3 Big website design mistakes many churches make #2
Don’t Mention the War, Herr Pastor...
I was shocked. Looking at a church website the other day, there was a panoramic photo of the church service with the minister or pastor preaching in full flow - looking exactly like he was giving an enthusiastic Nazi salute to the crowd.
This was compounded by another photo of the congregation apparently doing the same thing back, albeit rather raggedly. What other environment can you think of where people raise their hands like that? Tact forbids me naming and shaming the church concerned, but Hitler, the Nazis and the Nurnberg Rallies are not a good association for any organisation, particularly for a church!
Images say so much and the images on your website will communicate substantially more about what kind of organisation you are, your values and what’s important to you than the words you write. Some people won’t even read your carefully chosen words, they’ll just look at the pictures. What kind of impression will they get?
I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am - so often I view church websites and see different kinds of photos which just shouldn’t be there - poor quality images - or just plain weird ones.
As well as images like the above ones, here are others I’ve seen:
- A crowd of people worshipping (with or without strangely-raised hands) seen from the less than ideal viewpoint of the backs of their heads. Great if you were doing research into middle class haircut trends, but just strange otherwise.
- A worship band that that has been photographed to show that the church has cool, contemporary music, but actually looking like they’re a bizarre Indy rock meets beardy folk meets chamber quartet hybrid.
- A street evangelism prayer-for-healing session that looks like the subjects are involved in the aftermath of a mild road traffic accident.
- The in-church equivalent; with a group laying-on-of-hands for some individual, which looks like someone said, “Ok, let’s all try and make an octopus shape, and Colin [the subject of prayer] is it, but let’s make it harder and all do it with our eyes closed - I say, won’t that be jolly fun! Now [groping in mid air], where are you Colin...?”
- Photos which communicate that to join the church you have to be a) 20-25 years old, b) Have model-level good looks (both male & female) and c) Preferably wear a cool hat.
- Whole-church-in-a-group pictures taken with the idea of making the church look bigger - as there are only 50 people including kids in the frame, it actually looks very small.
- Photos where everyone is dressed for January and just look cold.
- On the other hand, photos which include white people from every possible age group plus someone who’s black/Afro-Caribbean, Indian Asian and South East Asian etc - in other words, every ethic group we can think of. In an admirable effort to appear inclusive, it just looks ridiculously false and contrived.
- The other classic is the set of photos which seem to be full of women - reinforcing the increasingly incorrect stereotype that the church is, well, full of women and not something men get involved in (apart from perhaps single ones...).
Put in new eyes
Take a fresh look at your church website - imagine what it’s like to view the images there as someone who’s unchurched, who knows nothing about you, who’s trying to work out what you’re like - and doesn’t know any of that information which only makes sense once you’re “in”.
So: Presume nothing; look afresh; and ditch your weird stuff.
Get someone in who really knows their photographic onions - perhaps even a professional, as Winchester Family Church and Kingsgate Community Church sensibly did when they revamped their websites. Take photos of real life going on in your church community, rather than posed shots. The results can really be worth the investment as you seek to communicate with the world outside your church.
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Alistair Birch, 17/08/2011