On this page:
Building a Better Church Website
Thinking About Who Will Visit Your Church Website
How to use Wordpress to build a better church
...and my real life experiences building websites for my former and
An article by
(Rev.) Neil MacQueen, Sunday Software
You will also find other
"church web & church tech" articles at my
That site also has my blogs about improving the church/staff/meetings, "Green Jesus" (church
& eco/energy issues) and books I recommend.
My articles aren't about
creating "fancy looking" websites. They are about creating & maintaining
FRESH and SUSTAINABLE church websites.
Over the years I've revised
and kept adding to the article you see below. It shows! Good thing
I'm not trying to attract you to my church with this monster. As always, your feedback and questions welcome.
This article has been improved
and moved to
If you don't want to spend a lot
of money, or don't have time or a lot of technical expertise, then I
recommend you take a SERIOUS LOOK at creating their
church site in WORDPRESS.
article about this subject at
www.sundaysoftware.com/wordpress.htm Wordpress has a lot of the features that
help churches communicate on the web effectively, without many of the
pitfalls described in this article below and in the Wordpress
article. My Wordpress article also has a lot of tips for church
websites using it, including how to see up a free email church newsletter
at your site.
Why Wordpress for your Church Website?
Wordpress is a great way to quickly
and inexpensively create a professional-looking website that can have
several advanced features.
Wordpress allows you experiment for free, and it's incredibly cheap from
there on out.
Wordpress can be accessed by any computer, from home or office.
Wordpress allows multiple volunteers to work on the site.
Wordpress allows you to easily integrate some of the most IMPORTANT FEATURES
any church website could ever have: a site that alerts members to new
Read my full article about
creating a church website in Wordpress over at
SOME "web techies" will turn up their noses at this suggestion.
They would rather build you a custom website using their favorite web tool,
which of course, puts them in control and puts all the files on their
computer. The problem is that over time, they will quit working on the site,
and then what? If there's one single common problem with church
websites, that's it.
There are some other great
template-driven webpage building tools and services out there, especially if
you have the money and expertise. Wordpress, and other similar
web-based, site-building solutions, allow access by multiple contributors to
the tools and content. The tools are at the website, not on somebody's
computer. And they are easy to use. This helps your website "SURVIVE" the
inevitable demise of the original web-techie's enthusiasm.
real advice from not only myself, but from many of the church techies and
pastors I've been talking with for over a decade about their websites.
Ignore it at your own risk.
BUILDING A BETTER CHURCH WEBSITE
The Old Idea:
Our Church Website is a
Visitors" on the Information
Idea: Our Church Website is our church
newsletter & more. It's a place to learn, get the latest info, download
resources, and connect with members. It's not just top
down. It allows members to connect with each other.
The Evolving Idea:
Our church website is connected to our
membership database, and small group sign-up forms, and meeting files, and
my giving statement. Many church data companies are now offering online
tools that can connect with your church website. It's the direction things
are headed and it makes a lot of sense, in part because it allows people to
be their own church secretary and saves paper and time.
Back when most people weren't
on the internet, churches were pleased to put up Billboards for visitors
saying "here we are." Now that nearly EVERYONE is on the internet,
church websites can now function like church newsletters, and as a way
for members to get in touch with each other.
Funny thing is,
VISITORS are attracted to a friendly member-centric website. They are attracted by fresh content that shows off a vibrant community. "Message
to Visitors" pages are ok, but it's the rest of your site that's the
real message. And most visitors are looking for a community that looks
welcoming and like a place they will fit in. Show that by posting lots
of good photos.
Your site doesn't need to be
a one person effort, or one-way conversation these days either. Creating
your software using a web-tool like Wordpress allows multiple authors to
keep the news flowing, and the conversation going. Wordpress was
originally a "blog" software, so it has many features which allow people
to "talk back" to your postings and to each other. Learn how to build
your site in Wordpress at www.sundaysoftware.com/wordpress.htm
you want people to come back to your site. Thus, adding an email
newsletter subscription or "feedburner.com"-like service (for free) at
your website gives YOU a tremendous tool for ALERTING people about new
content. I can't stress enough the importance of these features to
bringing people BACK to your website. I discuss how to add a feedburner
service or email newsletter to your site -over at
Reminding are two great reasons why your church website should link to your
church's Facebook Page. In my (new) church, the pastor didn't use
Facebook much and so didn't think it was important. The Outreach Committee
created a FB page for the church and 40 members signed up for it within a
week....many of them RETIRED. I had a dozen of them "friend" me that
first week, and we can now follow each other's
lives in between Sunday.
