Using your church website to grow your Children’s Ministry

Minimalism is so in right now.  Designers the world over are agreeing that less is definitely more, and we’re seeing clean, scaled back designs everywhere, from websites to business cards to wedding invites.  We’re getting rid of the clutter and bringing things back to their beautiful basics.

Even in the way we write; blogs are shorter, webpages have less words on them, it’s all about capturing someone’s interest using a few, carefully chosen sentences.  And this is great!  …Most of the time…

Churches, too, are jumping on the minimalist bandwagon, and for good reason.  Its great to see churches embracing this trend, with clean home pages, less words, more empty space and some general ‘breathing room’.  But there’s one area in the life of your church where, actually, more is more.  Your Children’s Ministry.

Put yourself in the position of a parent who has never been to your church before or doesn’t know anybody there. It doesn’t matter how pretty your kids’ ministry webpage looks.  If it doesn’t tell them absolutely everything they need to know, there’s a good chance they won’t be feeling all that confident about leaving their children with you.

Now, I’m not saying this means churches should go all out crazy with their web design for the sake of the children!  What I’m saying is that churches need to think beyond the “bare essentials” in terms of content on their kids’ pages.  A drop-off and pick-up time isn’t enough to convince a parent to leave their kids in your care.  Parents, especially those who aren’t as familiar with your church, are going to want a lot of information from you before they feel safe leaving their kids with you.  

Here’s a list of questions a parent might have about your kids’ program.  If they can find all these answers on your website, you’re removing so many obstacles to getting them there!

  • What does a typical day look like at your program?
  • Who is in charge?
  • Who are the leaders?  How are they trained?  Are they qualified?
  • What if my kid has special needs/allergies/requires extra assistance?
  • What will you be teaching my kid?
  • Will you be feeding them?
  • Will you be taking them off-site?
  • What are your rules, regulations and policies?
  • Does it cost money?
  • Can I stay and watch?
  • Who can I talk to if I have a problem?

Obviously not every parent will be searching for the answers to all of these questions.  But there will be some who are.  And by providing this information before a parent even asks for it, you’re filling them with confidence that your program has been carefully thought-through, and you’ve considered all these important issues related to the safety and protection of kids.

There’s no reason to destroy your beautifully crafted, minimalist website just to include all of this information.  Think about setting up a FAQ page, or even just lots of opportunities for parents to “click to find out more”.  All this info doesn’t need to clog up one page – it just needs to exist and be accessible for those who want it.

Your website is such a powerful tool to draw new people to your church, and at Gospel Powered it’s our hope that churches everywhere are using their website to its full potential.  Using your website to ease parents’ fears about leaving their kids is such a simple way of making the most of every opportunity to bring people to your church.

Your Event Design Checklist

Christmas is coming! Which means so is all the crazy that comes with Christmas events, outreach nights, carols services, gingerbread evenings, holiday clubs, Christmas services, festivals, dinners, parties and everything else we’ve grown to expect from churches at Christmas time.

All these great events need to be promoted, both to your church and your community, so visually appealing and engaging design is key to making sure your events are noticed. A wide array of promotional material will need to be created in order to effectively promote your events, so to make this task easier, we’ve created this simple checklist to help you make sure you’ve got every relevant design, graphic and document you’ll need to make this event a huge success!

Some of these won’t be relevant for your particular event. Some will double-up and be used for two checklist items. But have a look through anyway, to avoid any last-minute rushes to get design work completed! We’ve given you an example to demonstrate some of the checklist items. This is for a Carols evening hosted by a church in Perth, Australia, and the design concept was adapted from this template, available with a Graceway Media subscription. The examples will help you to see how the same, consistent design concept can carry through a variety of different mediums, sizes, ratios and audiences.

Paper handout

This is your brochure/flyer/leaflet (whatever you want to call it!). It’s a physical, paper printed item that people can take home with them, put on their fridge, give to friends, or put in a letterbox. It will probably be A5 or A6 in size, single sided or double sided (depending on how much info you need to include), and either portrait or landscape, depending on what works best for the design concept you’ve chosen. It needs to include all relevant information and go into a reasonable amount of detail, or point to where people can find out more (website, Facebook page, etc)

Example:

carols-handout-back carols-handout-front

Promotional slide

This is the slide you’ll display on a Sunday when someone is speaking about your event. It should include key information like dates, times and event name, but doesn’t need to go into too much detail. Keep text sizes large so they can be read from a distance. This needs to be produced at either a 4:3 ratio or 19:9 ratio, depending on your church’s projector setup. It could be produced as a 1920x1080px document in Photoshop, but could just as easily be put together in Photoshop or Keynote.

Example:

carols-slide

Facebook graphic

If you’re going to advertise your event on Facebook (or any other social media platform), you may like to produce a “purpose-built” graphic, designed specifically with a Facebook audience in mind. Some things to remember when producing Facebook images:

  • If you want to pay money to “boost” your post, Facebook will reject any requests with too much text included on the image. No more than 20% of the image can be text, otherwise Facebook won’t approve your sponsored post.
  • Facebook is pretty flexible in terms of image sizes and ratios, but if you want to get it spot on, check out this guide.

Example:

fb-ad

Note: Although this image contains useful information for a Facebook audience, this particular post could not be boosted using Sponsored Posts. There is far too much text and doesn’t follow Facebook’s “20% rule”, so the church would have to rely heavily on “organic reach”, by individuals liking, sharing and commenting on the post, rather than paying for Facebook to boost it.

A3 poster

Large, laminated posters can be placed in high traffic areas of your church (like toilet doors!), as well as in community locations like shopping centre noticeboards, schools and community centres. They’ll probably be quite similar in design to your paper handout, but remember to include a call-to-action (ie, the “next step” you want the reader to take). This could be to visit your website or Facebook page, sign up or register for the event, or to call or text a phone number to find out more.

Example:

a3-carols-poster

Advertisement for bulletin/newsletter/news email

Although you’ll most likely be using blocks of text to promote your event in a newsletter (whether paper or digital), you’ll attract more readers with a big, bold, eye-catching graphic to snag their attention! No need to include much detail (as this will be included in your text write-up), but including at least the event’s title and a glimpse of your design concept will help readers make connections between what they read in the newsletter, hear on a Sunday and see on their Facebook newsfeed.

Example:

mailchimp-ad

Blank slides for the event

If your event will include a speaker, or any sort of “up front” presentation, you’ll want to get hold of a couple of slide variations to be used to support your presenter. If they need to display points, Bible verses or quotes, it will look much better if they’re doing this on a slide that’s consistent with the branding of your event. We like to always produce three slides as part of every branding package: a title slide, a content slide and a paragraph slide. Make sure your speaker gets these in advance so they can insert their sermon slides on the correct background.

