When designing or maintaining your church website, there are four things you need to consider. You need to Specialize, Organize, Modify, and Advertise. The difference between a successful church website and just another spot on the web, can usually be attributed to the thought put into these four areas.
First you need to Specialize. Your church is different from every other church. Your target audience is going to be different from that of every other church. For example, some churches are very traditional and worship with very traditional music while other churches worship with more contemporary music. Some churches are heavily involved in international missions while other churches are more involved in local missions. Some churches have huge youth groups with lots of youth activities while other churches have a calling to care for the elderly. No one church can be everything to everybody nor should it try to be.
Your website should exemplify the unique makeup of your church. In most cases, your primary target audience is going to be perspective new members. Perspective new members are going to be people who will fit in with your current membership. They are ones who are accustomed to worshiping in a style similar to your church style. They may have the same heart for missions as your current membership. Their age and family makeup will be similar to that of your current members. Your website should be inviting to these people. The front page should capture their attention.
A secondary audience will be your church membership. Although the front page is targeted to your primary audience, you should have easily accessible links to things like the church calendar and photo gallery. Members should be interested enough in the church website to encourage their friends to visit it.
An evangelistic page does not hurt a website and is easy to implement. But evangelism is still better left to one-on-one discussions between your members and those they meet. God has given us the awesome responsibility and privilege of leading other people to Christ. A website cannot do the job that God has given to us.
Once you've identified your primary and secondary audiences, you need to organize your site to meet their needs. The front page should catch the attention of your primary audience, prospective church members. Within a few seconds, the average user will decide whether to continue investigating this site or move on to the next one. Front page content should be fresh. You don't want Christmas pictures here in July. The user should be able to get a feel for the type of church this site represents from the front page.
A well thought out menu system should be in place to lead visitors to your secondary pages. These pages should let the visitor explore more deeply the areas that may be of interest to him. There should be links to maps so that visitors will know who to get to your church. If your church is large, you will also want to include a map of your campus so visitors will know where to go once they get here. Each group within your church such as youth, young adults, senior adults, etc., should have pages that show as well as tell about the exciting things happening within the group.
Color schemes of the website should closely match the color schemes used within the church. This gives the visitor who has visited your website a sense of familiarity when they visit your church. Pictures of your actual church and your actual people should be used instead of stock photos. Again, this gives visitors a sense of familiarity and makes them more comfortable.
Your website needs to be updated continually. People will associate a stale website to a stale church. Your website is like an open window that the world can look through to get a glimpse of your church. It has to stay fresh with up to date articles and pictures about the activities within your church.
A well designed website is one in which the average user can update. You should not need a programmer just add information about the next youth pizza party. It should be as easy to update as Facebook. Multiple people should have access to the site so that they can add information about their particular group within the church.
Include information about what has happened as well as what is going to happen. Visitors like to see what the church has done in the past as well as what they plan on doing in the future.
Videos from past sermons can be included. Just be sure to stay consistent. If you want to include Sunday morning sermon videos, set up a team of people that are available to record every Sunday morning. If the pastor is preaching though a series, be sure that every service in the series is captured.
Let people know that you have a website. There are many ways to get the word out about your new website. Signage and printed materials are only the start. Point people to your website as much as possible.
Include your website address in the sign in the front of your church. Visitors driving by will see your website address and look up your website before they visit. This gives you the opportunity to reach many more people.
Update all of your printed materials to include your website address. This includes your bulletins, letterhead, and business cards. Distribute these items freely.
Use an email address tied to your church website instead of a generic gmail or yahoo account. People you send emails to will then know that you have a website and may look it up. It also gives a more professional appearance.
Let the people who maintain other websites know that you now have your own website. Good websites that include links to your website will boost your search engine rankings. Talk with your association or other partners to see if they will create a link to your site from theirs.
Good website design also includes Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is simply methods of letting search engines such as Google and Yahoo, know what your website is about. The use of meta tags, meta descriptions, sitemaps, etc., are things that should be designed into your website. Good website design along with appropriate updates, good content, and links from other good websites, will boost a website's rankings in the popular search engines.
A church website done right will be a benefit to existing members as well as a way of attracting new members. But a website designer cannot design your website in a vacuum. He should, in fact, deal mainly with the technical aspects of putting the website together while a team of church members go through the process of identifying what information should be on the site and how the site should flow. The website designer may offer suggestions based on his experience, but the final design of the website should be owned by the church. The church will then be more actively involved in maintaining the site and seeing that it is able to fulfill it's purpose.