Websites have only been around for a couple of decades, but they've already gone through several iterations of best practices, and that list keeps changing rapidly. Unfortunately, one of the most heavily criticized categories of websites, though, is Church websites. A Church website can be a lot more difficult than corporate websites. The biggest reason for this is that the departments of a Church work differently than departments of a corporation. From a quick observation of comparing a Church and a corporation, you could see that corporations work closer together and towards a clearer single goal. While Churches have the clear common goal of reaching their area for Christ, each department tends to have smaller subgoals that tend to overshadow the larger goal.
When Church departments work together towards the single common goal of reaching the neighborhood (and world) for Christ, they will work as Christ had intended the Church to work. This should be something clearly observed from the Church website. Church homepages tend to be cluttered, which is where departments struggle to get their information on the homepage of the website. The Church homepage shouldn't be full of information but, rather, should be a place where website visitors learn more about the Church as a whole and find out where to go on the site for what they need - a landing pad for your website visitors.
We do have our own workflow that we use to design websites. However, this guide will lead you from start to finish for Church websites in particular.
Does Your Church Need a Website?
If you think the answer is no, you should go ahead and read this article that we wrote about why Churches should have websites. This will give you a bird's eye view of having a website for your Church (we have since moved to a price-specific, but affordable, web design estimate, but it still has good information).
Also, many Churches choose to have Facebook pages instead of websites, but you can find out more here why you should use both.
Getting Your Website Off the Ground
Here, you'll find 10 key areas you need to know before or during the web design process so that you can most effectively get a Church website that you can afford, upkeep, and use for the glory of God.
1. Key Ministry Leaders
Before you work on getting your website information together, you need to know the key persons of contact for your website information (and who needs to get information on the website after it's completed). This means your Church's Ministers, leaders, and other key persons of contact.
However, this doesn't mean each of these people should have direct access to the person updating the website, either. Overwhelming the person who updates the website with many website updates every week isn't the best way to handle Church web design. A good balance would be having someone who fields the website updates and lets the website designer know what updates are being requested (or perhaps using some sort of a Google form or other online form to get updates requested). Unless your Church is extremely large, you shouldn't expect one update for every ministry every week (see more on point #10 for what types of updates to do).
2. Web Designer
Choosing a web designer doesn't mean you have to choose a web design company (though we do offer Church web design, as well as other companies as well). However, as a general rule, you should have one main person (or company) to design and update the website. Some Churches choose to have a person on staff who creates and updates the website, while others opt to have a volunteer from the Church do that.
Several things should be kept in mind about choosing someone to design a website. If you just want a website, just about anyone can design a website (not necessarily good, though). However, if you want a website that people will use, you'll want to use a web design company with experience. Whether you choose a volunteer, staff member, or web design company, you'll still want to know more about technology for Churches, and with Churches that choose us for web design, we send them a free paperback copy of Using Technology for Your Church: A Guide for Pastors and Church Leaders as a thank you and a help for their Church. This is a book written by one of our co-founders specifically for Church leaders to know how to implement technology in their Church and use it for God's glory.
Some Churches have logos, some don't. While God doesn't require Churches to have logos (and the Bible doesn't mention it), plus we are all part of God's Church, logos are a way to identify something in particular. Logos aren't the only aspect in branding, but an important part. For the purpose of a website (and using the Church's name in printed materials), it's the best idea to do branding for your Church, including getting a logo made. We offer a 25% discount on one of our packages for branding (the one called Professional Branding Package). The other branding package includes a website, but that website isn't so good for Churches since it only allows up to 5 pages.
If you need a logo designed and other branding done, then find a good branding solution that fits your needs. Decide what logo you want designed (there are different types of logos - choose which type you want). Next, let your logo designer or branding company know which type(s) you want to choose from and also give them a few examples of real-life logos you like (not so they copy it, which is illegal, but so they can have an idea of what types of logos you like - and send them links, not actual photos from the logo since that's usually not legal, either). The next important part is to identify what colors your Church uses in its branding. Church colors don't play any role in the Bible, but for identification of the Church, and for ease of Church recognition online and in printed materials, identifying the colors used for the Church's materials is a good practice. Start with finding the logo colors from a free color codes tool). If you need, you can also find compatible colors that fit well with the logo for other uses. After the logo process and color selection is done, get a branding guide done with the colors that have been chosen. This is several pages that include the brand's color, font choices, and more, and is useful for whoever does the website and who runs the Church's social media, to create a unified voice for the Church's communication.
The recommended amount of links at the top menu of a website is 6 (with a maximum of 7). This makes sure to avoid clutter. However, sometimes people handle this with a final menu button called "More" that has subpages under it. This is not the best way to handle a Church website menu.
A good layout for the menu may include a "Home" button (if it doesn't include a home button, the Church's logo at the top of the website should for sure link to the homepage). The next menu button you'll want is an About page. This page is a general page that tells more about the Church. Some Churches replace this with an "I'm New" button, but I would say that should be the next one. The fourth button, after the "I'm New" page for visitors, should be for ministries. The fifth button should be Resources. The sixth can be Contact Us, and if you want to add another main menu button, you're welcome to use one for your own use.
For most businesses, it's easy enough to just have five pages, but for Churches, it's a whole different story usually. With the web design trends going toward simplification, probably more Church websites will in the future go toward 5 pages with no subpages, but that's hardly a good idea. Most Churches have a lot going on, and simplifying web design for Churches down to a few pages will only make the Church struggle to communicate better.
