Update May 15, 2017: Updated to fix 10 broken links, add links throughout the article to more than 15 recent resources, and improve readability by replacing URLs with clickable text.
Does your church have a website?
If not, then you’re part of the 22%.
A Lifeway Research study showed that about one fifth of churches in America do not have a website. If you’re reading this article, you are probably interested in joining the 78% and building a site for your church.
Good idea! Websites are a great way to not only reach more potential visitors, but build connections between your existing members.
Of course, you don’t want to make a site that ends up displaying “new events” from 2008, or has fewer page views than the Space Jam site gets nowadays. My tips below should help you get on the right track to building a site that stays fresh and relevant for your church.
If, on the other hand, you already have a church site, you’re probably reading this article because you think it has a little room for improvement. Ask yourself these questions about your church site:
- Is it helping visitors find your church?
- Does it have the functions your church needs? (an up-to-date calendar, online donations, and member directory?
- Do your members actually use it?
- Is it integrated with your church management software?
If you have a church website and answered “no” to any of these questions, or are considering building a site right now, this article is for you.
This post will serve as a helpful guide to any church looking to build or improve a website. It includes a list of key features and a visual guide to show you exactly which church web page elements to include.
First of all, your church website needs might differ depending on the size of your church.
For this reason, this guide has been organized into sections based on your church size, with small churches being about 200 members or less, mid to large churches anywhere above 200 members, and multisite churches or megachurches as their own category.
The Small Church
If your church is 200 members or fewer, you might be building a site for the first time, or looking to more effectively use a site you already have. Regardless of where your church’s website is at the moment, here is an example of a good small church site.
Some examples of small church sites that use this model:
- Zion Reformed Church (Winesburg, OH)
- Eastpoint Community Church (Louisville, KY)
- Central Baptist (Marion, OH)
If you look at the examples above, you might notice there’s more to them than just pictures and text. Your church website should be visually striking, of course, but there are also some key functionalities that it needs if it’s going to be useful to you and your church members. Here are the essentials, and how to include them:
1) Church Calendar.
This is a must-have of any church website. One of the biggest reasons your members will visit your site is to stay up-to-date on church galas, cookouts, and youth retreats. Yet so many churches end up with pages displaying year-old events! So often, updating the church website on a week-to-week basis becomes too much to handle.
How can you avoid this? One way is to use Church Management Software (ChMS) that includes calendar and website functions. Often programs like this will allow you to automatically sync any event entered on the software to your site calendar. If you aren’t looking for ChMS, or don’t have ChMS with this ability, a free option is Google Calendar, which requires only a Google account, can be updated from any device that can connect to the internet, and can be embedded easily on most web pages.
2) Outreach Optimization.
You may not have heard this phrase before (because I just made it up), but it means that you want to make your site as easy to find as possible for any potential visitors. This is about more than just visual appeal. Even if you have a gorgeous site, it might take some serious Google-crawling to find it! Here are a few ways to avoid getting lost in Google.
First, if you don’t have a website yet, choose a good domain name. If you’re a Calvary Church, chances are you’re not the only one. Make your specific church easier to find by choosing a domain like “arlingtoncalvarychurch.com” or “calvarychurcharlingtonva.com” and so on.
Second, try SEO (search engine optimization). Though this may sound intimidating, there are a lot of free tools out there that can help you with the nitty gritty of pulling yourself up the search result ladder, and sometimes it doesn’t take more than a few word changes. Here are some that include helpful tutorials: SEOBook, 26 Free SEO Tools, and LunaMetrics. Additionally, if you build your site with a program like WordPress that takes care of most of your site’s code for you, SEO tools are often included.
Third, have a responsive layout. This is a given if you are using most ready-made site publishers like WordPress or Wix. Responsive layouts (which means they can rearrange/resize to fit on any size screen) are favored by most search engines and can give you that extra shove up the results list. A lot of ChMS website tools come with this feature, but if you don’t have access to one that does, here is a list of helpful tools for responsive web design, compiled by Church Website Ideas.
