The Seven Deadly Sins of Catholic Church Website-Building

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Yesterday I Googled the phrase “best church websites,” and I scrolled through the links. Let me tell you, there are some beautiful church websites out there. Ones with glossy landing pages and sleek, minimalist designs. Others with gorgeous photography and compelling calls-to-action.

But there is someone obviously missing from the great-church-website-party. Someone who wasn’t invited to a single “best church website” compilation. Probably because this someone’s curb appeal is downright AWFUL.

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I’m looking at you, Catholic church websites.

The Roman Catholic Church is the biggest Christian denomination in the United States, with an estimated 1.2 billion members worldwide. It’s a denomination that has consistently grown over the past one hundred years, so why are Catholic churches living in the dark ages when it comes to technology?

It is time to get serious and examine your consciences, my Catholic friends. With the help of this list, you’ll learn how to purge your parish website of these seven common (and deadly) sins:

#1: Overcrowding

According to James Scherer of Wishpond, one of the first mistakes that many website designers make when setting up a new landing page is to overwhelm the viewer with a deluge of distracting text. With less than fifteen seconds to convince your visitor to stay on your website, don’t waste your opportunity by confusing them with information they don’t understand or need.

Here’s what I’m talking about. Check out this overcrowded Catholic church website:

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Did you feel your eyes start to water and your head begin to throb as soon as you clapped eyes on this busy homepage? I sure did.

As soon as I clicked on this link, I was overwhelmed by the amount of small, crowded text that assaulted my eyeballs. Frankly, it was rather depressing, and I immediately gave up trying to read anything. Instead, my eyes wandered aimlessly across the page, flitting over words without actually taking any of them in. I’m pretty sure the only piece of information on this page that my brain was able to digest was that picture of Pope Francis.  

Now compare that website to this one from Hillsong:

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We believe in Jesus.

Boom.

This website hits you with its best shot right out of the gate. It’s pretty basic, but you got the message, didn’t you?

There is so little text on this landing page that your eyes can take everything in at a reasonable pace, and it leaves room for a visual representation of the church. Not only does the simplicity of this site avoid confusion, but it also gives you an idea of what the church venue looks like and the size of the congregation.

Are you already feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of simplifying your church’s website? Consider starting with a few of these simple elements, as suggested by Eric Sharp:

  • Subheads
  • Line breaks
  • Bullet points
  • Numbered lists
  • Images
  • Bolding

If you use more of these tools, you’ll be on your way to grabbing your readers’ attention more effectively.

#2: Color Scheme

What do you associate with the colors red and green?

You could have said the flag of Transnistria, a lime with a cherry on top, or that one Jets-Bills game.

Or you could have said Christmas…

Isn’t it amazing how closely our brains associate one thing with a specific color combination? As easy as it is to create positive associations between colors and emotions, it’s equally easy to make people feel negative emotions when they see specific colors.

Notice how this website uses a hideous shade of hunter green for the background and then combines it with a blindingly bright blue for the text? Instead of getting me excited to read more of their website, this page makes me want to go take a nap.

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Here’s a much better use of colors:

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Notice how the Village Church is using a toned-down shade of grey for the top bar in order to balance out the splash of orange-yellow that accentuates the words “take heart.”

The bottom left rectangle keeps you feeling chill with a slate grey and subtle peach, while the right rectangle utilizes a chipper shade of yellow in combination with a calming blue.

Before choosing the color scheme for your website, read through a color guide to better understand how your palette choices are affecting your website’s marketing.

#3: Incompleteness

I was recently looking at the website of a Catholic church that several of my friends attend. After clicking through a few tabs, I noticed that the Adult Ministry page was incomplete. Instead of listing the involvement options for adult parishioners, the ministry page simply had a statement describing the adult formation program. There was no calendar, email contact, or explanation of how to find out more about the actual events offered through the program.

Now, I know from my friends that this parish actually has quite a robust adult ministry program. But you would never know that from their website!

Don’t make the mistake of leaving your website incomplete. It sends the message that you’re not committed or that there’s nothing going on at your parish.

Take, for example, this Catholic church’s incomplete “About” page:

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Hmmm…this blank page leaves me wondering if the designers of the website just forgot to fill it in or if there really is nothing to say about this church. Either way, it’s bad.

Instead, take the lead from Lifechurch’s excellent website that keeps their “about” page simple yet complete:

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This page provides you with all the basic information you need about the church’s mission and  and introduces you to the staff.

When setting up the “about” page for your website, make sure you’re answering, not creating, questions for your audience.

#4: Social Media

Ok, this one is not, strictly speaking, a problem with your website, but it has to do with your church’s online presence.

According to Entrepreneur, the worst thing you could be doing on social media is not updating. If you’re going to use Twitter for your parish, then you’re going to need to tweet regularly. Otherwise, you’re going to lose followers.

Here’s an example of a Catholic parish that has not tweeted since January 22nd:

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This is bad. Real bad. Even when this church was tweeting (five months ago), they were only updating their page sporadically, with tweets spaced out at random intervals.

Now compare that to this well-kept Twitter account from Highpoint Church:

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See how they update regularly? This fills me with confidence that Highpoint is up-to-date and enthusiastic about welcoming newcomers.