If you go with my suggestion for the pages in point number 4, then your subpages should flow from that. For instance, under the about page, you could have a Statement of Faith, Staff list, and perhaps several other things (such as a subpage on your Church's history if you wanted). Under "I'm New," you may want certain categories as subpages (such as FAQ, testimonials from Church members, etc) or you could just leave it as one page for that section. Under the Ministries, you could list Women's and Men's Ministries, Missions, Youth, Kids, Music, and whatever other ministries your Church has. For resources, you could have subpages for recommended resources, Sermons Archive, etc. The contact page wouldn't really need a sub page.
6. Website Program
You will need to decide what type of software you need for your website. A lot of people use Wordpress (there's a difference between wordpress.com and wordpress.org, and many people recommend wordpress.org for websites). While there are many things going for Wordpress.org (security, plugins, ease of backups), it's not so user friendly for beginners, and it has a rather steep learning curve. There are Wordpress page builders, such as Divi and Elementor, that make using Wordpress easier for beginners and make the learning curve smaller.
There are simple drag-and-drop builders (meaning that you don't have to use code and can simply drag elements you need within the website builder), such as Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly, that provide a more user-friendly experience from the beginning but perhaps lack some customization and some of the things that make Wordpress great for many of its users. However, some of those drag-and-drop builders do allow you to import your own templates that you own or have created, so there is more customization possible than many people realize. Some of those also provide free SSL for their customers, meaning that you don't have to annually purchase SSL for your website, like you do for other website builders (search engines are now cracking down on websites that don't use secure features like SSL/HTTPS websites).
Depending on which website builder you use, they'll have different templates. Some website builders have a wider range of templates, and others have a fairly limited amount, but the good thing about templates is that they can be customized to look unique from other websites that use the same template. There are some websites that you can use to buy templates for certain website builders, and that usually is the best way to go since the templates are usually good - you can import the template into the website builder (usually there are instructions online you can find on how to do so for that certain website builder, or if you have a website designer, they'll do that for you).
Depending on who you choose as a web designer, some expect you to come to them with all (or at least most) of your text ready to go, and some web designers expect to write most of the content themselves (of course, still with your help and input). Make sure that the content is what you want on your website.
Your website should keep your user in mind, though many websites now are also written to help the search engines know more easily how to understand your website. What this means is that keywords are repeated more now than they used to be (though it has lessened to some degree). This can be good to do, to a small degree, but the website should be readily understandable to your Church and to potential visitors. This means several things should be readily findable - your location, Church office hours, Church worship schedule (the times and days of the week), and as much else as you need that doesn't overwhelm someone coming to your website. Your Church website should also have several features (be sure to check out our list for ideas).
9. Approval of the Web Design
Once the content on your pages is put on, you should look very carefully to see if the content is good, accurate, and user-friendly, as well as the website design. You should also test all the links to be sure they work. Make sure your website is how you want it before the official launch, as sometimes there will be extra charges for changes afterwards. Some web design companies charge per hour for large changes (and some for any changes at all). If you have someone outside of your Church do your website, make sure you can have access to make changes on your own if you want without paying more than the monthly hosting price. This could be a make or break for your Church, as it's good to have access to be able to make quick edits. Some companies may not want you to have the access also since the website represents their own work (and perhaps your website is in their portfolio). If they don't want you to be able to make changes, at least make sure they respond quickly to changes needed as well as have a reasonable price to make the necessary changes.
10. Launch and Updates
Once the website is approved and ready to launch, you'll want to make sure the web domain name is ready to go and publish your site. Be sure that, once the website published, that the website's sitemap is sent to Google to be indexed. Also, be sure to connect analytics software on the website so that you can learn more statistics about the website in order to improve it and make it more visible to search engines.
Probably you'll also want to make the launch coincide with a Church service (or at least heavily promote to your congregation that the website is available and ready to be used). Also, another way to promote use of the website is to have people ready and available to help people get on the website (especially for people who aren't used to going on the Internet). Another way to get use on the website is to refer to the website for registrations and other announcements. Some Churches like to make video announcements for use during their service, and those video announcements could be put up on the website (and directed each week from social media to increase website engagement). Remember that search engines want to direct people to websites that are used for more than a few seconds and websites where people click onto another page as well (if people just visit the page you suggest and not another one as well, over time your website could see a decrease in ranking). A way to heavily improve this is by internal linking (including links to the rest of the website from a certain page).
The major things would be putting the sermon online (if you don't livestream it and it doesn't update it automatically on the website) and refining the Church's events. Mission trip registrations should be taken off after they are over, but calendar events can be updated through something such as Google Calendar (and therefore can easily be updated internally). If your Church serves a meal every Wednesday night (and you list the meal on the website), that can be updated weekly. Perhaps you want to put on the homepage (or somewhere else) a graphic for next week's sermon (or change the graphic every new sermon series). Things like this are updates you want to do weekly, but don't change every page every week unless you absolutely need to do so.
While the Gospel is still, of course, central to your Church, technology is an important (and essential) method for your Church to get out the Gospel of Christ to your community, country, and world. Don't ignore the vast amount of resources God is letting us have access to in order to further His Kingdom. While there are downsides of technology, that mainly comes in the excessive use (or wrong use) of it, and the simple creation of a Church website shouldn't really ever be a downside of your Church's effectiveness. The main exception would be if your Church doesn't have the necessary funds to get a website, but that shouldn't be an issue now. It used to be that websites cost a lot more, and for a lower quality than what might be available today, so consider your Church richly blessed to be existing in a time where Churches of all sizes can almost for sure get a Church website within its budget.
While we currently have set prices for Church websites, we have truly tried to price them within reach for any Church of any size; however, if our prices for Churches are still too far from reach for your Church, please let us know, and we will try to work within your budget the best we can.
FaithVenture Media is a Website Design and Marketing Agency that has created the SMART Customer Generation System for service-based businesses.