Beyond the Front Door: Engaging Church Members Online

As we’ve stated countless times at ThomRainer.com, your church’s website is the front door to your church. I’ve written about why your website needs to be guest friendly, but I haven’t written much about how it should interface with your members.

Needless to say, your church’s website should serve your members as well.

The problem is that too many church websites don’t. Some churches put so much effort into guest information, that they overlook information and features that would appeal to members and have them use the site more. These are the seven most common reasons church members don’t use your church’s website:

  1. You don’t have a church calendar. Almost every church management software includes a church calendar in its functionality. You can embed it on your website or use another calendar tool to keep event information in front of your members. Google Calendar or a calendar plugin on your website are the most common alternate methods churches use to place event information and schedules online.
  2. You’re not using social media well. Your members are the ones who are most likely to engage with your church on social media. If you’re not using social media well, you’re not going to engage your members well. When you provide sharable content on social media, you will draw members and guests alike to your church’s website.
  3. You don’t provide media to consume. Church members miss services from time to time. Many want to catch up on what they missed. Therefore, if you don’t have sermon videos or sermon podcasts on your church’s site, they can’t watch or listen to what they miss. A full media offering will draw more members to your website, and is a great resource for guests wanting to get to know more about your church.
  4. You don’t have online giving or online registration. Both of these tools allow members to make easy payments on your site. Obviously, online giving is much more than a payment, but if you don’t offer it, that is just one fewer reason for members to visit your site. Online registration for upcoming events and the ability to pay for any associated costs is also simple to install and helpful to members.
  5. You don’t publicize your church website. When you have information, event registration, and church-related media on your website, it will lead you to talk more about it. If every event you host requires (or strongly encourages) online registration, your church members will use your website more than if the event registration is a clipboard in the fellowship hall.
  6. You don’t have a church website. There is really no excuse here. A Facebook page is not a substitute for a website.
  7. You don’t have analytics or stats to know if church members are using the site or not. If you don’t have data about what pages are being accessed on your site, you’ll never know who’s using it or what they’re using it for. You’ve got to have data to make informed decisions about what to emphasize.

Do your church members use your church’s website more or less than you would want? What would you add to this list?


Learn more about the effective use of your church website: Connect with an Auxano Navigator today.


Read more from Jonathan.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Howe

Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski) — 06/09/17 8:38 am

I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.

Recent Comments
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

The REAL Front Door: Guests Visit Online Before Onsite

Imagine if it was your first day on staff and you just discovered that your church’s front door was:

– hidden from view and hard to find

– still decorated from last Christmas

– covered in dirt and cobwebs

– cluttered with ministry flyers and notices.

Without hesitation, you would clean and repaint it immediately. You would then find a way to use people and signage, while leveraging every resource possible, to make the entrance beautiful, easy and obvious to find.

Your church website is more important than your front door. 

In fact, nine out of ten first time Guests visit online before visiting onsite, so your church website IS your front door. In 2015, the number of networked devices (phones, tablets, laptops) more than doubled the global population. Today, your church website is your digital front door for nearly everyone who will consider visiting your church, and then reconsider based upon what they find, or don’t find.

Here are 23 ways your website may be driving away first time Guests: 

  1. If it projects an “us vs.them” dynamic, using a term like Visitor instead of Guest.
  2. If it has your Christmas graphic on rotation… in February.
  3. When 80% of your web content is actually geared for members, making it little more than a very expensive calendar for a select group of people.
  4. If there are too many written words and the menu navigation becomes complex and confusing.
  5. When there are too many ministries and activities… because we all know today’s average family sits around looking to be busier.
  6. If your stock photography of diverse people projects an image far from your congregational reality.
  7. When you do not have a picture of the church building or of the front door.
  8. If your photos and videos are poor quality and improperly sized.
  9. If you have not given the Guest a clear next step to take in visiting.
  10. When you are missing a clear and obvious welcome of Guests with a link to critical information on visiting.
  11. If your service times are anything less than large and obvious, because that is really the main thing a Guest is looking for.
  12. When you have different service styles but they are unexplained… remember, one Guest’s idea of traditional worship might be another’s idea of contemporary.
  13. When your worship services or small groups have cute and creative names that are ultimately meaningless outside of those circles.
  14. When the pastor’s welcome letter is more about a Reformational Theology than a Great Commission Cardiology.
  15. When the pastor’s welcome video is too long and too creepy, and therefore not too inviting.
  16. If your photos are of lobbies and hallways instead of worship gatherings and people groups.
  17. When you are assuming that free coffee (which doesn’t taste all that great) is still attractional to lost people.
  18. If you have forgotten that social media is a great connector, because you still have a church directory and yellow page ads… it’s called Facebook.
  19. When you have made an obvious choice toward a low-cost and generic “church website” over a useful and attractive “digital front door.”
  20. If your content requires updating from multiple people, which never actually happens.
  21. When you post links for giving money when you have not linked giving to a vision beyond money.
  22. If the primary URL is a tagline or slogan instead of your church name.
  23. If there is no responsiveness to mobile device viewing, because smart phones are the new desktop computer.

