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Helping Churches Move Forward
Your church website can help you to touch lives for Jesus.

"Week in, week out, more visitors turn up at our church on a Sunday because of the website, than anything else," writes a growing church near London, Ontario. A church's website is its public 'shop window' for the community, and increasingly strategic. Though it is hard to find precise figures, there are probably 200,000 English language church sites around the world, with many more in other languages.

Internet Evangelism Day has therefore released a new tool: … It helps a church to analyze their website …

Sadly, it doesn't take much research to discover that many church websites are, intentionally or not, written mostly for their members. Or at best, other Christians. Such sites may contain little that is enticing—or even comprehensible—to a non-Christian.

New tool

Internet Evangelism Day has therefore released a new tool: a self-assessment questionnaire for church sites. It helps a church to analyze their website, looking at a range of factors that can make it effective, with a special emphasis on being user-friendly to non-Christians:

The tool leads a church through questions on:

• site design and usability
• people-centered welcome
• being easy to find on search engines
• how to locate the church building
• email follow-up
• integration into wider church strategy

Many of the questions are directed at these issues …

Two neglected key elements for a church site:

1. 'Church is people'

We all mentally assent to this. The Greek ekklesia means 'group of people.' But many church sites are not really people-centered at all. They merely describe the weekly program. Frequently, the only photo on the homepage is the church building.

If 'church is people,' then the most prominent homepage photo should be people's faces. And ideally, there should be some 'meet the members' pages too. These will probably not be full testimonies, but enticing, not-too-serious profiles of a cross-section of different members. After all, if a church site is wanting to say 'come and join us,' then it needs to show who 'us' really is!

2. Testing

Few church sites seem to go through a proper usability testing procedure. This can be done on two levels:

a) General usability

Find several volunteers who are web users of only modest experience and unfamiliar with your site. They are typical of many people in your community who use the web without being experts. Seat the volunteer in front of your church website, and ask him or her to find specific information within the site. They should give you a running commentary on what they are seeing and doing, and the problems they are encountering. Do not prompt or help them in any way! This will soon reveal aspects of the site which though plain and obvious to you, are not easy for a first-time visitor. To them, it's rather like trying to find an item of food in a strange supermarket, or visiting a new city as a first-time tourist. Take notes (even an audio recording), and you will soon find the weaknesses in the site menu, links, text or structure.

b) Reaction of willing non-believers

This is similar to usability testing, but your testers must not be believers, because you are asking them to comment on their overall perception of the site for:

• sense of welcome to an outsider.
• use of churchy language which they either do not understand, or feel to be off-putting.

Ask them to give a brutally-honest running commentary, or a brief written report if they prefer.

Their reaction to the site is likely to be somewhere along a spectrum. At the good end, we hope for a conclusion something like: "This church is about people, and I already feel that I am starting to know and like some of them. I sense that they will welcome me in a friendly unpressurized way, just as I am, any time I am ready to visit. There is a range of activities I can choose from."

At the other extreme, we may hear words like: "This church only seems to portray itself in terms of a formal program of weekly meetings. It does not tell me anything about the people there. So I am not sure that I would be really welcome. Even if I did visit, it might be very much on their terms. Much of the language is 'insider Christianese' too."

Most church sites will fall somewhere between these two positions. The challenge is to learn to listen, and then find ways to move the site further along this spectrum.

Repurposing your site

The IE Day team do not want churches to be discouraged or condemned by this checklist tool! Any website should undergo continual improvement. It is our hope and prayer that the tool will highlight aspects that can be developed, to be more user-friendly and accessible to outsiders in the community.

Your church website can help you to touch lives for Jesus.

For more resources and information on Internet evangelism, visit the website, http://ied.gospelcom.net/. To heighten awareness of the potential of Internet outreach, April 29, 2007 is dedicated as Internet Evangelism Day.

Tony Whittaker is the coordinator of the website, Internet Evangelism Day.

Originally published on the website Internet Evangelism Day.

 

 
 
 
 

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