Since 2014, total users have increased by 36%—from 57,000 to 77,000—and the website averaged about 14,000 visits per month in 2016.
With about 4,000 members to serve, Bridgeway needed an internet home that could serve its growing community, continue to attract new members, and spread the church’s message of building bridges.
With an audience eager to connect, Bridgeway needed a professional website and church management system capable of opening lines of communication beyond its local community.
“We found this to be a really good time to bolster some of the capabilities that we have,” Simms said. “We need to be able to speak to (visitors) in a way that they’re ready for and are accustomed to.”
The Church Website of the Past
Bridgeway’s old WordPress-based website, built in 2012, worked fine. But its limitations became evident as the Bridgeway community grew.
“We had outgrown the design,” Simms said. “It was a basic site for that time … (but) what we really wanted was a system that gave us more flexibility.”
Churches “have evolved from static websites that had the schedule and the About Us pages,” Moore said. “Historically, church websites were very cookie cutter, like ‘Let’s get the guy down the street to make me a WordPress template’ … churches historically don’t do web experience.”
The Church Website of the Future
Simms, who has more than 20 years of web development experience himself, worked with Moore and Solodev to develop a new website that would not only address Bridgeway’s current needs, but would also be ready for the future.
“Our competition isn’t the church down the street, or even the church in a different part of the country,” Simms said. “Our competition is the other things that people go to. We can provide content that is relevant to the needs that people have.”<<–Click To Tweet
Based on their collaboration, Simms and Moore determined five key initiatives to address in Bridgeway’s new website design.
1. Dynamic Content
The most noticeable feature of Bridgeway’s new website is the dynamic storytelling on the front page.
A bold announcement advertises Easter services at Merriweather Post Pavilion. A player embedded in the bottom right corner beckons the visitor to watch BCC TV. A timer counts down to the next live service. Scrolling down, the visitor finds a Story Room featuring dozens of testimonials of life transformation. Every click brings more opportunities to interact and experience.
“We have a lot of content to share, so being able to do that and manage it well is why we went down this path in the first place,” Simms said. “[We’re] taking the video assets that we have and pushing them out to relevant places so that people can get a true multimedia experience.”
A new multimedia scheduler made mass content scheduling more efficient, and a custom landing page manager made it easier for Bridgeway’s web team to tailor specialized landing pages for different events and audiences.
The next step for Bridgeway will be rolling out advanced user experience management features so that the content is customized based on the viewer.
How you can do this: Even if your church doesn’t have the resources to implement a custom-built content management platform, you can still do a few things to keep your content fresh, assuming you have a “somewhat savvy web developer on staff,” according to Moore.
- Embed your YouTube videos.
- Feature rotating testimonials from church members.
- Switch up your landing page for holidays and special events.
2. Improved Security
Simms’ second biggest concern with Bridgeway’s old website was its vulnerability.
“Security was a huge factor,” said Simms, who felt much more comfortable using a third party “versus having an open source system where we needed to be on top of that ourselves.”
Because Solodev is cloud-based, Bridgeway’s new website is protected by the world-class security of Amazon Web Services.
“The cloud allows us to not have to worry about the infrastructure,” Moore said.
How you can do this: To make sure that your church’s website is as secure as possible, Soren Tech recommends the following steps.
- Use strong passwords for all access points.
- Use an established content management system, like WordPress.
- Host your website on the cloud rather than on a local server.
3. Cloud Infrastructure
In addition to added security, a cloud-based system also allows Bridgeway to expand and contract in response to changing needs.
“They have the ability to scale up, scale down, scale vertically, horizontally,” Moore said. “Website traffic is going to keep going through the roof as we find more ways to integrate the offline experience with the online.”
In other words, the cloud allows Bridgeway to grow as the congregation grows so that there is always enough room at the virtual table.
“If Tim needs to double his server size or add more servers, he has the capability to do that at the push of a button,” Moore said.
How you can do this: The cloud sounds futuristic, and expensive, but cloud hosting can actually be very affordable even for small churches. Here are a couple good reads to get you started.
- Cloud Hosting
- How To Use Dropbox as a Free Cloud Network for a Small Church
- Owncloud: A Personal Cloud Service for Your Church
4. Mobile Compatibility
One limitation of Bridgeway’s old website was that it looked the same on any device, good, bad, or ugly.
A 2016 Gartner research report on user experience across multiple devices found that a lack of multichannel design “negatively affects both user productivity and perceptions.”
With more than 75% of Americans (and more than 90% of young adults) now using smartphones, mobile compatibility is essential to building bridges across generation gaps.
“Providing flexibility with traditional navigation methods versus newer mobile-based navigation methods is really going to help our congregation, regardless of where they are on the technology-adoption spectrum,” Simms said. “It was very important that (visitors) did not have to go too deep to get to any piece of content that’s on the site.”
How you can do this: Steve Fogg of Church Marketing Sucks has put together a great guide on mobile-friendly church website tips. Here are a few highlights.
- Minimize the number of clicks required to navigate to the most important content.
- Use a font that doesn’t require visitors to zoom in or out to read comfortably.
- Remove unnecessary copy and gimmicky web effects.
5. Engaged Virtual Communities
Above all else, Simms’ overarching goal in updating Bridgeway’s web presence came down to getting people together to promote racial reconciliation.
“That’s creating a flywheel effect where people are rotating around from the website to the offline to the social, and they keep going around,” Moore said.
More importantly, Bridgeway kept its focus on its core message of building bridges and creating life transformations, rather than becoming distracted by the flash of a shiny new website.
“We made the conscious decision about a year-and-a-half ago to get off the notion of just providing church to watch … We say: ‘Don’t just watch church, be church,’” Simms said. “People don’t have to be in the same physical location to experience church, but to experience the fullness of church you do have to be engaged with other people.”
How you can do this: It isn’t particularly difficult to add social media buttons to your website to encourage online engagement. The part that takes work is keeping those communities active, and it starts with the responsiveness of the church itself. Church Tech Today suggests four rules for connecting online.
- Participate where people already are rather than steering them to where you want.
- Keep it simple. Don’t dilute the conversation with every new social media platform.
- Be purposeful, personal, and punctual. Use the same etiquette you would offline.
- Talk about online conversations at church, and the inverse, to build momentum.
Are You Ready For The Future?
What do you think the church website of the future will look like? What features would you like to see? Are we getting our priorities out of order by focusing on church website design, or is this innovation necessary in keeping churches relevant?
I want to hear your thoughts, and see other examples of churches with awesome websites. Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @CapterraAC!