web design

Ultimate Guide to Church Website Design

Written by Paul Steinbrueck

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Are you about to build a website for your church and looking for some guidance?

Or have you already built your church website, things didn’t go well as you had hoped, and you’d like to learn how to improve your website?

If so, this Ultimate Guide to Church Website Design is for you.

You’ve probably seen TV commercials promoting website builders that make it seem like anybody can easily build a great website in an hour or two.  While some tools can make building a website faster and easier, there are a lot of important steps before and after the actual building of the website that will make or break your website.

Our team at OurChurch.com has been building church websites for more than 20 years.  We have developed a process that is efficient and results in church websites that:

  • Look great
  • Are easy to use
  • Have useful functionality
  • Rank well in search engines
  • Keep people coming back

OurChurch.Com’s mission is to help Christian organizations live out their mission online.  One way we can help  your church live out its mission online is to build your church website for you. But if you prefer to do it yourself, we want to help you do that well, by sharing our church website design process with you.

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    Step 1: Start with Why

    We start the first phone call with every church we work with by getting to know the church and helping them to define the goals for their website.

    It’s important to define your goals first, because your website’s appearance, organization, content and functionality should all be designed intentionally to help your church website achieve its goals.

    What’s the purpose of your church website?

    • To reach out to people in your community looking for a church?
    • To help the people who are a part of your church to get connected and serve?
    • To help people grow their relationship with God?
    • To share the stories of what God is doing in your congregation with your local community?

    I pose these as questions because ultimately, your church leaders need to decide and define your website goals. These are questions and possible goals to consider as you do this.

    Two additional tips for setting church website goals:

    1) It’s ok to have multiple goals for your website – most do, but it’s important to prioritize your goals, because these priorities will help guide the organization of your pages and your content.

    2) Write down your website goals. You will refer back to them throughout the website design process and beyond.

    The first step of web design is to define your goals. Every decision after that takes you one step closer to those goals. –Paul Steinbrueck

     

    Step 2: Logo Design

    Many churches don’t have a logo or think they’ll create a logo some other time. However…

    The design of your website all starts with your church logo.

    The logo for your church will be used on all kinds of communication:  Posters, business cards, bulletins, outdoor signage, flyers, church vans/buses, and your website. Because the logo will be used is so many places, it is important that the logo will work well in promoting your brand, no matter what form of communication is being used.

    It is also important to have the logo created before you start your designing your website because the logo’s colors and style will impact the colors and style of your church website.

    So if you have a logo that is current and you are happy with, then that logo can help determine your website design. However, if you are a new church, a church that doesn’t have a logo, or a church that is in need of a logo redesign, you should address the logo first, then address your website design.

    When creating a logo, it is important to include the following 4 steps in the process:

    1. Get input from key decision makers but don’t extend the input getting to everyone in the organization.  It is good to get 2-3 people’s input so you aren’t going solo in the logo design process but remember, too many cooks spoil the broth…
    2. Look at other logos and find a few that you like.  You don’t want to copy anyone’s logo, but sometimes it is helpful to look at other logos to figure out which styles you like and which you don’t like. Additionally, it can be helpful to have some logos you like that you can show to the designer so they have a point of reference.
    3. Speak with the designer.  The web is a great tool.  It allows us to access information and communicate with people that would have been impossible without it.  However, it can also make things very impersonal.  It is vital to speak with someone that you understand, who understands you when you go through the logo creation process.
    4. Get the logo in formats that will work in all of your communication (posters, business cards, bulletins, outdoor signage, flyers, church vans/buses, and your website).  You should receive the logo in various sizes, with a transparent background, and multiple file formats (jpg, png, and pdf).

    Your logo design should determine your website design. – Mark Steinbrueck

     

    Step 3: Create a Content Map

    A Content Map is a spreadsheet that defines where all of the content and functionality of your website will be. It defines what will be in the header, footer, and any sidebars, and what will be on each page of the website. It also defines the how all of the pages will be organized in the menu.

    Creating a content map provides at least 4 important benefits:

    1. Better Theme Selection. Defining the homepage content and functionality before you search for or design a theme, helps to define your theme requirements and makes finding/designing a theme easier.
    2. Better Menu Organization. Listing all the pages that will be in a website and organizing them into sub-menus at the beginning, leads to a better organized website in which people are more likely to find what they’re looking for.
    3. Faster Development. Listing all the content for the website up front will dramatically speed up the content creation phase of the project. People can start writing text and taking photos right away.
    4. Intentional SEO. Listing all the content up front, ensures that content beneficial SEO like resources and life-changing content don’t get left out of the menu or forgotten entirely.

