how One small reformed church attracted more local visitors by streamlining its website 

Potential visitors will scan your website before joining you for Sunday worship. 


What they see will force a decision.


They'll either attend, choose another one, or (worst of all) hit the back button and forget they ever "met" your church.


Your website is a proxy for your church.


Fair or not, when it comes to how your church appears online, perception is reality.

Small churches (< 100 members) often struggle with their website. 


Perhaps nobody struggles more than the leaders of small, faithful Reformed churches.

 

Why?


It’s not because creating a website is hard.


Dozens of easy-to-use platforms exist to help churches do just that. A novice can learn to upload sermons, add text, and post pictures without having to learn code.


Rather, the struggle has to do with thinking.


Deep thinking.


About the kind of message you want to send to the community.


Thinking requires time--the scarcest of resources for church leaders!


And there's no existing software that will do that for you. Software cannot articulate the essence of your church.


Neither can it showcase the unique benefits of your church, verbally or visually. 


Your church's website forms an immediate impression on visitors.


A thoughtful, well-crafted website will persuade the right visitors* to learn more about your church.


Almost as important is the type of visitors you repel. A thoughtful website will send the wrong visitors* away.


Read on to see how one church welcomed more visits by upgrading its website.


How Much Emphasis Should Your Church Put on Marketing?

“Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.”

Church marketing.

  

Do you cringe when you hear that term?


To some, it conjures up the worst stereotypes of today’s evangelical-lite church. Slick theatrical productions. Life coach preachers. Branding. Audience share.

 

But marketing is not something you can avoid.


It’s inevitable. 


Your church is already doing it.


The only question is whether you’re doing it well or poorly.

 

Churches Are Competing Against Inertia


The average Christian, nominal Christian, and “None” in America is very comfortable.


He’s got problems, sure, but they don’t include starvation.


Or homelessness.


Or nakedness.


His prosperity gives him a lot of free time. 


Providentially, he spends much of it (regardless of age) online.


If he's considering visiting a new church, he'll check it out online first. 


That's the first time many locals, like him, will "meet" you.


And it's a one-sided interaction.


You're on display.


They judge you.

 

What’s a faithful church to do?


Pray, first and foremost. God blesses churches with numerical growth in response to the earnest petitions of His saints.


Second? Invest in your website.


But investment is more than simply paying for web hosting.


It’s also more than filling the site with content.


Website content, by itself, will not grow your church.

A website must incorporate marketing principles if it's going to attract new visitors.

Fortunately, as you'll see, that's not a bad thing.

Before:  Advanced Seminary Language with Hard-to-Read Formatting.

Christ Covenant Reformed Church (CCRC), of which I am a member, is a small church in Billings, MT.


Lord's Day attendance ranges from 45 to 90 people. Official membership hovers around 80.


Billings is a city of 117,000. Another 60,000 live in the metro region.


A handful of megachurches with elaborate campuses dominate the evangelical scene.


CCRC holds a high view of Scripture. The church embraces reformed doctrine, confessions, and the centrality of Lord’s Day worship.


But the church’s distinctives are not well understood in the evangelical world.*


Even less, no surprise, among non-churchgoers.

 

Leadership at CCRC was aware of their outlier status.


Yet the church's website did not reflect this awareness. Someone had created it during the church's founding in 2007/08.


The immediate problem with the website was the writing (copy). It was too advanced. It read like a seminary textbook. 


A secondary problem was the navigation. The top menu was large, with one-word titles not typically used in evangelical churches.


Other than weekly sermon uploads, the website had not been updated in years:

home page start

Click to enlarge

The home page had four paragraphs.


While related, each one touched on a separate point of doctrine (history, confederation, order, and worship). 


CCRC packed a lot of copy into a small space. Studies have shown that readers avoid reading lengthy paragraphs whenever possible.*


Instead, they scan subheads and images. If those elements prove interesting, the reader may go back and read the longer paragraphs.


Web pages follow the 80/20 rule. That is, 20% of the pages account for 80% of page views. 


The home page is the most popular page of a website.


But CCRC did not know whether visitors were reading theirs. 


What we knew was this.


First-time, local visitors were rare!


Most visitors were from our denomination (CREC). They'd visit CCRC while traveling for work or vacation.


Without local interest, growth has been slow.


We've added members through “Dutch” evangelism (children born to members).

On the whole, the website kept CCRC hidden from Billings, like a lamp under a bowl.

The formatting problems on the home page carried over to other pages.


Few subheads.


No pictures.


Seminary-level copy.


