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.

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?