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How your church can have a thriving online presence [Guest Post]

This is a special guest post from our friends at WP for Church. Enjoy!

At WP for Church, we want to see your church thrive.  We want to see people flooding through your doors to hear Jesus proclaimed week after week.  And we know that one of the most critical ways of seeing this happen is for you to have a thriving online presence.  An outdated website, a broken website, even an ugly website can be as bad as having no website at all.  Websites play a major role in so many key decisions when a person is investigating a church.  Studies show us that almost 50% of people say that a website is an important factor to consider when choosing a church to visit, and that one third of people say the internet was the first place they heard about their church (source).  A solid web presence matters now more than ever, and churches simply can’t afford to be complacent, be reluctant, or cut corners when it comes to their website and online existence.

Now it’s one thing to say that an online presence matters.  It’s another thing to put that into action.  It can be a daunting task for a church who may be under-funded, under-staffed, under-resourced and overworked to suddenly become inspired to overhaul their online strategy, so we want to help.  We’ve come up with six ways your church can be prepared for, and create for itself, a thriving online presence.

1. Understand that an effective website involves time and money

I can already hear the sighs of dismay from the overworked ministers who maintain they have neither time nor money available to them, but hear me out.  It can be tempting to cut corners when it comes to church websites.  Perhaps by delegating the task to a well-meaning but untrained volunteer.  Volunteers are great, we love volunteers!  But some tasks are too important to leave in the hands of someone who is not an expert in the field.

If the volunteer chair-stacker sets up the chairs wrong – no biggie.  It can be fixed, they can be trained, we all move on.  If the kitchen helpers put the cups back in the wrong drawer, that kind of mistake doesn’t have a major impact on the life of a church.  But when it comes to your church’s public persona, the very first impression someone may receive before even setting foot in your church, the “shop front” that people will use to judge your church – is that something you can really leave to a well-meaning, yet unqualified volunteer?

Your church may be in a position where you do have a member of the congregation who is highly skilled in web design, development and maintenance, and is ready and willing to give up many long hours to serve by building and managing an online presence.  If that’s the case at your church – praise God!  What a gift he has blessed your church with!  But for those churches who don’t have a volunteer who is not only willing, but highly competent in all areas of web development (which includes design and user experience!), please think carefully before handing over this critical role to them.  In the same way that a church would have high standards and strict criteria when deciding who preaches from the pulpit, that same degree of meticulousness is needed when choosing a web designer and manager.

It really does pay to outsource to an expert in the field.  In the same way a church pays for an electrician, a plumber, and any utility, if they want a job done right, they ought to pay an expert.  Outsourcing to a professional has the added benefit of not carrying any sense of “emotional baggage” to the task at hand.  That’s not to say that professionals don’t care.  (At WP for Church, we care deeply for every church who subscribes to our services, and we work hard to get the job done well.)  But it does mean there’s some degree of professional separation.  If a church is unhappy with the results, they approach the service provider.  They are paying good money for a product or service, and they are entitled to a return from that investment.  When it comes to volunteers, complaints, criticism and feedback become so much more complicated.  Pastors need to walk on eggshells so as to not offend the kind-hearted volunteer who gave up so many hours to produce an under-performing or underwhelming website.

It really does pay in the long run for churches to do things right the first time.  Enlist the help of a professional, and invest in a well-designed, well-functioning, attractive and effective website.  Yes, there is some financial cost.  But there is also considerable time involved in birthing a website.  Even churches who are blessed with highly capable volunteers may well find their volunteers simply cannot produce a website of a high enough quality in a timely manner, due to the sheer number of man hours required to make it happen.  But the beauty is, once you’ve bitten the bullet and paid for your website to be made, maintenance becomes a whole lot easier.  We still think you should be outsourcing to a “field expert” for matters of web security, backups, support and updates, but church volunteers and staff can then be trained to contribute to the website with words and written content, rather than with the burden of design, coding, themes, user experience, search engine optimisation, and other technical facets of web design that they’re probably not trained in, and don’t have the time to do well.

