Website 101: Questions to answer before redesigning your church website

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “your website is the new front door” of your church. While it’s true that people may first come into contact with your congregation through a variety of sources, your website is still the number one place most will turn when taking a closer look.

Every day, people in communities across the Northwest Conference are searching for a church. Even before the COVID pandemic—and even more so because of it—they are far more likely to visit your website before checking out a Sunday service.

Your website is a digital extension of your church. Are visitors getting an accurate and enticing glimpse of your brand and what your church has to offer?

Before discussing how to approach the process of a website redesign, there are some big important questions to answer first.

Who is your website for? 

In my experience, having been a part of many church website projects over the years, the question of who the website exists to serve might be the most overlooked.

The conversation often begins with, “We need a new website, and we need it to do this, that and the other thing.” Most of those requests for features and functionality revolve around serving existing members and attendees.

It is definitely possible to design and build a website that meets those needs and more, but a church website should exist primarily for the new visitor. Here’s why: Those who are already a part of your community can be trained to find information about events, sermons and all the other important details of church life over time. You only have one shot to capture the attention of the new visitor, so you must meet their needs in the first few seconds of their visit.

However they arrive at your site, the number one question a new visitor is asking—either consciously or subconsciously—is, “Will I fit in here?” Your goal is to help answer that question quickly with the words and images that are used on the home page and throughout the website.

  • Use real photography of real people to give an accurate sense of what your church community is like
  • Use welcoming and inviting language, not insider speak, to ensure your messaging resonates with new visitors
  • Give new visitors a clear path to an area of the site with detailed information about what they can expect during a first visit, the core beliefs of your church and the ministry work you do

The truth of the matter is only the new visitors that are actually a good fit for your church family will stick in the long run. So it’s important that you focus on giving new visitors a realistic vision of who you are, and work to attract the people most likely to resonate with your church experience.

Why does design matter so much?

Studies show it takes about 0.05 seconds for users to form an opinion about your website, and first impressions are 94% design-related. This becomes the key factor in determining whether visitors stay or leave.

A visitor’s perception of your website carries over to the way they perceive your church as a whole. Is it trustworthy? Does it seem credible? Is the user experience and navigation of the site intuitive and similar to what’s expected?

Why is performance important?

Modern, responsive websites that load quickly and are built on solid user experience design deliver instant credibility. And credibility keeps users on your site longer, increases interaction with the site’s calls to action and is likely to result in people recommending the site to others.

On the other hand, users will bounce quickly from sites that load slowly, aren’t compatible across a range of devices, or are frustrating to move around. Before you start down the path of designing a new website, spend time evaluating your options for hosting and site organization.

How will you keep it fresh?

Stale, dated content or imagery will also cause new visitors to question how active your church is in real life. Before embarking on a project of this scale, or creating new features that require regular posting, consider whether you have the staff or volunteer infrastructure in place to keep content fresh.

Upkeep your website like you do your building, especially since it’s your “new front door.”

This article is the first in a two-part series on church websites. In Part 2 of Website 101, we’ll take a look at a process for engaging a website redesign project.

By Bryan Malley, NWC Director of Communications