Welcome to the first of our sector-specific blog articles. This week, we kick off our series of how to build a great Church website with Hope Church Bedlington as our featured client.
“We want our new website to be more aimed at non-Christians than at Christians.”
There’s a growing trend of self-realisation in Church website design; a combination of evangelistic theology, modernisation and, well, good marketing. Churches want to stop facing inwards in a holy huddle and instead face outwards and be a metaphorical light on the hill.
It’s not that Churches want to stop serving their members (that is important) but rather they want to stop alienating the wider community and communicate in a way that is relevant today. Religious jargon is making less and less sense in today’s society; people want Churches to talk to them in plain English, and through the means of communication they use every day. When was the last time you read a church noticeboard, for example, compared to the last time you checked your phone? And as more and more Churches meet in less traditional church buildings often away from the high street, the need to communicate “We’re still here” is all the more important.
“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” – Bill Gates
Over the next few weeks we’d like to share some tips & tools that can help you to build a great Church website. We’d like to show the lessons that we’ve learnt since starting out and use our most recent client as a case study for where we’ve got to. But a good starting point for this week’s article is the target audience, or in other words who is the website for?
Who Is A Church Website For?
Church websites tend to have two target audiences, the priority of which depends on the outlook of the Church…
The first group consists of current church members who need to check practical information on event times, venues etc. or are looking to catch up on news or talks that they missed. Depending on the demographics and type of community there may even be a degree of online communication such as prayer requests, offers of lifts or other such community-building activity. They are likely to be returning to the site having already read the static content, so will probably be focusing on the newly generated/dynamic topical content such as the talks/events/blogs aside from the practical reference we mentioned earlier such as phone numbers and addresses.
These potential visitors may or may not be Christian, so it is vital that religious jargon is kept to a minimum in order for the site to be understandable and accessible to newcomers. Visitors are often viewed as the most important target audience for evangelistic churches, but they will have less patience with the website than church members if their content isn’t good quality, prominent and easily accessible.
Keen to preach the Good News, many churches like to include the gospel message in this prominent visitor content, but an equally important outcome would be to see the visitor face-to-face, i.e. for them to visit one Sunday or attend a course or event where they could hear the gospel message first hand and see it at work in the Church community.
Learning From Church Website Statistics
But don’t take our word for it; here’s some real-life statistics to back it up.
According to the data collected by Google Analytics, Hope Church’s 10 most visited single pages are as follows. (We’ve excluded the homepage & old-website forwarder for simplicity’s sake)
- The Online Talks Archive
- What We Do / Sunday Mornings
- About / Our Leadership
- Contact Us
- About / Vision & Values
- About / Jesus (Gospel Message)
- What We Do / Connect Groups
- What We Do / Youth Work
- What We Do / Community Help Hub
But if you group page visits into their sections, the sections rank in the following order:
- Online Talks
- What We Do
- Contact Us
So fitting that in with our target audience above, we’d speculate that the visitors wanted to find out more about the Church, whilst the members already know that stuff, but are instead visiting the newly generated dynamic content which they find useful – the online talks. We can’t separate the two target audiences exactly on the analytics, but you can separate new users from returning users, and sure enough, this is what we got:
|%age New Users||%age Returning Users|
|What We Do||68%||32%|
We’re just about to integrate an events plugin, so it’ll be interesting to see how the statistics change when bringing that into the mix. It creates dynamic time-sensitive content which would be useful for members revisiting the website for upcoming dates etc. but it’ll also be key for getting visitors along.
- In part 2 we’ll be looking at what a church’s website can or should offer in terms of functionality.
- We’ll then be giving some practical guides on how to get started with things such as hosting and domain names.
- In part 3 we’ll be looking at how to increase your chances of appearing in search results and getting noticed online.
- And in part 4 we’ll be looking at how to use social media to your advantage.