Make sure you’re posting on your social media sites regularly using these rough benchmarks:

  • Instagram: at least 1.5 times per day
  • Twitter: at least 3 times per day
  • Facebook: max 2 posts per day

#5: Intuitiveness (or lack thereof)

This one goes hand-in-hand with #1. If your website is too crowded, it’s probably also not very intuitive. But there’s more to an intuitive website than simplicity.

Let’s take for example this unfortunately non-intuitive Catholic website:

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This website is pretty crowded. But it’s also just generally confusing. Am I supposed to click on those colored buttons on the right? Is that “Fortnight for Freedom” banner in the center an advertisement or a church-sponsored event? Is the blue line under “CT Catholic Legislative Network” at the top supposed to be a link to the church bulletin or am I supposed to click on the “Parish Bulletin” button to the right?

These questions are burning up my mind instead of helping me understand why I should come check out your church.

Meanwhile, Victory Worship Center has a highly intuitive mission statement page:

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There is plenty of whitespace on either side of the page to draw your eye naturally towards the black icons in the middle. And the use of the color blue in only two places on this page brings your gaze from the top heading (What We Believe) down to the bottom righthand corner button (Beliefs).

This website leaves you with no questions about what you are supposed to know or where you are supposed to click.

Still unsure about how to make your website more intuitive? Check out this list of design tools

that will help you get started.

#6: Font

I am no typeface expert. That being said, I’m pretty sure I can count at least six different fonts on this one page:

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You might ask, is this even a big deal? Well, apparently it is. Scott Prather says that there’s an increasing awareness in today’s digital culture regarding font and typeface. “People are aware of typography, design and how the world looks around them.”  So make sure you’re a part of this conversation by keeping your fonts up-to-date.

For example, the use of multiple fonts on one page can make your website look incoherent. How many is too many? A good general rule to follow is the classic three’s a crowd.

Check out Reading Family Church’s page on Alpha courses:

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Notice how the website designer has used a sans serif font for the headings and a serif font for the text. This is a pretty typical trend online and makes the web page look clean and coherent.

Bottom line: be intentional about which fonts you are using, and try not to use more than two in one place. For more information on what makes a font “bad,” check out this post from Digital Relativity.

#7: Non-uniqueness

What makes your church stand out? Why should people come to your church?

As a Catholic church, it may be tempting to rest on your laurels and assume that people will attend your parish simply because it’s in their neighborhood. Don’t be fooled. According to a survey conducted by U.S. Catholic, 58% of Catholics attend a Catholic church other than their home parish.

What does this mean for you? It means that you’re going to have to work harder at actively engaging the local Catholic community and bringing newcomers to your door. One way to do this is to highlight the aspects of your parish that make your community unique.

Here’s a Catholic website that is resting on its Catholic laurels:

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This “about” page doesn’t appear to be making any attempt at distinguishing itself from any other Catholic church in the area. It lists the mass times and has links to the history of the parish and a brief biography of its patron saint, but nowhere does it say why you should go to their church!

Now compare that to Risen Church’s “Who We Are” page:

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This page briefly summarizes the community’s views on discipleship and the calling of every Christian to follow Jesus and evangelize in His name. Beyond the fold, this page continues with a detailed description of Risen’s beliefs as a church then links to their community service projects at the bottom. Anyone who is viewing this website for the first time just got a great introduction to the community, mission, and goals of Risen Church.

Make sure your “about” page gives newcomers a compelling reason to join your parish. Maybe it’s your famous yearly retreats, the thriving young adult ministry, or a warm and welcoming family community that sets your parish apart from the other churches in the area. Whatever it is, highlight it on your “about” page.

Conclusion:

By now, I hope that you’ve examined your website conscience and identified the pain points in your parish’s online presence. Now it’s time to get cracking! To recap:

#1: Don’t overcrowd your website.

#2: Choose a color scheme carefully.

#3: Don’t leave any pages on your website incomplete.

#4: Update your social media regularly.

#5: Make sure your website is intuitive.

#6: Be intentional about font choice.

#7: Highlight what makes your parish unique.

If you need more ideas on how to update your church website, check out Capterra’s epic guide to building church websites and this list of essential elements of a great church website. And for a little Catholic inspiration, browse through the Fisher’s Awards from this year.

Think I left out a deadly website sin? Let me know in the comments below!

Looking for Church Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Church Management software solutions.

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About the Author

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Julia DeCelles-Zwerneman

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Julia DeCelles-Zwerneman is a Software Analyst for Capterra, a company that loves connecting buyers and sellers of business software. She specializes in construction management software. When she’s not covering the industry, you can find her playing piano, reading obsessively and playing volleyball.

Comments

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Julia,
Spot on. I build Catholic websites and I 100% agree with everything you wrote. I’ll probably ask all future clients to read this article.

Best,
CB

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Do you have recommendations on a good font for a blog ? There are so many choices it is overwhelming. I am interested in suggestions and comments on this. Is there a good “catholic” font? You did a great job on writing this article! Thanks.

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Hi Julia DeCelles-Zwerneman!

I am really glad I have found this information.

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