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A Little Church Web Site Discipline

I began doing freelance web site design primarily because of a tremendous lacking of high quality web sites among today’s churches. For most churches, maintaining a web site seems a trifle luxury, but I see it as a necessity. Even still, I’ll admit that many churches with web sites really shouldn’t have… After perusing most of the internet (that’s an exaggeration) to see as many church web sites as possible, I’ve put together a little list of my greatest church web site pet peaves.

1. Animated GIF’s. Sure they’re free. And yes, you grew up scotch-taping cut out clipart to the weekly bulletin shell before cranking out mimeographs for Sunday’s service. But clip art, in the traditional sense, is now out of date. As Agent J would put it, it’s “old and busted!” You don’t need any spinning crosses, blinking crosses, or even bleeding crosses (oh yeah, they’re out there…). You don’t have a spinning cross on top of your steeple do you? (My apologies to you if you do…). Give up the clipart books and welcome to the world of vector art!

2. Tiled, repeating backgrounds. Especially those that remain fixed while the non-contrasting text is left to flow in front, unnoticed. Here’s a great tip. Look at your church’s front page in grayscale. If you can’t read the dark gray text against the slightly less gray photographic background, neither can many of your site’s visitors.

3. Banner exchanges. They’re so early 90′s! A few church web sites feature their basic contact information, then eleven printable pages of banners from all of their favorite sister ministries. (And all of these banners use animated gif’s!). The evil cousin of banner exchanges is the always broken webring! Just don’t go there.

4. Boring pictures. Pictures are okay, but don’t choose that nice spring photo of your church’s hillside cemetary as the welcome page background. Almost as bad is a picture of the lonely church sign. Why not feature some flesh-and-blood human beings, a nice picture of the building you want visitors to find, or leave the graphics out altogether?

5. Cool stuff. You know what I mean… you drag the mouse across the page and it makes little watery, ripply things. Or each click produces a chain reaction of domino-like flash features designed to dazzle and impress. Here’s the problem, nobody really cares. Sure you can do it, but that doesn’t mean it produces mature disciples or reaches seekers for Christ. I like smooth effects, but all effects, graphics, and special tools should merely serve to enhance your content, which is where the real heart of a church web site should lie.

6. Outdated content. This is the age of the RSS feed, the blog, and the social-networking revolution, which opens up a world of possibilities for displaying fresh and relevant content for your people. If the last article on your church web site announced the upcoming Y2K-preparedness conference in the fellowship hall, you need a web-savvy secretary!

7. Free sites. I’m not talking about churches that receive a custom design for no cost. I’m talking about all of those content networks that offer you a domain name like http://www.somefreecontentnetworksite.com/~?p42/directory/your-church-name-somewhere-at-the-end. If you don’t want to have to issue an advertising disclaimer like “We know you might see nasty stuff on our page, but we didn’t put it there…” then don’t sign up for a freely hosted site.

8. Fun fonts. Typography is, in my opinion, just as important as any graphic presentation of your church web site. Comic Sans has somehow made its way onto the list of top twenty or so web fonts. Why? I have no idea. Reserve all the fun, bubbly, flowery, pseudo-cursive stuff for your church scrapbook club. This is the internet and it’s meant to be read.

I hope that I wasn’t too hard on you, but our age is one sorely lacking in proper church web site discipline. We need a clarion call for proper church web presentation and decorum. So here are a few suggestions if you’ve just self-diagnosed your church as out of good standing with the web…

1. Spend money on online outreach. Isn’t it cruel to expect a church to shell out money for a web site? We are non profit, right? You’ve noticed the difference, I’m sure, between the teenager who mowed lawns for five years to buy that first clunker versus the spoiled kid who got the free Camaro, right? We appreicate what we pay for. And besides, aren’t your people tithing to fulfill the great commission, to reach people? And aren’t people gathering online?

2. Be thou clean! Give a little space, some padding, some margin, some room for the eyes to cascade downward through your awesome sermon manuscript. Don’t over-design just because you can. Keep it simple. Look at Google. Look at the iPod. Fancy graphics are out the window – they’re “old and busted.”

3. Focus on content. That’s all your church web site really needs. A church site can serve one of several purposes, but these are probably at the top of the list: to communicate the gospel, to announce church events, to celebrate victories, to tell great stories, to convey God’s message. All of these are carried on the wings of words, so write and keep writing. That’s actually all your church web site really needs anyway. When it comes to content, go and thin no more!

I’m sure there’s more to share, but I thought I’d close by offering a few of my favorite church web sites, none of which were designed by me. Notice the cleanliness, the content, and the nice and friendly user interface. If I were looking for a church, I might even visit one myself…

Bethlehem Baptist, Minneapolis (I’m not crazy about Calvinism, but this is one of the best sites out there!)

The City Church (in spite of some slightly small fonts)

Stonebriar Community Church (okay, graphics can be good)

LifeChurch.tv (edgy techniques, but awesome interactivity)

Eastpoint (again, nice graphics)

Need Help?

I’d be happy to help, whether that means pointing you to some good resources, offering a free consultation, or designing your site from the ground up. Drop me a line today!

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