Example:

carols-welcome-slide carols-paragraph-slide carols-content-slide

Webpage

Ideally, you’ll want to direct interested people to a website where they can find out more. As an added bonus, it would be great if the design elements on this webpage are consistent with the design used elsewhere to promote the event!

Booklet

Will your event guests receive some sort of booklet or handout as they arrive? The cover page is likely to be the same as your handout or A3 poster, but make sure you decide early if this needs to be produced!

Follow-up forms

At the end of the event, will you want your guests to fill in a feedback form, contact card or follow-up slip? Make sure these are ready in advance, and you’ve carefully thought through all the information you want to collect. Keeping the design of these forms consistent with the rest of the event will make for a more “professional” and organised feel.

 

Seeing so many individual designs can be overwhelming, but once your initial design concept is ready, it’s actually not a huge task to transfer that concept into documents of varying sizes and ratios. Need help coming up with an initial design concept? We highly recommend a subscription to Graceway Media, giving you access to Photoshop files of all their great designs. You can then customise them to your exact event and specifications, saving you SO much time in the design process!

Church Websites Part #1 – Know Your Audience (and how to engage them)

The internet has varying ideas as to how long the average user remains on a website. Some studies tell us that the majority of web users only stay browsing a website for 15 seconds unless something captures their attention. Other studies are a little more generous, bumping up user engagement length to 59 seconds. This article claims you only have 10 precious seconds to capture your user’s interest before they move onto another website.

We may never know the true statistic, but one thing we know for certain is that it is absolutely imperative that all product and service websites, including church websites, capture their audience immediately.

If the user finds the web page irrelevant to them, difficult to navigate, too slow, too boring, to fake, too cheesy, not what they were expecting, they’ll probably leave the page in under one minute.

So what does this mean for churches as we build our church websites?

We need to think very carefully about the design and structure of our church’s website to make sure the content we present is relevant to the user, easy for them to find the information they want, visually appealing, and a truthful reflection of what we are offering. But to do this, we first need to define our audience and know what they’re looking for.

When it comes to church websites, we are looking at three main audience groups:

  • Brand New
  • Interested
  • Committed

Brand New

These people have never set foot in your building before. They probably don’t even know where to find your building. They might not know what time your church services begin. They may have heard about you from a friend, passed your sign on the street, or found you on a search engine. They’re not yet interested in your Men’s Retreat or Seniors Group. They don’t need to know about joining a mid-week Bible Study Group. They certainly are not interested in signing up to join the hospitality team or auditioning for the band.

This is the information they’re looking for, and if they don’t find it in under a minute, statistics tell us they’ll probably leave your site:

  • Service times & location
  • Directions, map, parking information
  • Information about kids’ programs during church
  • What you believe
  • Who you’re affiliated with
  • Contact information
  • The names and photos of your staff/ministry team
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Welcome message from Lead Pastor

Basically, they want to know the same things you would want to know if you were visiting a place for the very first time. What time should I arrive? Is there lots of parking? Will I have to pay anything? Is there food? What do I do with my baby/kid/teenager? I’m not a Christian – can I still come along? Will I be asked to do anything? To read more about the kinds of questions first-time visitors ask about a church, see this Blog Post or this Blog Post.

Now, this may seem like a lot of content to be written, because it is! Building a church website intentionally designed for its audience takes a lot of time, a lot of thought, and a lot of typing! But don’t be disheartened! Not all of this content needs to appear overnight. Start small, only take on what your church can handle with the people and resources available. As your website grows, as more content is written, as your site provides more and more relevant, accessible information, it’s only going to keep getting better.

A little later we’ll look at the topic of sustainability, which is all about making sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew! We’ll show you all the elements, information and content that your site could potentially contain, then help you strategically decide what you want to tackle first, and help you make a plan to make your website grow. But for now, let’s take a look at your next audience group: those who are interested.

Interested

These people have probably visited your church service once or twice. Hopefully, they like what they see! They know when you meet on a Sunday and they know how to find you. Assuming they enjoyed the Sunday Service, they may start becoming more interested in other aspects in the life of your church. Do you run an after-school kids’ club? A youth group? A craft group? A men’s/women’s/seniors group?

The “interested” audience want to find out how they can connect with your church. Communication is absolutely vital. This is a precious opportunity to make sure those who are new to your church don’t stay new – connect them, get them plugged in, use your website to funnel these interested people into communities who will embrace them, love them, serve them and send them out to be disciples.

Those who are interested in your church want to know about:

  • Mid week groups (kids, youth, seniors, etc)
  • Events especially designed to connect new people into the life of the church
  • Bible study groups/Growth Groups
  • Contact details for specific ministry areas

Creating web page content for the Interested audience is a great time to rally others on board. Ask your Youth Pastor to write a short website spiel about your Youth Group. Find someone with a knack for photography to spend a week or two gathering shots of each of your ministries. Ask around for some one or two sentence “testimonials” from people attending your mid-week events.

Creating content for this audience group is lots of fun. It’s an exciting time where you can really showcase all God is doing in the life of your church. Keep reading to learn about how to cater for our final church website audience group, or click here to be taken to a Template Guide for creating a Mid-Week Ministry Web Page.

Committed

These people are no longer new. They’re family. Maybe they’ve been coming for a month and they’re convinced this is the church for them. Maybe they’ve been attending on and off for the last six months and they’re ready to make a commitment. Maybe they’ve been receiving spiritual input from your church and they’ve become convicted to up their level of involvement. It’s not so much about the length of time they’ve spent in your church community, but rather about them choosing to identify themselves as a part of your church. The hope is that these people are attending church regularly, involved in your church culture, serving in a ministry area, and giving generously. For this reason, the kind of info your website needs to provide for this audience involves:

  • How to give
  • Why we should give
  • Special church events (camps, festivals, prayer nights, mission events, etc)
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Rosters
  • Community needs/opportunities/offers/events

This information needs to be easy to find, but not too easy! We don’t want to overwhelm first-time visitors to your website by bombarding them with “Sign up to serve!” and “Download latest roster”, but at the same time, regular attendees at your church can’t be expected to go on a wild goose chase to find out if they’re serving on Morning Tea this Sunday.

We need to think carefully about where we place this information on our church websites. One idea is to place links to this information in your bottom navigation, reserving your top menu items to relate primarily to first-time visitors. Perhaps you place a Search box in an easily accessible place so that users can quickly find whatever they need, without cluttering your prominent navigation menu. If your website takes advantage of the “long scroll” trend we’re seeing in many websites at the moment, perhaps you can save one of the last content boxes for those committed churchgoers who are looking for very specific information about rosters, serving, community needs and giving details. How you go about it is up to you, but it’s important to make sure this info is included on your website, even if it’s a little more hidden.

