8 Ways Your Church Website Can Welcome First-Time Visitors Before They Arrive

8 Ways Your Church Website Can Welcome First-Time Visitors Before They Arrive

October 8, 2014 by

Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time VisitorsWe’ve got a new book coming out by Jonathan Malm that about welcoming guests, Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests. But these days first impressions are virtual. The book covers a few things to consider for your website, but the bulk of it is in-person tips.

So let’s talk about those online first impressions.

I recently asked some friends for suggestions of multicultural churches in my area. I’m not leaving my church, but I wanted to visit a few churches in the area. Since I’m not ready to church hop every week, my choices had to be limited. Unfortunately, church websites make it all too easy to cross churches off the list.

I found two distinct categories of lessons for church websites: The church service experience and the website itself.

“Your visitors have busy lives. They need to know how long they’ll be stuck in your pew on Sunday morning.”

Glimpsing the Church Service Experience Online

One of the greatest things your church website can do is give first-time visitors a glimpse of what they can expect when they show up in-person.

1. How Long Is it?

I’ve never really thought the length of the service was that important. You tell people when it starts and they’ll find out when it ends. But your visitors have busy lives. They need to know how long they’ll be stuck in your pew on Sunday morning. So let visitors know when the service normally ends. You’ll make it easier for them to plan the rest of their day and make sure church fits in their schedule.

If the length of your service varies too much then you’ve got a problem. This isn’t a matter of the Bible vs. football, it’s a question of being considerate of other people’s time.

2. What’s the Dress Code?

Telling people what they can wear is a no-brainer these days. You absolutely must tell people how they should dress so they can feel comfortable. And detail is important. One person’s “casual” is another person’s “dressy.” If your church is at all dressy, be sure to include casual crowd shots of your people so visitors can see whether or not their Sunday best will work.

3. What’s It Sound Like?

Picking a church is hard. For better or for worse, the music style is one of the first things we use to filter our church choices. Accept that and use it to your advantage. You can’t hide the fact that you rock the old school hymns. If you mislead a visitor into checking out your service, you haven’t gained anything. They’ll never come back if they hate your music. So give visitors a taste of your music online.

High quality audio recordings can be a nightmare, so don’t over-think this. Grab an iPhone and shoot some quick video of your worship team. Embed a few YouTube videos on your site and you’re done. This post on creating short videos might help. Just be sure to sort out licensing. A 30-second clip is probably fair use, but I’m no lawyer. If you’re unsure, use original material (with permission) or public domain songs.

“You can’t hide the fact that you rock the old school hymns. So give visitors a taste of your music online.”

4. What About the Kids?

Children are the future, right? So what do we do with them during the service? This was a major question as I was looking at churches. Could I bring my kids with me? Would they have to sit through a 45-minute sermon? Or would I be signing them over to some Disney-fied experience where I’d wonder if they were being brainwashed (and having more fun than me). Spell out what the options are for kids and make those over-protective parents feel OK about dropping off their kids.

5. Back It Up

If your church is known for being multicultural—and especially if you claim to be—your website better back it up. Don’t show me an overly perfect rainbow stock photo. If your church is really multicultural, you wouldn’t need stock photography. I expect real photos to show your diversity. And if that fails, I expect to see it on the staff page. No church can claim to be multicultural if the pastoral staff is all white dudes.

I seriously came across a church in my area that claimed to be multicultural, yet the only people of color on staff were part of the janitorial team. Ouch.

How Your Website Itself Can Help or Hurt First-Time Visitors

Your website can tell visitors what to expect. But the site itself will also tell first-time visitors a lot about your church. Be careful what kind of messages you’re inadvertently sending.

“Your homepage shouldn’t still be promoting your VBS that started in early August.”

6. Test Your Site

One church in my area had a sticker-like graphic on the homepage that said “New to our church?” Perfect, I thought. That’s where I can find all the details I need. Yet clicking on the button didn’t take me anywhere. It was linked to the homepage. Huh? That’s either a really horrible design or someone never tested the site. It’s an easy excuse for potential church visitors to skip your service.

7. Correct and Current

Almost as bad as a broken website is an out-dated site. It’s early October. Your homepage shouldn’t still be promoting your VBS that started in early August (and sadly, this is a real example). When your information isn’t current you sow seeds of doubt in visitors’ minds. Is this place really worth visiting?