There are also some functionalities for a typical small church website that are more optional, but worth checking out:
- A sermon video/recording archive. Though some small churches might not be able to record all their sermons, if your church finds it feasible, hosting them on your site is a great idea. Not only will it give visitors a good idea of your services, but it is an excellent resource for members who either want to re-experience a message or weren’t able to make it to the sermon. Some recommended video hosting sites: Vimeo, YouTube, Sermoncast.
- Online donations. Though it might seem out of reach for a small church, offering online donations is actually easier than it sounds! Online giving can not only make giving easier for members who have a hard time attending the service every week (such as the elderly), they can increase giving even for members who already donate.
- Social Media Integration. If you have a small church, you might not feel like social media is crucial for your website; after all, your member network is fairly small. However, not only is social media integration becoming easier and easier, but this is a great way to “market” your church to visitors beyond the actual website.
For a small church, connecting your church website to social media is usually as easy as making a Facebook page. Some ChMS solutions also feature social media tools in-program, which can help solve one of the biggest problems with Facebook (or Twitter) pages: keeping them updated! Try to avoid a common social media blunder by updating your Facebook page at least once a week, and watch the visits to your site multiply. And of course: don’t forget to include a link on your homepage so it’s easy to find!
How to Build It
Now you know what a great small church website looks like, so how are you going to build it? If you’re lucky, you have an extremely gifted web developer sitting across from your desk, ready to build whatever you need. However, most of us aren’t that lucky. So now you have the age-old question: WordPress or ChMS?
Being a small church, you don’t want to shell out too much for your website, nor should you have to. There are plenty of free solutions for making a simple website, and WordPress is one of the most popular and the most advanced. If you stick with their free templates, you can do a lot with WordPress without spending a buck (beyond hosting fees). However, there are some advantages to a ChMS as well.
If you don’t have a ChMS already, there are a lot of reasons you might want to consider it, beyond making a nifty website. Check out this free guide to see if your church should start looking at church management software solutions.
Whether or not you have it at the moment, the reason a ChMS can be a good alternative to WordPress is simple: it’s integrated. If you start making your site with dedicated church software, all your church’s information is already there, ready to use. And here’s a bonus: ChMS is made for churches. This means that your website tools have been created with a specific purpose in mind, and ChMS providers have enough experience working with churches to know how to serve them effectively.
If you are just starting out and don’t have the budget for church management software at the moment, or your ChMS isn’t offering a website solution, WordPress is probably the way to go.
If you are already looking at a church software product or are thinking of purchasing a website module for your current ChMS, an integrated website will pay dividends in the future and make updates a lot easier for you and your staff.
The Mid to Large Church.
If you’re a larger church, chances are you already have a website and are looking to make some tweaks and adjustments (or some big changes!). No matter how you feel about your current site, here are some of the key elements it should have.
Examples of mid to large church websites:
As you probably know by now, having a successful church web site is about more than just a pretty home page. Here’s a list of core functionalities that will not only spruce up your site, but make it a useful, efficient tool for you and your church members.
1) Church Calendar
If you have a large church, chances are you probably already have a computerized church calendar. But is it updated? Keeping your church calendar up to date not only in your church office but on the website is very important for keeping your church connected.
One way to make this easier is to sync your website with your ChMS, where you already (hopefully) store your church calendar. There are two ways this can happen: use your church software to build your website (this will make integration very easy!) or use another website creation tool that you can integrate with. Either way, it’s going to be hard for a large church to keep two different calendars constantly updated, so you want to find a solution that allows you to sync information from your ChMS. If you don’t have ChMS, no sweat! Check out this guide for buying ChMS.
2) Online Donations
Allowing your church members to donate online might seem unnecessary at first, or maybe even cumbersome, but this is one of the best parts of having a church website.
First of all, online donation doesn’t have to be a hassle. Many ChMS programs offer the ability to manage online donations and process them in your accounting software (especially if your accounting software is part of your ChMS).