2. Consistency is key

A church website needs to be consistent in two ways: voice and style.

Keeping a consistent voice

Most churches likely have an entire team of people contributing to the efforts and initiatives of said church.  The church is a place where many gifts, talents and passions come together to weave an amazing community of people who love God, each other, and their world.  But it’s not always helpful for each of these many individuals to possess complete ownership of their area of the church website.  But, on the other hand, the role of filling a website with content about every ministry area can’t possibly fall on just one person, who can’t know the intricacies and specific details of each and every initiative offered by a church.  For this reason, a delicate balance needs to be forged amongst ministry leaders, whereby the ministry coordinator is responsible for creating and maintaining content for their own section of the website, under the overall care of an individual (or a handful of individuals) who are given the authority to make minor edits, suggestions and rewrites in order to preserve a common voice across the entire website. For the purposes of this article, we’ll call this person the Web Content Coordinator.

Channelling all website edits through one or two people may seem like you’re creating a bottleneck for yourselves.  And this may end up being the case, which is why it’s imperative that the person chosen for the important role of Web Content Coordinator is highly skilled in a number of different disciplines, namely an excellent written communicator, relatively “tech-savvy”, a fast learner, good with editing and proofreading, and able to produce a quick turnaround time on website tasks.  If you can find this person, you’re already halfway there to maintaining consistency in your church website.  This Web Content Coordinator can receive new and updated content from ministry leaders, can read over it and modify if necessary to ensure a consistent voice across the entire website, and can get that fresh content up on the web in a matter of hours.

Maintaining consistency of voice can mean any number of things.  It may involve sharpening up the Youth Pastor’s spiel about Friday nights to use language more consistent with the rest of the website (“c u there, guyz!” might work with teenagers at Youth Group, but probably not so appropriate on a church website!).  It may involve proofreading to ensure each ministry is using the same terminology for church-wide initiatives (is it “one-to-one”, “one2one”, or “1-2-1”?  We have staff using all three terms!).  It may be stylistic choices, ensuring that fonts, headings and colours are consistent across all pages of the website.  But once you’ve found this Web Content Coordinator who can own website consistency, your staff and ministry leaders become freed up to focus more time on doing their ministry well, and less time on making a website look and sound good.

Keeping a consistent style

The other factor to consider with regard to consistency is more about the “look” of a website.  This is why churches ought to outsource the role of web design to someone who not only understands the technical side of website development, but also has the ability to create something visually appealing.  A perfectly functional and stable website isn’t going to be effective if it’s ugly.  This is one of the key reasons churches should be wary of handing the responsibility of creating a website over to a volunteer.  Just because they know the technology, doesn’t mean they know design.  Thankfully, outsourcing to a professional generally means you receive the services of someone (or a group of people) who are experts in not only the building blocks of a website, but also know how to make it look stunning.

It’s amazing how seemingly minor things really do have a huge impact on the overall way a website is received.  It’s similar to the role of the Sound Technician in a church service.  If he or she is doing their job, nobody notices.  It’s only when things go wrong that they become apparent.  In the same way, when everything on your website is visually consistent, chances are nobody will notice.  But when every photo has a different crazy filter applied, when different pages rely on different color schemes, when different versions of your logo are used and when fonts are all over the place, people notice.  When your Staff page has photos of one guy at the beach, another guy in his living room and a third guy in his office, people notice.  When one photo has been taken on a DSLR and another on an iPhone, people notice.  Retain the subtle, beautiful simplicity of a website by remaining consistent with how things look.

