In 2015, I rewrote and mapped our church website. I learned a lot throughout the process, so I wanted to share what I found most helpful.
Before I begin, what exactly do I mean when I say website mapping? According to this webinar from the LCMS Michigan District, “Sitemaps are one of the key ways people interact with your website. They help organize and structure your content in meaningful ways. Without an effective sitemap the people who visit your church website will be lost and confused.” Essentially, a sitemap is the logical, organized layout of your website content.
How to Start the Process
Consult with Ministry Staff
When I came on board at my church, we already had a website. It was extremely helpful to have the foundation to build upon. Once we had a dedicated church communicator (me), we wanted to build on that primary groundwork and capture all of our ministries and who we were as a church body.
My first step was to meet with ministry staff to evaluate their communication processes. What was working? What were their struggles? How could we utilize the website to improve their communications, both within the church body and with the outside community? We also brainstormed ideas of what website mapping initially seemed logical (i.e., what groups needed to be included on the women’s ministry page, support & care page, youth ministry page, etc.).
As you consult your ministry staff, meet individually so that you can hear each staff and what their ministry goals and needs are for the website. Remember, building or remapping a website is a long process. Invest the time upfront to prepare:
- Ask a lot of questions
- Take extensive notes
During the brainstorming process I referred to many other churches’ websites to find inspiration. We are a multi-site congregation, we offer preschool, and have an early learning childhood development center. I searched for churches that were similar to ours. I sifted through their sites and took notes of what I thought was organizationally working and what I thought wasn’t.
As you look for inspiration:
- Examine churches with similar organizational structures
- Ask friends and colleagues for suggestions of sites that they think are well organized
- Consider that what works for one church may not always be the best solution for yours
- How can you use what other churches are doing and adapt it into your own ministry?
Ongoing Collaboration with Ministry Staff (and Support Staff)
Over the many months of this project, we had multiple mapping drafts prior to hitting “publish” and I had countless conversations with the ministry staff. However, two valuable resources that made the project feasible were the other office staff I partner with.
While the ministry staff helped me envision each individual ministry, the church secretary and the business manager saw things from different perspectives. They were able to remind me of the bigger picture, the overall organizational structure, and to see things from a guest’s perspective.
One of my favorite steps in the mapping process came towards the middle of the project. On this particular day, we spent almost two hours in our workroom hashing out the final mapping of our website. I had written the website pages on index cards and laid them out on the worktable in my suggested order. We, both ministry and office support staff, removed, created, and rearranged pages; and added, moved, and eliminated content. At the end of the session we all had a better idea of how we thought the website should be organized.
So, as you continue conversations with your ministry staff:
- Partner with the church administrative staff. Who knows the church better, inside and out, than the church secretary? They will see things you are missing and have suggestions that you may not have considered.
- Have a specific meeting to discuss the website mapping/organization together as a complete staff. Use a whiteboard, index cards, post-it notes, a spreadsheet, or however best the mapping process would work for you and your partners.
Create a Communications Team
One of the things I found exceptionally helpful was surrounding myself with other marketing & communication professionals. I created a small team of four men and women who were church members as well as in the marketing field. We had multiple conversations throughout the phases of the project. These individuals consulted me not only on the ascetics of the website, but also the organization and logic behind the mapping.
When creating a communications team, consider:
- Surrounding yourself with church members in the field of communications & marketing
- Gathering diverse opinions by asking individuals of both genders and different generations
- Asking individuals who will speak truth and can offer constructive criticism
Things I Learned
Look at your website from the perspective of a visitor. I watched a webinar at the beginning of 2015 that stated we need to consider who our website audience is.
- the visitor
- the regular attender
- the active church member
- the church leader
The webinar stressed the importance of the visitor as being our church website’s primary audience.
As we built on our website logic, we continually circled back to our main audience being a potential guest. Questions we considered:
- Are our worship times & three locations easy to locate?
- How easily can a visitor locate our office phone number and staff directory?
- Are we clearly illustrating that we offer both Preschool & Day Care ministries?
- Can a visitor get a comprehensive picture of our church body without having to dig deep within the pages of our site?
- Are we avoiding internal jargon?
- Is the organization and flow of the website friendly to first-time guests?
Along that same thread, keep things simple. Often times, making your site elaborate and complex can distract people or even deter them from looking further. By simplifying the logic behind your website, your visitors and members will not get lost or confused.
You cannot please everyone. Remember earlier I said that I consulted ministry staff, support staff, and communication professionals? I got a lot of feedback and suggestions. Some good, and some bad. It was a challenge to discern which suggestions to consider and which to implement. Try to listen, and take in their suggestions. Ultimately, you cannot please everyone and you will have to decide what changes to apply.
Don’t expect perfection. It took one of my pastor’s coaxing to encourage me to finally hit “publish.” I couldn’t accept that it wasn’t “perfect.” I believed there were many pieces of the site that still needed developed. He told me one afternoon, “Jenn, you’ve spent months gathering, organizing, and lining up your ducks. There comes a point where you are just delaying the inevitable. It is not going to be perfect. It will never be complete. You just need to pull the trigger.”
And to complement the above point, your website will never be complete. It is a fluid piece of art. Get to a point that you and your church staff are willing to publish the site, and then continue updating and improving the content.
Please note that this is my process and that it is not the only way to approach website mapping. I gathered these ideas from conversations with other church communicators, church communication websites, and webinars. As you venture into your own project, whether starting fresh or remapping a current site, take your time. Do your research. The solution will not expose itself overnight. Try to relish in the process as you uncover the best solution for your website mapping!
Some other helpful resources as you begin:
- Basic Church Website Components to Help Visitors
- Crafting Excellent Church Websites
- CMS: Church Websites 101
- 5 Ways to Engage Members with your Website
- Creating a Sitemap that Actually Works
Learn more about building an effective website in our free ebook, “9 Strategies for Creating an Engaging Church Website.”