By now, most people will have had direct contact with the Internet and the World Wide Web. This note is aimed at readers who have yet to take the plunge and create a website, or who have had a go themselves or via others in your church or organisation, and would like to take a fresh look and perhaps build something better.
For the purpose of this article it is assumed that readers already have an email account via an Internet Service Provider, and are familiar with ‘browsing’ websites via the World Wide Web.
What can a website do for a church?
With a little imagination it become a way of telling your unique story, sparking curiosity, attracting visitors, advertising events, sharing your parish news – and your sermons – with the world. It can even lead to people joining the church – most people moving into an area these days will research local amenities on the Web.
Setting up your own website sounds difficult, but it has never been easier, thanks to the ready availability of easy-to-use online web-creation services. Leading Internet service providers already include a web hosting service in the deal. The chances are that this will also include access to a simple website creation utility with a choice of styles. Some of these styles are pretty garish, aimed at young people or hobbyists, but it is worth checking. Alternatively, there are some easy-to-use website-building software packages available
Other options include free web pages offered by some regional newspaper websites, or check out the free web pages offered by ‘A Church Near You’. Local tourism offices may include free listings of churches of visitor interest, and can advise on entry to the tourism database that feeds into the national tourism information network, VisitBritain and enjoyEngland.com.
What do you need to get started?
- Strategy: Work out what you want to do now and what you may want to do in the future. Better still, involve some others from your church. Involve a young person! Think about whether you want to go it alone, or to do something as a group of churches.
- Domain name: A dedicated domain name (Website ‘address’) is not essential, as your service provider will probably include an address for your web site, and in any case most people are likely to reach you via an online ‘search’ service such as Google. However, it does give you an address that reflects your name, and shorter than ‘http://uk.geocities.com/yournameatbtinternet.com’. Domain names are unique, so if one church has already bought ‘www.holytrinity.org.uk’ then any other Holy Trinity church will have to use a different name. The chances are a local geographic reference will work, e.g. ‘holytrinity-happytown’.
- Website: Web pages can be used to provide information about the church. This can be a combination of newsletter, visitor information, the history and special features of the church, service times, sermon transcripts (better still, audio downloads), and any other information it may want to put out.
- Email: A church will almost certainly want an email address as a point of contact. This may be the Vicar’s personal email address, or a church account (clergy may move on). These days you can set up extra email addresses, e.g., via Hotmail or Yahoo! – and have these directed to another mailbox, so consider having more than one, e.g., for enquiries about events, childrens’ clubs, etc.
You will need the help of someone who is reasonably computer-confident – most churches will have at least one, often a young person – who can actually put the material you have collected into a website. This is not at all difficult for anyone who is familiar with home computers – there is no special computer language to learn.
If you would like to build your own site but wish to understand the process better, there are several free online free tutorials available.
NEW: See goodchurchwebsites for more practical ideas and advice!
Planning your website
Web pages need designing, like any other publicity material. The design is a little more complex as they are interlinked, not one after the other as in a book. The advantage is that people may look at the material in any order that they wish. It is worth bearing this in mind when thinking about how people may find their way around the pages, and how this might be made interesting and a pleasant ‘virtual visitor’ experience that will entice them to make a real visit!
- Information for a “Home Page” – name of your church, where to find it,
- Your core aims – “Who, Where, What?” – keep it simple!
- Photographs of your church, people, activities, etc. Get a really good photographer to take these – perhaps someone in your church knows a good amateur, or could sponsor a professional to capture your church for the crucial home page image. This can make a huge difference to the impact of your site!
- Text about history, special features of the building, famous characters, links with the local community or other parts of the world etc. – in fact just the sort of thing you may have already prepared for a guidebook or displays.
- Text about regular activities, special events, church groups (e.g. choir, bell-ringers, Bible study) – things which can be regularly up-dated and give an idea of what’s happening live, so to speak, at your church.
It can be useful to draw a sketch map of the site, draw the pages as boxes with a title and arrows showing the links between the pages. The boxes can contain a short description of the page contents.
The ‘index page’ is the first page that a visitor lands on when they go to your web address. Some websites use this as a kind of ‘cover’ page, with little else in it but the church logo or photo, name and possibly some banner text, requiring users to ‘click’ again to reach the ‘home page’ – the first page with significant content. It is now considered better for the ‘index’/’home’ page to be one and the same, offering a short introduction to the church, and acting as a direction finder for the rest of the site.
Other pages suggested in the diagram are self-explanatory, but consider what is most relevant for your own situation, aims and activities.
The ‘contacts’ page is important of course, and you should consider providing more than one contact with phone number as well as an email message form (do not have visible email addresses in the page, as this will attract unwelcome use by ‘spammers’ – see separate article on ‘tips for websites’). Be careful if the contact details contain private phone numbers or email addresses. Stating the hours when there is someone in the office may help to manage expectations!
Some of the information, such as event dates, will need to be kept up to date on a regular basis. In any case, it is a good idea to plan regular (e.g., once a month) updates to keep the site fresh and interesting.
Compiled by Andrew Duff, January 2007