Thirteen Commandments for your website (church websites, part 1)

30 Responses

  1. Scott Knitter says:

    Great information! I just wonder how many parishes have exactly zero people (staff and parishioners) who have the skills (or time or willingness) to make and maintain an effective site. And what they can do if that’s the case. But if they have someone with the very basic skills, this article certainly helps with what they need to do in the site. And of course helps with making good sites much better. We’re at the point of needing (belatedly) to make our site responsive to various devices.

  2. normmorford says:

    Absolutely right and we are a “connectional” church and there
    ought to be one site which would give ready access to service
    times in every congregation in all fifty states!

  3. Joy Twelves says:

    Agree with all of this. I might add RE #13 (joining) that many folks especially millennials will attend, be active, give money but don’t really want to formally JOIN…any organization for that matter. So I guess what I’m saying is to make it clear that you don’t HAVE to join to be part of the community.

    • Scott Gunn says:

      I suspect that if membership is placed into the context of discipleship, then millennials and other non-joiners will be more likely to value it. The problem is that our church culture treats membership like a club, and folks quite rightly reject that.

  4. C. Wingate says:

    “It’s also a great idea to have a photo of the outside of your church on the front page of the website, because a first-time visitor will want reassurance they’re at the right place.” And there should be a picture of the sanctuary/worship space as well. I come across way too many church websites where all the pictures are candids shot at the church picnic.

  5. Darrell Brown says:

    The question of “Does your website?” should become even more specific as to does Each Episcopal church house ,within its Body, truly “Welcome” all people who truly seek the Lord? Or are they merely Trojan horses of hospitality with a form and fashion of holiness denying the Power Thereof?

  6. Michael Wachter says:

    Regarding VII (social media), if your church’s social media strategy relies solely on Facebook, you are seriously limiting the potential of online networks and are missing most people under the age of 40. At minimum, I would recommend have regularly updated (weekly minimum) accounts with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Clergy and staff should have up-to-date profiles on LinkedIn. Those working with youth should strongly consider the use of Snapchat.

    Remember the operative word is “social” – your posts should attempt to engage readers and stimulate online conversations about you church and its mission. Please do not use the same content across social media platforms. There are a number of excellent online guides which can help you craft messages for each platform. Finally, including photos enhances readership over a plain text post (video is even better).

    • Scott Gunn says:

      That’s completely true for larger congregations, for sure. However, the median average Sunday attendance in the Episcopal Church is 59, and that median church might have no full-time staff. Couple that with demographics, and I’m not sure that maintaining a presence on several channels makes sense. Facebook and Pinterest skew toward TEC demographics, but Twitter and Instagram (and certainly Snapchat) skew younger and more urban than we’re likely to be. So my point is figure out the sweet spot(s) for your context, and do those well. Then if resources permit, spread out.

      • Michael Wachter says:

        While I can appreciate the challenges of small congregations, it is also important to consider the decline in median attendance was 65 in 2011. As I tell my marketing students, the use of marketing communications to build or foster relationships with the community requires the use of multiple channels and its associated channels to reach those we desire to reach. Smaller congregations will need t work smarter and adopt tools which allow them to broadcast their message across multiple platforms. For example, Instagram permits users to forward pics and videos to Facebook and Twitter simultaneously. Ideally, we should tailor the message to the platform, but this would be better than nothing.

        I enjoyed this piece and look forward to parts 2 and 3. An up-to-date, aesthetically pleasing, and easily navigated church website is a critical “cost of entry” these days. I hope your tips will get congregations on the right path.

        • Sarah Smith says:

          I’m 32, work with youth, college students, young families and young adults and think just Facebook is ok in a lot of contexts. Authentic is better than “trying too hard to be something you’re not”. Careful about categorizing everybody under 40…

  7. John Miller says:

    In my experence, any church that advertises themselves as “Friendly” and “Welcoming” as their primary characteristics is actually insular, inward-focused and dieing slowly of attrition. This is definitely an aspect of a church website where it is better to show then tell.

    • Scott Knitter says:

      I chuckle when I remember visiting a church long ago and reading their brochure; the big headline on it was “When we say ‘welcome,’ we MEAN ‘welcome’!” As opposed to all those other places that don’t mean it. Anyway, I agree that “friendly” and “welcoming” are adjectives best applied by newcomers who experience those aspects, not by the parish itself.