One bonus “audience group” to consider…

“Capital C” Church

There’s one last group we need to consider when it comes to our church websites. Let’s categorise this as a bit of a “side group”, because when we write content for this audience, it also benefits the three groups we’ve already discussed.

Looking back at all we’ve covered so far in terms of what we include on our church website, it’s clear that all the thinking we’ve done really only benefits our own church. It’s all about steering people into our church’s doors, engaging them into our church community, and empowering them to contribute to our church’s ministry. And this is what we should be doing! If we believe in the vision of our church, then we should be using our website to get other people on board!

But we know that when Jesus returns and takes his people home, it won’t just be my church or your church worshipping Jesus for eternity. It will be the universal, global, corporate, complete “Capital C” Church gathered together under King Jesus. And this is the case even now! We are not laboring for Jesus in isolation – God has made each local church to be ministering alongside and amongst the Global Church, all with a common purpose of seeing Jesus glorified. And we can contribute to that common purpose using our website! When we use our website to train and equip Christians globally through publishing blog and sermon content, and when we use our website for evangelism, by giving a clear explanation of who Jesus is, what he’s come to do, and what’s on offer for those who turn to him, we benefit not only our own local church, but the Church world wide.

This is why we think it’s a great idea for all churches to include these last three components on their church website. They will not only work to grow and equip your own church members and potentially bring not-yet-Christians into your community – they will benefit, bless and contribute to the efforts of the Church globally.

  • Blogs
  • Who is Jesus – gospel explanation
  • Sermons
  • Recommended resources/Links

Christians all over the world can learn and grow through blog articles produced by your church. By making your sermons available online, you not only assist your own church members who missed a service, you make it possible for this message to be heard across the world. These three elements on your church website are not only important for your the equipping, training and evangelism at your own church, but is a blessing to the Church globally.

A word on categorising your audience…

Now that we’ve done a LOT of thinking about who is using our website, what they’re looking for, and how our website can be tailored to suit each audience’s specific needs, it’s important to make a note about the language we use on the public end of our website. It’s one thing to use the language of “Brand New”, “Interested” and “Committed” when we plan, strategise and write. But it’s another thing to publicly label the users of your church website. No one wants to be “put in a box”. And as I’m sure you’ve seen or experienced already, there is quite a high degree of overlap between these three categories. They’re not rigid structures – they’re helpful guidelines. Someone who’s visiting for the first time may well be interested in what’s on offer mid-week. Someone who’s attended your church only once may still like to attend your men’s retreat. Someone who’s been regularly attending, giving and serving for years may only recently have decided to join a weeknight Bible Study Group.

Rather than using words like “Interested” and “Committed” on your website (we think “Brand New” could still be a good phrase to use publicly!), try this kind of language:

  • Next Steps
  • Connect
  • Grow
  • Church Life
  • Our Community
  • Get On Board
  • Partner With Us
  • Get Equipped
  • What We Do

Brainstorm! We’d love to see your ideas about using words and headings to bring your audience into the depths of your website!

Ready to start thinking about what to include on your own church website? Go to Module #2.

Church Websites Part #2 – Sustainability (setting realistic goals)

Hopefully you’ve already had a chance to read through Part #1 of this series.  If you weren’t already, we hope that by now you’re absolutely convinced of your church’s need to not simply have an active website, but a website that strategically caters to the specific audiences who visit your site. A website that gives relevant, clear, uncluttered, accessible information in the hope that many will join your church community. Sounds exciting, right? But the problem is, this kind of website is not created overnight. Many hours of thought, planning, writing and rewriting (and re-rewriting!) goes into making this kind of website a reality. Which is all well and good for a church with the capacity to employ a full-time web designer and manager. But given that the average size of an Australian church congregation is 60-70 people (with almost identical statistics coming out of America), there’s every chance that your church doesn’t have an employee able to commit themselves solely to this mammoth task, and instead, the role of website builder has been given to a multi-tasking staff member, a lay-person or volunteer team with some knowledge of websites and technology, or maybe a dedicated, servant-hearted church member with very little idea of how to go about making this website happen. Whoever it is driving this project, our experience of working with churches tells us that this person is time-poor, has multiple endeavours happening simultaneously, has deadlines approaching, and is still trying hard to maintain a healthy work/life balance and keeping a close watch on their own relationship with God. It’s a tough gig, but we’re so glad you’ve jumped on for the ride, and we’re going to do all we can to help you get there!

In the last module we looked at the three main audience groups your website needs to cater for (Brand New, Interested and Committed, plus those few extra website components that benefit the “Capital C” Universal Church). We also began listing sections of your website that specifically cater to the needs and interests of each of those audience groups (keeping in mind that these three categories of people are not rigid structures, but helpful guidelines. There will always be overlap, and information written for one audience group may well be helpful for someone who falls in a different category).

Now, we’re going to list those sections below, doing our best to demonstrate some degree of “order of importance”. Again, this is not a rigid workflow – it’s a rough guide. Just think of it in terms of:

  • Things listed toward the top of each category are very important and without these things, the website may as well not exist
  • Things around the middle of each category are quite important, so once your website is live, get to these things as soon as you can
  • Things toward the end of each category are important, but the website can function without them

Each church is different, with different ministries, different strategies, different contexts and different focuses. So read what we say, consider whether it’s right for your own church, and make your own judgment call. This is just a guide.

Along with our rough “order of importance”, we’ve also used a Star Rating System to represent two things. The first rating is the Initial Time Factor. This demonstrates how long it’s likely to take to get that section of your website planned, composed and up-and-running. Quick and easy tasks get one or two stars, and long, involved processes get four and five stars. Simple, right? And the second rating is the Ongoing Factor. The connectedness/headspace/assertiveness/proactivity required to keep that section of your website accurate, active, correct and helpful. Set-and-forget sections of your website that are unlikely to need any changing or alteration in the foreseeable future get one star. Sections of your website that need regular, ongoing updating or maintenance get four or five. Make sense?

So with all this in mind, here is a list of every section, element or component that your church website could potentially contain, along with some guidelines from us in terms of how important they are, how time-consuming they are, and whether they’re an ongoing commitment or a one-off undertaking. From this, our hope is that you can make your own decisions about what you choose to tackle for your own church’s website.

