Church Websites

MennoNerds Screenshot

One of my site designs, for MennoNerds

I once had a conversation with one of my seminary classmates. After she had moved to Kingston, she did like many Christians do: she searched for a new church. And like most people, she started by simply Googling and looking at the websites that came up.

She had to look at multiple websites before she found a church that listed their Sunday morning worship time on their website.

This isn’t simply the obvious impracticality of being able to visit the church. It also sends a big message. If your worship time isn’t even listed on your website, I assume the target audience of the website is the people who are already part of the church. I assume that you’re not really interested in new people joining your community. And so I typically move on to try a different website.

Content

So here are some things I find between valuable and absolutely necessary for a church website:

Your worship start time. And maybe an approximate end time if it’s consistent, since people might want to plan something else afterward.

Your address.

Your phone number. Some people still use phones. And when you list your phone number, make it a link with the tel: protocol so mobile users can just click on it to call you, instead of copying it over to their phone app.

Time and place of any other extra events throughout the week, at least if they’re open to newcomers

Dress code. It’s a crappy feeling to show up to a church in a suit when everybody else is relaxed in t-shirts, probably even more crappy than showing up to a church in a t-shirt when everybody else is wearing a suit. It’s a quick way to feel unwelcome. You probably say you don’t have a dress code because you’re not legalistic like that, but there’s still almost always an unspoken one.

Worship style. A liturgical can get really confused showing up at a charismatic church, for example, so they should have a general idea of what to expect.

Mission and/or vision and/or faith statement(s). It doesn’t have to be and probably shouldn’t be a systematic theology, but what do you see as the reason you exist? What do you prioritize in how you spend your time and money? What kind of person feels at home there?

How you answer hot topics. If you aren’t affirming of same-sex marriage, say that. Do it in a loving, gentle way, maybe even pointing to a nearby church that is affirming. You might say you don’t want to unnecessarily offend the new gay couple interested in your church, but it’s better they know what they’re getting into than find out a year later when they’re invested in the community and want to be elders but can’t. Ditto for women in leadership. The reverse positions are also true, especially if the visitor is coming from a church where they were excluded in some way, so they might assume all churches are like that.

What did I miss? Feel free to add it to the comments.

Accessibility

Here’s another major point: make your website accessible. If your website isn’t accessible, you are excluding people with disabilities before they even make it to your door. There is a fantastic set of guidelines called the Website Content and Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). To help make sure you pass them, I suggest the browser extension WAVE which will show any issues on your website.

Some of the most common errors:

ALT tags on images. These get read out by screen readers so users who can’t see the image still know what’s in it. It also gets used as placeholder text if the image is loading slowly, such as dial-up users.

On a related note, don’t put important data inside images, unless you can fit that important data into the ALT tag.

Improper use of header tags. Header tags are not for style. They are for designating a header over content. A header 1 (h1) should be your top level, a header 2 (h2) subsections of that, and so on. Don’t jump from h2 to h5 because you like h5’s look better. Change the style on the h3 if you have to instead.

Unlabelled forms. Each form element should have an attached label, properly attached with the label tag. That enables screen readers to inform the user what is supposed to go in that form element.

Not mobile-friendly designs. There’s as much web traffic from mobile as there is from desktop, so this is pretty important, especially if you’re wanting to appeal to people under 50. Google will also now punish your search rankings if your site isn’t mobile-friendly.

“Click here” or other vague link texts. If a screen reader tells me the link is “click here,” I’m left wondering: click here for what? A sighted user may see it nearby on the site, but not everybody has that benefit. Make your links descriptive of what they actually link to.

I realize I’ve just opened myself up to being criticized for any ways this site fails WCAG standards, and there probably are some despite my best efforts. But seriously, install WAVE and become familiar with WCAG if you’re going to build any website, but especially a church that claims to express God’s love for everybody.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.