OK, here we go! Let’s look at some examples of real live church websites that I have encountered recently.
As we get into this, let me give a brief explanation of how I am treating these. Each of these are real websites that are live on the web as of this writing. I have not manipulated these in any way, except that I have blurred anything that would immediately identify the churches or people involved. Yes, you could probably figure out the churches if you try hard enough. They are in public view anyway. I am only concerned with being as fair as I can in critiquing them. The second thing that I have done is to format the sites to best fit the image that I snapped of them. I have also called both of these churches. In one case (the good example) I ended up having a long and very fruitful conversation with the pastor. In the case of the other, repeated calls have gone unanswered, and no one has ever answered their phone when I call. I am curious as to the growth strategy for a church that never returns requests for communication, but that is another issue. These same stipulations will generally hold true for any church site that I use from this point forward, unless I mention otherwise.
In the first example, a hand drawn logo is at the top. The frame is filled with blue, some links line the top under the header, and a few frames show a google map of the church’s location and welcome message. When I visit the site, I immediately find out that they want to welcome me to their service, when it is, and how to get there. The pages contain a few grammar errors, and there is a main link that says “under construction.” On a brighter note, the calendar of events is up to date, although their “Vision Meeting” says something ambiguous about “blessed pot.” Maybe they will have an influx of local community college students. Another thing of note is that their google map on the home page is a screenshot, not an interactive google map.
Example 2 is a different story. I am not holding this up as the paradigm for church websites, and I think that the design is quite old. But immediately on accessing the site there is a wide range of stuff that grabs my attention. There is a quick link to the sermon podcast that is up to date, there are some quick links for location and contacting in the upper right (you can’t see this well on the screenshot). and the phone number is there too. The tabs are clean, and there is a slide show advertising a sermon series, picture galleries, and some shots of their location right at the top. The events calendar is at the bottom of the homepage (not on this screenshot). They did do one of my pet-peeves, though. The senior pastor’s picture is right at the top, and there is a picture of the senior pastor and his wife less than an inch away near the welcome message.
This is one of those things that is just not well thought through, and a note to pastors: OK, you are married. Unless you are Rick Warren or Erwin McManus we don’t need to see lots of pictures of you and your family on the homepage. People go to your site for a couple main reasons. If they are thinking of attending your church, or if they are a current attender they might be looking for new information. People are seldom looking to check out a church because you are the pastor. They won’t know you until they come to your church usually. One picture is fine if it looks professional. A future entry will discuss building community through your site, and introducing your staff through the site. This is not the way to do it.
Tied to that is the picture with “John and Jane Smith, Pastors” caption underneath. If both spouses are equally in ministry together, they should have their own separate pictures. People can figure out that they are married. Another picture on the “Bios” area can have the two together with the family. This is almost never the case, though. In most cases the church just lists it that way because they think it is the new kitschy and inclusive thing to do. That is not what is communicated to outsiders. When the CEO of Apple puts his picture up with his wife and “Steve and Laureen Jobs, CEOs” underneath, then you can too. Until then, it communicates unprofessionalism, and outsiders just think it looks weird. We don’t need to copy the world, but we should try and keep from creating an out-of-touch subculture.
I know I ranted on this point, but it is a big issue. -Ryan