What Every Senior Pastor Ought to Know About Church Websites

Your church website is the new front door to your worshiping community. As Anne Rudig, Episcopal Church Director of Communication, puts it, “If a church can’t be googled, it doesn’t exist.” Increasingly, people are finding their way into the pews and programs of your church by first “kicking the tires” online. If your website doesn’t make the cut, people won’t go. It’s that simple.

“The Church Wasn’t Thinking About Us”

I was talking with friend recently who shared how his family found their current church after moving to a new city. “Before we stepped foot [in a church], we went to their website. If it didn’t have what I needed on the site–online giving, easy-to-find directions and whether or not they had childcare–we didn’t even bother going to the building. It was clear [the church] wasn’t thinking about us.”

He’s not alone. I talk to church leaders all across the country who make the mistake of not thinking through their web strategy before they preach the first sermon. It almost always leads to confusion, frustration and inefficiency throughout the organization:

  • It impacts their team negatively for lack of a clear communication flow.
  • It impacts their congregation for lack of resourcing.
  • And, as we’ve already seen, it impacts their future congregation for lack of planning and thinking through what would-be members are looking for online.

If you think your website doesn’t matter, think again.

Church Websites Are More Important Than Ever

According to a recent Arbitron study, the Internet has surpassed television as the most essential medium. The Net is more important to the 12-44 demographic than TV. Simply put, if you were to ask this group what they would rather give up, TV would get tossed by the majority. We are now living in a world-wide-wired culture.

Our findings at Monk Development support this trend. Our research shows that 61% of respondents we surveyed said the church website was “somewhat to very important in my decision to attend [their current] church.” Sound familiar? People want to know what to expect before going to a church and they don’t want to endlessly click around trying to find it.

Given our research along with Arbitron’s, one would think that church websites would be a priority. Unfortunately, they’re not.

According to Lifeway Research, only 78% of churches have a website. While that statistic may seem high, less than half of those churches use their site for interactive purposes. The website is simply an informational “dumping ground.” A full 42% of churches update their site once a month or less. Add the 7% of churches that update their site once a year (a year!) and you have a near-majority in under-updated church websites.

That means if potential church members are searching your site, they’re finding information that’s at least a month old. Can you imagine a business, restaurant or news site not updating their website for a month? It would spell “disaster”!

It also means that current church members aren’t finding the information they need. They’re most likely calling the church office to get it, tying up valuable staff resources and time (maybe yours!). They’re not getting access to the programs, ministries and services you’re providing in the primary place they go to look for information: the web.

Senior Church Leaders Thinking Strategically About the Web

As a senior leader/pastor at your church, you need to be thinking through your website strategy with diligence. If you’re not tech-savvy, that’s okay. Make sure you surround yourself with people who are and then give them the authority to make decisions in this area. (For example, if someone on your staff suggest looking into Google Apps for non-profits, let them do their research!) Don’t let your gifted tech leaders “die on the vine” because you couldn’t give up control of an area you’re unfamiliar with.

You’re strategically-minded in every other area of your church: Preaching schedule, volunteers, children’s ministry, youth, outreach events, etc. Why not take the plunge? Follow the research and start thinking critically about your increasingly important piece of Internet real estate.

How is your website holding you back from achieving what God has called you to? What are some of the biggest “pain points” you have surrounding your church’s website? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Need help getting your web strategy off the ground? Want us to do the heavy-lifting for you? Work with me.
12 comments
John Wernecke
John Wernecke

Yes, we have a web site and try to make a good first impression and be useful for our members. Technology is just as much a gift of God as writing, speaking, the printing press and the automobile. All of these have a place and a use for work in God's Kingdom. Thanks for giving us some ideas about "best practices" as they say. I am reading abook about some aspects of more right brain thinking as the culture and the world is changing. Design is one of those aspects and it seems to me that creating a great design for the web site involves considering all aspects of its use and purpose. Thanks for the informative article.

