Tell me if you’ve ever had this experience before: you’re really craving food from that one restaurant but you’re not sure they are open. So you look them up on Yelp: no dice, their hours aren’t listed. Then you look up their website, but you can’t find their hours there either. So then you look for their phone number, but it’s only on one page buried deep in a section on catering and it takes you 10 minutes to locate it.
If you’ve ever had an expereince like this with a business, did you stop to think about what the equivalent might be for a church website?
If you are looking at a restaurant website, there are a few things you are almost certainly looking for: hours, location, menu, prices, etc. When that sort of basic information isn’t there, it can be really frustrating for you as a consumer. And for a restaurant, it can be really detrimental to their business: unhappy prospective customers are less likely to become real customers.
Likewise, when people look up your church website, they likely have a few questions in mind: your service times, your location, what options exist for their children, what style your worship takes, what they should expect as a visitor, etc. And when that basic information isn’t there and isn’t easy to find, it can turn away potential visitors to your church.
As fundamental as this might seem, these sorts of things might not be totally obvious to someone outside the church. Most people in our society have experienced eating out a restaurant and can easily identify the kind of information that would be important to find on a restaurant’s webiste. Increasingly, though, our culture is becoming less and less familiar with “church.” This is why it’s important to consider who it is that is designing your church website.
Having a good church website is important as a “digital welcome mat” to attract new visitors. But good church website design is about more than just looks: it should also reflect your identity and vision and invite others to participate in your ministry.
To accomplish this, you are likely to need at least some help form a professionl designer, which means you need to choose a designer. And when you do, there are some important characteristics to consider. Remember, this ins’t just about catching people’s eye: it’s about presenting your vision to them and inviting them to be part of your ministry. That’s a lot to communicate, and it’s a powerful responsibility you’re placing in this designer’s hands. So you need to be confident that they are going to really understand your church and it’s vision.
How to Choose a Church Website Agency or Designer
Given how much responsibility you are placing on the shoulders of this individual or team, here are few crucial traits of a church website designer or agency that we think you need to carefully consider before you make any decision:
1) Someone who speaks church theology, not just church website technology
There are So.Many.Options out there right now in website technology, that it can be easy to get swept up in techno-babble and forget what you came here to accomplish. Tools are important, and using good ones is helpful. I have my strong preferences on which tools to use (and which not to use) as do many designers or teams. But ultimately, I’m not in this to push a particular product line (and one of the advantages of using open source technology instead of proprietary software is that Soren has no financial incentive to push a particular set of tools reflexively). More important than which tools are used, good church website design is first and foremost about communicating the vision of your ministry.
What is extra helpful to successfully communicating the identity of your church is having some well-grounded knowledge of how churches think, act, move, and grow. In other words, you don’t just want a tech geek, you also want a church geek. This is because how we convey the messages we are communicating is just as important as what the message is: the right message sent the wrong way might never land, in which case you might as well not have sent it at all. Someone who understands the message of the church, who speaks church language and understands church theology, is not only going to be able to more readily grasp your vision, they are also going to be able to shape the messages being told about your church in a way that’s more true to who you are. That’s a crucial skill set!
And that’s why we are very proud of our own story. Soren was founded by an active pastor seeking to help out colleagues in ministry. We bring to the table not just knowledge of web design technology, but also considerable expertise in theology and the practice of ministry which we can draw on to counsel and support your church.
2) Someone invested in partnering in your ministry, not just a set-it-and-forget-it tech support guy
My first work in ministry was as a sound engineer for a contemporary worship-service at a mid-sized church near Memphis, TN. I volunteered to help out with the tech team in middle school because I was fascinated with the array of knobs and buttons and sliders that made up the sound board. In my middle school imagination, what I now know was a fairly standard mixing board felt like standing in the control room at NASA: it was cool (at least to me). As I learned what each of the buttons, knobs, and sliders did, “mixing” became a form of art for me. I was deeply invested in the end-product of the sound we were creating and poured over my work every step of the way.
It’s the same concept that fuels many startups: a team of people deeply invested not just because of a paycheck but because this enterprise is theirs. In business, we call that “sweat equity” — the investment of time and energy into a project or a company.
When it comes to your church’s website designer, you should look for something similar. Increasingly web and social media are becoming deeply integrated into everything we do. We find everything though a web search and we interact with everyone (including the businesses we buy from and the charitable organizations we support) through “likes” and “follows.” As a consequence of this, your website isn’t going to just sit out there in space, doing its own thing. To really be effective today, your church website needs to be dynamic: it needs to breathe the life of your ministry just as much as you do!
To keep your website up-to-date, to keep it reflecting the vision of your ministry and the life of your community, is going to require a fair amount of work. And at least some of that work is going to require more expertise than you and your volunteers may have “in house.” When you need “outside” tech support, you should be looking for someone with enthusiasm for your ministry, someone invested in the outcome and willing to put in some sweat equity to help you succeed. In other words, you want to find a designer who is also going to be your partner in ministry.
3) Someone who can Capture the Vision of Your Ministry and Turn Your Website Into a Tool that Helps You Achieve It
When the internet first came into existence, it was primarily informational. Websites told you information about a business or a cause or an idea. You read them, then you moved on. As time has gone by, the web has shifted toward becoming more and more interactive. We now use a whole host of online tools: Google Documents for collaborating on projects, forms for collecting information, e-commerce sites like Amazon for purchasing everything you can possibly imagine, social media sites for communicating with our friends and colleagues, “shared wisdom” sites like Wikepedia or Yelp for learning from others and sharing our own knowledge with each other, and much, much more. Static, informational sites are a thing of the past: what makes a website effective today is that it fosters some form of interaction with it’s users.
This, I believe, is one of the most powerful opportunities for churches, and one of the most missed. Your website should convey information about your ministry, certainly. But it should also foster interactions: it should invite visitors to participate in your ministry in the digital realm. In other words, it should be a tool that extends your ministry, not just a digital brochure advertising it.
Just as your web designer needs to understand the language of church to be able to grasp and clearly articulate your vision, they also need to understand the way church works so that they can build into your website the tools to help make your vision a reality.
Tools like subscribable calendars, event sign-up forms, and e-Giving are becoming more and more comon, but with today’s technology we can do even better! Imaging hosting a digital Bible study group, begining with a live video chat session and continuing through comments and discussions between members of your church stretching on for weeks on end. Or opening a digital prayer-wall where members could (anonymously) add their prayer requests in real-time for the whole congregation to see and pray for. Or integrating live tweets and posts from your congregation into your home page documenting their responses to a sermon or a faith formation event in real time. All these sorts of things are possible now, and much, much more!
To identify the kinds of things that would be most beneficial to your church, you need a designer who can think about how church works and can translate your vision into actual tools that your ministry can use. That requires more than just technical know-how and marketting prowess, it also requries a deep understanding of the best practices of ministry itself.
At Soren, we are striving to fulfill all three of these needs: we bring to the table our technical knowledge, but also a clear understanding of church theology, a deep investment in partnering with churches to help them succeed, and a keen interest in seeing churches harness the best of our 21st Century tools to expand their ministries in new and exciting ways!