For some people, deciding to attend a church is like deciding to buy a new car. It’s a high-pressure situation they’d rather avoid, even if they believe the final outcome will be beneficial.
That’s why they start online.
Online you can get all kinds of information anonymously, without entering into a commitment. If you’re looking for a car, you Google the make and model you want and the geographic area you’re willing to shop in. It’s a safe way to begin a difficult, costly process.
Now, the mistake many businesses (and churches) make is this: They consider their website is a great place to share all the things they want to talk about—as if they are starting the conversation. But to the person searching Google, the conversation is already started. It started with his query, his question, his keywords that he typed into Google’s search field.
When that car shopper starts clicking on the links he receives from Google, he begins making decisions about which places to visit based on his impressions of those websites:
- Is it easy to find what I’m looking for?
- Does the page take too long to load?
- Do the colors hurt my eyes?
- How does the building look?
- How do the people look?
- Is this place too expensive for me?
- Are there resources I can download to help me in my search?
- Is the information up-to-date?
- Can I trust these people and what they are telling me?
- Is there an easy way to contact a salesperson when I’m ready?
All these factors influence whether a car buyer ever steps foot on a particular sales lot. If the website is frustrating or out-of-date, a buyer might decide it’s not worthwhile to visit the place in person.
People who are looking for a church go through a similar process of research—they often start online. And they form impressions based on the websites they encounter.
Of course, making a spiritual decision is not the same as buying a car, but some similarities are worth considering:
- It’s a significant investment, so people approach it cautiously.
- Often there are past hurts that create resistance to the process.
- Coming to a decision can take a long time.
- The decision is often based on input gathered from a lot of different sources.
- The transaction requires trust.
Living Springs online
So when my own church family, Living Springs Community Church, agreed that it was time to start paying more attention to their online presence this year, I threw my hat into the ring and submitted a proposal. My proposal was accepted largely because Living Springs’ leadership understands that my forte is communication, and a website is just another way to communicate with people.
Living Springs wants their website to communicate the right things, so that searching people will get the right impression about them (and about God). For that reason, my work for them includes:
- Understanding the queries people are using to find the site, so we can respond to the questions they have rather than simply talking about what we think is important.
- Organizing the information in a way that is logical, so searchers can find what they are looking for.
- Making sure their online information is current, so seekers know there are real people behind the website.
- Using words that regular people might use (“kids,” “Bible study,” “divorce”), or making sure we explain words and acronyms that are familiar only to us (SOAR, The Journey, Chili Jubilee).
- Choosing images that help people recognize the church building when they drive down Halsted Street.
- Making it easy to contact a real person whenever they’re ready.
The new Living Springs website is not slick, or high-tech, or flashy. But it is welcoming, accurate, and helpful. And because it’s built on WordPress, I’ll be able to train our busy pastors and support staff to keep it updated—and they won’t have to learn HTML!
The site offers a few new features the Living Springs family (and curious seekers) may be interested in:
- People can sign up for the blog and receive a list of weekly Bible readings by email, as well as the special messages posted by the pastors about the readings.
- People can view the photos and bios of church staff.
- Links from the website to the Living Springs Facebook page make it easy for newcomers to join in the Facebook conversations and get to know members.
- Videos of past services are posted each week, and the sermons can be downloaded as MP3 files.
- People can read the full list of all the ministries Living Springs family members are involved in, along with a short description and information about how to get involved. PDFs of the brochures are available for download.
The answer? Sympathy
What makes a good church website? The same governing principle that’s behind all effective communication: understanding your audience. When you understand what it feels like to be searching for something, when you remember feeling stupid or embarrassed or overwhelmed, when you can relate to the frustrations and the anticipations—that’s sympathy. (The word means “feeling with.”)
So remember those feelings. And then you can make your website say the things you wanted to hear when you were in the same situation your web visitors are in.
And you can hire me to help!