3. Keep it fresh with updated content

Keeping a well-maintained website

We said at the start of this article that an outdated website is as bad as no website at all.  But it’s important to understand that even when you find a Web Content Coordinator who can take ownership of updating and editing a website as directed by the leaders who are running the ministry, the onus cannot fall on this individual alone to ensure that the church website is up-to-date.  This is a shared responsibility between all who are involved in the running of the church.  Your Web Content Coordinator is a tech and language guru who makes web edits as he or she receives them, but they can’t always know what events are coming up, what alerts need to be made, and what information is no longer relevant.  If there’s a kids’ event coming up, the Children’s Coordinator needs to communicate that to your Web Content Coordinator.  If you have a Christmas Concert approaching, whoever is running that event needs to be liaising with the Web Content Coordinator to discuss how the event is to be promoted online.  If a Seniors’ Group is changing days or times, the Web Content Coordinator can’t be expected to know this simply by osmosis.  Staff and ministry leaders need to be trained to be in regular communication with the Web Content Coordinator, and to be periodically revising what is written online that relates to their ministry.

But that doesn’t negate the Web Content Coordinator of all responsibility.  They, too, need a system in place to be regularly revisiting the current website to check for any outdated or irrelevant information, identifying areas the website can be improved, and using initiative to start promoting upcoming events or seasons.  At the very least, Web Content Coordinators can use our Monthly Website Checklist to briefly glance over the key pages of a church website to ensure all major information is still relevant from one month to another.  But ideally, Web Content Coordinators will make a habit of periodically reading through every page of a church website, visiting every link, making sure all information remains accurate, relevant and useful.

Over time the staff and leaders within a church can be coached to work alongside the Web Content Coordinator to share the responsibility of being consistent with web updates.  It may be a change of thinking for some, but with gentle reminding, it will soon become second-nature for all ministry leaders to be factoring in the church website when they make future plans for their ministry, and they will learn to work alongside the Web Content Coordinator to ensure the church website is as effective as possible for bringing newcomers through the doors, and fostering a sense of community amongst those who already attend.

Keeping a visually “fresh” website

Surprisingly, one of the big contributing factors that can either make or break a website is photos.  An average website with stunning photos will be better received than a highly functional website with poor photos.  One of the biggest pieces of advice we can give to churches wanting to overhaul their website (other than outsourcing to an expert!), is to invest in a professional photographer for a few key events throughout the year.  Again, if you have a highly skilled volunteer with proven experience in event photography, then by all means use them.  But don’t just assume that just because they own a DSLR that they know about photography!  Event photography is a very specific skill, and a church context is one of the hardest places to shoot good photos.  The lighting is usually poor.  The photographer needs to be inconspicuous and undistracting, and yet still capture photos that convey a story with real emotion.  The kind of lenses needed to capture quality images in an environment as unforgiving as a church will cost thousands.  For the sake of your website, and the first impression it gives to your online audience, spend a few hundred dollars to get a photographer at a key church service and a few other selected events throughout the year.  They don’t need to be there the whole time!  An hour here and there will gradually help you build up a really solid collection of stunning images which can then be used across your website.  Your site will look so much better than it would filled with a bunch of iPhone photos!

(Hint: if you absolutely cannot afford to hire a professional photographer, and you’re equipped with a selection of photos that are okay, but not great, you can check out our cheat here for making “average” church photos look amazing.  But this is no substitute for getting quality images from a skilled photographer.  It’s worth the investment!)

4. Make your church feel familiar before someone even arrives

Think of some of the ways people describe how they feel when they enter the church they love.  You’ll probably hear things like “it feels like coming home”, “it feels like I’m with family”, or “it’s a place where I feel like I belong”.  Now think how someone might feel walking into that same building for the very first time.  They might not know anyone, they might not even be sure they’re in the right place, they won’t know where to sit or where the toilets are, or who to talk to if they have a question.  I had a similar experience to this, not at a church, but at a restaurant, and I can tell you – a few minor changes to a website can completely transform someone’s initial experiences when they enter a building for the very first time.

A carefully crafted church website has the power to transform someone’s initial experiences of alienation, uncertainty and anxiety to a feeling of familiarity, reassurance and comfort.  All it takes is a few considerations in the language used on the website, the information supplied on the website, and the questions that get answered on the website.

