What You Should Expect From A Church Website

The world of website development has come so far that there’s very little you can’t do online these days. But in spite of the progress – including easy to build websites like Squarespace, Wix, and others – churches, ministries, and nonprofit organizations still struggle getting their websites to accomplish their goals. Sometimes it’s an expectation problem (because after all, they don’t teach website development in seminary or Bible college) and sometimes it’s a lack of good advice. Either way, I decided to create a baseline list of what your website should be able to do. And if it doesn’t, you need to have a serious talk with your in-house webmaster or your outside vendor:

1) Your website should work. Sure there are times when sites or servers have issues, but they should be few and far between. If your site malfunctions on a regular basis, something is wrong. Don’t allow your webmaster or outside vendor to make excuses. If they can’t get it running smoothy on a regular basis, it’s time to look for another vendor.

2) You should be able to manage it in-house. With the exception of major design or technical changes, there’s no reason you should have to “submit a request” for changes on your site and then wait for the vendor to follow up. Most day to day “admin” activities like posting blogs or videos, adding content, updating photos, new pages, changing store products, and more should all be done by your internal team. If your vendor is forcing you to submit requests for everything, then they’re just looking for ways to make more money – period.

3) Your online store or donation engine should work. In the early days, e-commerce was hit or miss, but today, there are plenty of options that work very well. If your church or ministry is relying on product sales or encouraging donations, then it should be easy, streamlined, and simple to do. If people are trying to buy or donate and can’t do it, then it’s time to look for another service.

4) You should be notified whenever anything goes wrong. If a donation can’t be processed for any reason, or a software update is required, or any other issue, you should get an immediate notification. I spoke to a church recently who said the only way they know their donor page isn’t working is when a potential donor calls to let them know. That’s embarrassing and antiquated. Make sure you’re getting notified of any problem so you can fix it now.

5) Your website should work beautifully on mobile devices. Mobile is the future, so your videos, online store, donation engine, blog, and more should all work just fine from mobile devices. And I’m not just talking about what’s called “responsive” – which is simply shrinking everything down – I’m talking about truly thinking through how the content is presented in mobile environments.

6) Finally, be skeptical of “maintenance fees.” I know some churches who have paid monthly fees to web companies for years and received little or nothing in return. When major software needs updating or occasional problems happen, fine. But you should never be held hostage to outside companies charging you monthly fees.

So what do you do if you’re experiencing any of these issues?

1) It’s time for a “come to Jesus” meeting with your webmaster or Internet vendor. In today’s online world, power surges, server problems, and other things happen, but not often. You need a reliable website, so be very leery of excuses.

2) Make sure your website provider has a great track record. Talk to their other customers – particularly other churches, ministries, or nonprofits. Ask tough questions. Find out how well their websites function. References matter.

3) Make sure your website can deliver what you need. Live streaming, video on demand, blogs, social media options – whatever your ministry needs, your website should be able to deliver.

4) Don’t wait. I know churches that put up with problems for months or years. But the truth is, every day your website isn’t functioning properly, you’re losing potential visitors, donors, or product sales. My experience indicates that virtually 100% of potential new visitors to your church will check out your website first. When it’s that important, you can’t afford to not have it perform.

5) Last, and perhaps most important – hire a team that’s a partner instead of a vendor. A partner has the ministry’s best interests in mind (not finding ways to bill more money for features the church doesn’t need) and will work with you to find the best way to accomplish the church’s vision.

At the end of the day, the website is another tool for communicating vision (just like the weekend service) so it’s important the experience online reflects the same level of excellence the church strives for everywhere else.

In the 21st century, church and ministry websites should work. It’s time to stop with the excuses, so find a vendor or webmaster you have confidence in, then build an easy to use site with a compelling design, and watch your ministry grow. Any questions, just reach out through the comments below and we’ll do our best to help.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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  • This is SO on point Phil. I think many churches also miss out on the fact that their website is one of the digital front porches of their church (social being the other porch online).

    You never get a second chance at making a great first impression. Thats why point 5 about working well on a mobile is SO important.

    I wrote about what we learnt when we last updated our church website. All the hidden pros and cons that most people miss when making that new investment.

    http://www.stevefogg.com/2014/09/04/responsive-church-website/

    • That’s a great point. Social media is important, but those are RENTED platforms. The only digital space most churches and ministries OWN is their website, so it should be “communication central.” Great advice – thanks for posting Steve!

      • 100% agree Phil, they are rented, but more likely nowadays to be the ‘top of the funnel’ if a church has any kind of social media strategy. We should always point people where it fits with a post back to ‘home base’

  • As a web developer myself, I was cheering all of these points – right up to the last one. Maintenance fees cover my costs primarily for hosting and the domain name. That’s by and large the vast majority of why I charge them. They also cover, in a very small amount, my time for making regular backups, updates to the Content Management System (CMS), various plugins, sometimes the cost of those plugins, and so forth.

    Maintenance fees can be a very legitimate and necessary charge to cover out pocket expenses and overhead. I recognize that you didn’t out right say they should not exist, but I’m concerned about the message that it sends to even warn them to be “skeptical”. I fear that it makes honest web developers like myself look not so honest.

    • Fair enough Travis. Perhaps being more specific about the costs would help. Too many developers have a vague “Maintenance” category, and the client has little knowledge of what that is. I do believe backing up, server rental, updates and other things are all legit, but the client should know that’s what’s going on. I’m sure you do that, but I’d like to see more companies be more public about their charges. Thanks for the perspective!

  • Christopher Quinn

    Hi, Phil
    One contention, mobile isn’t the future. It’s the present. I work in the media industry and can tell you if you are not mobile friendly, you are last gen.
    Chris

  • Fred Applegate

    What is the number one reason people visit a church website? It would be good to answer that question, and make sure the answer is easy to find. In my case, because I travel a great deal, I want to know when the services are. You’d be surprised how hard it usually is to find.

    • That’s actually huge. Service times are key. If virtually 100% of potential visitors check out a church online first, then those immediate questions are critical. Great point Fred!

  • Nathan Jones

    Even during my years webmastering one of the largest mega-churches in the US and holding leadership seminars at other churches on the same topic, I’ve been stunned by how little churches see their website’s potential past their own membership base. Your church website IS YOUR CHURCH! It’s your church past the four walls 24/7. Start thinking of it that way.

    What ways do members/visitors/seekers interact with you in the building? Figure out how to interact the same way, but in the digital world. A church’s website truly can be a viable extension of your ministry well past the four walls and out into the whole world.