Audience Category: Brand New

1. Service times and location

Initial Time Factor: *
Ongoing Factor: *

2. Directions, map, parking information

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: *

3. Contact Information

Initial Time Factor: *
Ongoing Factor: *

4. Information about kids’ programs during church (including safety policies)

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: **

5. What you believe

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: *

6. Your staff/ministry team

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: **

7. Frequently Asked Questions

Initial Time Factor: ****
Ongoing Factor: *

8. Welcome message from Lead Pastor

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: *

9. Your affiliations/networks

Initial Time Factor: *
Ongoing Factor: *

 

Audience Category: Interested

Initial Time Factor: *****
Ongoing Factor: **

It’s planning for this category of people that uses up the most writing time. Basically, everything your church has on offer, other than your Sunday Gathering, is listed here. Your Youth Group, Kids’ Club, Seniors Group, Men’s events, Women’s Ministry, Craft Group, Social Clubs, Mid-Week Bible Study Groups, Newcomers Meet-Ups, Play Groups, anything other than your regular, weekly church service should be identified here. It could be as simple as a basic description of each Ministry with dates, times and a contact number, or each ministry area could have its own page, complete with photos, videos, a welcome message from the ministry leader, a contact form, and downloads.

Rather than listing each potential mid-week ministry your church may offer, we’re going to treat this category as a complete entity, realising that some churches will have more to write about than others. But as a whole, publishing content for your “Interested” audience is time consuming. You’ll start off by listing everything your church offers, breaking it up into sections (eg, Kids, Teens, Christian Growth, Social, etc), then producing a “write-up” for each of these ministries. You could do it yourself, but we suggest sharing this task with other staff or volunteers in your church. Ideally, you’ll ask the leader of each ministry area to do their own write-up, related to their specific ministry. But if you do this, remember to be clear on your time constraints. If you need this write-up back by a particular date, remember to communicate that! It’s also a good idea to communicate the importance of consistency to all your authors. We’ll discuss this more later, but basically it’s just about making sure everyone’s voice sounds consistent. It can be distracting navigating through a website that has so clearly been produced by different authors. Stark changes in writing style and language, or a jarring shift between formal and informal writing from page to page is going to come across as annoying at best, and unprofessional at worst. But more on this later…

Writing web content for people that have visited your church a few times and are keen to get more involved in the community is hard work, but it’s so worth it! Not only will it mean people are more aware of what happens in the life of your church, it will engage them and make it easier for them to take that next step of commitment. Plus, this kind of written content generally only needs to be written once. You may need to make tweaks here and there, when leaders change, if the day or time is altered, or the ministry starts operating in a new way, but once the bulk of the work is done, it’s done for good.

Having said that, it is possible for your church website to exist without including any of this information. Granted your website won’t be as comprehensive or engaging as if it did include ministry-specific information, but at the end of the day, if you have a nice website that clearly shows the time, meeting place and overview of your weekly Church Services, newcomers still have enough to go on. They’ll still visit your church. But it’s important to set the goal of including this type of written content aimed at return-visitors who are interested in exploring more about your church life, because without it, you’re missing out on potential engagement from people who may end up becoming some of the core members of your church.

 

Audience Category: Committed

1. How to Give

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: *

2. Why to Give

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: *

3. Special Church Events (camps, festivals, prayer nights, mission events, etc)

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: *****

4. Volunteer Opportunities

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: *

5. Rosters

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: ***

6. Community needs/opportunities/offers/events

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: ****

 

Audience Category: Universal Church

1. Who is Jesus? (Gospel explanation)

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: *

2. Sermons

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: ***

3. Church Blog

Initial Time Factor: **
Ongoing Factor: ***

4. Recommended Resources/Links

Initial Time Factor: ***
Ongoing Factor: *

 

Making a Plan

Now that we’ve listed (almost) everything that your church website could potentially contain, it’s time to make a plan.

This Prioritised Page Lists Worksheet will help you decide what elements of your website you’re going to work on immediately so that your site can go live, what elements you’re keen to include and will be added to the site whenever they’re ready, and the web elements that you’re happy to exclude for now but might come back to them later.

There are no rules when it comes to deciding what to include and exclude when you’re starting a church website from scratch, but we recommend including all (or most) of the elements listed for the Brand New audience category. After that, you can decide what you will tackle straight away and what you’ll leave until later (or never!).

As an example, here’s a plan we wrote up for a fictional church with about 70 weekly attendees and around 120 people total. They run Sunday School during their morning service, a youth group on Fridays, a kids’ club each January and a monthly Men’s Breakfast. There are three Bible Study groups that meet in homes on Wednesday nights. Other events also pop up here and there.

See sample Prioritised Page Lists Worksheet

 

A final word on Events…

Over the years we’ve seen churches put on some amazing events. Events for women, men, kids, youth, Christmas, Easter, camps, conferences, Family Fun Days, festivals, music concerts, exhibitions, prayer nights, vision nights, and more. Events are great. They create a buzz in the church, they generate momentum amongst the people – we love special events! But the strange thing we’ve found is it’s often really hard to effectively promote these church events. No matter how hard churches push to make their event known, there always seem to be people who didn’t know it was happening. Perhaps they got to church late, perhaps they didn’t check their email, perhaps they lost the brochure – whatever the reasons, promoting church events somehow seems to be such a stressful task!

But be wary of using your Church Website as a solution to Event Promotion. It’s not that your website is a bad way to promote church events. In fact, your church website is a great place to advertise and promote your one-off events. An Events Calendar on your website is a great idea! The problem is, it takes a huge degree of commitment to ensure that calendar remains up-to-date. Here are a couple of scenarios that can arise from a mismanaged Calendar of Events page:

There are no events happening

The fact of the matter is that for some churches, especially smaller churches, there just aren’t any events to advertise. If your church doesn’t have the resources to be putting on semi-frequent events, there’s no need to advertise that fact by displaying an empty Calendar page. If you don’t have any events coming up to fill your calendar, don’t display a calendar in the first place.

Old events fill up the page

If you’re using our Events Plugin to display your events, this won’t apply to you as your website will only display events coming up in the future, but if your events are simply listed on a page, there needs to be someone actively working to ensure only future events are listed. Your audience will tire very quickly of visiting the Events page on your website only to find events that have already happened.

No one posts the upcoming event

This is perhaps the biggest reason why I warn churches to think very carefully about creating an Events Page on their website. Think about how your church is currently promoting events and happenings in the life of your church. It’s probably some combination of a weekly printed bulletin/newsletter, a news email, a Service Leader who announces events from the front during the service, brochures distributed at the door or on seats, an announcement video, and Social Media posts. The same process that goes with publishing a weekly bulletin or email newsletter is required to maintaining an up-to-date Events Webpage. Unless you have someone who really owns that page, and is committed to seeing it updated and accurate, events will get missed, be incorrect, or the Calendar Page will be completely empty due to no one updating it.

