Category Archives: Design

Church website shortlisted for award

I’m not normally someone to blow their own trumpet but sometimes I will allow myself a little shameful boasting. And today is that day!

The church website I designed and built for Zoar Christian Chapel has been shortlisted in the ‘Most Engaging Small Church Website’ category at the Premier Digital Awards 2018. Although I never do it for the accolades (just as well as I’d be a poor man), it’s always nice to be recognised for the time and effort gone into each church website design.

The website was a bespoke design reflecting the church’s personality and characteristics, though small and traditional has a very big heart for its community and reaching out. I worked with the church to ensure a website that was representative of them and what they are trying to achieve.

This is the second time a church website design I have created has been shortlisted for an award at the Premier Digital Awards. A few years ago the Monyhull Church website came runner up in the ‘Most Engaging Large Church Website’ category and it’s great to once again be recognised for my work.

Win or lose the satisfying part is creating a church website that supports the local church in their activities.

Now, time to create a trophy cabinet.

Facebook advertising for churches

Churches for many years have used the same form of communicating events, word of mouth and leaflets. These are good but to reach and engage people a lot of churches have yet to tap into social media as a means to reach their audience.

Yes, I know, social media is evil, the internet hates you and we must go live in the hills away from technology. Then again, you’ll never be where your audience is. And that’s kind of the point isn’t it?

Your services, your events, your message, you want people to know it, to see it, to be part of it. With leaflets its every difficult to target an audience (did that old person really want to see the leaflet about kids clubs?) and even harder to measure its success. If only there was a way to be a bit more targeted and find people where they are at…

Behold, Facebook

Yes I know this isn’t news and I know people are already using it to advertise. And yet churches seem some way behind to use it as a means of engagement. The beauty is, you need to do very minimal work to reach a more targeted audience then a leaflet drop ever would.

Here is a quick look at some of the basic targeting features that will aim your campaign at the right audience:

Geo-targeting – Facebook ads can be aimed at specific geographic areas right down to the Postcode level.

Demographics, interests, or behaviours – Facebook campaigns can be aimed at people within specific demographic groups. It can also be aimed at people with specific interests and behaviours. For example, a campaign can be aimed at people who are interested in improving their parenting skills, or a family seeking a sports ministry for their kids.

People who like specific Facebook pages – Facebook campaigns can even be aimed at people who like specific Facebook pages.

Adverts ahoy

You have several options with Facebook adverts as to what can be used:

Single Image Link Ads – Churches can use single image link ads to attract more people to their website. These single image link ads are clickable, and the photo, text box and call-to-action button all link to your church’s website.

Multiple Image Ads – These ads are in a carousel format. The carousel format allows you to show 3-5 images and/or videos, headlines, links, or calls to action in a single ad unit. It can be used by your church to accomplish a variety of communications objectives.

Video Ads – With massive growth in video viewing on Facebook, churches are spreading their communications messages with Facebook video ads.This could be a leadership message, an invitation, a snippet from a great sermon, or any other video message your church wants to show to it’s neighbours.

Death to flyers

No, not really. They still have their place. But there are other ways to reach an audience and the church must make use of them. Targeting is easier, more people will see it and it’s cheaper. Take a look, get involved.

Church branding – what’s the point?

Many church leaders (and indeed church members) think branding is a dark art and that churches should run miles in the other direction. Thoughts turn to evil corporations and vast amounts of money wasted. In a church context most believe that only mega churches have any kind of formal branding and to do so would mean buying into marketing and in turn compromising what we stand for (yes this really is how I’ve had it explained to me).

What is church branding?

Before trying to demystify branding it’s worth understanding what it is. Most people think its a logo. In part this is true, there is the visual element to it. But branding is more than that, its an idea, a philosphy. When you talk about building a brand you are defining what an organisation is and what its about, a set of standards which the organisation must maintain.

The visual outworking of this is seen in a logo and its supporting design elements, imagery, fonts, colours. These should carry through to publicity materials and the website.