    So, how does one go about creating a content map? Here are some tips.

    5 Tips for Creating a Content Map

    1. Use an example. If you’ve never created a content map it can be difficult to visualize. So, here’s a free sample content map you can reference.
    2. Take a team approach. Since your content map will list all of your website’s content, it’s important to get input from the senior pastor, ministry team leaders, and your communications team.
    3. Let your goals guide you. In step, we define the purpose of the website. Those goals should guide the content placed on the homepage and the organization of pages in the menu. If the top purpose of your website is to connect with the people in your community who are searching for God or a church, then the first thing people should see on your homepage is something designed to accomplish that.
    4. Limit your main menu. Limit the number of items in your primary navigation menu to a maximum of 7. Five is even better.
    5. Get feedback and revise. Once you have a draft of the content map, get feedback on it. Be warned that ministry leaders often want their ministry’s content featured more prominently – mentioned on the homepage instead of an inside page or in a main menu link instead of in a sub-menu. Don’t be surprised if two people give you the exact opposite feedback. Don’t expect to make everyone happy. As you make revisions, save each version with a new filename so you can reference or revert back to a previous version if necessary.

    What if I already built my site without a content map?

    Don’t let that stop you from creating a content map now. Create a content map as if you were going to build a new website for your organization. Then compare the content map to your existing site.

    You may discover they are very similar – with a few tweaks to the content or menu you can give your website visitors a better experience.

    Or you may discover, your website’s content and menu organization are confusing or don’t aligned with your goals. Some major improvements or additions may be needed, and you can put together a plan to make those changes to give your visitors a better experience and accomplish your goals.

    The bottom line…

    A content map is your website’s blueprint and is necessary for a smooth website building process. –Mark Steinbrueck

     

    Step 4: Select a Theme

    Once you have created your logo and content map, the next step is to decide on the design of your website.

    Custom Design or Pre-Made Theme

    In the past, a church would first need to decide if they wanted to have a custom theme (aka template) created for their website or if they would prefer to purchase a theme already created by a theme developer.  Having a custom theme created for their site would give them complete control over all aspects of the design of their site.  It would mean that their design would be completely unique.  However, it would also mean adding significant cost and time to the website building process, because this would involve a graphic designer and a website developer (cha-ching!).  Using a pre-made theme would save time and money but there were limitations to the design quality and features.

    However, in recent years, the quality, features, and flexibility built into pre-made themes have improved dramatically.  In fact, themes available for purchase have become so good, we have all but eliminated the option to create a custom theme from scratch.

    Church Website Design Options

    When selecting a church website design, we usually start by asking customers some specific questions about design options, providing some examples of each feature, so the customer can have a visual of what the feature looks like on a working website.

    Some of the theme options to consider include:

    • Where will your logo be displayed?
    • What type of menu would you like?
    • Will the menu be “sticky” and visible as visitors scroll down or not?
    • Will there be a “hero” image, image slider or video at the top of your homepage?
    • Will the content fill the full width of the browser or will there be margins?

    You can find examples of these options in the article How to select the best website design for your church.

    Once you have decided on which features you want included in your design, it is time to find a few designs that have all of those features.  There are quite a few companies that specialize in pre-made WordPress themes, but we primarily use the 3 listed below:

    I will warn you in advance, the process of sifting through hundreds of themes/design options can be very time consuming, a bit exhausting, and somewhat overwhelming.  One of the many great aspects of OurChurch.Com’s custom website packages is that we do all of that work for you.  After discussing the design features with our your, we find the designs that meet your criteria, and review them with your.  All you need to do is choose.  Doesn’t get much easier than that!

    Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.  – Steve Jobs

     

    Step 5: Select & Install Plugins

    There are more than 50,000 WordPress plugins that provide almost every imaginable function – calendars, newsletters, online forms, event registration, photo galleries, SEO, just to name a few.  For each of these functions there may be many different plugins to choose from.

    So, how do you choose which plugins to use?

    1) Make a list of the features you would like on your website.

    Talk with the staff and ministry team leaders about the features or functionality they think should be on the website.  When you talk with people, try to get a sense for how important they think various features are.  Let them know you’re just getting ideas at this point, and not every idea will be implemented.

    2) Whittle down the features list

    Even though many WordPress plugins are free, there are other “costs” to consider.  Everything you add to your website has to be managed and maintained.  For example. Most churches say they want audio or video of sermons on their website.  But someone has to record, edit, and publish the sermon consistently every week.  If no one is committed to doing this, then it’s better not to find, install, and setup the plugin and have an empty sermons section/page.