We think that when it comes to promoting events, churches need to go one of two ways: either commit to using a Calendar Webpage properly, by appointing someone to be aware of all upcoming events and monitor the Calendar of Events page weekly, or don’t have a Calendar Page at all. It’s totally fine to exclude a Calendar Page from your website! Remember – these special, one-off events are generally targeted at those who already attend your church! They’re already hearing about these events on Sundays, receiving bulletins or email newsletters, getting brochures in their hands as they enter the church and maybe even receiving SMS, Facebook or Instagram updates. The church website isn’t primarily aimed at your regular attendees anyway, so there’s not too much harm in saving your website for those who aren’t yet regularly attending your church. But if you do have someone in your church who is dedicated to maintaining your church calendar page, then that’s fantastic! It will be a real asset to your church website. But just be aware that the “Ongoing Factor” of maintaining a Special Events Calendar Page on your site received 5 stars – that’s high time commitment!

 

Ready to start actually planning your website? Go to Module #3.

Church Websites Part #3 – A Framework (putting all your content together!)

We’ve done lots of thinking about who our website is for, and what we want to include on our website. Now it’s time to think about where it’s all going to go. At the start of this training guide, we began by saying that easy navigation is one of the key reasons people stay on a website. If it’s hard for the user to find what they’re looking for or navigate their way around, they’re unlikely to remain on your website for long.

It’s always better to do things correctly from the beginning, rather than fixing our mistakes later down the track, so for this reason, we’ve put together this Framework to help you organise your website from the ground up. It’s time to map out, plan and structure your website. We want you to think about what items are included in your top and bottom navigation menus. How will you break up your content into menu items? What will your headings be? Will you use a footer navigation menu too? Will you include a search bar? These are all things we’ll be thinking about very soon.

Take a look at the Prioritised Page List we discussed in the Sustainability module. You’ve already identified your high/mid/low priority pages. You know what you want to include on your site. Now it’s time to decide where it’s all going to fit. Before we actually get to planning the organisation of our site, here’s a few things to consider:

When it comes to vital details, always over-communicate

Repetition is key. It doesn’t matter whether it’s during a sermon, a class, an announcement, or a website. When there is a highly important piece of information to be communicated, repetition makes it stick. Never underestimate the importance of over-communication. Not only does repetition help key information to stay in the mind of the listener – it also catches the attention of those who missed it the first time (or second time…or third time…!) So, how do you decide what parts of your website need to be deliberately over-communicated? Imagine you had to condense your entire church website onto a business card. What would you include? Probably something like this:

  • Your service time and location
  • A way for people to make contact if they have questions
  • A sentence or phrase outlining what you do and why (perhaps a vision statement or motto)
  • A call to action (i.e., inviting potential visitors to come and check you out)

These things need to be over-communicated on your website. Your service time and location should be one of the first things people see when they visit your website. But it should show up again and again, woven throughout the site. Contact details need to be very clear, either included in the footer of your website or via a very clear “Contact” link (or both!) And a statement that outlines what you do, along with a call-to-action, shouldn’t be hidden somewhere in the depths of your site – make it big, bold and obvious!

A word about menus

When it comes to your top navigation menu, the general consensus is that five to seven menu items is the ideal number. However, it can be tricky to limit all your church has to offer to just five menu items. For this reason, the use of a bottom navigation is a great idea to cover all those pages that are important, but not that important to be featured in your top navigation. It’s true that your top navigation menu can also include sub-menus to help the user navigate to the exact page they’re looking for, but still – don’t go overboard. If you’re a busy church with lots going on, don’t over-complicate your website by listing absolutely everything you do in your top navigation bar. Go back to your Planning Worksheet, determine your highest priority pages, and list the rest in a bottom navigation so they can still be found. Reserve your “prime real estate” for your most important website items.

The power of your Home Page

Your website’s Home Page is very special. It’s the first thing people see when they visit your website (with the exception of a Landing Page…more on that later…) Your Home Page allows you to display content that the user doesn’t need to look for. It’s right there in front of them – they didn’t need to search or navigate their way to finding it. So it’s important to be very strategic when choosing what content to display on your Home Page. Another thing to consider is placement of items on your homepage. Think of your Home Page as a tower made of single blocks. The block at the very top of your tower is going to be the first thing people see. The top three blocks will most likely be visible to the user as soon as your website loads. But from the fourth block down, the user will need to start scrolling before this content becomes visible. Your tower (ie, Home Page), can be as tall as you want it (within reason!), but just be aware that when you reach block four onwards, the content may not be visible to the user unless they scroll down the page. We hope they do scroll down! And if your website is engaging enough, they probably will. But again, reserve the top blocks for the absolutely vital information, like your Tagline, Call to Action, Service Time and Location.

Tagline + Call-to-Action

If there’s one current trend we absolutely love, it’s this: Tagline + Call-to-Action. This design trend of seeing a big, bold tagline as the web page loads, followed by one or two clear, sharp calls-to-action (CTA) buttons is one we hope will stick around for a very long time! To demonstrate just how popular this formula is, take a look at this great list of best church websites of 2016. Almost all these websites begin with a big, bold tagline or statement, followed by one or two CTAs for the user to follow. But we don’t just think you should follow this trend because it’s popular, we think you should implement this strategy because it’s good! It allows you to “funnel” the user’s attention to exactly what you want them to read. For the first-time user especially, directing their attention to a tagline that sums up what your church believes or endeavours to achieve, then giving them one or two options to continue reading, means you determine what they see and when. It allows you to be strategic in the information you present to your first-time visitor.

Time to put it all together

Now for the fun part! Take a look at our Website Planner Worksheet. This will help you determine exactly how your website will fit together.

Menu

To start with, go back to your Prioritised Page Lists Worksheet from our Sustainability Module and look at the High and Mid-Priority Pages (leave the low priority pages for now. We’ll add them in when the time is right.) Once you have your list on paper, try to group these pages into five “categories”. These will later become your Navigation Menu headings. Don’t worry too much if you seem to have a few “outliers” that don’t fit into a category. You may be able to slot them into your footer navigation, or they may not need a menu link at all! Just put them to the side and we’ll come back to them later.

Tagline

Now that you’ve determined your top five or six Navigation Menu items, it’s time to plan out your Home Page. Like we said before, we strongly recommend you utilise the power of the Tagline + CTA formula. Spend some time brainstorming some tag lines for your church. This may need to be a bigger decision that involves other church leaders, but it’s still best to present them with some options. You may choose to simply use all or part of your church’s vision statement. But these Vision and Mission Statements can often be wordy and drawn out, and the tagline on your website needs to be punchy. Give yourself the challenge of limiting it to 10 words. If you have only 10 words to sum up why your church exists, what would it be? Here are some taglines we’ve seen around the place that we love!

  • You matter to God. You matter to us.
  • Jesus changes everything. Let us show you how.
  • Everyone is welcome. Nobody is perfect. Anything is possible.
  • Welcome to ________. We’re glad you’re here.