Why church branding?

So you understand that, good. But what’t the point? Does it make any difference? The first thing to say, is the visual aspect of your branding will never convey everything you are about. That’s the organisations job. What are the values your brand is promoting? Friendliness? Inclusiveness? Vibrancy? If I turn up to your church and am given the cold shoulder in an old dusty church, then you’ve done a bad job of executing your brand, no logo in the world can change that!

What it gives you is a visual cue that can be used to align yourself with certain values. It means, when a branded flyer drops through a neighbours letterbox, they know who it is and what they stand for. They begin to be comfortable with what your about and will form an impression of the organisation.

It will also help to show people how serous you are as an organisation. A well thought out design which has the right amount of information is a lot more appealing then two sides of an A4 sheet crammed full of text that know one will read. Thought has gone in to how something looks because the organisation cares about who will read it, its not amateur hour, time and effort is poured into communcations and publicity. This in turn gives an organisation more credibility.

Of course once you engage with your audience, its up to the organisation to display the churches brand values – so make sure you know what you are and who you are!

How to do it

Its not too difficult to achieve in all honesty. In fact, churches should already have half the job done. A church knows what they stand for, what values they hold on to, what personality the church has, what passions and drivers motivates them. It just needs to be formalised in some kind of document. Then from that work on how to visually represent it.

This is the point you made need a designer/web designer, you may have someone in the church who can do this. In manyw ays the point isn’t so much about what it is, but the fact that you have an idea, a representation that will be consistently carried over all materials and media to engage and create familiarity

7 Do’s of Church Websites

1. Do think about who your aiming the site at

I’m sure the new church website isn’t the only thing going on in your life (surely not?!!), taking time to plan out what you want to say and to whom is probably not very far up on your list. But would suggest the planning stage is the most important. If this stage is skipped you will, more than likely, end up with a half usable site which eventually gets left by the wayside.

Ask the questions that will inform the design structure. Who are you aiming this site at? What kind of people will be using it? It would be easy to say everyone, but that just simply isn’t true. You want to engage with your local audience first and fore-mostly. Who are they? Are you aiming at members or people who know nothing of the christian faith. You can the start thinking about what they would find useful, what questions they are asking, what kind of information they are trying to find. Spending time earlier on thinking these things through will pay dividends in the long run.

2. Do consider what your members would and wouldn’t use (functionality overkill)

There is nothing worse then a website that isn’t used. Sparse areas where once thriving information stood, old deprecated functionality that has gone untouched since Spurgeon gave his last sermon, these are all signs that the site has become unfocused and unmanageable. A lot of the time this is down to the planning stage. Mapping out what your users will and won’t use as well as what the website admin will and won’t do is key to a engaging and updated church website.

The times I have sat down with a client and asked what they want to be able to achieve with a website and they come back with the kitchen sink! Everything from member profiles to SMS push messages. These things of course are good and achievable, but I have become quite good at guessing whether a church will use something or not as I get to to know them. Want an event feed? Great, will you updated continually? A Twitter feed? Fantastic, how often will you be interacting on social media? Be realistic about what you will or won’t use. Keep it manageable and you (as well as others) will be more inclined to keep on top of it. Sit down at the beginning of the project and work out what you would use and what the church as a whole would use frequently.

3. Do the basics (where, when, what’s it like, contact)

It may sound strange but cover the basic information, especially on the homepage. The amount of new shiny websites that miss out basic information. Oh yes you’re very pretty with your big header image and cool animations, but wheres your service times? What do you mean I have to click through twice to find your address?!!

A lot of users will be people needing the basic information in preparation for attending, sometimes (like when I’m on holiday) it will be as they are getting ready to go for the service! Times, places, contacts – make it accessible and make it obvious.

4. Do update your site with content

Nothing encourages people to not return to your site then a lack of updates. You are a church, you must be doing something! Users are evaluating the church all the time, especially when on the website. What do you offer? What do you do? How do you do it? You need a way of pushing content onto the site to give users an understanding of what you’re about. A window into the life of the church.

