When I’m looking for churches to visit, I almost always look at accompanying websites with my “church visitor eye.” These sites should be well-designed. They should show the ministry, rather than pictures of the church or beautiful surroundings. They should contain the basics: location, service times, phone number. And they should be up to date. Unfortunately, with the explosion of social media, many churches mistakenly believe websites are no longer important. Consequently some churches desperately try to push much about their church to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, and in doing so risk becoming invisible to prospective guests.
Recently, while planning to visit a local Orthodox church for Great Lent, I found its website not up to date. The most current calendar was August 2015, with nothing on the main webpage about Great Lent. I discovered they pushed most church activities to Facebook. How would a prospective guest find them?
This week I looked at several local church websites, finding good and not so good. I’m sharing my impressions in this column not to belittle or embarrass any church, but to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches these churches take. ( Churches are presented in alphabetical order.)
Abbott Loop Community Church www.abbottloop.org
I found this homepage — dominated by a scrolling slideshow of five coming events — overly long. Although service times are shown on one of those slides, prospective visitors might not wait to see it. The church location and phone number are at the bottom of the page, way down. Easter and Good Friday were still showing as events at the bottom of the page. Abbott Loop makes its Sunday sermons available via audio. Thinking they might be viewable as well, I clicked the “multimedia” tab only to discover they were just audio. Abbott’s website was too busy for me.
Amazing Grace Lutheran Church www.amazinggracealaska.org
One of the simplest websites I viewed, this one turned out to be one of the best. It shows times of service, location, and phone number in full view at the top of the screen. Simple, moveable graphics show parishioners and themes without resorting to a church picture. A pulldown menu allows easy access to most information one would need about this South Anchorage church. I particularly liked the up-to-date and complete church calendar located under the heading “news.” I wish more church websites used this simple but extremely effective approach.
Anchorage Baptist Temple www.ancbt.org
Pictures of the church and its pastor adorn the top of Anchorage Baptist Temple’s first page, a website no-no according to church web designers. ABT’s website is incredibly busy to the eye, requiring a significant amount of scrolling to reach the bottom of the page to see all they offer. Some of the best websites in the world have only one main page, the amount shown on one’s computer screen. ABT’s schedule of services at the top is a positive touch, but unfortunately one must scroll to the very bottom to find the church’s location. I got dizzy scrolling down through the vast array of pictures and links.
Anchorage Bible Fellowship www.anchoragebiblefellowship.org
I like ABF’s straightforward one-page construction with service times and location prominently displayed. Unfortunately, however, it’s dominated by changing pictures of Alaska wildlife, mountains, and scenery. The purpose of churches is to spread the gospel, not serve as tourist bureaus. How much more effective these pictures would be if they showed this church and members at worship and work in the community.
Artfully designed webpages offer easy navigation to show visitors ChangePoint’s service times. Their location is not shown, however, and I could not find it. ChangePoint offers particularly useful media replay options of past sermons for viewing or listening which are usually posted the same day as they’re delivered. I particularly like ChangePoint’s blog where pastors post follow-up questions to Sunday sermons as a means of driving home the applicability of the message.
Cornerstone Church www.akcornerstone.org
Cornerstone’s attractive website is well-laid-out with one main page and nicely categorized pulldown menus for necessary information. Service times are shown on the main page, but one has to hunt for the church’s location. On closer inspection, I found it at the very bottom of the page, along with the phone number, but it is faint and easy to miss. Cornerstone has been effective at providing viewing access to their Sunday sermons. Their website is always clean, adorned with graphics central to their mission, and easy to use.
Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox www.transfiguration.ak.goarch.org
This beautiful church has a simple but effective website. It gives access to most activities in the church. Part of the beauty of Holy Transfiguration lies in its considerable iconography tied to many religious figures in its ancient faith. A rolling slideshow display of the interiors of the church depicts these icons. Clicking on any picture brings up a detailed description. The slideshow could be more effective if pictures of parishioners, working to support the mission of this church, were interspersed. It’s unfortunate Rev. Vasili Hillhouse’s pragmatic but engaging homilies are not captured and shared with the public here also.
We live in a culture dominated by clicking on web pages. If a website doesn’t deliver, visitors click to the next one and it becomes a lost opportunity.
“I don’t think that the importance of a church website can be overstated” said Adam Legg, ChangePoint’s creative arts and communication pastor. “Now, does that mean it has to be your church’s primary digital communication tool? No. But is it important for your church to have one? Yes. Why? Because a website is the primary way that people find you online, and in a digital world that is incredibly important! We know from research that as many as 8 or 9 out of 10 church visitors will visit your church’s website before visiting your church. If they can’t find you online, that makes it difficult for them to connect with you.”
Social media is another important component of a church’s online presence, and I’ll write about that in an upcoming column.
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