When someone tells me that he or she wants to (re)launch a church web site, or get his/her church into social media, my first question is always “what do you want it to accomplish?” Rarely do I hear an answer that reflects a thought-out strategy. Make that never.

If you have defined a web and/or social media strategy, and you adhere to it, many questions on what content to include and how to organize it become much simpler than if you don’t. When you lack a strategy, many decisions become random and -- collectively -- inconsistent.

To be even more effective, your strategy should nestle snugly into your congregation’s overall objective. What is the congregation trying to accomplish, or what is it trying to be? For example, is it trying to focus on young families, singles, seasoned citizens, the inner city, or missions? I know of a church here in the Raleigh, North Carolina area that has a focus on families with special-needs children.

Is your church in a location that has a lot of people passing through, such as a popular tourist area or near an airport? Is it trying to grow, to reach out to non-members? Your web site and social media should support those objectives.

Knowing those objectives can make your choices simpler; choices of content and how you organize it. You've figured out your content, now it's time to think about how to organize it.

The Home Page

The home page should prominently feature a few photos that illustrate your church’s story, as well as promotions of special events.

There is always a struggle between a truly simple layout (the classic example is Google’s home page) and putting as much information on the page as possible (a la Craig’s List). My opinion is to find a point in between, but lean toward the simpler. Most templates you can buy for your content management system (CMS) make it easy to keep it simple.

Regardless of where you choose to put your site on that spectrum, continue to keep your strategy in mind. Make sure your home page highlights the most important things, such as where and when you meet, your congregation’s focus. Perhaps you include the details on the home page, perhaps you have prominent links to that information.

Don't forget to include links to your social media channels, “share this page” options and sermon audio and video.

Menus

Come up with effective menu bars that group things logically and with familiar, descriptive labels. Most Joomla, Word Press and Drupal templates feature drop-down or expandable menus. An “About Us” menu item could include meeting times and locations, history of the congregation and congregational leaders. If your children’s ministry is a major force, perhaps it deserves to be in the top menu, breaking down into pre-school, elementary, secondary, and junior/senior high school.

The most prominent menu should provide links to the key content your target audiences wants. If your goal is to attract visitors, then visitor-oriented content should be front-and-center. If that content is of equal interest to your members, so much the better!

Speaking of menus, if your template offers multiple menu positions, take advantage of them when it makes sense. If your template has a "toolbar" menu at the top edge, that's a great spot to place your more utilitarian menu options, such as Contact Us, Driving Directions and Online Contributions. A member-centric menu option is a good idea for this menu. This frees you to keep your main menu on target and simple.

Beyond the Home Page

The home page of your site is where every visitor starts, right? According to Fast Company earlier this year, that may be a poor assumption. If your social media efforts are successful, you are (I hope) linking directly to a specific page inside your site. And don't forget, Google, Bing and the rest index every page.

What does that mean? That you should keep in mind that any page on your site could be,in reality, your home page. While one of those pages may focus on a particular topic or ministry, it should also provide easy access to the basic where/when/contact information.

Looking towards the future

One important thing to remember is you don't have to have everything on your site in order to (re)launch it. Set priorities. Sermon audio and video is great, but it certainly does not have to be available on your site on Day 1 in order for it to be successful. Your plan should define what's essential for Day 1 and what you can add later. The future could include, among other things,

  • Sermons,
  • Online registration for events,
  • A members-only area (for, if nothing else, an online member directory),
  • A photo gallery, and
  • A blog.

More on all of these in the coming weeks.

Throughout it all, keep your congregation's strategy in view and stick to your plan. Your congregation's leaders put serious effort into developing the strategy, so it's important to support it.