by Heidi Baumgartner, Washington Conference communication director
It’s a Tuesday afternoon and Katie, my intern, is reviewing a weekly e-calendar that our office produces. She shows me the line-up of ministry events we are featuring for our geographical area. There’s no question in our mind: Our churches are active in ministry and good at planning a wide variety of events.
I notice one event that I don’t know as much about, and ask her to click into the church’s website so we can learn more.
The web browser pops open, the page loads, and we see a very basic website with minimal information. There is no mention of their event they requested we advertise—no calendar link, no display image, no web copy, no registration link. Zip. Nada.
If this only happened with one church, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal. However, we encounter underwhelming church websites on a weekly basis as we promote church, school or ministry events.
In my dozen years of managing ministry websites, I’ve learned THREE realities:
- A website is the foundation of a communication strategy.
- Every communiqué you produce (print, digital or social) should point back to your website.
- Websites can quickly become stale without intentional management.
We’ve been guilty of a stale website at a conference level, too. Life gets busy. Checklists keep extending. Responsibilities multiply.
We needed to prioritize our online responsibility. This led to some soul searching and strategizing.
First: we needed to understand why ministry websites were important.
Websites are often the first place people look when they are seeking information about a church, school or ministry. These may be Adventists who are new to town and looking for a new church or school, or new friends in the community who are searching for a family, for answers in life, or for the wholeness Jesus offers.
Second: we needed to define the type of content our target audience was seeking and that we could provide.
Based on the email queries and phone calls we received, we identified how 1) our audience was seeking a schedule of activities and services (e.g. bulletin or calendar); 2) our audience wanted to know on a church website who was speaking and on what topic; and 3) our audience wanted to know who to contact, where to look for more information, or what reactive action they were supposed to take. Essentially our audience wanted good customer service and answers to basic questions.
Additionally, we surveyed local, regional, and national church websites from a variety of denominations to see what features stood out most. We liked:
- A media library with sermons in podcast or webcast format
- An “I’m new” feature with a description of what to expect
- A brief listing of beliefs
- A list of church ministries and ways people can get involved in ministry
- Devotional readings to improve my spiritual growth
- A resource gallery of ways I could do my ministry better
- Ways to contribute and give
Third: we needed to create a website management structure.
We needed a system—a checklist or a framework—that would work whether the webmaster was a volunteer or a paid staff member.
Websites do not need to take an extraordinary amount of time to maintain. Yes, it does take some initial time to set up the website. The management process, though, does not need to disrupt your schedule.
Most people can carve out an hour in their week for a given task or interaction, so this became the challenge to find a way to manage a ministry website in one hour a week.
(Granted: some tasks require a bit of pre-work, such as preparing your bulletin—a task that you or another team member is doing anyway. Budget another hour of time if you produce a church e-newsletter. Additionally, you could plan for an hour of social media planning and scheduling. You get the idea!)
One Hour Website Checklist
- Post your church bulletin by Thursday each week (2-5 minutes to post the finished document)
- Enter any new events in the calendar (10-20 minutes)
- Write, revise, or update a page of web copy to be “massively useful” for your target audience (10-15 minutes; read Jay Baer’s Youtility for more insights)
- Answer any emails generated through the website (5-10 minutes)
- Run through a section of your maintenance log (10+ minutes)
- Check links
- Update welcome message
- Update home page with any new content
- Develop or update any new website content areas
- Check website statistics
- Keep your domain name up-to-date
- Review the accuracy of current content (addresses, phone numbers, email contact, all date/time references, spelling, names, etc.)
- Share and cross promote your bulletin or a preview of Sabbath services on social media (2-5 minutes)
- Have your A/V team upload or archive the sermon after church (upload time)
Give it a try! Tweak the numbers as needed to meet your needs. Break down a big task into smaller, more manageable sections. Launching or relaunching your website may take more time initially before you can settle into a doable maintenance routine, and that’s OK.
Whether your website visitors are referred from a Google search, a social media post, or an e-newsletter feature, your up-to-date website offers a great opportunity for guests to find ways to connect with your congregation and to connect with God.
Don’t give up! Keep going! Keep exploring! Keep innovating and finding new ways to make your website ministry thrive!
Heidi Baumgartner has served as communication director for the Washington Conference in Federal Way, Washington, for several years. She always strives to find better ways to communicate online and offline, helping our churches, schools and ministries reach as many people as possible.