Secondly, online donations can really help your church out! Online donations let members who couldn’t make it on Sunday give remotely, and allow for more spontaneous giving. This can also help you with your donations from a certain age group: Millennials. Research shows that almost 40% of Christian Millennials participate in online giving at least a month. As shown above, sometimes you can even enable online donations for specific funds, like a youth missions trip, or a leader’s retreat.
3) Member Directory
Like enabling online donations, having a member directory accessible online can be surprisingly helpful for your church and is easier than it might sound. If you build your website with a ChMS, you can often integrate your online directory with your member database. Sometimes you can even allow members to update their own profiles, which is a great time-saver! And of course, this is just another way to make it easier for your congregation to stay connected.
4) Outreach Optimization
Part of having a really great church website is having a church website that gets seen. And not just by your own members. There are a few ways to make your church website more visible.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Exactly what it sounds like: optimizing your site to make it easier to find in a search engine, like Google or Bing. There are some free tools out there, like SEOBook, 21 Free SEO Tools, and LunaMetrics, but some ChMS solutions also offer features that can help you get better traffic, like integration with Google Analytics. If you are using a separate website builder, especially if you’re paying for it, you probably already have some SEO tools. Make sure to use them!
Social Media Integration. This is important for a medium to large church, more important than you might think. You might have a Facebook page for your youth group since so many of your younger members use social media on a daily basis, but did you know that the 45-54 year age bracket is the fastest growing demographic on Facebook? Now you might want to think about updating your status.
Churches can have impact on social media sites, not only keeping connected with their own members, but with visitors as well. Now you have another way to drive traffic to your site! But with great congregation size comes great responsibility; remember to keep these sites updated! Updating the church’s social media accounts should be as routine as updating the website, so make sure your staff is involved.
Responsive Layout. This might not be as intuitive, but having a responsive layout (mobile-friendly) can help you show up better on search engines. Not only that, but your congregation might be more likely to look at it if it’s as easy to view on their computer screens as on their iPhone or Kindle.
5) Integration with Your ChMS
I’ve already mentioned this a few times–the many ways that having a site integrated with your ChMS can make your life easier–but I’m mentioning it again because yes, integration really is that important.
For a smaller church, updating a member database, WordPress blog, and two different church calendars might be a hassle, but it’s not impossible. However, when your church has a lot of members and a lot going on, having to manually update the church website constantly and perform all the other tasks of church management at the same time can become unworkable. Not only that, but training is more difficult when there are two products to train for, and you don’t want to force one person to be “the website guy/girl” forever.
Integration solves this problem. Entered an event in your church calendar? Automatically on the home page. The Smiths had a second son? He’s in the online directory now, too. It is possible to accomplish this with a separate website creation tool, if your ChMS happens to integrate with it.
However, it is much more common to see a church software system that offers a website option, and this has the added bonus of being easier to learn (since the ChMS and website creation tools are made by the same people). Read more below in “How to Build It” about which option might be better for your church.
So now you know what you can’t live without. However, there are a few features that might make your staff’s lives easier, especially if you are on the large end of the church spectrum.
1. Online Event Signup
So you’ve got an online calendar, online donations… your church members can do just about everything on your website, except register for events. If you can handle this manually it might not be crucial, but when managing signups becomes a little overwhelming, try taking it online. If your church has the budget, you might want to consider Event Management Software (there are even some free solutions!), but some ChMS solutions offer modules for event management without the purchase of a second product.
2. Church Blog
This is probably one of the easier secondary functionalities for your church website, and it can really help your congregation keep up with church events. Starting a blog isn’t the hard part; even if your ChMS doesn’t offer an option for a blog, starting a blog for free is getting easier and easier.
The big challenge with a blog (as with other social media) is making sure someone actually updates it! Remember to make sure someone is in charge of this and that you know what kind of content you want to be posting, whether it’s messages from the pastor, mission updates, event announcements, or all three. And don’t forget to include a link to the blog and its RSS feed on your homepage so it’s easy to find.
