I remember when I first felt the call to return to church. After 30 years away I really didn’t know where to begin or what to expect.
Given the time I’d been away I was nervous about coming back. I knew I needed to find a church that was less legalistic or bible thumping and more grace and love filled than my memory told me existed.
I determined the best way for me to find a church was to go online (entering through their virtual doors). I knew going online would give me the chance to secretly test-drive them without being bombarded by their people or needing to traipse all over town. By going online, before ever setting a foot in their door, I could figure out, “just how big is their welcome?” I didn’t realize at the time, but the way I went about selecting a church was what a lot of people do. In fact, I have come to learn that…
85% of people thinking of going to church first go to the church’s website.
Given the requirements of today’s seekers I think there are 4 important questions to ask:
- What does a site need to have for today’s seekers?
- Do all the congregations within out region have a website?
- Does having an online presence lead to growth?
- Of the sites our congregations have, are they mobile-friendly (enabled)?
What does a site need to have for today’s seekers?
Does your church’s online presence communicate your welcome? With a little research and experience I have learned the following are the most important elements for church websites:
- When is Worship?
- What Can I expect in worship, will I be welcomed?
- Can I participate or watch only? Can I receive communion, can I opt out of it?
- What about my children, can they come or is there childcare provided?
- How do I find the church? Address, directions, google maps? (Make this info. front and center as much as possible. Don’t make me have to search for it.)
- What do they believe in? Since I don’t know their jargon my hope is that it is simple and clear for me to understand.
- Will they accept my kind of people?
Do all of our congregations within our region have a website?
Downloading a list of all our current congregations along with looking up their listed websites I found that although 32 (or 48%) of the 67 congregations have an ‘url’ address only …
- 27 (or 40%) of our 67 congregations have a functional website
- 59.9% do not. Forty of our congregations do not have a website today.
This surprised me. It seems to me every one of our congregations should at least be able to answer the bare questions mentioned above and do so online; at least to give themselves the best chance at getting seekers to come through their doors.
But does being online lead to growth?
Although this is hard to determine with 100% accuracy since we don’t track answers to questions like: a) How did you come to know of us and, b) Did having an online presence help you make your decision to first choose us? So I needed to find a way to back into seeing any correlation between growth and online presence.
To do so I took a look at those congregations within our region reporting new members and looked them up to see if they have an online presence. For the past 6 months of regional newsletters, I tracked what congregations reported any new members. I cross referenced their report with whether they have a website. Here is what I learned:
- Eleven of our congregations within our region stated they gained new members.
- Of the eleven, two (or 18%) do not have a website.One of the churches took their site down for revitalizing while the other has no evidence of ever having had a website.
Although we cannot conclude members joined because of a website we should expect to see the same ratio of members joining those churches with a website as those who join without a website. But that is not the case…
Here’s what was found
Where 27 of our 67 congregations (or 40%) have a website, 8 of the 11 (or 82%) congregations that report adding new members have a website. It seems if you have a website you’ve greatly increased your odds of attracting new members.
While having a website does not mean your congregation will grow, not having one will ensure you don’t.
The next question I began to ask is whether our sites met the requirements of those who go online seeking a church?
Are the sites our congregations have mobile-friendly (enabled)?
When looking at the various websites our congregations have there are differences in their layout and content. Some are better than others. Given that 94% of people cite that poor web design is their primary reason for mistrusting or rejecting an organization, I decided it was important to not only to see if our congregations have a site but are the sites they have – mobile friendly?
Here is an image of a site viewed on a handheld device. It is the same site but only one, as you can see, is mobile-friendly.
Today people require the sites they visit to be easily viewed and navigated from their handheld device. As this chart shows from ComScore mobile search has surpassed Desktop users and this happened back in 2014…
To see if the sites our congregations have are mobile-friendly (meaning the visitor doesn’t need to use their fingers to pinch and spread to move around the site via the small device), I keyed them into my smartphone and to check to how easy it was for me to find when and where worship was. Here is what I found:
Of the 27 congregations that have a website, 13 (or 48%) are mobile friendly (enabled). Although some of those are better designed than others. In all though, I was able to find what I was looking for. I highly recommend we visit our sites by visiting from our desktops, mobile devices (tablets, ipads, iphones, smartphones).
When I think of how much we rely on our phones to tell us where to go, what time to be there and any other numerous tidbits to make our lives easier it is a service requirement for church’s to make information available to our fingertips.
In today’s fast-pace often over-worked communities it is a matter of simple convenience and good discipleship to provide the information members and new visitors need to make the decision to choose our worship services. Anything we can do to make their lives easier can only better our ministries.
I know this is a lot of information. Perhaps some questions are coming to mind and an interest of checking out your site? If there is any help you need, don’t hesitate to holler. It is my privilege to help if I can. What I don’t know I will help you find a solution.