Websites are often the first exposure someone has to your church. That online visit is your last chance at a first impression - what is the message will that visitor see and hear? Every person has a purpose for visiting your site - they have a question that needs answering. They may have posed their question to a search engine, like Google or Bing, and your site was one of the results. Or, they may already know your church and want to know about a special program or schedule change and expect it to be on the website.
Looking at the past articles on Christian Web Resources, I find it interesting that the most viewed articles are about adding interaction to your websites - handling prayer requests and leveraging social media are the 2 most read topics.This is encouraging. God has selected us to deliver his message to all people - we are his chosen medium. As human beings, we need to know we are heard before we begin to listen. This is true of our face-to-face encounters and our online encounters.
In my last article, we compared the choices of using Facebook to an independent website for extending God's ministry online. We looked at the factors from a purely objective view. What needs to be added to this is the perspective of listening vs. talking. Each can do both. But, it does take more effort.
There are many ways to listen - examine your web statistics to learn what brings people to your website and what keeps people on your site, look at your internal searches to see what they're having a hard time locating, provide contact forms that are easily found and used, allow comments and discussions, encourage people to contribute stories about their experiences, and go where they are - find them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, watch what they post on YouTube.
From the perspective of building and managing your website, I would recommend starting by allowing comments on your posts, either directly on your site or by sharing your posts on Facebook and allowing comments there. Enable the social sharing and bookmarking for your site - make it easy for people to interact with what you have posted. Start a Twitter account if you don't have one and create a page on Facebook. Once that is done, place that information on your website. Do you allow people to create profiles on your site? You should! I also recommend you have pastors and staff members post the articles, not a generic 'Admin' or 'Your Church' account.
Don't jump in to having forums on your site - it takes a sizable group of people to maintain activity and quiet forums are not a positive feature. Forums are great, though, for extending discussions of small groups, classes and for general interest groups - movies, books, music, children. If there is an interest, be flexible and responsive to your members and visitors. Don't expect a flood of activity on your site just because these features are enabled. Personally invite a few others to post a comment or ask a question. Build on those relationships and grow together in the process. Connecting and engaging with others takes time and effort - don't give up too easily!
Kem Meyer has written a book called 'Less Clutter. Less Noise. Beyond Bulletins, Brochures and Bake Sales.' - a insightful look into her experiences as a church communicator. We all need to realize we are church communicators, too, and reading this book will open your eyes to some of the challenges we face in our lives. A group of communicators have banded together and are blogging through the book, 1 chapter at a time. I encourage you to get the book, read it and head over to the Christian Web Trends blog to learn and share in the journey.
Once you've made the decision to build or enhance your website to make more connections and to strengthen more relationships, come on back to Christian Web Resources for ideas and tips to make that happen. I'd love to hear how your church is engaging people through your website - let me know in a comment, or head to the forums to start or join a discussion.