3. Online Sermons
This can mean several different things for your church website. One way to make your sermons available online, and something you might want to think about if you have a larger congregation, is hosting recordings of your sermons on your website. This could mean audio, video, or both. Having an online sermon archive not only lets members watch and rewatch sermons that they weren’t able to see in person, but lets visitors get a better understanding of what it’s like to be at your church. If you go with hosting your church’s videos on a site like Vimeo or Youtube, you can even share the videos on social media and lead visitors to your site that way.
A second way of making your sermons available online is streaming them. There are several services out there that do this, like Christian World Media, SermonCast, or Streaming Faith. This is a great way to reach current members who aren’t able to make it to church on Sunday mornings, like the elderly or hospitalized.
4. Church App
As you might have noticed on the homepage graphic above, church apps are an option for a mid to large size church. However, you might be wondering why you need an app if you have a responsive, mobile-friendly layout for your website. Generally, if you find that all your church website’s functions are just as accessible in a phone browser as on a computer, then you might not need an app.
However, if you are a larger church with features that aren’t as easy to view on a phone browser (like streaming video) then building an app with one of these tools might be the way to go.
How to build it.
Now that your head is swimming with ideas for your mid-sized church’s website, how are you going to make them a reality?
Well, it depends.
At this point I’m going to assume that your church has a church management software system, since several of the functionalities listed above require at least some form of ChMS to implement in the first place. If you do indeed have a ChMS, you have two options for making this site a reality:
1. Website creation tools offered by your ChMS.
2. A separate website creator that can integrate with your ChMS.
In either scenario, integration with your ChMS is a must! The more functions you build into your website, the harder it’s going to be to maintain, unless those functions are extensions of tasks that you’re already accomplishing with your ChMS. This is one reason going with ChMS for building your website would make it even easier.
ChMS website builders are guaranteed to be: church-oriented, integrated with your existing system, and probably easier to learn, since your ChMS provider made them.
However, if your ChMS doesn’t offer this functionality, or it’s out of your price range, building your site with a separate tool is a good option. Just make sure it’s as integrated with your ChMS as possible! Try to eliminate redundancy by connecting your calendar, online donations, and member directory.
Two things are important for a bigger church: integration and building connections. Integration means that you aren’t doing everything twice, and makes life easier for your staff. As for your members, your site’s primary function should be to build and maintain connections for the people of your church. You can do this by creating an online directory, providing online sermons, and allowing for online giving. The bigger your congregation, the harder it is to keep it feeling like a family, and your church website can play a big role in fixing that.
If you have a multisite church, chances are you’ve already got a website, maybe a few. If you feel like your site could still use some improvement, you have a few options. Multisite churches often follow a few trends with their websites, and you might find that the path your church has chosen isn’t the right one anymore. If you recently became multisite, you might find that you would benefit from separate church pages or an option to select a campus when you enter the main church page.
Examples of multisite church sites:
- Mars Hill (Grandville, MI)
- Willow Creek Community Church (Chicago)
- McLean Bible Church (Washington, DC)
Regardless of your overarching website structure, you will need some core functionalities. I’ll be brief here, since you probably know a little bit about these already, and if you need information, the guide for mid to large churches has some more detailed information on what they mean for your site.
1) Church Calendar
One of the building blocks of any church website, the church calendar should be easy to find and constantly updated. If you put your calendar on a home page for the church as a whole, make sure to be clear about the location of each event so members know which site it applies to.
2) Online Donations
If you click through the example sites above, you’ll see Mars Hill and Willow Creek both feature links to online giving on their homepage. No matter where your members meet on Sunday, giving applies to anyone visiting your church, so if you have a homepage for multiple churches this is a smart inclusion. If you make sure donations are integrated with your ChMS, it will make life for your accounting team a lot easier as well.
3) Member Directory
The way you want to implement this is up to you. It may be easier to have a universal church directory or to have separate directories on the different church site pages, especially if your sites are fairly dispersed. Another thing to think about is a small group directory, and other ministries you might offer, since this might be hard for new members to find at a large church.
4) Outreach Optimization
You’ve probably already put some thought into these three ways of making your church visible: SEO, Social Media, and a responsive layout. If you have a multisite church, “marketing” your church probably isn’t your biggest priority. Still, making sure your church is updated on social media not only helps potential visitors find you, but helps your congregation stay connected.
