What Makes a Good Church Website?

Click on this if you dare (the colors and other elements actually move)
Click on this if you dare (the colors and other elements actually move)

John W. Vest is the Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

Not long after we moved to Richmond I published a post on my personal blog about how awkward it is to visit a new church—something pastors and longtime church members tend to forget but need to be reminded of. While many people resonated with my basic point, one line in particular generated considerable discussion. In a parenthetical aside I noted that it is unlikely that my family will visit a church with a bad website.

I heard from several people—mostly pastors who serve churches with bad websites—that it’s unfair to judge a church by its website. While trying to not be a total jerk, I essentially had two responses:

  1. Like it or not, people do judge your church by its website. This isn’t true for everyone. And it isn’t necessarily a generational thing. But it is true for many people, so you better not act like it doesn’t matter. Moving to a new city reminded me how much I rely on websites and crowdsourced review platforms like Yelp and Angie’s List to determine how to spend my family’s time and resources.
  2. Making a good church website is not difficult. Navigating congregational politics and working with volunteers may be difficult—no one wants to hear that the website they’ve been maintaining is bad—but making a simple and effective website is not. So there really is no excuse.

Our “Introduction to Evangelism” class is discussing social media and digital culture tomorrow and church websites will come up. We all know a bad website when we see one. But what makes for a good church website? What are the essentials? What is most important?

Join the conversation and post your thoughts in the comment section below.

8 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Church Website?

  1. Very interesting question, as all of yours are.

    “We all know a bad website when we see one.”: Perhaps “we each” is better? Is a good web site defined in any way other than attracting the people we want to attract? Defined as the one that attracts me, has the energy and synergy I am looking for? That its purpose — knowing rather specifically whom we want to attract — is essential before the action of design and maintenance?

    Or is it a less limited trolling / seining operation to reach and attract anyone and everyone we can?

  2. I’ve had the privilege of rebuilding a couple congregation websites. The best websites come out of a process that asks good questions. Two things come to mind as particularly important: identify the ministry problem that your current site (or lack of a website) is creating for you and solve for that and create everything on the site with the people you want to reach in mind.

    Some church websites are just there to engage existing members, that’s fine, own it and build your site to do that.

    In my mind this is the most compelling reason to hire a professional, someone who can lead you through the right questions for your context, needs and resources. Anyone reasonably comfortable with the technology (and with a lot of time a patience) can handle the technical bits.

    I am a bit biased though.

    I think there is also a turn off factor when your website is severely at odds with the design and technical standards of the web.

  3. I think everything on your website tells a little story about your church, including how you view your staff (only clergy listed), whether you actually want people to visit (where is the address and time of worship service?), and what you value (is History the prominent item under the “About Us” tab?). I have visited a ton of church websites and I am astounded at what I learn!

  4. A good church website is aesthetically pleasing and not too wordy! This means that not all of the info one could possibly want to know about the church is on the homepage. A good church website should also show that your church is active in and outside of the building. I also want to know who’s on leadership – definitely pastor bios, but also info about church “boards” (i.e. session). A church website should also look like a church website and not like someone picked a WordPress theme that might be better for a business selling products and tried to make it work. There should also be a rotation of fresh content on the homepage so it’s clear that a. someone pays attention to the website and therefore you can be more or less certain that its contents are accurate/up to date, and b. things are happening in this church!

    I lift up National Presbyterian’s website as a fairly good example: http://nationalpres.org

  5. What makes a good website: (1) having clearly labeled tabs that anticipate information users might want (“new visitors click here”, worship times, upcoming events, what we believe, directions/map, what is the style of service to expect) (2) simplicity in the sense of not overwhelming them with irrelevant information (3) WordPress (or similar content management software) that makes the site design look “clean” (4) contact information (could include phone, email, and any relevant social media that the church actually uses) (5) digital pictures of the church leaders and activities

    what makes a bad website: (1) HTML based sites from 2003 (moving gifs, counters of number of visitors, clashing colors, lack of tabs) (2) information that is 2 or more months out of date (3) pictures that don’t “render” except as an error message.

    A website doesn’t need to be top of the line; it just needs to meet the needs of the people who are visiting the site. A good design principle is to construct two or three “sample customers” (Bob the new visitor, Lisa the longtime member, Ed the new believer, Steve and Cassie the new couple who just moved to Richmond from Ohio) and ask yourself what they would want from the site.

  6. Yes! This is one of my soapboxes, and I’m so glad you and your class are talking about it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. As for what makes a good website? I could talk about it all day.

    1. Pictures of PEOPLE being HAPPY and doing FUN and/or MEANINGFUL things. Too often, the pictures are only of the church building, or the backs of people’s heads during worship, or people looking bored or surprised by the camera. If the pictures don’t have people’s faces in them, having fun or doing meaningful work, it is better not to have pictures at all. It is so easy just to snap a few cute ones next time the church is gathered.

    2. Worship times (and brief, clear explanations of differences if there are different styles of worship), street address, phone number, and someone’s email should always be on the home page. Surprisingly often, I have to hunt for this information.

    3. Folks have already said this, but I reiterate that it needs to be up to date. If it is publicizing an event from a year ago, I mistrust the entire site and even wonder if the church is operational. This is especially important if the church ever changes worship times seasonally; I have shown up at the wrong time based on what I read on a website. Not pleasant.

    3a. If no one is willing or able to update the events, just don’t list them. It’s better to have a simple one-pager that can stay untouched for a year than an out-of-date site or no site at all.

    4. Something about the church staff, treating everyone equally, with pictures.

    For larger churches with more resources, there are a few nice add-ons, but those are the basics that should be on every church website, bar none.

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