are many "wordpress-like" website design tools on the web now. Some are
free, some are not. The thing you want to watch out for: web-builder
companies that go out of business leaving your church site high and dry and
un-updatable. Wordpress has been around a long time and continues to
grow. Others are good too, but will they be there in 2 or 3 years? It's
something to factor in your decision.
This article has been improved and moved to
Neil's Definition of a
Good Church Website:
GOOD = Fresh, inviting, and helpful.
GOOD = one that church members regularly go to for info ...and visitors actually visit.
allows members to talk or at least connect with each other through the
GOOD = one that's easy for volunteers to maintain.
GOOD= A website that reminds your members that it exists via email by
giving members the option to "subscribe" to an email alert/newsletter
from the website. If they don't get reminders,
they won't come.
GOOD= A site that's collaboratively built, and not dependent on
Neil's Definition of a
Bad Church Website:
Bad = Fancy out of date content.
Bad = Professionally created but lifeless.
Bad = So time consuming
that the project eventually grinds to a halt.
Bad = Nobody goes there.
Bad = No way for members to connect with each other.
Bad = No automatic alert to subscribed members that something new has
been added to the site.
Bad = One that the staff and other communications ignore or rarely
Bad = One that visitors will CRINGE AT when they visit.
Bad = Full of fake or posed photos. (lacks authenticity, looks too
Bad = Created and controlled by one person.
Bad = "Your Bad Here"
Bad design and
graphics go without saying.
your site has to LOOK FANTASTIC.
Fresh and Nice is better than Fancy and out of date.
(Or in the case of this article
...where I'm trying to be informative instead of trying to get you to
come to my church.)
several examples of good
and bad church websites
TEST YOUR CHURCH'S WEBSITE!
It's probably not a good
church website if....
...if your church's
main page prominently features a picture or drawing of your church building.
Feature who you are!
main page is dominated by a photo of the pastor and welcome
message. Feature your community!
...you can't find a picture of smiling church members on your main
page or when I click on my first link on your main page.
Why would people join that?
... 3 of the next 5
volunteer leaders you approach at church cannot
tell you the church's web address. Being online is not the same as
being on people's minds.
you have music playing on your main page, or a spinning graphic on your main page.
That's soooo 1996.
...your source code has no meta=keywords or
meta=description tags in the header. This is how search
engines will find and catalog you, but a surprising number of church
web volunteers leave these out. Bad sign!
... you are the
one really working on it. It's not "good" if you're the only
one who cares, or contributes, because eventually the site may die
when you leave or move on to another project.
Here are some Tips for Building a
Better Church Website:
site for your members, especially those who surf. Design a page they
can use as their "start" page or "home page"
that pops up every time they turn on their browser. Put a button
on your main page that says "make this website your homepage."
It's an easy button to code. Every browser is designed to open
up to some webpage. Make your church's site the first thing your
members see when they start surfing the net. (Notice this is
my top suggestion. Create and coding the habit of coming to the
church's page is important IF you are creating a site that will
Design your site ABOUT your members.
Show visitors who you are, what you're like, and it will also remind
members why they are members! This requires plenty of PHOTOS. They
are word a thousand words.
Keep it simple. Don't create so many
pages that the work of updating becomes tedious. 5 or 6 well
done up to date pages are better than 10 pages that look amateurish
and are out of date. One or two "updates" a month will
suffice for most members (see my discussion above for this reasoning).
photos that are friendly + photos
using "stock photos" of models who don't look like your members.
Such photos are common on 'site builder' sites but lack
authenticity. As a visitor to your site, I'm looking for "real".
See an example
of a church's stock photo use that looks UN-authentic to me.
you have excellent server-provided web statistics. Cheapie "counters"
like you see on some sites are useless. Stats will help you build
your case for a better site, more staff input, or keep your creative
work under control. Share these stats with church leaders. Many
will be surprised. It will also get them to use the site!
boring mission statements and 10 second downloads of the church steeple,
give them a brief reminder of a coming event and a pithy verse,
quote or recent sermon one-liner to start their day (or evening)
on the Internet. Keep it fresh.