Things to think about: branching out to new social media platforms, like Instagram or Slideshare, and deciding whether to create separate accounts for separate church sites. Though you might want one unified church Twitter, it could be easier to have separate Facebook pages, especially if your church small groups interact with or receive notifications through Facebook. Here are some more creative ways to implement social media in your church.
5) Online Event Signup
Managing registration for a large church can be tricky, especially when some of your members attend different church sites week to week. Simplify this by providing online registration. If you find that your current ChMS or other website builder is not providing a sufficient system for event sign-ups, try Event Management Software. Often there are EMS solutions that are not only affordable but can integrate with your current website. Of course, be sure to make the site of the event clear throughout the registration process!
6) Church Blog
With a church as big as yours, you probably already have a church blog, or maybe a few! In fact, you might need more than a main church blog, even for each church site. Blogs for the church youth group or singles ministry can be helpful for keeping members in the loop with the groups they are more personally connected with.
7) Online Sermons
If you take a look at the three example sites listed above, they all feature links to sermons on their home pages. This is especially important for multisite churches, where members might want to catch up with sermons from other church sites or you want your site to function like an additional “internet campus” where visitors can experience a complete service on your website. Many churches offer not only a sermon archive, with videos and audio, but live streaming as well.
1) Internet TV Channel
If, like many multisite churches, you are creating video content by recording your sermons, one way to build your church’s outreach is to create an internet TV channel. This is a little different than having a YouTube channel. Instead, you’ll have your church content available for on-demand streaming through services like Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV. This isn’t free, so make sure to take budget into consideration, but it’s great for taking a next step as a large and growing church.
2) Separate Ministry Websites
The need for this varies depending on the church. If you find that your youth ministry is a huge component of your church, it might be smart to make a separate page where announcements and discussions are tailored to that ministry. The same might be true of other ministries, depending on your church’s strength. Some churches find that their youth group is attended by more than their own church’s congregation, and when this happens, a separate site will be helpful in making the content clearly available to more people than your church members.
3) Church App
This topic has been widely debated, and there’s no clear-cut answer as to whether or not your church really needs an app. The benefits of a church app are like any other: you can have all the information about that particular thing in one place. You might also find that if your website is fairly complex, having an app with its own mobile-oriented system of navigation is easier to use than a mobile version of the site.
However, a lot of the functionalities of an app can be addressed by other services: social media keeps you up to date on your phone as well as an app would, and generally congregants should be able to find the information they need on the mobile version of the church website. If you find that it’s much easier to keep this all in one place, however, creating a church app might be the way to go.
How to build it.
No matter how you build your church website, integration is key. With the amount of content and functions on your church website, it’s tricky (or at least expensive) to constantly update information as well as manage your church, especially when you have to enter the same information twice.
The answers here are to either build your church site with a ChMS and keep everything with the same vendor, use a separate website builder, or build your own. Developing an advanced, fully-featured website like the ones above obviously depends on your ability to find a skilled web developer, but if you build your site with a pre-existing site building tool you have quite a few options out there.
Many multi-site churches seem to prefer a web developer to design their sites, and there are actually some specifically church-oriented options out there like Faith Network, SiteOrganic, and Sheepish Design. When you go with a developer, you will get a site customized to your needs, though, like most options for larger churches, it might not be cheap. However, some multi-site churches have managed to get by with some nice WordPress themes that cost a lot less! Make sure to weigh your options before settling on a way to build your site, without sacrificing any of the core functionalities.
Phew! Hopefully some of this information was helpful for you on your path to building a great church website. Depending on your size you might be ready to jump on WordPress, call a developer, or browse some more articles, but regardless of where your website is right now, make sure to take a look at some church management software solutions.
Managing your church successfully is your first priority, after all, and your church website should just be a tool that allows you to do that better while reaching new visitors. If you visit the Capterra directory, you can even narrow your search to solutions that offer website management.
Good luck on your quest for the greatest church website ever!
Some Useful Resources
Looking for Church Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Church Management software solutions.