A Relevant Church Website – The Essentials

The web landscape is filled with technology companies and applications that have come and gone, yet the innovation and new technology continues to progress at a torrid pace. Big Spark Media has developed many websites and has found only one constant: there are no constants with digital media.

It seems that many web trends and technologies are relevant one day and gone the next. Just think about Netscape, Napster, Lycos, MySpace, Friendster, AltaVista, and countless others. One aspect we can be sure of is the web will always be driven by end-user expectations. With everything moving at a rapid pace, how does a church keep up, stay current and remain relevant?

At Big Spark Media, we’ve found the following key elements to be key for today’s relevant church web experience…

1) Be Mobile
If you cannot be found on a mobile device (phone, tablet or mobile computing device), you are not real. The desktop computing era is dead – long live mobile applications! Your church should have a mobile strategy – ways to connect to your content through applications using mobile devices.

2) Embrace Communities
How does your web site intimately connect with the diverse groups within your church? Churches typically communicate as if there were only one audience with very broad, but similar needs. The concept of tribes illustrates specific, connected groups and their affinity for the ministries to which they are most connected. Your web content must speak to the congregation as a whole, but more importantly, it must speak to the multitude of tribes and their community needs. Youth are a perfect example of a tribal community within a church body. This teen-aged tribe has its own special language, specific methods of communicating, and a unique set of needs. Understanding the youth-aged community from a tribal perspective is essential in order to connect with them in relevant ways. Elder adults are another tribal community within the church. Going tribal means creating authentic messages that appeal to specific tribal needs and expectations. A tribal communications approach to web content and web applications insures people are more apt to connect and more likely to become intimately connected.

3) Consider This: Your Online Presence Is Your Brand
Many corporate brands exist where the website is the brand. Their customer’s only experience of that brand is through the web site. More than 90% of today’s first-time church visits happen online – not through a visit to the church campus. The church web site is the new front door to the church for an ever-increasing number of people – commitment to make it relevant represents a significant outreach to the world. With first impressions forming so quickly, how is your church brand reflected in your web site? Is your website appealing? Do the graphics reflect your brand? Is the website up-to-date? Is the information relevant to your community? Are the messages consistent with your church’s unique DNA? Does your website reflect a strong identity or does it devalue the church? Run the church online presence as if it were the brand.

4) Be a Story Teller
Telling a story with video is a powerful experience that can deeply effect viewers. Whether the user watches a sports event on ESPN, views a new YouTube video, catches up on a favorite sitcom at Hulu, or scans the main stories of the day, online video experiences are more commonplace than ever. Consider the explosive growth of hand-held technologies, specifically mobile phones, where the demand for video is substantial. Many churches are leveraging video as a ministry communication tool. Many churches misuse video formats by requiring users to download video viewing software, utilize outdated video viewing formats and under-value the impact video can bring to a web experience. Offering the right multi-media video experience provides a “sticky” factor for web a user that insures repeat visits.  Tell your stories and use the web to communicate those stories.

5) Go Social: Make it Personal
Remember the days when a web site was about dates, times, and basic overview information of the church? Today’s audience expectation is to connect on very real, personal levels, hearing from church staff and church leadership. Social media applications such as blogs, Facebook, or Instagram have provided gateways to people’s thoughts and experiences. Twitter allows a real-time glimpse into a person’s daily experiences and values. These apps allow people to have emotional bonds and experiences online that likely would never have occurred otherwise. Opening one’s mind for the world to see on the web was once taboo, but now it is a proven method to build relationships and allow people to experience genuineness in the digital community.

5) Foster Digital Community
People expect to find and experience community online. The growth of social medial and applications such as Facebook and Twitter has opened new mission fields for the church. Effective ministries work to create and maintain a positive presence in online communities. Unfortunately, more often than not there is no strategy or real understanding of how to make a Facebook presence productive for the church or for a ministry. Churches must be intentional with their presence in these established communities because people are quick to dismiss intrusion into their digital space. Consequently, a church’s community building initiative must be relevant and a natural addition to established digital communities.

6) Get Viral
How a church communicates continues to increase in complexity with new technologies and with the growth of digital communities. Churches now have viral marketing platforms to add to their communications arsenal. Increasingly, people are using Instagram more than e-mail. Twitter’s simple, fast communication method is growing. The popularity of these applications opens up new methods of communications for the various constituencies of a church. In addition to being very effective communication tools, these viral apps are free!

7) Reach with Digital Ministry
Just a few years ago, many church leaders perceived that online ministry was impersonal and ineffective. Churches must look outward and see that people live their daily lives in the digital world. More churches across the country are creating digital campuses, providing worship, and prayer experiences via video and live chat. People can view a worship experience on their cell phone or listen to their favorite sermon while training at the gym. Digital ministry is becoming a part of one’s daily Christian walk these days. How is your church ministering digitally?

8) Be Current
An online presence is a living, changing thing.  Websites with current, up-to-date and relevant content meet people at their need.  Keeping the website current and updated doesn’t have to be difficult.  It just takes thoughtful design, along with intentionality in to keeping the content up-to-date and relevant.

9) Make It Easy
Simple is better. People expect things to be simple these days. Corporate America is creating web experiences and apps designed to fit into people’s lives. Today’s priority is “easy and simple.” Churches are notorious for making simple things very complex. Unfortunately, complexity creates barriers and missed opportunities for ministry. Navigation, branding, a multi-media experience, content, calendars, registration for events, should all focus on easy experiences for the user. Simplicity and ease-of-use should pervade every aspect of your digital ministry.

10) Be Intentional
Align your online presence with the mission and objectives of the church.  Think and plan through the digital design and the method of web operations that will propel the church towards its goals and its mission.

This is a current day snapshot of how vibrant churches make their website relevant. One guarantee we can make is that the landscape of web applications will change within just a few months. New applications, content management systems, and mobile advancements continue to drive the user’s ever changing desire for new, relevant digital experiences.

Is your church’s digital presence relevant?

Always Be Relevant.  Let’s Talk.

Call Big Spark Media or visit us at www.BigSparkMedia.com