I recommend keeping your descriptions as evergreen as possible and focusing on small groups that are regularly available. Short-term opportunities quickly become outdated, and it’s easy to forget they’re still on your website.
Social media accounts
If your church is regularly active on social media, let people know how to follow your socials. Many organizations put links to their social media accounts in the footer of their website. This way, your social media is accessible from every page of your site without being too distracting. To feature it more prominently, you could highlight your social media on your homepage or as a menu item.
Email newsletter or text update sign-up form
Does your church send out a weekly or monthly newsletter? Or do you send out regular emails to your congregation to let people know what’s going on in your church? Consider adding a sign-up form for new people who want to hear from you on your website.
Although it’s less common for churches to send members text updates, churches that do use texting as a communication tool could also invite people to sign up for those updates.
Online giving is a popular way for people to support churches and ministries. Any churches who accept online gifts should make sure to include a “Donate” option on their website. Place a “Donate” button on your homepage and in your menu.
You may want to dedicate a page of your website to describing all the ways that people can give to your church. If automatic recurring gifts are an option, let people know how to set up recurring gifts via your website. Encouraging automated recurring gifts is a great way to make giving more consistent and convenient.
Maybe your church wants to help people start growing in their faith directly from your website.
It’s common for churches to start a blog in pursuit of this goal, and it’s equally common for churches to abandon the blog within a few months. But you don’t have to start a blog to help people grow in their faith through your website.
Create a regular section of your website focused on resources for devotions, prayer, Bible study, or spiritual practices. While you could have one page with many recommendations, that might feel overwhelming to people. Instead, set up individual webpages for different categories of resources. For example, you might have a page dedicated to Advent resources for families.
Through the resources you highlight, your church can help people who want to dive deeper into specific aspects of their faith. And by helping people find resources to grow their faith individually, you also increase people’s trust in your church as a community of support.
Pastor and staff team information
You might be surprised this isn’t on the essentials list. But because churches can spend more than a year in between pastors, there are times when pastors/staff information isn’t all that helpful to feature on your website. That said, if you do have a stable current pastoral staff, I recommend including a staff webpage with short bios accompanied by pictures of each member of your team.
A final word of encouragement
Very few churches have the luxury of hiring a professional web designer to put together their website. If you’ve been tasked with updating or creating your church website, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed by the task. Fortunately, you can create a professional website without knowing an ounce about coding, thanks to website builders like Wix and Squarespace. And at the end of the day, you don’t need fancy bells and whistles to have a great church website. You just need to share how God is working through you and invite visitors to come along for the ride!