At Auxano, we love serving as strategic outsiders to help churches realize breakthrough effectiveness on their website, through the lens of vision clarity. No service style or theological treatise will impact a true First Time Guest more than a clear sense of “who we are” and “what we are called to do” will.

Start a conversation with an Auxano Navigator today to learn more about our Vision and Communication services.

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| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Communication >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Welcoming Your Guests with Effective Website Practices

As a frequent traveler, nothing beats the feeling of being expected versus being accommodated. Creating break-thru clarity for church teams, as a navigator for Auxano, I have dozens of moments of engagement with hotel, rental car, airline and Starbucks employees every week. I love it when it feels like someone thought of me as their guest by expectation, rather than just thinking of the revenue I represent in accommodation 

Earlier this year I arrived in a new city on a cold, rainy January night. My rental car company chose to give me a car on the far side of the lot, and not under the closer, warmer and dryer canopy. I had just been randomly assigned a car in row 700, and no one had thought about my experience in getting to it. Or so I was told. 

Soon after, I observed a Sunday morning parking lot, as an obvious first-timer circled the guest parking area in the rain (past the member and staff cars who had parked there to be close) finally dropping his young family off at a door, just before the service start time. I wondered if the rain-soaked Dad felt expected or simply accommodated as he ran through the puddles to catch up with his family.

In the springtime,  Sundays through Easter may be the most likely season of guest engagement your church will enjoy. Many pastors and church leaders use this time to assess their presence in the community by evaluating their visual vision elements (like signage and bulletins) and even considering a major web overhaul for the year.

Today, just about every guest visits your church online before they visit onsite. 

A guest will view your digital front door before they walk through your physical front door. Your church website is the first, and most important place to create the feeling that a guest is expected at your church, rather than just able to be accommodated.

>> Here are 10 Guest Welcome Practices of Effective Church Websites:

A Logical Web Address – try to get as close to your actual church name using .com or .org, or both if possible. Do your best to avoid tagline-driven web addresses like “thecaringplace.com” or “growdeepwithus.org.” Don’t forget to use your new domain for connected guest information email addresses like info@yourchurch or pastor@yourchurch.

A Prominent “I’m New” Section – this is all about putting the cookies on the bottom shelf. Nine out of ten first-time guests will visit your website before your worship. This means that up to 80% of your website users are looking for service times and locations, and very little else. Your biggest button, banner or visual element should be geared toward newbies.

Obvious Church Information – keep your church address, phone number and service times highly visible, even if you have an I’m New section. In mobile format, move this information to the top as “clickable” information.

A Usable Maps Link – most maps providers allow for you to embed a link that facilitates creation of point to point directions for your first time guest. It is always a good idea to make sure your church location is accurate in Google.

Landmark Driving Directions – in addition to a maps link, harder-to-find churches should supplement with verbal turn-by-turn directions noting landmarks like exit numbers, community structures or natural features. Including a photo of the front of the church, or church sign, as viewed from the road also builds confidence that a guest could find you easily.

Actual Worship Imagery – set worship style and dress expectations by using engaging, HIGH QUALITY photography from an actual worship service. Pay a professional if you have to. Remember, no pictures on your website are better than bad or amateur pictures on your website.

Practical Children’s Information – your website is a natural place to build confidence in parents that your church or campus is a caring, secure and instructive environment for their children. Note security procedures and give an estimate of how much drop-off time to plan into their first visit. Note any special parking or family entrance locations.

Complete Worship Descriptions – avoid insider-only and cute names for worship services of different styles, this only widens the first-visit gap for an outsider. Be sure to describe what you mean by contemporary, modern or traditional. One great way to mine for the right language is to ask a guest or recent attender to describe your worship in their own words.

An Engaging Pastoral Welcome – demonstrating expectation is as simple as a written welcome note, thanking guests for visiting your online front door. You might even consider a professionally-produced video with imagery of worship, children’s environments and personal testimony. Anchor all of this content with Vision-Frame language and point to key next steps.

Active Social-Media Venues – leverage the interactions around your worship content and member engagement to draw potential guests to community. Feature pastors “in real life” and foster a sense of belonging. Consider relocating announcements and calendars from your church homepage to a Facebook organization page that is more likely to get updated and shared by your body. Instagram and Twitter may also serve to bring immediate attention, interaction and feedback to services or events.

Read more from Bryan.


Download PDF

Tags: , , , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Communication >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.