Reach Young Adults on the Web

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 March 2005 issue of Good News Etc.]

Are you an Immigrant or a Native? These are the terms author and speaker Leonard Sweet use to help us understand the younger generation. Immigrants were born before 1962, Natives after.

As it relates to technology, Immigrants (yes, I’m an Immigrant – where are my reading glasses?) had to learn technology in our adult years. Natives have grown up with it. Technology is a regular, normal part of their everyday lives.

Reaching young families is a high priority of most churches. But many church leaders are Immigrants. That means it will take some work on the part of a church’s leadership to understand how to meet their needs, especially on the web.

The January 2005 issue of Church Executive had an exceptional article that is very helpful called “Does your website attract young families?” The author echoes what I’ve been saying in this column:

… many potential [young] visitors to your church will visit your website before they ever come inside your building. They will research your congregation and decide whether or not to visit based on what they find online. Is your current website designed to handle that responsibility?

Yes, your church’s website is that important.

I want to share the three points they make in the article, which will help us evaluate our effectiveness:

1. If you're not on the Web, you don't exist. With such a wealth of accessible information on the Web, it's easy for people to limit their research to just an Internet search. Add to that the fact that younger families are much less likely to use yellow pages or newspaper ads, and pretty quickly you understand that not having a website makes you invisible to most people under age 40. When trying to communicate with young families, not having a website is similar to not having a sign on your building - how will they know you exist?

2. Their first impression of your congregation will be from the Web. Do you have enough information on your website to give visitors a proper first impression? Pictures are truly worth a thousand words on the Web. Do you have pictures of your worship services, classes and activities? Can a visitor to your site get a feel for what type of people worship with you? What they wear? How you worship? What your focus is? It's not enough to simply say, "Come visit us."

3. A poor website can actually deter visits from young families. People who "grew up" on the Web expect your website to be of the same quality as any other they visit. If your site was built by a volunteer years ago, and hasn't been updated since, that will be reflected on you. Younger families expect your website to provide service information, maps, news, calendars, sermons, and music clips. This type of information is readily available from other organizations' websites. Seekers expect the same things from you as well. Not being able to get this information can sometimes be frustrating to families seeking a church family.

This last point also reiterates a point I’ve made in the past: If your church’s current website is embarrassing (just ask the young people in your church if you aren’t sure), then take it down. Now. Replace it with one simple page listing your service times and map/directions, until you can create a better site.

That sounds extreme, but it’s that important.

In the process of creating a new site, gather some of the young adults (single, married, and parents) for an evening. (Don’t forget to provide child care.) Offer a light dinner and pick their brains: What makes a good website? What would they expect on the site? What things would they use to decide to attend a church? What should it look like?

What comes out of this meeting will be invaluable in the creation of a relevant, vibrant website to reach your community.

Mike Atkinson is well aware of his Immigrant status every morning when he drags himself out of bed, and he's president/founder of uneekNet (helping your organization succeed on the web); and runs a daily humor email list called Mikey’s Funnies.