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Redesigning Your Church Website – Part 1:  Do You Really Need a Redesign?

May 2, 2017 12:15:00 PM

Do You Really Need a Redesign?

So you’re thinking of doing a complete redesign of your church website.  The theme is dated, the info is out of date, and those 4000kb background images were never good ideas.  That’s right.  It’s time to burn the whole thing down and start over from scratch.

Think again.  Reconsider.  You don’t want to go down this road unless it’s really necessary.  How do you know if you really need to launch in to a full redesign?  The answer depends on what you’re hoping to achieve:

We Want to Attract New Members

You probably don’t need a redesign.  Websites don’t attract new members by themselves, and so often this particular rationale comes out of a situation where a congregation has lost touch with its surrounding community.  Visitors aren’t coming in, and those that do visit don’t come back a second time.  The congregation feels like it’s living on the margins of its own community, and often that no one else really cares whether they exist or not (often this is actually more or less true.)  A website will do precisely nothing to help with this scenario.  Instead focus the time, money and energy you might have put into a website into looking at your surrounding community and figuring out where your church can help meet people’s needs.  In the long run, it’ll build a better foundation for outreach than a website ever will.

Having said that, there exists a point where a congregation is well plugged into its surrounding community, but needs to take the next step.  In this scenario, a website can help make the various ministries of a congregation known in the community.  Give consideration to other options, such as social media (particularly Facebook Pages), but a website it almost certainly a piece of the solution here.

Our Current Site Looks Bad

Unless your site is from 1997 and looks like something fresh out of Geocities, you probably don’t need a full-on redesign.  A re-theming of the colors and navigation, perhaps a bit of freshening up the content and you’ll be in pretty good shape.  Depending on your audience, your site may be better off simple and easy to use.  If most of your visitors are congregation members looking to find out what they’re supposed to bring to Sunday’s potluck, you probably don’t need parallax scrolling and a full Angular backend.  Learn a little CSS, make a backup of your current site, make a second backup and put it on a different computer, then begin working on how you can update your current content with some simple CSS work.  (More on CSS in a later article…)

It's entirely possible, though, that you actually do have a site hosted on Geocities, or one that looks like it.  You might be able to get away with an update or two, but chances are you’re also feeling the pinch of our next reason, so it’s probably time to look at shifting to something more modern and easy to maintain.

Our Current Site is Hard to Update

This one’s legit.  If there is one phrase that strikes fear into the heart of every web developer I know, it’s “We designed for Internet Explorer using Frontpage.”  If there’s another one, though, it’s “Our existing website was done by a volunteer/youth group member/someone’s kid/etc., but they’re gone now and we don’t know how to update it.”  That’s almost a certain guarantee that you’re about to face a ton of spaghetti code, unmaintainable code base and a lot of sleepless nights.  It’s time to stock up on caffeine.  Unfortunately, this is where a lot of congregations find themselves, and it inevitably puts them in a difficult situation.  Kids and youth grow up and move off to school (where they hopefully learn how to code properly), volunteers come and go, and congregations often don’t have a ton of folks who are willing and able to work with back end code.  And so the website goes unused, and an out of date website is really worse than no website at all.  I’ll talk about selecting platforms in a future article, but unless you’ve got a full-time staffer with web development skills, chances are you’re needing to move to a Content Management System (CMS).

We Want a Place for Our Members to Communicate

This is almost never a good idea.  Your members already communicate, I hope.  If they don’t, you should probably plan a potluck.  Are they clamoring for a new site to remember to visit every day and a place to move all their existing communication into a less convenient platform?  If not, don’t do it.  Chances are folks won’t use it.  Consider a Facebook group or page instead, if your members are social media savvy.

It’s Just Time for a Change

Buy new curtains for the sanctuary or move the baptismal font without consulting the altar guild.  It’ll be just as much fun and less painful for the long run.

(Note:  Don’t ever move things without asking your altar guild, and if you do, don’t you dare say I suggested it!)

I’m Doing It Anyway!

All right.  I can see you’re set on this thing.  So how do you even begin?  What kind of process should you use?  Notepad or a graphical editor?  What are web safe colors?  Why is lime green always a bad idea?  All of this and more coming in future articles!  We’ll look at web design using the ADDIE process:

  • Analyze
    • Defining Your Audience and Message
  • Design
    • Choosing a Platform
    • Understanding Basic HTML, CSS and JavaScript
    • Finding Your Way Around Navigation
    • Picking Good Colors
  • Develop
    • Writing Good Code
    • Writing Good Content
  • Implement
    • Testing Your Site and Why It Matters
    • Getting Noticed
  • Evaluate
    • Analyzing Your Analytics
    • Feeding the Beast

See you soon for future articles!

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Rev. Bill Johnson

Written by Rev. Bill Johnson

Rev. Bill Johnson serves as the Director of Educational Technology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. He’s passionate about finding effective ways to share the Gospel with emerging generations and new ways to use technology to form the next generation of servants for the Church. He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his wife and three teenage daughters. Please pray for him.

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