CCRC's website was hard to read on phones and tablets. 

After: Big Evangelical Call to Worship Without Sacrificing Truth

My goal with our church website was an upgrade, not a complete overhaul. 


We were staying with our website provider (Clover).


I was not proposing color, font, or logo changes.


Instead, I was going to revise the website's existing copy for flow and tone.


I was going to fill in content gaps.


Finally, I was going to clean up the website's formatting and navigation problems.

 

Knowing this, I had an idea to make the homepage a freestanding “sales” page. 


That is, the page had to include everything necessary for a visitor to make contact...


... while providing a compelling reason for them to do so.


So, the first change I made was the body copy.


Rather than expand on the original text, I cut the first three paragraphs. 


I chose the last paragraph, worship, as the page's theme.


(This was not me taking artistic license; right worship is the driving force behind CCRC.)


CCRC is the only conspicuously reformed church in Billings.


So, my hypothesis for the first page was that, in matters of doctrine, “less was more.”

I wanted our home page to speak to visitors, not over them.

My hope was to provide an impetus for visitors to attend service. To experience CCRC firsthand.


From there, they'd be able to ask questions face-to-face.


The new body copy begins with a greeting.


It then introduces CCRC.


Next, it transitions to our theological rationale.


Lastly, it provides a reason to worship with us.


In contrast to the stereotype of unfriendly reformed churches ("frozen chosen"), the header on the new page is warm.

Click image to shrink

I also shortened the number of navigation menu categories from nine to five.


Why?


The 80/20 rule told me that many of these primary pages didn’t justify their prominence.


Meaning...they weren’t receiving enough visitors.


Consolidating them into groups was logical, too, because it made for a better reading experience on phones.


It's often said that "Personnel is policy."


Which is why so many visitors check out a church's "Leadership" or "Staff" page. It gives them direct insight into the "mind" of the church and its priorities. 


CCRC was missing this crucial page. 


So, I took head shots of the three elders and created sample bios.


Writing about oneself can be awkward. Especially for busy men not used to doing it.


The elders had the choice of using what I wrote, editing it, or writing completely new biographies.


Two of the three used what I wrote, almost word-for-word. 

I reformatted the rest of the website for easier reading.


What that means is that I increased the size of the text, shortened paragraphs using natural breaks, and added new titles and subtitles to pages.


After that, I added a few technical upgrades so that we could see how the website was performing on Google.


The information provided by a Google tracking code would inform future changes. Attracting right-fit visitors is an ongoing priority.


Finally, I delisted some pages that were no longer relevant to CCRC. 


By doing this, I ensured that only our best pages ("Home," "Leadership," "Events") appear in a Google search snippet.


Summary of Improvements

  • Revised "Home" Page.  Reduced point of focus from four to one (worship). Added new headline and prehead. New body copy. Lowered the readability level from seminary-grade to third grade. Added group photo, Google map, Lord's Day schedule, and footer with contact information. 
  • Revised Navigation Menu.  Cut the number of menu categories from nine to five. Grouped related pages ("About") under one category.
  • New "Leadership" Page.  Added a get-to-know-us page for the CCRC elders. Wrote the bio for two of three elders. Created a brief explanation of the leadership roles at CCRC while internally linking to our governing document.
  • Technical Upgrades. Added a Google Analytics tracking code, submitted the website to Google's search console, and added an encrypted connection (SSL certificate).

Results: A Spike in Web Traffic and Visits from Local Families 

Revising a church website doesn't often yield immediate results.


It's not a quick fix for attracting visitors, usually.


First, because it takes months for Google and other search engines to notice significant changes ("crawling").


Second, because web searches for churches are relatively low in volume. 


However, in the case of CCRC, the new website seems to have boosted the church's profile quickly.

CCRC website traffic as measured by Cloversite

CCRC's website showed a spike in traffic in mid-March 2021. That's the same time the new website went live.


More importantly, in the first three weeks of the new website, CCRC welcomed two local families for worship.


Prior to the treatment, it would have taken three or four months for two, non-CREC families to visit.


One family said they came because they recognized the face of a member on the home page.


Images can reinforce or detract from a home page's message.


That's why I wanted to add a group photo. It serves multiple purposes:


  • It introduces CCRC's members to the visitor, humanizing them.
  • It hints at family worship, where children are present for the entirety of the service.
  • It shows the size of the congregation.
  • It fits with the subject (worship) of the home page.


The photo, like the message, will encourage right-fit visitors and discourage wrong-fit visitors.