This tagline can be anything! It can be a welcome message, a punchy overview of your beliefs, or something you want all your visitors to know. All that matters is that it’s big, bold, and leads onto your CTAs

Call-to-Action (CTA)

Once you’ve determined your tagline, the user’s attention should be funnelled down into one or two (or at a push, three), calls-to-action. If you could direct a first-time user to any two pages on your church’s website, what would they be? For my church, our two CTA buttons take the user either to our JESUS page (a page that simply outlines the gospel message, then invites the user to find out more about our Gospel Exploration Course), or our PLAN A VISIT page, which gives logistical details about visiting our church, including service time and location, parking info, what to expect, and how to find out more. If a user visits just those two pages alone, we can be confident they’ve heard the gospel message, and know all they need to know about visiting us on a Sunday. Look at the pages you have listed on your Planning Worksheet. Which one or two of these pages do you absolutely want your first-time users to visit? Perhaps you need to create a new page especially for this purpose. Have a think about not only the pages you want these CTA buttons to lead, but also the word or phrase you’ll use to point people there.

Building a Page

Think of a web page as a series of rows stacked on top of each other, with these rows being split into columns. Each page on your website will contain rows and columns. As we plan out the content for each page, we need to determine where the content will sit on the page and in which order (rows), and whether certain content will be supported by additional elements like images, videos, icons, diagrams, etc (columns). Some rows will contain only one column, and may span across the entire width of the screen. Some rows will contain two columns, one column with text, and one column housing a photo or video. Some rows will contain three columns and a series of hyperlinked images, each leading to a different section of your website. Rows and columns are the building blocks of your website, so understanding these will make a big difference when it comes to ease-of-design.

On any given page, your top row will most likely be made of only one column, stretched across the entire width of the screen, and contain an image that relates to the content of the page. Our Gospel Powered websites allow you to enter custom text on top of these images, so your top row will probably also include some sort of title, heading, quote or testimonial. As we’ve already discussed, your Tagline and Call-to-Action will appear on the top row of your Home Page, over the top of a warm, inviting photo (ideally of your church!)

The Home Page

Take a look at Page #2 of your Website Planner Worksheet. This is where we’ll plan out your Home Page. From your Tagline Brainstorm, choose your favourite and enter it as text in the Row #1 box.

Now, decide whether Row #2 will contain only one column, or will be broken up into many columns. Enter the text you’d like to see in Row #2.

Continue in this pattern until you have completed your plan for the Home Page. To get an idea of how this planning sheet may look when it’s completed, see our Sample Website Planner.

Default Pages

Now that your Home Page is sorted, it’s time to start planning the remainder of your website. Looking at your list of pages, most of them will probably be built using a Default New Life Page. A Default New Life Page follows the same structure that we see throughout the Website Planner Worksheet. The repetition of alternating rows, with one row containing a stretch image, the next row containing text, the next row is an image, the next row is text, etc. There will be some pages on your website that don’t follow this Default Page structure. Pages like Frequently Asked Questions, Image or Video Galleries, Stories, Events, Sermons, etc. We’ll get to those later. But for the pages on your website that are straightforward, containing little more than rows and the occasional column, you’ll most likely be using a Default Page. So, looking at all the pages you’ve listed in the first box of your Website Planner Worksheet, determine which of those follow the Default Page structure, and use the Planner Worksheet to plan out your stretch graphics, text overlays, and written content for each page.

It will probably make more sense to outsource some of this work to the people actually responsible for that ministry area. Ask your Youth Pastor to plan out the Youth Page, ask the Women’s Ministry Coordinator to write out the Women’s Page. Simply send them a copy of the Website Planner Worksheet, ask them to fill in their part, and send it back to you so you can compile all the content into one place.

Non-Default Pages

Your website will most likely be needing a few pages that don’t fit so perfectly into that Default Page structure shown on the Website Planner Worksheet. But don’t despair! We’ve got you covered! Once you have completed that initial first page on the Website Planner Worksheet and sent it back to us, we will create every page listed. Those default pages in your Planning Worksheet will be created to your specifications, which includes us entering the content you’ve written and inserting any images you send us. But as for those “non-default” pages, like FAQ, Galleries, Stories, Events, and Sermons, if they’re listed on your Website Planner, we will create them, under the menu you’ve requested, then talk you through using the WordPress Backend to customise them to look exactly the way you want them to.

So for any special pages you have in mind that won’t work on a Default Page structure, simply list them on the first page of your Website Planner Worksheet, and we’ll make sure they’re created for you. Later on, we’ll even go through using the WordPress Backend to create new pages so you won’t need to ask us to create a new page every time you want one. But until then, just list every page you want on that Planner Worksheet, and we’ll make sure it gets made.

Giving made easy — Tithe.ly Review

Jesus tells us in his Word that giving is a joy — that we should do it cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7), that to give is a blessing (Acts 20:35) and that we should give in the same way in which we have received from God (Matthew 10:8).

Giving is a good thing. The very fact that we can give is a gift from God. So this week, we want to showcase an organisation who is making it just that little bit easier for Christians to give to their church.

Tithe.ly is a web-based giving platform that allows users to give to their church in either US, Canadian or Australian dollars. Users can set up a recurring payment from their VISA, MasterCard or AMEX, or users can make a one-off payment, either by logging in with their Username and Password, or as a guest, meaning no login required.  Whether churches are looking for an Online Giving solution, or simply want to accept one-off donations, Tithe.ly is our Number #1 pick!

Online giving via Credit/Debit Cards will always attract some kind of fee, no matter who you use to process your payment, but Tithe.ly’s fees are down there with the lowest you’ll find on the internet, and they’re charged on a per-transaction basis (no setup or ongoing fees — you’re only charged per transaction, at 30c + 2.9%)

Here are some of the things we love about Tithe.ly:

  • Computer, tablet or smartphone — Tithe.ly works beautifully on any device, with just the right amount of security that you’re details are safe, but it’s not ridiculously annoying every time you try to access your account.
  • Geolocation — Tithe.ly has a nifty little feature that geolocates the nearest church in the area (that currently has a Tithe.ly account set up), so if you’re physically in your church’s building, or you live close by, chances are your church will be located automatically. Of course, you can search by church name too, but there’s something cool about being able to click on “Give to the nearest church” and seeing your own church’s Tithe.ly page appear.
  • Intuitive — Tithe.ly is so intuitive. It just makes sense. All the user needs to do is follow the prompts. All the info they could need is displayed in the right places, and it makes online giving so easy. A user can give to their church in under 10 seconds, using only their 4-digit Tithe.ly passcode.
  • Covering fees — As part of the giving process, Tithe.ly allows the giver to select an option to “cover fees” as part of their transaction. If a user selects this option, they become the ones to pay the 30c + 2.9% transaction fees, rather than the church.
  • Website integration — If you have a Gospel Powered website, you get to enjoy the seamless integration between Tithe.ly and your church website. We can help you set up Giving Buttons on your website which take users directly to Tithe.ly, where they can donate to specific projects or ministry areas, with or without a Tithe.ly login.
  • Reporting — Receipts and reporting are easy with Tithe.ly, with both the user and the church having access to receipts and records of their giving activity. Tithe.ly also integrates with a number of Church Management Systems (currently Elvanto, Church Community Builder and Breeze, but more are in the pipeline!), meaning your accounts and record keeping is taken care of!

