Aiming at two groups of people
The most successful church websites are those designed with their target audience clearly in mind. Your target audience is simply those people who you hope to attract to your site. Good church websites are hard to create because they must reach two target audiences, not just one. The key to ensuring that your website works well is to design according to the different needs of these two audiences.
Your first and most important audience is those people who are not yet Christians but who are considering coming to your church. The church website offers them an ideal way to find out about the church, and the Christian faith, in an anonymous way before taking the plunge and coming along in person. Your site needs to be accessible in language and style giving these visitors a positive impression.
Your website's second audience is your existing church members. This group is less important than the first, simply because there is probably little which you can place on the website that they don't already know, or can't easily find out from another source. So do provide information relevant to church members, but not at the expense of making the site inaccessible to your main audience of non-churchgoers. Everything you put on your site says something about your church, consider whether or not putting the breakdown of last year's finances and lengthy minutes of the annual church meeting are a good idea (the answer is 'probably not').
Providing relevant content
The key to good design is to ask yourself what the members of each target audience are looking for when they visit your website. Potential visitors to your church may want to know:
Many church websites do not answer this type of question. We try to help all Church123 users maximise their sites' potential by providing ongoing quality checks. When looking at other church websites we often come across those which look good, but don't rate highly because they are not focused on the needs of non-churchgoers. By contrast, a good church website is aimed primarily at those who do not yet come to church.
The sort of information church members may look for on the website is very different. They are more likely to ask questions like:
Since the questions church members ask are so different from those asked by other visitors, it is almost impossible to write one page which is interesting to both sets of visitors. Either you end up giving church members information they already know, in which case they won't bother looking at the website very much, or you confuse potential church visitors.
We strongly recommend that all church websites have a page called ‘Visitors' high up on the main menu. Within this page you should outline in plain English a few facts about the church and what a visitor can expect. Potential visitors to a church can be simply put off by not knowing what to expect at a church service – a visitor's page gives them the information they need to be confident enough to come. See further information on the Plan Your Church Website page.
In addition to a visitors page you should try and avoid using ‘in-house' language, if for certain reasons you have to use a word such as ‘liturgy' or ‘Eucharist' then an asterisk with an explanation will really help – but where possible avoid cliquey words. If necessary have different pages for different audiences. For example, to tell people about the Sunday services create one page containing the basic information which an enquirer might need to know (e.g. service times, crèche etc.), and then provide a link to a second page which contains detailed information for church members (e.g. who is preaching, crèche rota etc.). Alternatively, place more in-depth information towards the bottom of the page so new visitors do not have to wade through too much material to read the key points. If this is done throughout the site then you will achieve your aim of providing a website which is welcoming and informative for both your casual visitors and your church members.
An additional audience
There is a third group of people who will visit your site, namely those people who are already Christians but who don't attend your church. Perhaps they attend another local church and are looking to share resources with others, or perhaps they recently moved into the area and are looking for a new church. Whoever they are, there is no need to design your website specifically to reach these people. If you have followed the advice given above, your church site will already welcome them and provide all the information they need to know.