This doesn’t mean putting the years members meetings notes online but churches more than other organisation run events, meet regularly and have plenty to say. Consider having a way to add events, run a blog or at the very least be active on a social media platform and link it through to your site. Even better is if each ministry page were able to add events to their own page so users could see events just for their area of interest.

I appreciate this costs time (and possibly money) but old and stale content will quickly turn users away with very little reason for them to return.

It doesn’t have to be a lot, but do be consistent. Have a set time in your calendar for adding a blog piece and plan it so its manageable. One blog a week or a month is better than nothing. Find people who would be willing to help with content and content ideas, this should help keep the content diverse and fresh.

5. Do update your site for security

Statistics released some time ago suggested that 73% of open source CMS’ (wordpress, joomla drupal etc…) were due to out of date versions. Keeping your sites core code up-to-date is critical for the safety of your website.

Often, the church website is finished, the owner will find some cheap hosting, send it live and forget about it. Do not be that person! Firstly, be selective over your web hosting – normally you pay for what you get. If you buy cheap hosting, expect a server that is less than secure causing plenty of site performance issues. Find a decent web host, get your site live, then update your site every month. Annoying? Yes, but unfortunately some people take great pleasure in turning your beautiful new website into something very spammy.

If you do not have the time, find someone who does. Alternatively make site maintenance part of your costing with web hosting (for instance I will charge an annual fee for hosting and site maintenance, I then make all updates throughout the year)

6. Do have a responsive website

For those of us in the web development game, this is a no-brainer. Your site should be responsive. That is, it should respond to the size of the screen. Whether your visitor is looking on a mobile, tablet or widescreen the site should adapt to its environment and present the information that works for that screen. No scrollbars, no having to zoom in, no clicking on tiny links. A good user experience means the user will more than likely be back. For church web design this should be a standard not a luxury.

Google places a great deal of emphasis on web design best practice, their algorithms for search placements include ranking a site based on how well its coded and if a site responsive or not. However, just to be clear, the days of having a separate mobile site are over. Yes some big companies still have a mobile specific site and they shouldn’t. The different with a responsive is that you use the same html code but it adapts to the screen size. This way the same information is being served to both desktop and handheld users.

7. Do make your site a window into church life

This list as well as the 7 Don’ts of a church website design should give you a steer in the right direction for starting and maintaining your church website. It is however, worth highlighting the main function of your site – a window into your world.

All that has been outlined is to help you better present the church. As a church web designer my biggest job is to convince pastors/committees/the tea lady that a lot of users are just curious, they are trying to work you out as an organisation and are seeking to get to know you. This means should they ever walk into the church, they aren’t going in blind, they have some idea who you are, who they might meet and feel more at ease.

Focus your website on showing what life is like in and around the church. What the stories of the people are. And don’t think that a small church has less to say then a big church, I have known huge churches never update their site and there is no engagement, I have seen small churches who use their site well with updates, blogs and photos. This isn’t about how full your programme is but showing the life of the church to your users so they can imagine themselves as part of it.

7 don’ts of Church websites

1. Don’t use stock photography

I start with this one as I truly believe it can make or break a site. Imagery is important, no scratch that, authentic imagery is important. Anything that helps give a user insight into your church is important. The church website is a window into a churches life, its people, its activities. For visitors to your website, seeing real people, doing real things evokes a feeling of trust and transparency. It shows there is nothing to hide and the church is quite happy for everyone to see them warts n’ all. This also helps connect a digital world with the physical world – when someone, who has visited your website, then visits the church and sees the same people from the website, this can help relax people and help them feel a bit more comfortable. Spend money on a photographer or find someone who has an interest and an eye for it.

The alternative is stock photography. Now don’t get me wrong I have used my fair share for churches who don’t have many other options, but if you are going to use it, use it sparingly. Stay away from the boring, samey, stereotypical imagery that will not engage users, especially on the homepage.

