Heal Your Church WebSite


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

What to do when your homepage becomes an splash page

What does it profit your church or charity’s website to have the most beautiful web pages ever designed if it doesn’t convince people to visit your church, engage in your ministries, or at least inquire for more information? Today I review a graphically and technically impressive church website that is more an entertaining art project than effective ministry tool.

In an article entitled “Turning visitors into users,” Gillian Carson asserts:

Thousands of people may be visiting your site every day, but if you don’t convince them that they should be using your product, subscribing to your service, or registering in some way, then your web app’s homepage is simply not doing its job.

Amen sister! Point well stated, and one that immediately came to my mind when I was recently emailed a link to a church website by a talented graphic designer excited with their work. The site is beautiful to behold, displays advanced CSS and Flash techniques, and certainly the result of hours of pain-staking labor.

Unfortunately, somewhere in the process, this art project has also functionally rendered most of the web pages into a series of eye-candy splash pages.

Art Project versus Functionality

I’m talking about the Northside Christian Church of New Albany, Indiana church web site (herein NCC-ws).

Unlike most sites I review here, this labor of love obviously ‘breaks a vase’ … unfortunately it also appears to pour its contents onto the feet of potential parish participants, instead preaching to a choir of cool people. Perhaps this sentiment from Jeffrey Eisenberg, the author of “Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results” who writes:

You have goals for your business. You have goals for your prospects, whether those prospects are businesses or consumers. You want them to make purchases, or subscribe, or register, or become a lead online or have your online presence compliment your offline efforts. Your goals should be reflected in your conversion rate;…

Meaning, Christ uniquely charged the Body with the task of serving one another in our efforts to save one another through the mercy and grace of His sacrifice on the Cross. This happens when we get to know one another, and getting to know one another doesn’t happen until we meet one another many times until we understand how to serve one another.

Hip-hop versus Classic Rock

As someone who not to long ago himself moved to a new community – I cannot described in words the functional frustration I felt when encountering gorgeous graphic design sites such as the NCC-ws.

IE6 Ooops on the Northside Christian Church ministries page

Perhaps because along with alot of ‘pop’ presented also made me feel like they were calling me ‘pop’ … in the pejorative. That is that I was not young, hip nor cool enough to be part of such Christian bodies.

Here are just some of the factors on the NCC-ws that brings me to this opinion:

  • Assumption that 1280×1024 resolution rules the roost;
  • Assumption that everyone has a high-speed connection;
  • Assumption everyone’s installation of Explorer is version 7;
  • Menus and context include quite a bit of NCC-specific church speak;
  • None of the 800×342 images on each page show anyone over age of 30;
  • Employs tiny dark gray text against black background is hard for those of us over 30 to read;
  • Home Page uses Flash-animated slide show on the home page to deliver search-engine type information;
  • Puts the most compelling content is below the fold, rendering location & service time information at the very bottom, using graphics to display text.

There are other elements, but these are the ones that jumped out at me within the first 90 seconds … fifteen of which were spent waiting for the page to load, another 15 figuring out that there was actual context hidden below the huge, splash-page like graphics atop each page … and this only after switching browsers to accommodate the Flash animation on the home page.

Graphic Design versus Web Development

Considering that close to 50% of the New Albany population is over the age of 25 … I think the NCC-ws needs to reconsider it’s online approach in terms of conversion goals.

That’s actually not going to be so hard for NCC because it’s obvious to me that there’s a talented graphic designer at work here. That said, there is also quite a bit of compelling content whose light at this time is unfortunately hidden beneath a Flash-driven basket.

Below is a generic list of conversion goals I’d suggest the folks at NCC-ws tweak to meet the needs of their particular community:

  1. get seekers in the door
  2. get relocated visitors in the door
  3. get casual visitors to dig into the web site
  4. provide online support for lay ministries
  5. provide online support for staff ministries
  6. provide a provide a platform for congregation-wide communications

Once these goals have been refined, I’d spend some time considering how to better highlight the large body of content that already exists. It took some time, but I found it – yet like a light hidden under a bowl – its utility was minimized by the overuse of over-sized imagery.

I’d see if there was a way of adding sermon notes to accompany the podcasts. Not everyone has an iPod yet, let alone understand how to lock-n-load last week’s sermon via iTunes. Some compelling textual content would help such individuals understand the theology of the church, while making it much more visible to search engines than it currently is currently the case. Oh, and don’t forget to link up the RSS feeds for both those information streams.