    Another cost that comes with each plugin is the divided attention it produces.  Everyone has a limited amount of time and attention.  Each feature you add to your website, reduces the time and attention the other features will get.  Therefore, before you choose to move forward with a feature, ask yourself is it important enough to sacrifice time and attention from the other features.

    3) Evaluate available plugins

    The WordPress website has a very useful plugin search feature. Type in the feature you’re looking for, and then review the available plugins.  When we evaluate plugins we look for:

    • Tested in the latest version of WordPress. If a plugin hasn’t been tested with the latest version, it could be an indication that the developer(s) are no longer active.
    • Active support. Every plugin has a “Support” tab. Check to see if the developer(s) have responded to recent in inquiries.  Check to be sure there aren’t a bunch of unresolved issues. If the developer hasn’t responded for several weeks and there are a lot of unresolved issues, it’s probably not a good idea to use the plugin.
    • Updated recently.  We prefer plugins that have been updated within the last 3 months, however if a plugin has been updated within the last 8 months and it has good ratings and active support responses, we consider it.
    • Good ratings. We like to see at least 4 out of 5 stars
    • Active installations.  Some plugins have millions of active installations others have less than 10.  There’s no rule of thumb for how many active installations is enough, but it can be helpful when comparing plugins that provide the same feature to see which is most popular.
    • Features.  Every plugin includes a list of features.  Sometimes we’ll choose a less popular or slightly lower rated plugin if it has some features another similar competing plugin doesn’t have.
    • Price.  While a lot of plugins are free, some have to be purchased. Some may have a free and a “pro” version.  Some high-end plugins may require a maintenance subscription.

    If all of this seems like a lot of work to do for each and every feature you add to your website, well… it is.  Depending on how many features/plugins you want to add to your website it could take 2-20 hours.

    This is why one of the biggest benefits of hiring a professional church website developer like OurChurch.Com is we have already researched the features churches want, and found good, stable plugins for each, saving lots of time and headaches.

    Similarly, using a DIY church website builder like our WP-EZ Website Builder also saves tons of time by eliminating this step.

    What separates design from art is that design is meant to be… functional. -Cameron Moll

     

    Step 6: Create and Enter Content

    Unfortunately, this is the phase of website development where things tend to get bogged down.  Some churches take months or even years to put text, images and other content into their website.

    5 Tips to Speed up the Content Step of Church Website Design:

    1) Use your content map.  We discussed what a content map is, why it’s so important and how to create one in step 3.  A content map is like a blueprint for your website. If you don’t have one, you’re going to get lost in the weeds during the content phases. If you skipped this step earlier, do it now!

    2) List which content to reuse and which to create new.  If you already have a website for your church and you’re going through the process of creating a new one, you probably have content on your old website you can reuse.  Go through your content map.  For each piece of content, decide whether you can reuse something from the old site or want to create something new. Create a “Reuse” list and a “Create” list.  Don’t forget about photos and video.  You’ll probably want to take some new photos and shoot some new video for your new site, but not everything has to be new.

    3) Consider a website transfer service.  If you’re planning to reuse a lot of your existing content, consider hiring someone or purchasing a website transfer service like OurChurch.Com offers.

    4) Delegate.  Just because you’re overseeing the church website development doesn’t mean you have to do everything. Try to add a photographer and/or a videographer to your team. Perhaps there is someone else who can write the copy for your pages.  Teams are always better than flying solo.  Just make sure expectations are clear, deadlines are given, and people have proper training and oversight.

    5) Interview ministry leaders.  Sometimes people take the delegation thing a little too far and ask every ministry team leader to write all the copy for their ministry’s pages.  I recommend against this because often ministry team leaders will miss deadlines, and you’ll end up with totally different writing styles on each page.  A better option is to have one person write all the content but to interview each ministry team leader for the information they need.  By interview, I mean talk with them in person or by phone and write down all the info needed.

    Bonus Tip: Don’t wait until after your theme is selected and plugins are all researched and installed to start creating your content. You can start on this immediately after your content map is created.

    While it is important to get your content done in a timely manner, keep in mind your content has a big impact on whether the people who find your church website decide to visit your church in person, so don’t rush it: Proof read. Edit. Make it good.

    And speaking of finding your church website, the content of your website has a big impact on search rankings and church SEO. Therefore, try to include keywords – your city, nearby cities, denomination, ministries people might search for – in your content wherever possible.

    There’s no better way to improve search rankings than creating great content, and there are no shortcuts to great content. -Paul Steinbrueck

     

    Step 7: Take & Insert Photos

    The decision of which photos to use on a church website usually goes something like this…

    “Let’s just use some stock photos we see online” or “I think the Sara (the youth pastor) has some pics from the church picnic and building dedication that she posted to Facebook.  We can use some of those.”

