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Web Design (1)

Thursday, 05 August 2010 20:44

Great Church Web Design

Written by Russ Brewer

Looking for good ideas for designing church web sites?

We've been doing church web sites since 2000 and have learned a thing or two. Here's some of our conclusions for what kinds of features make for great church web design:

1) Content is better than design...to a point. People are coming to your site to learn about your church. Great! They want to know who you are, what you're doing, what you believe, what they can expect when they walk in. Give them content, content, content. Give them enough material to spend a good hour or two bouncing around your site. Let them ask questions and then find the answers in your pages.

At the same time, don't lose complete touch with aesthetic sensibilities. There's no reason for an ugly church site (especially with Joomla!). Make use of Dreamstime and other graphic image sites that will allow you to provide high quality, professionally produced graphical images. Choose color schemes that reflect your church colors but don't annoy your visitors. For instance, these days sites tend to have muted colors. Bold splashes are great! But heavy, dark maroon backgrounds are a thing of the past.

2) Remember, content accuracy is key. People who are visiting your site need the content to be current and accurate. Because of the nature of the internet, the public has come to trust content on websites. Therefore, yours better be accurate and honest. If you say it online, be sure it bears out in reality. Have a person in your church regularly peruse your site culling out old, inaccurate, outdated info.

3) Give your readers reasons to keep coming back. Make your church site a regular part of their lives. Give them opportunities for feedback, input, interaction, etc. Use the power of Joomla to let them interact with your site. Use Facebook, use Twitter, use blogs, use comments to help your site become a real part of your congregation's spiritual growth.

4) Try Joomla! on your site. If you've never heard about Joomla!, here's the scoop: Joomla! (yes, that "!" is part of its name) is something like a computer operating system running on the web server that hosts your website. That may not make a whole lot of sense, and that's okay. What you need to understand is that Joomla! is a free product that people around the world continue to update. Consequently, there are thousands of add-ons for your site that you can download for FREE! For much more info on Joomla!, we've got a whole write-up on it here.

One more comment about Joomla!. There are several web products that are like Joomla! The fancy term for the Joomla!-like products is CMS or Content Management Systems. Other products are Drupal (Joomla!'s biggest direct competitor), WordPress and others. While each CMS has its benefits, we recommend Joomla! because so many people around the world are working on it. More than likely, it will survive the dog-eat-dog world of technological evolution. WordPress has grown much in popularity and power and might be a great option to those who are intimidated by the initial learning curve of Joomla!.

5) Be careful with following the trends of web design too closely. Right now, lots of church sites are going for a clean, somewhat utilitarian look. The sites are heavy in Adobe Flash components, heavy with large, beautiful, dramatic images, and (ugh) heavy with scrollbars that force the reader to constantly scroll down because of the small windows. To you as a techy person (you must be, you're reading this article), these may seem really cool. But to the average middle-aged potential church-goer, this cool "clean look" doesn't provide much in the way of true ministry. Think about it, you've got a visitor hanging out on your site--hopefully, the Lord is interacting with their soul! Why not have that moment be the point in time where they change their life and grow closer the Lord? While it may be tempting to be "cool", I truly believe that your site can serve Christ's kingdom and IMHO, little windows with pithy comments may not make the kind of impact for Christ that might otherwise have been produced by your church's website.

6) Avoid "Spinning Crosses". The cyber-world is filled with all kinds of little techy temptations. There are so many cool widgets that you can add to your site--everything from weather modules, to a verse of the day, to spinning crosses. Be careful. Don't do something just because you can. Keep good taste in order. Lots of churches have so cluttered their web sites that they look more like a flea market of online freebies rather than a website representing a local assembly of Christ's holy bride. Remember Who you serve and keep your site representing Him rightly.

7) Regularly Do House Cleaning. Along with point #6 above, I have found that as a web designer, we're constantly adding stuff and more stuff to our sites. Over time, like a sloppy home, we just get used to our mess and forget what it might look like to others. Eventually, even without spinning crosses, we wind up cluttering our site and effectively creating the very same problem as spinning crosses. Thus, we need to regularly clean up our sites. That means doing things like coordinating font styles and colors throughout the site. Check out old pages, they probably look different than your recent pages. Fix 'em up. Drop the RED CAPS IN BOLD comments that seemed soooo important three years ago, but now just distract the reader. Make the font sizes uniform throughout the pages. Get rid of the "Christmas 2008" graphic you worked so hard on. Decide if that spinning, blinking animated GIF is really necessary in this new era. Make sure the site is looking fresh and crisp.

8) Regularly Do Face Lifts. Along with point #7 above, good church web design will likely mean biting the financial bullet and regularly changing the look of your church site. We realize the practical and costly implications of this point. Yet, without regular face lifts, your site that looked so good four years ago now looks hopelessly out of style. Few sites can hold their current look for more than a couple of years. Be prepared to regularly change it. If you go to the larger church sites--the ones that employ a full web staff---you'll see that major elements change on their sites almost monthly. I'm not saying follow the leader, but at the same time, if you don't keep up with the times, your site will soon repel rather than attract people to your church.

Lastly, if you're still at Step 1 and don't know where to begin, here is a good worksheet developed by www.awesomeinsight.com.