There are loads of other features we love about Tithe.ly (like Text-to-Give, Giving Kiosks, and their great video resources) but the best thing to do is visit their website and see for yourself. Churches do need to be aware that it takes 7 days for funds to be transferred into their account, but funds are transferred daily so churches still have a steady stream of money coming in.

If Tithe.ly is something that could benefit your church, and you love the idea of integrating Tithe.ly with your church’s website, get in touch with us to see how Gospel Powered can help.

Creating a great Staff Page on your church website (Part #1)

Whenever I visit a church website, one of the first pages I like to visit is the Staff page. Utilising a page like this is a great way for churches to introduce their staff or ministry team. People love reading about how their pastor is an ordinary person with a real family and real hobbies, just like them. A Staff Page is also a great way to introduce a church’s unsung heroes like the receptionist or bookkeeper. These people may not be up the front every week, but without them, church life would be a lot harder. A Staff Page on your church’s website tangibly demonstrates the inner workings of the church staff team, and will help newcomers connect quicker, persuade regulars to give more, and work to create a welcoming, friendly atmosphere in a church.

A good Staff Page should have two components — a photo, and a biography (bio). Both are important, and we’ve put together a few key points and principles to consider when putting together photos and bios.

This week we’ll look at some principles for staff photos on your church website.

Staff Photos

Natural, consistent, inviting

Natural but purposeful

When choosing photos for a staff page, try to avoid the two extremes of “overly corporate” and “unintentional”. Unless your pastor is always dressed that way, there’s no need to photograph him in a shirt, jacket and tie. Also, a professional photography backdrop is unnecessary and possibly counter-helpful. If the photo looks like it belongs on a corporate banking website or school yearbook, don’t use it. A casual outfit in a natural environment is perfect. But on the other extreme, make sure the photo you’re using serves its purpose as a portrait. A photo of your pastor at the beach with his family will look like it was lifted straight from Facebook. Be intentional about the photo you use, without being overly formal and business-like.

Consistency throughout the page

Ideally, all staff photos should be consistent. This means each photo should be taken in the same place, in a similar pose, with a similar crop. This will make your website look more visually appealing, more professional, and give a higher sense of credibility to your website, and in turn, to your church. If you have a photographer in your congregation (or at least someone who knows their way around a DSLR), ask them to take the photos for you, all on the same day. If you need to take them yourself, go outside and find some decent shade (you want to avoid dappled light at all costs!) A shallow depth-of-field will have your subject in focus and blur out the background (the further the subject is from the background, the blurrier it will be), so set your aperture wide (around f2.8 for a single subject is great). Take photos of each staff member, then crop them so they’re consistent in size and angle. Consistency goes a long way to improving user experience on your website, so do all you can to keep users on your site for as long as possible!

Use photos that look like your staff are happy to be there!

No duck face here! Choose a photo where the subject is smiling (in their eyes too, not just smiling with their mouth). There’s no need for the arty “pretend you’re looking at another camera” thing — have your subject look straight at the lens, as if to look the visitor in the eye and say “come, we’d love to have you visit our church!” Be careful with staff wearing glasses — depending on the light, you may be stuck with nasty reflection in the lens. If you’re unsure at the time of the shoot, take two lots of photos — one with glasses and one without. You can always decide later, but you don’t want to be stuck with an unusable photo with distracting glasses reflection.

In Part #2 we’ll look at some principles for putting together a basic staff bio for your website. What things do you like reading about when you visit a Staff Page on a church’s website?

Creating a great Staff Page on your church website (Part #2)

In a previous post we looked at why it’s a good idea to have a Staff Page on your church website. We also looked at some ways to improve user experience on your church website, by taking great photos of your pastors and ministry team for your Staff Page.

But a page with some photos and names isn’t going to be much help to anybody. The key to an effective Staff Page is not just each person having a great photo — it’s having a great bio to go along with it.

To complete your church website’s Staff Page, you’ll need a succinct and engaging one-paragraph biography for each staff member. Take note of both those points: succinct and engaging. To get people to stay on your website, we need both brevity and engagement. Following these two criteria is a guaranteed way of ensuring your Staff Page fulfills its purpose.

Succinct

When it comes to writing content for the web, there a lot of factors working against you from the start. People read 25% slower online, 38% of web users leave a page before reading anything, and 79% of web users scan rather than read. For these reasons and more, it’s so important to keep your written content as concise as possible. No waffling here. Tell your staff that if they want their bio read, it can’t be any longer than a paragraph. A real paragraph, not three paragraphs squished together with the spaces removed! Give your staff 300 words and make sure they stick to it.

Staff Biographies

Engaging

Even short pieces of writing can be boring. If your audience isn’t engaged, they’re not going to stick around. If the purpose of your Staff Page is introduce your staff and let your church feel like they know a little about them, the bios will need a mix of “essential info”, role description and fun facts. But each of these three facets will need to be woven together in an engaging, coherent way.

Here’s a good model to use to fill a four-sentence staff bio. Each point is addressed in one sentence only:

  1. Family or heritage
  2. Role & description
  3. Passions or hopes in ministry
  4. Random fun fact

Here’s an example about an imaginary pastor named John.

John is married to Jane and has three crazy, energetic boys, Tom, Dick and Harry. John is the Associate Pastor at Example Church, and is responsible for seeing our church grow through Connect Groups, Prayer Groups and our evening service. His desire is to see everyone in our area know and love Jesus and each other through genuine community. He loves coffee, surfing and his wife, although not in that order!

When asking your staff to write a bio, be sure to give them clear guidelines in terms of length ad what points to address. A four-point guide like the one above can ensure a clear, engaging, succinct bio as well as maintaining consistency across the page.

Consistency

Just like last week when we discussed consistency in photos, we also want consistency in writing style. Having everyone follow the same model is a good start, but keep an eye on which tense, point-of-view and mood everyone is using in their writing. If need be, make minor modifications to bios to ensure you don’t have one bio written in the First Person point-of-view when everyone else has written in the Third. If you have a staff member who is just about to start in their role, make sure their writing is in the present tense, not future (“Jack works as Youth Pastor…”, not “Jack will be working as Youth Pastor…” All these points are very minor, but everything put together is working to create a user experience, and we want our website to have as positive a user experience as possible. Personally, for a church website’s Staff Page, I think writing in the Third Person Present Tense in a casual (but not slang) voice presents nicely and makes your website come across as friendly and welcoming, but still reputable and credible.

