Making the Most of Your Website
By: Jack Massari
In the day to day rush of tending to your church community and spreading the word of God, it may be easy to forget that your website could be out there working behind the scenes for you... or against you.
There are two challenges with church websites that combine to make this so.
First, the idea of editing a website can be perceived as "technically" complicated, raising that familiar bubble of fear in the throats of the less technical amongst us.
Second, because graphic design requires some artistic talent, an appealing site may be considered unachievable by church staff who worry that design cost for a first-class site will be prohibitive.
Compounding these challenges is the fact that a website can operate with essentially no attention, so it can easily be ignored without any bells going off to tell you if it is hurting your other efforts at building and supporting your church community.
In fact, experience tells us that some church websites are set up once and either put out of mind completely or only attended to minimally over time.
The good news is that, in this day and age, there is no need to ignore your website for either of those reasons. Your church website can be working for you instead of against you.
And, the better news is that you will probably find that a modern website opens a whole new avenue of communications with people you may have been under-serving without realizing it. Modern, tech-savvy churchgoers will not only expect you to have a website, but they will expect to find useful, pertinent and current information on it.
The last thing you want is to give a new site visitor bad information, like an old contact number, the wrong service time, or other outdated content. But this happens all too often when a site is ignored because the process for making changes is too difficult or expensive.
Today's church website building systems are not just website builders. They often include other communication tools, such as email blast tools, member portals, and mobile apps. Most importantly, they are easy to use for non-technical people.
Personal one-on-one training is available, and there are many ways for site administrators to reach out to hands-on support staff about updates to the site or design options. Your staff can manage the entire process of building a new site themselves, or friendly professionals can do it for them without breaking the bank. The choice is yours.
Modern church website services make it possible to cater to tech-savvy church members who are at home on the Internet, without demanding significant investments of time and money.
In today's modern church CMS (Content Management System), content is typically edited using a WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) editor, making it easy for non-technical people to produce visually appealing content without knowing anything about the underlying code that makes a website work.
In addition to regular text and image pages, specific content page types are offered for calendars, news pages, image galleries, sermon media pages, interactive forms, RSS feeds, and others. This makes it easy to deliver a professional presentation of your church's content without any technical expertise.
Of course, pre-produced church-oriented content is also made available for use on your site, including many online versions of the Bible, Bible commentaries, a robust church library, a Bible verse of the day, and more. You can post prayer requests as either public or private and display your regular meeting times in a place where they are easy to find for site visitors.
Many of today's site builders allow you to manage a complete private member area with password-protected pages, an online or printable photo directory, internal member-to-member communications, message boards, live chat, and more.
In addition to these websites being mobile-friendly on their own, some systems even deliver certain frequently changing content through a mobile app, so parishioners can get up-to-the-minute information without even opening a mobile browser.
From an artistic and graphic design standpoint, it's important to remember that people who visit your site will make decisions about you based on what they see whether you want them to or not.
Fortunately, the modern church CMS often offers many ways to achieve a great result. Many CMS site builders offer one-click templates that will satisfy the needs of those who want the least amount of fuss, but still require a professional design.
Some site builders offer a more complex, but flexible template builder that will give the administrator or web designer the ability to drag various page elements to exactly where they need to go on the page template.
Still other providers offer personally tailored, custom web design, which can either be paid for in a setup fee or made available at surprisingly reasonable additional cost. Some CMS site builders provide all three of these design options.
The bottom line for design is that today's church website systems offer extremely sophisticated and flexible options to deliver a great result without being overwhelming.
Another important addition to many church website builders is modern electronic communications tools that are integrated directly into the system.
This might include mass email marketing tools that can reach the entire church or just the various sub-groups of members, like Sunday school classes, seniors, youth, the choir, Bible study groups, or others.
Some of these systems will have a built-in blog or private message boards, so all your electronic communications can be delivered directly from your website administration dashboard. This means there is no need to learn more than one "system" in order to cover all your various online needs.
Your website and related technology are important avenues for reaching certain demographics in your church community. People always respond to personal interaction, and the church provides a warm and effective venue that serves that purpose very well.
However, some parishioners today have become extremely effective in making the most of electronic communications and many prefer to interact for some purposes in that way.
Your website and associated e-communications tools are perfect resources that, when used effectively, can reach these people and draw them into a deeper interaction with the rest of your church community.
Jack Massari is founder and chief executive officer of ICG Link, Inc., creators of Church111, their premier website building system specifically tailored to the needs of churches. Church111 began serving church customers in 2003 and has been improving and growing ever since, www.church111.com.