4 Questions About Church Web Sites

April 27, 2006 by

I was having a conversation with a fellow church webmaster the other day, and he was discussing placing private church materials (budgets, etc.) on a “roped off” section of a message board for their church. My first reaction was that it wasn’t a very good idea because of security reasons, but since then I’ve found myself continually asking the age-old question: Why?

With all the technology available to us today, it is often easy to lose sight of what we are trying to accomplish with a church web site. In order to regain perspective, I believe that we all need to sit down from time to time and ask ourselves the following four questions:

1. What is the purpose of your church web site?
A church web site should strive towards two goals:

  1. Build up the members of its existing congregation.
  2. Reach out to seekers.

If your web site isn’t working towards either of those two goals, it may be time to step back and seriously rethink your approach.

2. Does the church web site fit in with the mission of the church?
Many times the church webmaster and the church pastor start off on the same page, but over time their work leads them down different paths. Your church and church web site should portray a single unified entity. Does your church’s web site depict an accurate portrayal of your church and congregation as a whole? Do your church and church web site work together to compliment one another?

3. Who’s going to be using your church web site?
It’s always important to know your audience. If most of your congregation are not daily internet users, it’s probably not the best approach to push the use of a message board. If you’ve got an Internet savvy congregation, then the sky is the limit. There are some features and plug-ins out there that are really cool to use, but if nobody is going to use them, it might be best to hold off for now. It’s also not a good idea to use features just because you can. Make sure they serve a purpose. Many times simplicity can be your best friend.

4. Why are you working on your church’s web site?
This is probably the most self-actualizing question we have to answer. Are you working on the church web site out of devotion and celebration of God, or are you doing it for personal glory and satisfaction? Most of the time, the answer to this question can be seen in your work. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, or it may be best to step back and refocus.

Remember that we are burdened with the responsibility of being the mouthpieces of our churches on the Internet. Take the time to think through each change you look to make on your church’s web site (remember the Satan tagline?), and re-evaluate how well you are accomplishing the goals you have set out as a church for the web site. You’ll find that it is well worth the effort in the end.

Post By:

Greg Nilsen

Greg Nilsen is the webmaster and worship leader at South Pittsburgh Assembly of God as well as the founder of If Jesus Had A Website, a site of resources and information for church webmasters. He lives in Pittsburgh, Penn., with his wife, Marci.
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7 Responses to “4 Questions About Church Web Sites”

  • Todd Ramsey
    April 27, 2006

    What if the answer to number 4 is “Because there’s no one else to do it?”

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  • Paul
    April 28, 2006

    I’ve been wondering along these same lines, and am glad to see you post on this.
    The only thing I’d question in your post is in “1. What is the purpose of your website.” Your second point, “reaching out to seekers,” is not something I would use a church website for. I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea, I just don’t feel like “seekers” are going to be looking at church websites to find God.
    I hope I’m wrong, and would love to hear of any study or survey or even personal testimony of a seeker finding a church and becoming a Christian because of a church website.
    My two cents.

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  • Derek
    April 28, 2006

    Actually, we have found that most people check us out on the web first, before they ever come to our church.

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  • Nate K
    April 28, 2006

    You bring some good points to the table. Very good points.
    The big problem I see (still) is budget issues. Not that it should always be about money, but time is money – and spending countless hours on a church website hasn’t proven to be worthwhile to me.
    This brings me to point 2 – the pastor wants to see what HE wants to see. I see so many pastors with a vision of the website in their head, and they don’t listen/let the professionals do what they are best at.
    I agree with the simplicity factor – problem there is do churches really know their audience? Our church has NO clue. They spend countless hours working on static pages, pages people dont visit, and think they are successful for doing so. Do they know that on average they get about 100-150 visitors to the website (total)? Thats not alot of traffic? Of course – many times they base things on HITS which prove absolutely nothing. So they have a false sense of their ‘audience’ that isn’t really there? Go to the stats, filter out the visits from the IP of the pastor and the developer, and it may even be less.
    So – I will stop rambling now, but I think you did an excellent job covering the different aspects, and I think that we can even dive deeper and ask more questions.

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  • Gene Mason
    April 29, 2006

    I’ve found our website is really our “first impression.” Almost everyone who is a guest at our church has visited us online before coming (and yes, we track this). Another great point by Nate above–you’ve got to have some comprehensive stat tracking (we use webstat) on your site if you have any hope of determining what is useful and what is not online.
    This kind of accountability makes the site more effective. I continue to wonder about churches that spend millions on the buildings, but pennies on their websites, when it is quite possible with a little work and statistical tracking they’ll find that the majority of the people they are trying to reach are forming their initial opinion of the church online.
    Great points–I wish more churches would put the same forethought and energy into their online presence as they do their physical one.

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  • Greg Nilsen
    May 3, 2006

    Todd, that’s an interesting question in and of itself. With all of the resources available, it can often be “because no one else is willing to do it”. So many packages and services are available to make decent church websites, but many people either are scared off because they’re not programmers (or in some cases, not even comfortable with computers). Maybe you could look into sharing responsibilities, with someone responsible for the design and someone else for maintaining content (which could probably just be done in Word or a similar program).
    Paul, my personal view on reaching out to seekers is that if you don’t provide them a resource on your website, then where else do we expect them to find it? I’d rather be safe and address the matter than skip that and regret it later.
    Nate, you bring up the eternal battle between website designers and clients. Rarely are the two on the same page, whether it’s for a church website, or a large corporate website. You’ll need to convince your pastor that you do know best. If they’ve given you the responsibility, then they need to respect your input. If they don’t, then you may have to do something about it.
    You and Gene also bring up stats, which are a tough thing. So many statistics can be gathered, but few are directly relevant, and those it’s hard to put into perspective as “good”. Personally, I think if you get about as many unique visitors in a week as you do attendees on a Sunday, you’re probably doing well.
    And Gene, you’re very right that most churches are not giving very much foresight to their church websites. A lot of this has to do with the relative age of most pastors, but the MySpace/Facebook generation is getting pretty used to having most of their resources available online. If you don’t provide information and tools for them online, chances are they won’t be coming to your church.

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  • Kathy Grimm
    May 8, 2006

    If you are a Christian web designer and you’ve been hired to work on a church website, ministry is number one priority. Speak with the pastor as though you KNOW it. He may just become much more cooperative!
    Don’t look for statistics on “how many people find God on the internet” Just go for it! I’d hate to think that if I were one of the few to find Christ on the internet, my new faith would be counted as unimportant because of low stats.
    Remember, the stoning of Stephen? How many did he influence for the cause of Christ? Well, only one was recorded, that was Paul.
    Those of us who have active web sites on the internet also know that traffic is accumulative over time. A site that gets very little attention at first could be greatly used by the Lord in the future. That has been my experience. Why second guess something that could turn out to be truely wonderful over time? After all, who are we to judge if a little church web site is going to be used by God?
    I still think Jesus takes our innocent trust seriously, even at the ripe old age of 40. I prefer to take chances for Him. Web designers aren’t left out of ministry just because they are web designers. That “pain in the you know what” job that doesn’t pay well, if at all, may be the very best job you’ll ever get from God. I’ve learned to regret not having opportunities to serve God’s people. I say, go for it even if you have to eat potato soup for a month to make your bills. (My husband hates potato soup now.)

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