To begin with, a friendly, warm, inviting tone of voice will be received far better than a clinical, emotionless exchange of information.  Write the way you speak.  Write the way you want to be heard.  For example, instead of “All are welcome to join our church on Sundays at 10am”, try “You are always welcome at our church, any Sunday at 10am.  We would so love to see you there.”  Don’t just use your website to convey facts and information.  See it as an opportunity to persuade your audience to attend whatever it is you’re promoting, and use warm, persuasive language accordingly.

Another way to foster a sense of familiarity is to ensure you have plenty of open lines of communication.  A phone number is good.  A phone number plus an email address is better.  A contact form is better still. But the best way of convincing your audience that you want to hear from them is to constantly give them opportunities to communicate with you.  Frequently include links across all pages for people to get in touch with their questions.  If people do make contact via email, an online contact form, or via social media, respond quickly.  Even if the response is along the lines of “thanks for getting in touch, we have forwarded your question to the relevant person and they’ll get in contact with you soon”, that person will still feel heard and respected.  Use your online presence to make it clear to visitors that you encourage communication from them.

But perhaps the best way to create a sense of familiarity with your church before someone even visits is to have three strategically designed components included on your website: A Staff Page, a FAQ Page, and a Welcome Message/Video.

Staff Page

This is an opportunity for a church to present their pastors and other staff as real people.  It means that when someone visits a church for the first time, there will be at least one person who isn’t a total stranger – they will be able to match at least one name to one face.  Think about what you do when you arrive at a party with lots of people you don’t know. Chances are, you’ll scan the room looking for one face you recognise.  A Staff Page on a church website allows visitors to do just that.  Recognising even one or two faces makes a huge difference to someone already feeling nervous and uncomfortable in a new environment, so make it just that little bit easier for visitors by providing a well-designed Staff Page on your website.  To get you started with creating a great staff page on your church website, go here or here.  And for tips on taking great headshots for said web page, go here!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Page

There are so many obstacles our world throws at people to convince them to not go to church.  It’s been a long week and I’m tired.  The kids have sport.  That’s “family time”.  It’s too far away.  We like to sleep in.  I’m too busy.  It’s boring.  I’m not interested.  For many of these obstacles, there isn’t really much a church can do other than to pray that God will work in the hearts of those around us to break down these obstacles.  But there is definitely one obstacle we can help to tear down, and our ability to do so relies heavily on our website and social media efforts.  The obstacle of uncertainty.

Being uncertain about an event or place, combined with any number of the other obstacles we mentioned earlier, can easily be enough to convince someone to just not bother going.  But we can use our church website to remove, or at least chip away at, the obstacle of uncertainty.  The key info we provide on our websites like time and location are helpful.  But they’re not enough for someone looking for reasons to not come.  A FAQ page on a church website can really get to the core of many peoples’ uncertainties, and hopefully compel or convince them to give church a go.

There are so many questions people may want answered before visiting a church.  And a kind, warm, honest, thought-through answer on the FAQ Page of a church website might be all that’s needed to persuade someone to visit, who was once uncertain about coming along.  Rather than listing all these questions and answers here, you can take a look at our article on Using your church website to combat the obstacle of uncertainty, where we list loads of great FAQ questions for you to answer on your church website.  But perhaps a better exercise is for a team of people from the one church to sit down together and think through the kinds of questions visitors may have about their specific church.  Perhaps they relate to parking.  Perhaps they relate to children.  Might someone have questions about the way your church sings, collects an offering, or partakes in communion?  Do people sometimes get confused about entrances, exits and seating?  Are there important rules about prams and wheelchairs?  Think about every possible question someone might have about your church, and enlist someone to write a careful, yet friendly, response to put at ease anyone feeling anxious, nervous or uncertain about visiting a new church.

Welcome Message or Video

The last way to make your church seem familiar to a visitor before they even arrive is to include a welcome message from your pastor.  Ideally, this message would be in the form of a video, so as to include footage giving visitors a glimpse of what your services look like, what the inside of your building looks like, even seemingly trivial things like the age range and demographic of your people, how they dress, how they act.  At the very least, including photographs depicting the everyday life of your church will be so beneficial in making a new place feel like home very quickly.