    • Scott Gunn says:

      Preach. Right there with you.

    • Heh. I just made this point in an article I have coming out for publication soon in which one of the things I note is that it’s more important to actually *be* welcoming than to tout being welcoming on your website. And that would not have to do with the number of different churches I’ve been to as an adult where I’ve seen various degrees of success on that front.

  8. Excellent! Where might a small church with one full time staff member find a good, inexpensive resource to get help in upgrading our site to show that we are followers of Jesus Christ, professional, welcoming and inviting-which we are?

  9. Peggy says:

    I have been church-hopping (not quite shopping) and one local church has 3 different sets of service times on their website. I haven’t been there yet.

    Also it is very important to mention, as Scott said, what kind of music to expect or whether there is no music at a service. If I visited your church and there was no music, I would not come back. Better that I visit at your OTHER service with choir, organ, and lots of hymns.

  10. Sarah Kelb says:

    One little trick I like to do with our church website is- if a link is going to take the visitor off of your website and on to another, I have the link open in a new tab.

    The html code looks like this:
    Lenten Madness

    The target=”_blank” is the key to having the link open in a new tab. If the link opens within your own website, this is not necessary.

  11. Trina Soltys says:

    Thank you for the list of tips. On review, I think that our church website is great! We developed it using

  12. Scott.
    Please,, would you look at our website if you have time. We are a small church in a community serving mostly retired members and visitors related to the retired members or looking for a place to retire.

  13. ambly says:

    This is marvelous and I’ve passed it on to Facebook. Just yesterday I was looking for the telephone number for a parish – a large and prominent one – and it did not appear anywhere on their website. But my pet peeve are churches that don’t update calendars or event for years – they might as well advertise they are out of business.

  14. deacondorothee says:

    Nice Scott, thanks for this!

  15. Jonathan Galliher says:

    I disagree on one point. You shouldn’t check how your website looks on *a* phone; you should check how it looks on a *variety of types* of phone. There are certainly hundreds and maybe thousands of variations, especially if you add in the different browsers, and they each have slight but critical differences. Fortunately, you don’t need to check all the types unless you’re expecting a lot of international visitors. I mean, how likely is it that someone from mainland China or the Indian subcontinent will be surfing to your site?

    Going along with checking your site with a variety of devices, you should also be collecting analytics so that you know how people are viewing your site. They’re particularly helpful for identifying the devices and browsers you need your website to work on.

    Don’t worry about the technical side of this too much. Practically everyone needs to do these things so there are a lot of good and inexpensive tools out there. The content side of things is much harder since you’ll have to come up with it yourselves. Oh and try not to listen to tech folks hype the latest hot new thing like SPAs (Single Page Apps) or Progressive Web Design. They probably won’t help you much, but will have issues that are harder to resolve unless you’re a professional web developer.

  16. Chaplain J.R.Bunyan says:

    This was all very useful, but when I attempted to print this article to share among some churches, I found the printer printing off over 70 pages of words shuffled about in such a way that even one page would have been of no use. THIS site needs fixing. (I don’t have Facebook, etc, etc).

    • Scott Gunn says:

      Thanks for your comment. Until your comment, I didn’t realize printing was broken. That must have happened with a recent theme update. I’ll see what I can do in terms of a workaround. Meanwhile, I’ll be glad to stick the post into a PDF that I can email you for you to print easily. Sorry about the problem!

  17. Jonathan Tallon says:

    Good article. One addition:

    14 Add accessibility information. Is it wheelchair accessible? Is there an induction loop? Are there wheelchair accessible toilets? Is the service signed? Etc.

  18. Rich Houser says:

    Great article. There are some great features that allow you to post one time and get that post automatically on the other social media platforms. Instagram has a feature where you can post to Twitter and Facebook at the same time. If you advertise on Facebook, which we do, it allows you to post to Instagram as well. Sounds like a lot, I know, but those three platforms actually attract very different audiences, ages, demos, etc.

    We. have not gone mobile on our website because the interfaces look really clunky. We will continue to look for sharper examples.

  19. Hey Scott, I’ve been helping churches with their websites through for 20 years. Your advice is spot on. The biggest challenge I see is that most churches don’t have a web developer on staff or the resources to hire a web developer to build a site for them. That’s why we created an easy to use DIY church website builder. If there’s anything we can do to help your readers with their church websites, please let me know.