“Hey, it’s Easter tomorrow.”
“Oh, that’s right. We should go to church somewhere.”
“Pass me the Yellow Pages.”
“Wait, I think the paper has a Church Services listing. Let me look.”
Question: What’s wrong with this scenario? Answer: Nothing, for 1970.
There was a day when publicizing your church was simple: spend three hundred bucks a year on an ad in the Yellow Pages telephone directory, and another hundred or two to be listed in your local newspaper’s church directory right before Christmas and Easter. People looking for a church checked the Yellow Pages, and people looking for a Christmas Eve or Easter service checked the paper.
Compared to the centuries of church history, that day was just yesterday. But it isn’t today. It isn’t news to anybody to say that day is gone. In the 21st century people looking for a house of worship use the web. A church needs a website that works if it’s hoping to invite first-time visitors and bring them into a closer relationship with each other and with God.
The good news is this: it’s not hard to make sure your church web site works. (“Wait!” you might say, “I thought the good news is God’s saving grace!” That’s true. But this article is about using the web to tell your community about God’s grace and your church. So let’s stay focused.) It’s not hard and it’s not expensive to make a church web site that works. It’s even easier to update an existing web site to make it better.
People find your church by searching for it on the web. People search for things on the web mostly with Google. A few people use Bing. In 2013 the rest of the search engines don’t matter much.
Here are ten good things to do to make sure your web site works. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to do them all right away. But do at least some of them.
10. Put yourself in the role of a new resident in your town. Go to Google and Bing and search for churches, in the way a newcomer to town might. There’s a trick to doing this perfectly but the most important thing is to do it. If your church web site is easy to find with Google and Bing, great!
Do this once a month or so to make sure your church’s web site remains easy to find.
9. Put yourself in the role of somebody considering attending your church for the first time this coming Easter Sunday. (This, of course, is the way many people first find their way into a congregation.) Visit the church’s web site. See how long it takes you to find these pieces of information:
- What is the address of the church and how do I get there?
- How will I be sure I’m in the right place when I arrive?
- What time are the worship services?
- What style will the worship be?
- If I’m bringing kids along, how will the church welcome them?
If these items of information are easy to find, good. If you feel like you’ll be comfortable visiting the church, great.
8. Put yourself in the role of an out-of-town visitor who attends a church like yours back home. Use Google and Bing to look up a good place to worship this Sunday. Is it clear from the church’s web site when and where to come for worship? Do you feel welcomed? If so, great.
7. Put yourself in the role of a resident of your city whose mother has just died after a long illness. You’re looking for somebody to talk to, some comfort, and maybe a church for her funeral. Look at the church web site and see if you can figure out who to call. Do you feel invited to call? Do you get a sense of being supported and cared for from the web site? If so, that’s very good.
6. Put yourself in the role of a young woman whose grandparents are long-time members of the church. You’ve gotten engaged, and you’re hoping to marry your fiancé at the church. Look at the church web site and try to figure out who to call. Look for all kinds of information about what it’s like to get married in this church. Do you know what your next step should be? Do you feel confident and comfortable about following up? If so, great.
5. Put yourself in the role of a couple with a newborn baby who haven’t been going to church much because their parents’ churches felt unwelcoming. Look at the web site and try to answer these questions:
- Will the church welcome you?
- Will the church welcome your baby and help you raise her?
- What’s your next move to ask about that?
If the answers to those questions are clear, that is good.
5. You’re a long time member and you’ve been out of town for a couple of weeks on a late summer vacation. You hope to find out whether the church is still on the summer worship schedule. Look at the web site to find this out. Can you tell, easily and with confidence, from the web site?
4. It’s a Saturday in February. There was a big snowstorm on Friday night. Put yourself in the role of a dad with a toddler and a second grader who has been a member since last April. Can you tell whether the church will offer worship, church school, and child care tomorrow as usual? Or has the town requested that people stay home for safety. Can you tell how to find out? If so, good.
3. Put yourself in the role of a homeless person struggling with addiction. You’re using a computer at the local public library. Can you find and understand what the church’s services and ministries have to offer? Do you know where to go and what to do? Do you feel welcomed? If so, great.
2. It’s August and you’re the mom of a rising fourth-grade boy and seventh-grade girl. Look at the church’s web site. Try to answer these questions by reading the church web site.
- What Sunday does church school start?
- What time is church school each week?
- What do you need to do to register your kids?
- Can you help teach church school?
- What can you tell your kids about the church-school experience?
If you get a clear idea about these things from the web site, that’s excellent.
1. Imagine you’re somebody wondering what church is all about. You stumble across the church’s web site. Do you feel a sense of the real good news — the Good News that God loves you no matter what, and that the church shows that love to the world — when you visit the church’s web site. If your church’s web site doesn’t offer that message, you have work to do!