Heal Your Church WebSite


Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Church WebSite Design

here are six things the user hates, seven things that are an abomination to his browser:

  1. Building Worship
  2. Yelling All The Time
  3. Serpent Stew
  4. Gimmicks, Gizmos And Animated GIFS.
  5. TMI == Too Much Information
  6. Cruft
  7. Distractingly Disorganized

Having now laid hands on some 200 church web sites in the form of usually-constructive criticism at HealYourChurchWebsite.com, and having viewed thousands of other church websites as possible victims subjects, I’ve come up with my own catalog of common mistakes that often minimize the effectiveness and impact of a church website; or what I like to refer to as “The Seven Deadly Sins of Church WebSite Design”

Read along with me and see if your church or charity’s web presence isn’t about to run off the information highway and into the perdition of website sin:

Building Worship

A church website that fails to convey the purpose and personality of the congregation and staff will also fail to bring new members into the door. One sure way to avoid such failures is to resist the temptation to make your home page a shrine to your big lifeless church building.

No matter how much money you spent on your building program, most online images of bricks and mortar convey a sense of lifelessness. Worse yet, I’ve seen more than one instance where an image of a church building means “a sense of place” to the church Webmaster, while conveying something “slightly different” to a first time visitor.

Collinsvillebaptistemptyparkinglott Best example of this is the website for the Collinsville Baptist ‘Empty Parking’ Lot Tabernacle – a website whose front page unleashes on the unsuspecting user a 211kb image of a very symmetric building during the middle of the day with absolutely nobody home. Moreover, the stark white color, the faded-black parking lot, the emphasis on lines, and exactly centered boundaries shouts to me “come and behold the enormity of our emptiness” or perhaps “come to the mothership, resistance if futile!”

Not exactly the sort of message one should convey if they want to get people in the door.

rule of thumb #1: unless your holding services at the Monastery at Petra, leave the pix of the bricks for your ‘directions’ page.

Yelling All The Time

One of the most important lessons I learned while studying opera was that forte passages have more impact if you surround them with piano phrases. In English, the loud stuff sounds really, really loud if you’re singing everything else in a quiet whisper.

The same is true with the printed word. While it is important that at some level our websites boldly proclaim the good news …

… USING ALL BOLD LETTERS IN ALL CAPS
IS MORE IRRITATING AND EYE-STRAINING
THAN IT IS EFFECTIVE INTERNET INFORMATION DELIVERY!

In an exercise of contrast and comparison, here are two pages that both that deal with the facts surrounding the resurrection. However one page gets a bit noisy and induces some rather tedious eye-strain with attempts to “help” the facts along with over-used bold titles, lots of centered all-cap exclamations, and other acts of promiscuous text. The other lets the facts speak for themselves – you decide which:

rule of thumb #2: leave the yelling to someone whose image is enhanced by such yelling; like Strong Bad (Flash required)!

Serpent Stew

“If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?” – Luke 11:11 KJV

When someone visits your website, they usually fall into one of two categories. First time visitors, perhaps seeking a new church home, and repeat visitors in need of scheduling and/or contact information, and perhaps even to consume a sermon or two.

As simple as these needs are, I have found countless church websites that fail to put on their front page the times and location of their services. Many of these same sites also fail to provide an easy to find email address and/or phone number. Almost as if to say: “… come visit our church – if you can find us.

rule of thumb #3: don’t let your visitors wander in the wilderness, provide the obvious information they seek up-front (or at least provide a conspicuous link to it).

Gimmicks, Gizmos And Animated GIFS

Spincros2 I don’t know about you, but to me the Cross is an ‘emblem suffering and shame,‘ which is why I find the spinning animated version of it so offensive. It not only trivializes what happened to our Lord on that painful day, but it also makes your church website look cheap.

So do ’special effects’ such as cursor trailers, pop-up windows, scrolling marquees and Flash-intros. Yes, they may look slick the first time and all your geek buddies will think you’re cool, but such contrivances quickly become annoying hindrances to individuals who are actually in need of some compelling content.

Don’t get me wrong – don’t be afraid to use various technologies, just make sure there is a legitimate need.

rule of thumb #4: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

rule of thumb 4.a.: you’re not allowed to have a spinning gif of a gold lamé cross on your website unless you have the same atop the roof of your church!

TMI == Too Much Information

Now that you’ve removed the Flash intro that pictured your church with a spinning cross on top, you also need to get rid of information that compromises the privacy and security of your congregation.

For example, while I think photos of smiling faces are better than lifeless bricks, I also know that we live in a world of predators, so any images of children I post on my own church’s website come from a stock photo CD instead of my congregation.

Similarly, blindly cutting and pasting what’s in the church bulletin to the church website may expose a church member’s phone number or home address.

It is also why I suggest to church web servants to avoid posting email addresses online. Nothing says “we don’t care about you” like inviting spammers to hammer away at your faithful.

I’ve written about this topic in greater detail over on my own blog in an article entitled ‘Why your Church needs a Privacy Statement.’

rule of thumb #5: when in doubt, leave it out – at least until you can get explicit permission.