Your Small, Faithful Church Can Grow without Gimmicks, Expensive Advertising, or Gospel-Lite Messaging.

Fact. Churches are competing for attention in a culture that's growing more chaotic with each passing day.


Moreover, the number of faithful churches appears to be shrinking.


Many formerly sound churches are adopting woke theology in imitation of the world. Or they're departing from the truth in other ways.


Yes, it's tragic what's happening in the culture and the church.


But it also presents a golden opportunity.


Your church is what saints and future saints are looking for right now!


Don't you want to help them find it?


Fortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all website for churches.

An effective website highlights the Gospel's universal power and the unique character of your church. It compels right-fit visitors to join you for worship.

The strength of a church website is the quality and structure of its content.


Given this reality, you must ask whether your website is "working" for the church's purposes.


Is your church website contributing to...


  • New visitors on Sundays?
  • Email and phone inquiries from locals?
  • Sermon downloads?
  • Gifts and donations?
  • If it's not, you might consider working with me.

    I Help Leaders in Small, Faithful Churches Speak to More People in the Community


    Creating an effective website is not intuitive.


    What usually happens, in my experience, is that decisions are made by committee.


    One person likes this, the other likes that.


    What to do?


    Vote on it!


    Unfortunately, while this type of democracy spares feelings, it doesn't normally lead to a stronger website.


    Locals stay away because the website looks like all the other churches in the area.


    Rather than add general "content" to a vanilla website, I help leaders fine tune the benefits of their church.


    I then package the benefits in a reader-friendly way using proven marketing principles.

    Q. Time commitment from start to finish?

    A. Four to six weeks.


    Q:
     Financial commitment?

    A: $1,400 U.S.


    Q: What's included?

    A: Background research, a conceptual design, website copy, and, potentially, new website elements.


    The background research is to understand your church, your community, denomination, etc. 


    The conceptual design is based on your existing website. It will dictate the pages I create, rewrite, and delist. 


    I may propose new website elements (e.g., menu, search bar, pictures) as part of the conceptual design.

    To Get Started with Your Website Revision, Schedule Your Free, No-Obligation Call.

    This is a short phone or Zoom call where we say hello and I answer your questions.

    My Satisfaction Guarantee...

    ... is that you’ll be happy with the final draft of your website. In the rare event that you’re not 100% satisfied, I’ll work round-the-clock for the next 30 days (barring Sundays) until you have a website that makes you grin. 

    "Raised more than $50K with Mike's help."

    It was great working with Mike. As an organization we struggled mightily with identifying and capturing the unique qualities of our charity. 


    Mike was able to take our mission as an organization and identify our unique fundraising points (UFP) and use that to appeal to our donor base.  He is an extremely talented writer and researcher.                                     


    Franco Olmeda

    President, OWG International

    If Not You, Who? If Not Now, When?

    Look, you might be an excellent preacher.


    (Praise God for His gifts.)


    And you might have a congregation that prays diligently for you.


    (May it be so.)


    Yet, even still, you might not be reaching the community with the good news of Jesus Christ.


    We live online. Doubly, triply, quadruply so, post-Covid.


    Where will the locals who've never heard of you go to hear the Word?


    To a church that neglects God's law?


    Better than nothing, certainly.


    Quite likely, though, is that they'll go... nowhere.


    Revising your website for the good of your church and the community need not be overthought. 


    It's probably been on your mind for a while, anyway.


    Now you have the chance to work with a fellow Christian and an objective outsider...


    ... for much less than most line items in your budget.


    If not now, then... when?

    Schedule Your Free, No Risk, Call.

    You're overworked. You (and the session) can't do it all. Let me help you grow your church!

    "Marketing a church is not only ethical--it's absolutely necessary today. The internet has changed how people shop for churches. And shop they do. My goal is to help expand the Kingdom of God through your humble website .”

    Mike Devaney

    Copywriter & Website Planner

    *Right-fit visitors are nondisruptive. They’re thoughtful, honest inquirers. Most will be Christian, but not always.
    *Poor-fit visitors are disruptive. Often, they reject Reformed theology with prejudice. They hold the church in low esteem but think highly of themselves. They may or may not be actual Christians. 

    *Sproul, R. C. “Book Review: Christless Christianity.” Ligonier Ministries, 7 June 2108, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/book-review-christless-christianity/.

    *Tognazzini, Bruce. “How Users Read on the Web.” Nielsen Norman Group, 30 Sept. 1997, https://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-users-read-on-the-web/.

    Copyright 2021- Mike Devaney.  Disclaimer