Many church websites read like they were written by computer
geeks. Write them from a P.R. angle. Give your website personality!
right on the main page to major search engines like Yahoo! which is
probably where they will go next.
Maintain a "links"
page of Internet sites suggested by fellow members, such as websites
for parenting issues. One of my favorite sites to recommend is
a family movie review site (you can link to it at my software
page). List the local movie theater. A lot of web surfers check
the web for movie times and reviews.
for members to share with each other. Talk to a website designer or your
Internet Service Provider about list-serv discussion possibilities
for bible studies and discussion groups -or do these through
a message board right on your website.
email newsletter members can subscribe to for free. The e-news can alert
them to upcoming events, changes and new resources at the website.
message board page or have a comments feature that allows your members to respond to each other's needs,
ideas, and can conduct a running bible study. If your church
is large enough, you may find that it fills a need for a small
percentage of your members, and will grow with time. A
message board can also provide you with an email newsletter function. You
can also build your site using WORDPRESS to allow people to leave comments
to posts and talkback to each. For more on building a church website using Wordpress, go to
your church's Facebook Page. Why? Because many of your members
check their FB page every day, and your FB page can be updated by
use pale colors and small text which make it hard to read for older
Work with a
somebody other than yourself believes the website should look good and be
functional, -and knows how to make it so! ...otherwise there will
come a day when you move on and your work ends up a wasted effort.
forget to create a FACEBOOK PAGE for your church. Many of your
members, especially your younger ones, are on Facebook everyday via
their computers and cellphones. Put a link on your webpage to
"follow us on Facebook."
More Church Website
A boring "Welcome
from the Pastor" is of dubious value.
Instead, provide a happy picture of the pastor having fun at a
church event. Include three or four sentences from the pastor, MAX.
This can change every month.
Spare us the
two page TEXT description of the youth program. Instead, post two
recent youth photos, coming events and contact info, and a page
to print containing the standard medical release form they have
lost. Post a page of links for youth submitted by youth.
are a must. Give us a list of the projects you support along
with two or three pictures of members in action (small file size
I lose about
two softball schedules a year, give me a page where I can print
out a new one.
Create a page
new-comers can print out that has critical info they can post
on their refrigerator: Sunday schedule, phone, staff names, map
to the church.
Keep your content
brief, well organized and fresh. Make it look nice but don't
over do it.
new about every two to three weeks. This can be as simple as
worship updates and a "favorite photo" of the month.
Change a significant
design element on your main page every couple of months. Keeping
it fresh with "site of the month" type of stuff will
keep folks coming back.
Save us from
poor web design, sites designed by automatic "free web page"
offers, and sites hosting by providers like Geocities that place
advertisements on every screen.
to get email.. Create opportunities for members-to-member and
minutes for officers (especially for those who travel).
You can set these up in password protected folders.
newsletter articles and pictures of recent events.
Learn how to
optimize your photos and graphics for quick download.
Create a section
on your main page that has changing pictures/graphics. There
are several Java scripts that do this automatically --with no
management needed other than posting new photos to a file. These
scripts can be found for free on the Internet.
Still more good tips...
Put your church's
website address on absolutely everything: your lawn sign, your letterhead, and
in your bulletin. Purchase refrigerator magnets with the address
printed on them. Publish your website URL in the newspaper with
an article about how you designed it. Having a site nobody knows
about doesn't work.
money to get a "domain name" such as "www.firstlutheran.com." Do not cheap it out
and create a site at "www.firstlutheran.freewebpages.com."
Eventually you will want to move your site to a new provider
and all your literature will have the old web address. By purchasing
a domain name, you can switch service providers and never have
to change your published web address. If you create your site in Wordpress,
you can pay a small fee to have them register it to the domain name of
photographs, and make sure you process them correctly for the
I've seen many church websites with good text and graphics, but
lousy photographs, or photos whose file sizes are so big, the
page bogs down on slow connections. One church recently asked
me to review their website. They must have had 30 photos in a
nice online album. But I kid you not --almost every person in
every photo looked like they had just swallowed a Bible, -sideways.
