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A Good Church Website

Series: Improving your church website

Improving Your Church Website
Check out all the articles in the series...

[This is my Web Wise column from the December 2004 issue of Good News Etc.]

DISCLAIMER: I presented this website not as a perfect example of a church website, but as a good example of a low-budget project. Simple, clean, generally easy to understand - but most important, not embarrassing!

Last month we talked about a fictitious church website. So this month, let’s look at the real deal. The other day I came across the website for McEachern Memorial United Methodist Church. I was very impressed with it and thought I’d go over some reasons why, with hopes that we can all learn some things to apply to our church sites.

Go to their site.

McEachern is located in a suburb of Atlanta and attendance averages over 1,000, so it’s not a huge church. This site was done by a volunteer/member who creates websites as his business.

But you don’t have to have 1,000 people and a sharp web designer/member to make a site like this happen. I think this is a great example of what smaller churches can accomplish with very little budget. You can learn from sites like this as you build or improve your site.

- As you can see, the design is simple. That’s not a bad thing. This is an easy site to understand and get around in. But you can radically change the feel of a site with a change of your color palette. I use the following tool to help my clients choose the feel they want their site to communicate (see the moreHelp below).

- Another big win on this site is the navigation. You just don’t see many sites with such consolidated navigation. This is a very good thing. As authors Ray Kristof and Amy Satran said in their book Interactivity By Design, “No matter how well designed the site is, there’s always a ramp-up time for new users to understand the site, know what it has to offer, and navigate its content. The simpler the site is, the easier it will be for users to be confident in using the site.”

This site has a very quick ramp-up. Their consolidation of a vast amount of information about this church into five sections (Worship, News, Ministries, About, Resources) is exceptional!

And when they have subnavigation (sections under the main section), as they do in Ministries, they’re presented very clearly.

- I really like their Locations & Directions section in About Us. It has both a visual map and text directions from multiple directions. They also have a Campus Map section. All these are designed to help a visitor feel a bit more comfortable, not only in getting around, but in knowing that you want to make it easier for them.

- Everything on this site is up-to-date. The calendars, meeting info, etc. are not months old. That sends a huge signal to potential visitors. It also means that they have a way for the staff to update the site themselves, thus not having to rely on the volunteer to do it.

- They have a very nice Resources section, with sermon notes from the pastor. This shows folks that church leadership is supportive of their web ministry. Plus they have great links to other resources. Good job!

- Check out their staff page (under About Us) – a clear listing of all the folks who make the church run, with good photos, bios, and email links. Excellent! (And where do I sign up to be the Minister of Recreation?! Wow.)

- Their Contact Us page is thorough, with simple forms for sending feedback to the church requesting a small group or a prayer request. And – here’s a good lesson – they crosslink when it makes sense. For instance, their Directions page is in About Us (logical). But on the Contact Us page, they link over to the Directions page. Many visitors would probably look in the Contact section for a map. That’s a good reminder that we need to try to think like the people who will be visiting our site.

As web guru Steve Krug says, “If a site's navigation is confusing, they (the visitor) generally won't try to figure it out; they'll just poke around and see if they can get to what they want. Poking around can work, and it can even be fun, but it's inefficient and it doesn't have a very high success rate. So if it's your site and it's important to you (economically or personally) that people find things there, it's incumbent on you to make it dead-easy to find them.”

Of course, it’s important to us! Folks with deep spiritual needs will be visiting our church’s website and we must do our best to make sure it meets their needs.

moreHelp (related links)

Improvements

Yes, every website can stand to improve, even McEachern’s:

  • I’d like to see at least one photo of folks on each page. This will bring some humanity and a bit more excitement to a fairly plain design.
  • There are a lot of PDF documents on the site. That’s a good thing for designed print items (like maps and newsletters). But for plain items, like their bulletin or Sunday school class listing, I’d rather see them on a print version page for easier access.
  • Speaking of print versions, I’d like to see them on this site – especially for the map and directions pages.
  • I think their next major improvement to the site would be to add some more visual attraction to the site design. Not so much that it detracts for its simplicity, though.

Mike Atkinson is a fanatic for Christmas music, is the president/founder of uneekNet (helping your organization succeed on the web); and runs a daily humor email list at Mikey’s Funnies.