3 Big website design mistakes many churches make #1
I look at a lot of church websites as part of my work and there are three big mistakes many churches make:
Designed for the leadership team
(not those outside the church)
It’s always a tense moment in any website project - the graphic designer has worked hard to incorporate all the suggestions of the church’s leadership team. He shows them the draft designs and there’s a shifting of seats and an awkward pause.
“What about something flashing on the front page to grab people’s attention, that would be nice?”
“Shouldn’t we have a dove in there?”
“Perhaps we could have it in blue?”
“Oh yes, I love blue...”
At this point the web designer’s heart sinks: What the leadership are actually talking about is what they like.
And that’s a BIG mistake.
With respect, what they like could be totally irrelevant.
It’s critically important for church leaders to answer this question instead: “Who is our website for?”
While much of the day to day information on the site will be for church members, it’s critical to think about how to communicate with people outside the church.
When I ask the question, “Who is your website for?” I sometimes get an answer like, “It’s for everyone from eight to 80.” While I understand this attempt to be inclusive, it will fail miserably - all design will resonate with some people more than others, whether we realise it or not. Aiming your web design at everyone from 8-80 is about as effective as attempting to fill a crate of empty bottles by throwing a bucket of water from 30 metres up.
So, you need to think about what target market or demographic you’re aiming at. Don’t be put off by these marketing terms - they are helpful shorthand for thinking about how we communicate - and with whom.
Here are a couple of tips. Think about which group or demographic you are growing in or want to grow in.
Where are you growing?
It may be that you’re currently seeing growth among young families in their early 30s. It’s a standard military axiom to reinforce success and if you’re experiencing growth among one part of the community, maybe you should focus more specifically on that group, capitalise on the success and aim your website design at them.
This may be for a season not forever. Explaining to the church why you’re designing the website in a certain way would be helpful so they don’t feel left out and the church suddenly isn’t for them.
Where should you be growing?
At Church of Christ the King in Brighton, where I’m involved, during a recent redesign, the leadership felt they wanted to specifically target young men in their 20s for a while. Consequently, the site was designed with these guys in mind. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t accessible to others, but for a period the team wanted to target this group. That decision then influenced the web team’s design decisions and during the last couple of years we’ve seen an increasing number of people come in cold, having seen our website but not actually knowing anyone in the church at that point.
Could I borrow your head please?
Once you’ve decided on a target group for your design for this phase of your church life, go and look at the TV programmes, the websites and the magazines that this group looks at. Try and think yourself into the head of someone who’s part of that demographic.
A good designer will do this as well, but you need to do it too, otherwise, without realising it, you’ll steer things back to what you like - and if you’re not in the target group, that will be bad news.
So, when you come to look at a website design, you must realise you’re not being asked “Do I like this?” but, “Will they like this.” This may be especially true if you’re a 50 something pastor and somewhat distant in age from the target group!
A couple of other things may help:
a) Delegating much of the process to someone from your church who is in the group you’re trying to reach.
b) Showing the design to people who are in the target audience (duh!) and asking for their honest reaction. Those should probably be people outside the church.
A friend of mine, planting a church in Chicago, conducted a street survey about a shortlist of proposed names for his new church. The responses surprised them - they found that the name which was an internal favourite had weird connotations for those outside the church and, as a result of asking people on the street, the church ended up being called something which had invoked very positive responses from those surveyed.
Do the above and you’ll have a website which speaks much more specifically to a certain group of people - and at least some of the bottles in that crate - the ones you’re focusing on at the moment - will get filled..
In a future post, I’ll deal with how to manage a design project with a large church team - and avoid pain and suffering! Next time we’ll continue our series, 3 Big Website Mistakes Many Churches Make, with “Don’t Mention the War, Herr Pastor”
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Alistair Birch, 09/08/2011