Cruft

The HyperDictionary defines cruft as “An unpleasant substance. The dust that gathers under your bed is cruft …” I use this term to when discussing some of the dust that gathers about church websites. Usually this comes in the form of outdated schedules, broken links and abandoned content.

I realize maintenance is a dirty 11-letter word that none of us want to deal with, but failure to schedule regular updates is sure way to tell seekers you’re not serious about what you do.

It also makes your website a waste of time an talent as frustrated church members wind-up calling your church office asking for information that was supposed to be online … so people wouldn’t call the church office so often with requests for simple information.

rule of thumb #6: content management is cheap and easy when you employ a blogging system.

Distractingly Disorganized

If it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to build a church website, then it shouldn’t take one to navigate it. Think about it in terms of football, specifically an offensive lineman. You never know he’s there until he blows an assignment or commits a penalty. The same is true with your website’s navigation.

It should be so intuitive that it requires no instruction, so obvious it requires no guessing, and so simple that it gets a person from point A to point B in a single click.

The only way this happens is by organizing your information into a sensible outline, then using common conventions such as menus, search forms and site maps to help visitor quickly find their way around your site, and hopefully through the doors of your church; preferably on Sunday.

If you’re unsure on how to make this all work, then see if you can get a hold of a used copy of Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability.” Though a bit dated now, its advice on structuring and implementing your navigation is timeless – and easy to understand.

rule of thumb #7: random experiences are for computer games, not your church’s online message – provide easy-to-read and use navigation.

Your Mileage May Vary

If perhaps I’ve mentioned something your currently doing on your church website, don’t panic. You should have seen my first attempt a church website, it wasn’t pretty. Fortunately I was able to destroy most of the evidence before Google came into existence … but I digress.

Unlike when I started my crusade to “teach, rebuke, correct & train in righteous web design” back in May of 2002, there are now a host of websites by technical capable Christians who are more than willing to help you repent of your sinful webmastery and get your church’s Internet presence back into the good graces of God, your seekers and your congregation – in that order.

Seek them out, read their lessons, be doers of what they say – or at least go visit my current series on the 12 Days of Jesus Junk so we can all laugh about our mistakes.

12 Comments

  1. Travlin’ Dean,

    “…I also know that we live in a world of predators, so any images of children I post on my own church’s website come from a stock photo CD instead of my congregation.”

    Perhaps a topic on this subject? I’d like discuss these issues, including

    – “video/photo” release forms
    – VBS pictures on the web (admittedly a potential draw for parents to visit the site–even visitors)
    – student ministry photos (another draw)
    – privacy policies (do I really need a Declaration of Independance length statement?), including compliance with IE’s privacy controls

    The kid pics vs. predators issue, even though I probably know the answer, is upmost. Is there a magic age?

    - Frank

  2. Our tech team at church discussed this issue at length. At first we had decided that no children’s pictures would be on the web, then it was decided that we would get waivers for all of the children. It would be then at the parent’s discretion and responsibility. Of course we take down photos at the request of people every now and then (although we’ve never had an issue with taking down pictures of children). Each church probably has different viewpoints, but it’s a good idea to discuss it, and re-evaluate it often.

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  4. Dean,

    You desperately need a static page to help us all out. You seem to constantly refer to different things to help fledgling church web designers. If you had a “resources” section that included just links to all the stuff you refer to that would be awesome. By the way, I always appreciate what you have to say. Keep it up!

    Joe

  5. Dean,

    You desperately need a static page to help us all out. You seem to constantly refer to different things to help fledgling church web designers. If you had a “resources” section that included just links to all the stuff you refer to that would be awesome. By the way, I always appreciate what you have to say. Keep it up!

    Joe

  6. The seven deadly sins of church website design is a great list to hang on the wall just over the monitor!

    Your comment about Gimmicks, Gizmos, and Animated GIFs was spot on; reminds me of the question, “does your website remind people of Time magazine or the National Enquirer?” Substance, not glitter!

  7. Dave
    This was great. EVERY person that creates a website, church or not, should read it. We very easily get to wound up in “cool” stuff and miss the point of what we are really trying to do.
    Thanks!
    Jack

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  10. Hi – what a great sight AND an awesome sense of humour. I webmastering 2 church sites and achristian school site and and your advice and suggestions are terrific!

    Bless you and I’ll be back regularly

  11. What a GREAT site! All those “creative people” in our churches NEED this sort of input. I have two comments: first, would you visit our church site at http://www.faithpc.org and let me honestly know what you think… don’t worry – no animated crosses there! Also, stop by my worship music blog: http://www.dandykatkonnection.blogspot.com and make a comment or two… BLESSINGS!

  12. I really liked the example of the picture of the church in the background with an empty parking lot. If we are not careful we can brag “on ourselves,” rather than promote the truth of Christ in humility with our web sites. I have been doing evangelism using the Internet since 1995 and have seen my share of Christian sites that violate the 7 things you mention here. I am glad that you run this site to inform people about web design issues relating to church and ministry web sites.