Members like to see themselves, but nobody likes to see themselves
look bad. Visitors are trying to imagine "if that congregation
looks friendly, and will I fit in." Take good photos, but
also know how to process good photos for the web.
must be compressed and processed for the web. No photo should be over
60kb. Most photos need cropped. Most photos need lightened and
their colors slightly boosted. Compressing photos for the web
makes them a bit dark. This all takes a good software program.
I recommend Photoshop Elements 2.0. It's under $80 and will make
your web photos look great.
can use photos of Members and their Children
on your Website without permission. -an article
spelling out your rights and theirs.
A Few Hard Lessons from Real Experience
My personal cautions to the techies responsible for building the
I have created 12
different websites and consulted on several more. Each has taught me something about website management,
design and usability. I've worked on sites and let others take them over
too. You can learn a lot about churches and websites when YOU are no longer
driving them. There's no experience like real experience.
my own FORMER church's website TWICE, trained staff and volunteers to update
it portions of it, watched the statistics closely (real stats provided
by the server, not those hokey "749 visitors since 1903" counters),
and then watched what happened to the site AFTER I was no longer at the
I have concluded these three
a church or staff says it wants, isn't necessarily what it will
support or use."
2) A Modest
but well-done website can attract a surprising number of visitors. But does it
make a difference? And will they come back? Yes, but only if you
invite them to follow the site by subscribing to it (see my notes on
this page about that)
3) After you're
gone, if the staff didn't really care about it, or if you didn't design it
so others could easily add to it or take it over, then your site can become a wasteland
faster than you can say "Death Valley."
a church or staff says it wants, isn't necessarily what it will
support or use."
In my former church, I had
to regularly remind church staff to keep things updated, even though
we made it VERY easy for them to update it themselves. There's
nothing wrong with that. All leaders need helpers, ...and I'm willing
to help. But what this means is IF you build a website for your
church, you need to plan on working on it over the long haul. You
know that old proverb, "raise up a child in the way they should go" ?
You have to train your church and staff to use the website too. To put it
another way, build it, and they still may take a while to come.
the pastor reading this, you need to know that pastors often lament to me
person who volunteered to build the website. They didn't know what they were
doing, and/or didn't
stick around for the long haul to keep improving things. Others lament having
a website that's impossible for the next volunteer to change because the
first one created the website with special web codes and databases which not
every web volunteer understands or has the tools to update.
Some churches hire someone
to do the heavy-lifting of building the website, then use a volunteer to
provide updates. This means that if you
to build your church website, you will need to budget "update" money. It's not a bad idea. But make sure
you're hiring someone who knows how to build a website. I run across church
websites all the time that are poorly designed by companies.
2) A Modest
but well-done website can attract a surprising number of visitors
was at a small suburban church for 10 years, and helped them with their site
for 6 years. The site wasn't
fancy, but it was colorful and happy, and utilized many of the
extra special techniques mentioned in this article.
stats told us the people were visiting the site. We had visitors to the
church who told us they visited our website. One Sunday over
two-thirds of the members in our worship service raised their hand when asked if they
had visited the website in the last month.
But this seemed
to fall on deaf ears of the staff who regularly had to be prodded to add
fresh content, or submit it to the webmaster (me) who would post it for
3) After you're
gone, if the staff didn't really care, the site can become a wasteland faster
than you can say "Death Valley."
The site I have described
above was one I worked on for a church where I used to attend.
They had been enthusiastic about the website we had built. A Tech
Committee was formed and embraced it. Pastor said how much he
appreciated it. Then I decided to leave. Curious, I
visited their site every month to see how they were keeping it up. The
first couple of months they didn't change anything except the
easy-to-change main page text about upcoming events. (Even that didn't
look so good, as they no longer had me there to spell check, center
text, and adjust a few things, -but hey, they were trying.)
Then about six months later they
everything we had created. In it's place was a
website I can only describe as "something that someone with NO web
experience had posted." It was awful. Actually... it was beyond awful.
It was amateurish, unkempt, and lifeless. It became one of those sites
that this article was written to combat. Their awful new site says one
of two things: 1) They didn't really care about their website.
or 2) They didn't really care about doing things well.