Hank
Hank

This article is exactly what's wrong with Christianity today. "It was clear [the church] wasn’t thinking about us." You don't go to a church to fit your needs. You go to a church because God calls you to go there. "If your website doesn’t make the cut, people won’t go. It’s that simple." If people only attend your church because your website looks pretty, then they are attending for the wrong reason. Sure God will use that circumstance to work in them, but you are missing the point. I guess suppose if your aim is to get numbers into your church, become big and be famous, then that statement is true. How many times did Jesus gather before big crowds and work to bring up attendance and his numbers? He always pushed people away and only wanted to work on those that wanted to give him all. Does a website have a place in a church, sure! Does a church need a website to get people to come to church and make fully devoted followers of Christ? Nope, and to think otherwise would be seriously undermining the Awesome Power of God. All-in-all the article had good intentions. But what it really seemed to lack was a spiritual direction. I apologize if this seems harsh and unwarranted. But after reading just the first paragraph, I wanted to puke. And of course this is all just my opinion in the matter and I have been know to be wrong :)

Mark W. Prasek
Mark W. Prasek

Praise God you "get it". It seems like we're having to drag the church by its hair kicking and screaming across the technology threshold. Full Armor!

Eileen Gibb
Eileen Gibb

I got rid of my TV 10 yrs ago. I spend those hrs on the internet. Age 65

Tom Sramek, Jr.
Tom Sramek, Jr.

Though I think the "inmates" moniker is a little insulting, the point is a good one--like worship, the web site is a primary ministry in which the pastor should take an active role. That doesn't necessarily mean doing it all himself or herself, any more than the pastor leads worship alone. It _does_ mean that the web site should not be relegated to a place in which it is just a project for a few people with rudimentary skills and some time on their hands. If the web site is the church's primary evangelism tool, then it deserves the pastor's time and attention, even if it's just checking it every couple of days and regularly adding a blog entry.

Adam Hann
Adam Hann

These are some great points. Love seeing the stats.

Peter
Peter

Interesting that "the Internet has surpassed television as the most essential medium" - When in Ghana last year on a NGO project the light-hearted discussion amongst the NGO team was... Which would you rather have working? Internet or water!? Internet was the winner. OK, both were intermittent but you get the point.

Will Boyd
Will Boyd

Thanks for the article. That's some really great information. Ana, in my experience, that's on e of the most important questions that needs to be asked. Too often, the work of a church website is the responsibility of a committee of well-meaning church members with the pastor taking, at most, a committee-member role. This is a process that begs for any church website, no matter how well built or designed, to devolve into a bulletin board for the church members or, only slightly better, an "informational dumping ground". The church website, to truly and effectively connect with people, shouldn't be another thing the church does...it should be an extension of the church online. It's no different than the Sunday morning worship service. With that in mind, thinking strategically, as Justin points out, is critical. Also critical is maintenance of that strategy. That is where the pastor comes in. A successful church website in the long run will be one that's strategy has a theology of deep hospitality and community to it. Much like anything involving theology and community, the pastor's continued involvement is critical. When the inmates starts running the institution, this begins to break down. If your pastor or associate isn't pastoring the website and the church's website processes into faith experiences, any success you experience with a new website will be short lived.

Ana Munzinger
Ana Munzinger

How do we prevent a church website from becoming an "informational dumping ground"? What kind of interactive content are people looking for?

Tim Nolte
Tim Nolte

@Hank I think you are missing the intended audience of the website, as I see it. For our church we aren't talking about someone that is church-shopping after leaving a previous church, our audience is the unchurched. Those are the people that are coming from the perspective that your website is their first impression. Giving attention to your website shows them that you care about all things you do. I can't tell you how many church websites I come across that I can easily see that they don't care about their online presence, which makes me wonder what else do they care about. Do they really care about meeting people where they are at? Let's wake up the future of the church is the young people and the internet is where they are at. If you're telling them that their opinion of your website means they are looking at your church for the wrong reason you are telling them that they need to come to you, and that is not what Christ did.

Curtis
Curtis

"Much like anything involving theology and community, the pastor’s continued involvement is critical. When the inmates starts running the institution, this begins to break down." Is this really true? Must the pastor be involved in every conversation at church? Must the pastor be involved in every act of ministry performed by the church? It seems to me, if a church waited for a pastor to get involved in every act of faith or ministry, nothing much would get done. (Come to think of it, maybe that IS how things are in many churches, which is why they seem so dead!) I'd be more inclined to give the "priesthood of believers" the benefit of the doubt, and give all members, maybe even visitors, more free-reign over the website. You may be surprised by the results. Besides, that is the kind of active, participatory on-line community that most young people expect. Anything less will be a turn-off to most people under 30.

Curtis
Curtis

Start by allowing comments for each story on your website. Comments are what allowed you and me to interact -- they'll might work for your website too!