Not only can your pastor welcome any visitors and encourage them to explore your church, he or she can also give brief details about any kids or youth programs, explain the vision and core beliefs of your church, describe what can be expected for someone visiting for the first time, and invite them to explore the rest of your website and get in touch with any questions.  A welcome message like this moves a church website from being an exchange of information, to being a personal invitation from a real human being.  It shifts the church from being a foreign and unfamiliar place, to being a community of soon-to-be new friends, willing and eager to welcome visitors into their gathering.

5. Encourage connection amongst those who are already part of the church

We’ll be discussing this more shortly, but it’s a fairly wide-spread understanding that a church website exists for two main people groups: those in your church, and those outside of your church.  (Actually, we maintain there are another two people groups to consider in a church website, but that doesn’t affect what we’re discussing here.  If you want to read further, check out this article.)

Most of what we’ve written thus far has very much been aimed at engaging that second people category: those that are currently outside of your church.  But a thriving online presence also means actively engaging those who are part of your church community, and encouraging them to spend time connecting with your church digitally, as well as in person.  A major way this happens is via Social Media (and if your church isn’t on Facebook yet, we think they should be!), but given that the internet already gives us lots of great musings about how churches can use Social Media more effectively, we want to focus instead on using your website to engage those who already attend your church.

The great news is, the team at Elvanto have done so much of the hard work for you in this regard!  If a church has an active Elvanto subscription, we really hope they’re taking advantage of Elvanto’s fantastic online services, like member directories, online forms, event registrations and serving rosters.  Elvanto also has some great partners like Tithe.ly, who can assist churches to set up online giving via their website.  And of course, we’re so excited to also be partnering with Elvanto with the release of our Elvanto Groups WordPress Plugin, meaning individuals can visit a church website and read about all Small Groups currently meeting within the church, gather information about group leaders and meeting places, see who else is part of those groups and contact group leaders directly.

Companies like Elvanto, Tithe.ly and WP for Church are working hard to make your website so much more than just a digital advertisement listing for your church.  Instead, it can become a bustling, vibrant, active hub where people go, not only to gather information (like the times and locations of a service), but to sign up to events, to hear past sermons, to give electronically, to join groups, to volunteer to serve, to view and respond to rosters, to look up phone numbers, and to connect with one another.

Connection is such a pivotal part of being in a church, and a thriving online presence is one where connection is not only encouraged, but made easy for everyone.

Let your website grow with your church

We’ve talked about so much in this article.  If you made it to the end – well done!  But it’s important to understand that a thriving online presence doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s a slow process, not only due to the sometimes laborious nature of building effective websites, but it can sometimes be slow for the people around you to catch on.  Staff and ministry leaders will continually need to be trained and coached in how the church website can help their particular ministry thrive.  The members of the church need to be reminded to use the church website to its full potential, and to communicate and feedback any ideas they have as to how the church could be using their website better.  But as a church website gets better, and as people get better at using it, a church website can have a phenomenal effect on engaging the community, seeing visitors through your doors, and seeing relationships grow and strengthen.

Our prayer is that as your online presence begins to thrive, it will lead to a church who thrives to proclaim Jesus until He returns.

DYMO Label Printers and Windows

Over the past few days we have had a number of customers using Windows PC’s contact us regarding their DYMO label printers not working. This is an issue with DYMO’s software and not Elvanto. With Easter only a couple of days away, we urge all customers using our check-in module to test their label printer prior to Friday.

So far the issue is isolated to Windows 10 but it cannot hurt testing to be sure. The issue has been solved by uninstalling and then re-installing an older version of the DYMO Label Writer Software on affected machines. We have since updated our website with links to the older version of the software.