Update: 2 years later and it's still pretty bad.
And now you know why we moved-on from that church. What they
did to the site, and what they accepted as a website prior to
building them a better one, was an example in microcosm of the
problems within that church. I originally wrote this previous
sentence during Holy Week -viewing
the site and seeing no mention of when special Holy Week Services are to
be held. There was also no mention of the building project they have
started, and only one poor photo on the CE page. There are new pictures
of the church leaders, however.
Bottom line: you can
lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink, -especially if
they're not thirsty, or don't know how.
In retrospect, I
should have helped the church identify people within the congregation
who could maintain the website -other than me. Having a committee that
cheered me on and offered suggestions -- didn't help. I should have also
trained someone to understand how to put graphics on the website.
The problem was this: as long as I was there to do it, they didn't need
anyone else to do it. Of course, without me there, they should have
found someone else who knew how to maintain and/or improve on what was
there. That it looks 1995-ish and abandoned is a metaphor for church
problems in general.
Taking over a site
from somebody can be difficult as well, especially if they didn't know
what they were doing and have lost things like the username and password to
the domain name's registration. Been there.... have the stripes! Read
my blog notes on "Domain Name & Voluntech Blues" at
REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE UPDATE:
From 2008 to 2011 my family and I lived
on an island and worshipped at a Reformed Church. I was asked to create them a website.
Knowing we were there for only a few years (my wife was on a contract), I
built them a site in Wordpress so that volunteers could help me manage it and
take it over.
allowed me to create a good looking site very quickly.
let's other collaborators easily contribute content.
will always be there evolving and improving long after I'm no longer in
charge of the site.
That church only
has 70 members, but we have over 50 families/individuals "subscribed" at the
site, getting its updates emailed to them through Feedburner. Every time we post something new an email with that new content is
automatically generated and sent. It functions as our church newsletter.
Miss that church a lot! ...and they continue to have a good looking
website with a new volunteer who had never done a website before.
we landed at a church here in Florida. We found it by searching the internet for
churches of our denomination near us. Their site was nice, but I could tell
whoever created it had never coded a site before. Several months after joining
there, and after several questions about the site, my concerns were confirmed. I
gently offered to help, and was rebuffed. The site isn't bad, but it had some
MAJOR NEWBIE MISTAKES, such as, they didn't know about compressing photo
sizes. They were uploading several 2 and 3 megabyte photo files to their pages!
The Home page was a 3 megabyte file! (which is about 1000 times bigger
that it should be). My smartphone couldn't load it. So I copied and
compressed the photos for them and emailed them with an explanation. They did
make the changes, and that's basically where it was left. Being the new guy, and
feeling like they didn't really want help (or admit they needed it), -and due to
the pastor's disinterest, I shut up and volunteered doing other things.
Fortunately, the site isn't that bad.
One of the things I
suggested to my new church's web person was a Facebook page. The pastor didn't
know why we should have one. A few months later the Outreach Committee started
one, and within a month we had 50 members "following" the FB page, and even more
now. It's updated more often than the church's webpage. I sent some code to the
church website techie that would install a "like us on Facebook" button on the
church's website. 3 months later, they haven't done anything with it.
This article has
been improved and moved to
Neil's Rules for
deciding the church's web address:
(also known as "domain name")
I wrote this years ago
when many churches didn't have a web address. Some
are still saddled with a former bad choice, so I'm
including this for you!
A Good Church Web
1. Easy to spell
when you're saying it out loud to someone.
2. Easy to remember
3. Easy to say
4. Easy to understand when heard
5. Rolls off the tongue
6. No hyphens, extra 'dots' or underscores
7. Relatively short
8. Reasonably descriptive of what the site is
Use .org, not .com (A surprising number of church list
themselves as commercial sites)
10. Will wear well over the years.
Why is this bad?
Too long. People will misspell Presbyterian, and
churches should be dot-org, not dot-com.
Why is this bad?
Try speaking the url outloud
to yourself. "First as in the number 1, stchurch
If you have a BAD domain name,
change it now. You can put in a simple
"redirect" to send people from your old domain name
to your new one. And it doesn't require creating a
second site. Your webhost or techie can help you do