What does it mean to use a church website for ministry and not just for marketing? That’s the question we must engage in a time of virtual church. This question becomes even more important as we recognize that our ability to gather in-person will be limited until there is equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine.
Any church website begins as a marketing effort, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As church leaders, we want community members to find the information they need so they can engage in the life of the church. Prior to the pandemic, most church websites existed to provide information about where one could go to experience the ministry. This is why most church websites prominently list service times, driving directions, and other facts about the faith community.
But in this time of crisis, our website is not merely a digital signpost for an in-person Sunday service. After listing the basics like streaming links and service times, our websites must provide an oasis of grace, an experience of sabbath rest amidst a digital ecosystem full of fear and apprehension. During this pandemic, our website doesn’t just point to a ministry that is somewhere else. As the church has moved online, our website has become the ministry itself!
The pivot from websites that inform to websites that serve will not come easily to many church leaders. Such a move will require patience, creativity, and a commitment to curating and creating content.
Each week, the church leader should ask three questions about their website:
How can we use the content of our church website to help our community experience grace?
We are all struggling to make sense of an uncertain time, and need to know that God accompanies us. A church website can make this clear. This can be achieved through original content created by church leaders, or through curated content from other ministries.
How will we share our new website content with our members and neighbors?
Community members need to find this content before it can speak a word of God’s promise to them. When church leaders post new content to social media or newsletters, they are sometimes dismayed to find few viewers. While we should be using email and social media, most of our energy should go to personal outreach. When checking in with church members to see how they are doing, we can also tell them about what’s new on the website, invite them to engage with it, and most importantly, request their feedback.
How will we measure that our new website content is achieving its intended goal?
Fundamentally, the church website needs to shift from breadth to depth. It no longer matters how many people viewed your website. It matters whether those people found something spiritually edifying. We can measure this by analyzing traditional website engagement metrics found in platforms like Google Analytics. We should seek an increase in time on site, as it takes longer to read a post or view a prayer than it takes to find worship times. We should also look for an increase in pages per visit, and the number of repeat site visitors, both of which indicate engagement. Beyond the metrics, we might consider reaching out to community members to ask more qualitative questions. Church leaders can attain a clear vantage of their website by integrating hard metrics with the anecdotal experience of their community. We should start with two questions: have you recently explored the content on the church website, and did you find it spiritually edifying?
The church website once functioned as a highway billboard. That’s no longer our reality. Your website must now come to function as a church sanctuary so that site visitors might experience grace amidst a fractious digital landscape.
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Photo by Mateusz Dach