8. Mobile Friendly

Imagine it’s Sunday morning. A potential guest is running late. They jump in the car and go, only to realize they don’t remember exactly how to get to your church. At a stoplight they pull up your site on their phone to check for directions.

Are they going to find what they need?

Will your site even work on their mobile phone?

Your site needs to help people get to your church, in some cases literally. If your site doesn’t work on a mobile phone, your visitors will give up.

Make It Easier for Visitors

I don’t think anybody likes church shopping. It’s a constant struggle to find what you’re looking for. Your hopes rise each Sunday and too often they’re dashed by churches that don’t feel like home. Help first-time visitors decide by making your website more helpful.

For more great tips on welcoming first-time visitors (or what not to do), check out Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors by Jonathan Malm.

More:

Learn more about how to welcome church visitors with this collection of resources and blog posts.

Unwelcome Now Available

 

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks


When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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9 Responses to “8 Ways Your Church Website Can Welcome First-Time Visitors Before They Arrive”

  • april canik
    October 15, 2014

    have you seen any good METHODIST church bulletins? None of these include the order of service etc…I am working with the UMC Tx Conference to be more relevant and vibrant…
    thx for any insight you may have


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  • Eric Dye
    October 17, 2014

    Nice!


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  • Kenny Jahng
    October 18, 2014

    April,

    Reach out to me if you’re interested. We work with UMCom and might be able to help.

    Kenny Jahng
    @kennyjahng


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  • EvangelismCoach
    November 4, 2014

    We have recently been new movers into a new community. We’ve planted two churches in prior cities, and at the moment, are shopping for a church to involve our family in this new stage of life.

    Websites are really important to us in our search. I ruled out a few visits simply because the dysfunctional website with broken links, poor navigation, and hard to find information.

    In some cases, the address and service times are not easily found.

    In other cases – under construction.

    In other cases – no pictures of real people (stock photos, really?)

    The thing that really got me the most was either no answer or 10 days to answer inquiries via social media, accounts. We filled out contact forms, tweeted, facebooked all in attempts to reach somebody.

    I’ve experienced these things first hand. Most of these are really easy fixes, as long as someone is paying attention to it.

    Thanks for raising the bar here.

    Chris
    EvangelismCoach.org


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  • Allen Weathers
    November 8, 2014

    We took the ‘First Impressions’ post very seriously in the latest design of our website. This latest post here has been a great rehash as to whether or not we are accomplishing our goals and I want to first thank you guys for all of your work that so greatly benefits the local bodies that serve all communities.
    We’ve noticed that a church’s website communicates first to those who don’t attend. People who don’t know you and/or have never visited are your primary audience online. So, the site should communicate to those people first and foremost. Regular attendees know what’s going on and will likely access only two main items on a church’s site: sermon media and online giving. Peripheral third and fourth reasons might be an events/Annc page or community group info. (These also need to be kept current..)
    We’ve aimed to have our entire site cater to that opening conversation, “Are you new to Turning Point? Well here’s what to expect and we hope you’ll join us on Sunday.” The content of the site is pertinent and short. We use a lot of drop downs so visitors can engage content they deem important without having to dig for it. We designed the site graphically to showcase photos/people from our church to give the best idea possible of what’s in store when they join us in person. There’s always room for improvement, and we look at the site often for tweaks – but I think we have done a good job of putting these thoughts of “virtual first visit” into action. Check it out at
    http://www.tpcconline.com
    I welcome any feedback you might have.
    Blessings to you all!


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    • Evan Courtney
      December 31, 2014

      Allen,

      Awesome! I’m glad these posts are influencing churches.


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  • Tom DelMonte
    January 9, 2015

    Hi Kevin,
    Thank you for the post. I’m knew to the site and am now just reviewing a bunch of posts. Our church has traditionally been poor at welcoming visitors. We’ve had some leadership turnover (for the better) and I think we’re making great strides now. We’ve redesigned our website which I’ve taken over now. It is very basic so that we can easily keep it current, but at the same time we worked hard at incorporating all of the best practices we could identify.

    I just finished your post and immediately updated our Sunday Worship page with length of service and a bit more information about child care. Obvious stuff, but something we missed. So, thanks very much.

    All the best!
    Tom D.
    http://www.holytrinitynarberth.org


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  • Healing Walls
    January 16, 2016

    For anyone looking to build links to their church website, http://www.ChurchSignText.com will link to your church and list its contact info if you upload a picture of your church’s sign. :-)


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