Here are some steps to follow to test your label printer:

  1. Log into your Elvanto account and attempt to print a test label. If the label prints, everything is working! Go and relax 🙂
  2. If label printing is not working, visit this DYMO website and click the ‘Check’ button. If anything returns false, there is an issue with your DYMO software. Proceed to next step.
  3. Try uninstalling the DYMO Label Writer Software from your computer and then download and re-install. Restart your computer so you have a clean slate prior to logging back into your Elvanto account and testing.
  4. If label printing continues to not work in Elvanto, test printing a label from the DYMO Label Writer Software. If this works, there is still an issue with your DYMO software that supports printing from the browser.

If none of these steps fix your issue feel free to contact our support team and we’ll do our best to help guide you in the right direction.

What would you like to see in the next version of Check-in?

It’s been just over 4 years since we released our first BETA of the check-in system! We’ve seen over 3 million individuals checked in and made a number of improvements since then but it’s time to take check-in to the next level.

We’ve been gathering feedback from customers and have compiled a list of what we would love to see in version 2. Below we have outlined our thoughts and we’d love to hear from you to see if there’s anything you’d like to see.

  • Completely overhaul the check-in interface design for better usability and speed
  • Overview and statistics of check-ins on the day
  • Upload custom label designs for specific service types
  • Add barcodes to labels
  • Choose the number of labels to be printed for specific demographics, rooms and service types
  • Disable label printing for specific demographics, rooms and service types
  • Add support for Brother, Zebra and Citizen printers
  • Ability to add people and families from self check-in (and yes, we’ll add support for different last names!)
  • Ability to customize which fields can be changed when adding or editing people
  • Ability to disable editing of people from self check-in
  • Mobile and tablet apps
  • Check people into group meetings and events (with custom label styles)
  • Record who checked children in
  • Global check out all button
  • View the names of room leaders when viewing a check-in room
  • Ability to notify other parties of incidents (e.g: production team can be asked to put messages on projector screens)
  • Ability to exclude contacts and archived from self check-in
  • Parents can record other individuals who have the ability to check a child out and who to contact in case of incident
  • Better support for multiple service check-ins
  • API support

We’ll be starting on the new version of check-in very soon and need your help finalizing the feature list. If you would like to provide some feedback, please fill out this form as we’d love to hear from you.

We will be running version 2 as a BETA so you can give it a good test and provide feedback before we roll it out live.

Looking forward to it! Thanks in advance to all those who provide their feedback 🙂

Ben

Event Registration

We are excited to announce that Event Registration is now out of BETA! Over the last few months we have ironed out a bunch of bugs and it has been exciting seeing churches collect registrations with payments! Thank you all who have participated and provided the value feedback that has helped us refine our process!

We have a great post from the end of last year highlighting the features so make sure you check that out if you haven’t already.

Since BETA release, along with a bunch of bug fixes, tweaks and improvements, we have added the following improvements:

  • Invoices now display the chosen payment method
  • Invoices now display payment fees
  • Invoices now display payment references from Stripe or PayPal
  • Outstanding balance is now more prevalent on invoices

Some areas we are now working on:

  • Ability to cancel a registration
  • Ability to refund a payment made through Stripe or PayPal
  • Billing contact details can be viewed within Stripe and PayPal
  • Ability to export registrants and their details
  • Ability to better filter registrants when contacting them
  • Ability for registrants to make additional payments online if they have only made a part payment
  • Better summary of ticket counts
  • Ability to add registrations from the Admin Area
  • Ability to hide the discount codes text box if there are no discount codes available
  • More customization options for tickets and invoices
  • Ability to contact billing contacts
  • Ability to add custom fields to an event that can be collected per registration rather than using form fields

Keep sending through feedback as we will continue to improve and develop event registration!

More exciting updates to come!

Ben

Upcoming US Database Maintenance

Update: US database upgrade is complete!

We will be performing database maintenance on Tuesday, March 21st at 10pm PDTto improve performance and stability for our US customers.

We have blocked a 90 minute window to perform the maintenance and tests. During this time US customers will not have access to their account. We don’t expect it to take that whole time, but be sure to follow our Twitter for progress updates.

Any questions or concerns please reach our to our support team.

Have a great week!

Ben

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