Looking for a new church can be stressful because uncertainty is uncomfortable. When people think about walking through the doors of a strange church, filled with people they don’t know, this can cause anxiety. Today social anxiety is one of the chronic mental health challenges of this age, so we need to do whatever we can to lower the anxiety of our guests.
One way to do this is through your church website. Because most guests visit a church’s website before their first in-person encounter, a church can use its website to intentionally communicate information that will reduce the guest’s uncertainty, thus lowering anxiety and minimizing a potential mental barrier to visiting the church.
A recent study of 116 churches in the Oregon Conference (a territory covering Western Oregon and Southwest Washington) identified seven characteristics of church websites that appear to reduce guest uncertainty. However, only three of these correlated with faster church growth. Can you guess which ones?
How to Make a More Effective Church Website
1. Clearly communicate the service dates and times.
This might sound like an obvious one, but in this study, only 80% of websites clearly communicated their dates and times on their homepage. No one (especially guests) should have to hunt down this information when they are still deciding if they should come visit you or not.
2. Put the physical address on the homepage.
Here is another one that makes so much sense it feels like it shouldn’t be on the list, yet here it is. Only 85% of the church websites had the address on the home page. If someone thinks they remember where your church is but gets lost on the way there, don’t make them search your website to find the address again. They’re more likely to give up and go home.
3. Show a visual map of the church’s location.
Only 59% of the churches had a map visible on their homepage. If someone is looking at the proximity of your church to their home, you want them to be able to quickly visualize the distance. This also helps them make a mental image of other landmarks or locations around the area to decide if they understand your location and that they feel comfortable with the neighborhood.
4. Make sure the website works on mobile devices.
Having a responsive web design where the layout of a page adjusts to a more comfortable view on different device aspect ratios used to be a bonus feature. Now it is standard and actually says more about your church if it is not designed mobile first. (Yes, people will be able to tell if your website hasn’t been updated since 2005, or if someone just doesn’t know what they are doing.)
5. Have a special page just for guests.
With the lowest number (just 9% of churches had one), having a guest expectation page is highly recommended. It could even help with your church’s growth! Make the page easy to find with a big button or link on the homepage, and take the time to share some things someone might see or hear when they walk through your doors. Are you casual or more formal? Do you have regular potlucks? If so, make sure guests know they can stay and it’s OK if they didn’t bring anything. (This is also a great time to share they might be greeted with a warm, “Happy Sabbath!” too.)
6. Offer videos of past worship services
About 1/3 of the churches (34%) made video archives of past services available to watch on the website. This can also be an important factor for new guests who may want to gain more information than words on a website can communicate. It allows them to hear your preaching style or see how people are dressing for themselves. (This is also helpful for any members who miss a week so they can catch up before next Sabbath.)
7. Personalize the website to reflect your church.
The standard, free website you received from the NAD covers all the basics, but today you need more than basic. In our study, 74% of the churches had a website that was customized in some way from this standard layout (though not all included all the characteristics we mention here). Showing more of your church’s unique personality will help your church website stand out and will reflect more of what could draw someone new in to visit you.
The Big Three
So which of these features correlated with faster church growth? We made it easy so we could get to the heart of it: The last three features—guest page, video archives, and customized layout—showed a positive correlation with both rates of church growth and total accessions.
Churches with a dedicated guest page grew 21% faster, and those having a customized website showed 6% higher growth. Churches with a video archive of previous worship services grew 41% faster than those that didn’t.
Churches with at least 2 of these characteristics grew 45% faster than churches with just one or none of these characteristics.
But the most shocking part of this study for us was the raw number of baptisms and professions of faith for each of the churches whose websites had these top three features. Churches that had at least one of these three characteristics saw about 3x the total accessions of those that didn’t. Churches with websites that had all three features had 6x the total accessions than those who didn’t have any.
This study only identified correlation, not necessarily causation. There are many other factors that influence a guest’s decision to become a member of the church through baptism or profession of faith. It is likely that an overall culture of evangelism in the church led the communication team to add these uncertainty-reducing features to the website. Nonetheless, this study has identified a strong correlation between these website characteristics and church growth that should be considered by church communication leaders.
Looking to turn your church website into an evangelism engine?
Call us today at 1-800-525-5791. We’d love to help!
You can also download your FREE Board Packet for your next church board meeting.