I think employing some more direct metaphors for essential information would help. Don’t be clever with the times of the service, rather as dull as it sounds, use an unordered list block so that information is easy to easy to cut, paste, SMS and/or print. Likewise, leverage some Google API goodness, deliverng a calendar for events, and maps for the directions page.

The small white text against a black background is almost as unreadable as the gray menus against the black background. Be kind to us older laptop users – I know the new gamer generation is more visually oriented – but some of us still prefer printed text when it comes to making important decisions such as which church to attend.

As for all the Flash – don’t force it on the user – rather put them in control. If the object here is to provide fresh content, do it with excerpts describing upcoming events, studies, and sermons. That said, I see a ‘graphics’ page here, so make that a place to view the ‘Animation’ of the week. Syndicate that as well.
Finally, a bit of testing wouldn’t hurt. For example: using one of the browser testing tools I wrote about the other day, I see that the Ministries page has some issues with the still popular Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.n.

Moreover, I’d not make the mistake of assuming I’m the user – but rather have the site functionally vetted by having members across all ages and platforms give the site a whirl. I’d implement this both in the comfort of their homes, but also by pulling some aside into a classroom one Wednesday night to observe them attempt to accomplish simple-but-common tasks associated with the site’s conversion goals.

Additional Reading

As always, I’m not offering these ideas in a vacuum, but rather as a result of 25 years experience and alot of reading. Here are some interesting related links I came across while putting together this post:

Got an opinion? Don’t’ be shy. Register once, comment often!

8 Comments

  1. Dean, an interesting challenge…once you actually get to a church website with someone who is actively managing it.

    I suspect a lot of the visual effect here is carry-over from having the web done by someone primarily focused on paper content. You can get the staff to multi-task, but their skill and focus will still lean one way or the other.

    I find the two-column lists (see volunteer page, for example) to be the most interesting to ponder. I understand the desire to do this, and it is okay…but it is unusual on the web and makes you wonder if there a better way? Dunno.

    At the very least, the discussion of this site as less-than it should be just shows how high the bar really is. Websites aren’t easy!

  2. Dave, as always – we’re thinking similarly – as the thought about how this would be translated in terms of an effective printed brochure came to mind – hence the inspiration for my ‘graphic design versus web development’ section slug.

    And considering some of the real ‘bombs’ we’ve seen in the ‘Jesus Wept’ category – I’d say this site really does perform at a much higher level.

    I mean when you think about it, in essence all we’re actually talking at a minimum about putting graphics on a diet and re-positioning and perhaps relabeling some key content that already exists.

    That’s buckets more than I can say for other sites that are still struggling with bloated, 60-second-to-load displays of their empty parking lot!

  3. Dean – you make some solid points. I understand your point on accessibility for older readers, but I will play, uh, devil’s advocate here on that. I suspect that most folks over their mid 40s aren’t going to be searching the web for info. They’re more likely to use the yellow pages, ask their neighbor or just stop by one Sunday.

    So, having a more young oriented web site isn’t so bad, as long as the basic info – service times and location – is easy to find.

    Now, in 20 years when this web generation is moving into trifocals, I suspect that web sites (in whatever form they take then!) will be more accessable to old eyes.

  4. Doug… you do realize I’m in my mid-40′s (the hint was that I’ve been doing this work for 25 years) …
    … and yes, most if not all my peers use the Internet instead of the yellow pages.

    Only because of our advanced career positions, most of us are doing it on smart phones …

    … which usually render better not being forced to display 800×332 sized images & Flash animations.

  5. For a sec, I thought I’d sent you the link to this (rather impressive, actually) website: http://www.empowermenttemple.org/

    Guess I haven’t .

  6. Frank … for a sec, I was reminded of the following Scripture verse after visiting your link: John 11:35

  7. “… you do realize I’m in my mid-40’s …”

    Well, I hadn’t put that 2+2 together quite yet, but I guess I knew you were around the same age as me (I’ll be 40 this year).

    When I said “over 45″ I was thinking “well over 45″. Actually I had my Dad in mind and he’s approaching 70! I’m actually the closer to the age that he is in my mind than he is. (Read it again, it’ll make sense)

    He lamented the other day that, because we have no home phone only cell phones, no one could find us in the white pages. White pages? Do people still use those? :-P

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