2. Don’t use ‘christianese’

The danger of being in a church and moving in christian circles is that over time you adopt the terms and phrases that make you sound like a theology ninja, some kind of religious big-shot. That’s all well and good when you want to impress your minister but ‘christianese’ has no place on your website. At all!

Its not about dumbing down, its about simplifying things so its user friendly. How many people actually know the five points of calvinism? Oh you’re an evangelical anglican church that believes in pedo baptism! Good for you! No one in the real world knows what that means. Break it down, even words like ‘sin’ have lost its meaning today. Why not get someone outside the church to proof read it and point out all the things they don’t understand, it will surprise you.

By all means have a statement of faith, but reserve a page further into your site, that can be found by those interested, for the more in depth theological statements.

3. Don’t have random bible verses with no context

In churches up and down the country good biblical, contextual preaching happens. Taking bible verses out of context, or even worse, making them say what you want is a big no no. We are taught good handling of the scriptures requires reading and studying in context. Why then do so many churches, as a default, feel the need to just slap a bible verse on their website. No explanation, no background, no exposition. Leaving it to the site user to understand what it means and why you’ve placed it there.

There is absolutely a place for scripture on websites, but give it a link to a page that opens up the verse, don’t stick it in as a footnote on your site, its criminal. Most visitors will be new to the church perhaps Christianity!

4. Don’t ignore the church website design

Whilst your websites primary concern is its content, mention must be made of the design of your church website. The tendency is to use every colour under the sun, the brighter the better! Leaving a site totally unbalanced and the end user with sore eyes and unsure where they are supposed to be looking.

Ideally your church has a brand, use it to inform your church website design (what do you mean you don’t have a church brand?!!). With this as a guide you can plan out how the site will look, what to bring focus to and what doesn’t need to be so in your face. A nice church website design will have pleasing touches like hover changes on links, info areas in some form of container or with a heading, to build some information hierarchy.

Chances are, if it looks like a mess, the user is less likely to engage. If it looks amateurish that will be the lasting impression you will be giving off about the church.

Similarly for fonts, the brand should lead the usage of fonts, what to use for headers, for links and main text. Don’t use every available font, don’t have crazy sizes. There should be some standardised type design for the site, which breeds familiarity. This is a good thing.

5. Don’t create information overload

Closely tied to font usage is the content of the site itself. I’ve seen many church websites that cram their home page full of text, presuming the best way to inform is to cram it down the users throats. Unfortunately all this achieves is an assault on the users eyes, as they can’t work out what to look at and where they should be looking first. More often then not this leads to users switching off and glazing over.

White space is good. It allows information to breathe, it allows the users gaze to be drawn to pieces of information. They won’t read through reams of text, online visitors consume information in chunks. Make it readable and guess what – people will read it.

6. Don’t be contactless

I am always surprised how many times I have heard people have filled in a contact form to never hear from that organisation in return. Contact forms are useful, it means you don’t need to display an email which encourages spam. Contact forms aren’t evil, but if these forms aren’t being piped through to someones email, the user will never get an answer.

Because of this, there is a default position that a contact form is managed by some kind of automated robot that only has three or four stock responses. I have seen real value in highlighting on your contact form who it will go to and how long it will take for the church to respond.

7. Don’t rely on ‘the tech guy’

Whenever I build a church website, I supply a manual of how to do everything on the website. I encourage the church to have two or three trained up on how to use it. It is a dangerous game to only have one person looking after the website. Yes there should be someone in heading it up, especially in a small church but there is no excuse not to get somebody else involved who knows how to do the every day jobs. They aren’t difficult tasks and with a manual in front of you it’s hard to go wrong, indeed after doing it once or twice you won’t need a how to guide anymore.

Also, if others are involved, they can come up with ideas on how to improve the site in the future. Perhaps new features or improvements of existing functionality.