It’s strange that what I perceive to be such an important page on a church website is often overlooked by churches, but by thinking through these guidelines and principles, you can make sure your church has an engaging, consistent, effective Staff Page that might just be the push someone needs to join your church, commit to your church, or get more active in church life.

Monthly Website Checklist

A great website is dynamic — it’s always changing, with new content being added regularly. A great website is relevant, with no outdated information, and quickly tells the viewer what they want to know. At Gospel Powered, we want your church to have a great website, but a great website isn’t “set and forget”. A great website needs regular monitoring, updating and editing to make sure it remains engaging, accurate, and relevant to the people viewing it.

Once a month, it’s a good idea to “audit” your church website. Skim through each page, navigate your site through the eyes of a first-time user, and make sure everything on your site should still be there.

But rather than being overwhelmed by the task of reworking a website each month, we’ve put together this “Monthly Checklist” you can work through. This isn’t a comprehensive task flow to take you through designing a website from scratch — this checklist is written to be used on an already-existing, complete website, for the purpose of fine-tuning the content you already have on your site.

Monthly Website Checklist:

Meeting Place & Time

Many churches (like mine) meet in a hired facility each week, and every so often we need to move our location to accommodate prior bookings. If you know of any upcoming venue changes, give people pre-warning by mentioning it on your site as a small side-note underneath your normal time/location section.

Events Page

If your church has events listed on the website, make sure all events are up-to-date. Delete any outdated events, and if your “Upcoming Events” list is empty, check your church calendar to see if any need to be added.

Sermon Series

If your current sermon series is advertised on your site, make sure what’s being advertised actually is your current series!

Staff Page

If there have been any changes to your staff/ministry team, make sure those changes are reflected on your website. How long ago were all the staff photos taken? Could they do with an upgrade? Good things to think about every so often.

Holiday Changes

If school holidays are approaching, be sure to indicate any changes to your children or youth programs on the relevant web pages.

Blog

When was the last time one of your pastors posted a blog? If it’s been more than a month, now is a great time to get one written!

Photos and Images

There’s no need to update photos every single month, but take an objective view at the photos on your website, and think about whether it’s time for some fresh photos. If it’s been more than 12–18 months since you’ve updated your photos, think about getting some taken in the next few months.

It’s best to keep on top of your website and make changes as they come up, but sometimes things fall through the cracks, so going through this monthly checklist will cover anything that may have been missed in regular, ongoing church website maintenance.

Using your church website to combat the “obstacle of uncertainty”

As I write this blog on a quiet Saturday evening, I’m sitting in my hotel room overlooking a beautiful ocean view, enjoying the sights and sounds of the stunning Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. Sorry to make you all jealous, but the context is important! The context being, I’m in an unfamiliar place, with little-to-no understanding of the culture, nature and expectations of the local church in my area.

It’s Saturday, and as I’m on holiday, I’m preparing to visit a church tomorrow that I’ve never been to before. I don’t know anyone, I’ve never heard of them before, I don’t know anything about them. I simply saw their sign in passing, and as they’re within walking distance of my hotel, I decided to visit tomorrow morning. In preparing for my visit, I searched for their website.

Their homepage conveniently told me what time their service started, and that there would be children’s programs available. As a first-time visitor, I really appreciated being able to quickly and easily find out key info, like service times, but as I navigated their site further, I found myself asking all kinds of questions that their website couldn’t answer.

What denomination were they? When would the service end? Is it ok to turn up in shorts and flip-flops? What if I feel more comfortable keeping my children with me? Would I be asked for money? What do they believe about xyz….

Personally, I’m generally okay with not knowing the answers to all of these questions. But I’ve grown up in church. This is second-nature to me. Not everyone is so comfortable walking into a place they’ve never been, with people they’ve never met, to sing with, greet, pray with and interact with strangers. A visitor-friendly, outward-focused church should do all they can to remove obstacles to people hearing the gospel, and for some visitors, a lack of information could be an obstacle.

To help remove the “obstacle of uncertainty” when it comes to visiting a new church, here are some Frequently Asked Questions that our church answers on our website.

  • What time should I arrive at church? (Here you can provide tips about arriving early to get a good car park, or let visitors know there will be parking attendants ready to greet them)
  • How long does the service go for? (If it varies from week to week, say so! It’s ok if you can’t provide an exact time — visitors will still appreciate a ball-park figure)
  • Where do you meet? (This is more important for churches like ours who meet in a school facility, where visitors have to navigate their way to a school gymnasium)
  • What happens during your church services? (Here is where you can prepare visitors about things they might not be expecting, or could make newcomers feel uneasy, like communion, prayer times, giving, meet & greet, children being dismissed to kids’ church, Bible readings, etc)
  • What are your Bible talks about? (If you generally work through a Book of the Bible or a series, let visitors know they can get some context by reading about or listening to your current preaching program. Do you want everyone to have a Bible in front of them during the sermon? Use this space to encourage visitors to bring one, or download on their phone. Be sure to let them know where they can get hold of a Bible if they don’t have their own!)
  • What kind of songs do you sing? (How many songs? Will it be traditional or contemporary? Here is a great way to let visitors know what they can expect on any given Sunday.)
  • Can I bring my kids? (As well as telling visitors all about your awesome kids’ programs, make sure you also give alternatives if they’re not comfortable leaving their children in the care of someone they’ve never met before)
  • What should I wear? (This isn’t so churches can enforce a dress code — it’s to reassure visitors that you don’t have one! Encourage your guests to “come as they are” in whatever makes them comfortable)
  • Where should I sit? (Especially important for visitors with prams or wheelchairs)
  • Will there be food? (Parents of kids with allergies will be especially interested in this one, particularly your church’s policy on foods containing allergens, like nuts)
  • Does it cost anything? (Make sure you’re upfront and honest about giving, offering or collection)
  • Will I be asked to do anything? (Or, more specifically, what it I don’t want to participate in something everyone else is doing)

These Frequently Asked Questions don’t need to be “front and centre” on your homepage. They don’t even need to be all that comprehensive in their answer. For example, in our answer to the question “what kind of songs do you sing”, rather than writing a comprehensive exposition on the theology of church music, with an up-to-date list of the current song titles and composers on our music rotation, we just write this: We sing songs from many different artists, publishers and churches. We are less interested in a song’s style or feel, and more interested in what it teaches us about Jesus, who he is, and what he’s done for us. Addressing the question, and providing even a simple answer, creates the sense that you’ve considered the perspective of the outsider, and are fostering a culture of asking questions, seeking answers, and community engagement.

What other questions would you want to see on a church FAQ page?