    Most of the time, there isn’t much thought given to what images will be used on the church website.

    Even though text that explains your mission, beliefs, and programs are an important part of the website, it’s the photos that make the first impression when someone visits to your website.

    Since your website images are so important, I want to provide 8 crucial tips to ensure you have great photos on your website:

    1) Never copy an image that you find online. This includes going to Google and searching for an image and copying the image from the results.  Those images are most likely copyrighted and using them is stealing.  If you use them, you could find yourself on the wrong side of a lawsuit 🙁

    2) Use real photos whenever possible. It is very tempting to resort to using stock photos:  Many are free, they are good quality, and they have great looking people in them.  However, most people can spot a stock photo from a mile away.  In addition to looking “fake,” the stock images you  choose could also be used on a dentist’s website, an ad for a local gym, or worse.  Stock images are okay if there is text over top of the image and the only purpose the image is to provide a supporting background.  However, using real photos of real people from your church is more personal and shows authenticity.

    3) Take your time taking photos.  Blurry images are impossible to correct, so make sure the subjects of your photos are in focus. Make sure the lighting is good and even.  Also, unless the image is supposed to be a candid, look closely to make sure everyone is facing the camera and their eyes are open.

    4) It is not a sin to use Photoshop.  Sometimes photos benefit from minor editing, for example if its too dark, the shot is too wide, or there’s something distracting in the background. We’re not talking about making the pastor’s biceps look like Mr. America or the 80 yr old grandma look like a 21 college student.  Just minor touch-ups.

    5) Don’t email or text photos.  Text and email services often compress images to reduce file sizes and data usage. This compression can reduce the resolution and quality of the images.  When sharing images, use Google Drive or Dropbox.

    6) Crop the image to fit on the website. All to often I will see different sized images in an image rotator or a portrait-shaped image used at the top of a webpage when a landscape shaped image should have been used.   Once you have the correct format (landscape/portrait), crop the image to the correct dimensions.  If you are not sure what dimensions should be used, contact your website provider.  If you don’t have software to edit your images, you can use Pixlr X which is free.

    7) Optimize your images for your website.   Though you don’t want your email provider to reduce the image file of your images, you don’t want to the images to be so large that they slow down your website.  Use software like Pixlr X or the WordPress plugin, Smush to optimize the image for your website.  In case you were wondering, OurChurch.Com includes Smush with all of its websites.

    8) Set a reminder in your calendar to take new pictures every 6 months. If you are not taking pictures for the website every week, it is important to set a reminder in your calendar to get new pictures every 6 months.  Doing this will keep the images from getting old and allow you to get rid of pictures of people who are no longer at the church.

    The camera sees more than the eye, so why not make use of it? – Edward Weston

     

    Step 8: On-Page Optimization for Search (SEO)

    Another step that is often overlooked by churches and other website developers is search engine optimization or SEO.

    Typically, a couple months after a church launches their new website, they notice that they can’t find it in search engines. That’s when they realize it needs to be optimized for search engines.

    By the time they optimize their site, they have missed out hundreds of people searching for a church in their area.

    For this reason, we recommend optimizing the pages of your church website BEFORE it launches.

    5 Church SEO Tips for Optimizing Your Church Web Pages

    1) Address – Display the full address where your church gathers for services in the header or footer of your website so it appears on every page.

    2) Cities – Mention in the text your homepage the city in which your church meets and also nearby cities where your people live.

    3) Title tag – Each page of a website has a title tag which is not visible to visitors but is very important to search engines. Most search engines use the title tag as the main heading for your search listings. Try to include the 3 cities you most want to target in each page’s title tag.

    4) Meta description tag – The meta description tag is another element that is not visible to human visitors but important to search engines. Search engines show the meta description tag in the search listing below the title tag. In the description tag, include the 3 cities you most want to reach as well as ministries and other terms people in your community might be looking for.

    5) Images – Optimize the images on your website by including cities and descriptive terms in the filename and the “alt” attribute.

    There are many of other things that go into church SEO like setting up local/maps search listings, getting online reviews, link building, and monitoring search rankings that can be done after the website is launched, but the optimization of the web pages themselves should be done before the launch.

    If you hire a church website design firm to build your website, they are often reluctant to give you or a church SEO agency access to your website before launch. Therefore, it usually works best to hire one company that is competent and experienced with both design and SEO.

    A great church website is only great if people can find it. –Paul Steinbrueck

     

    Step 9: Launch

    There are 3 things that need to be done to ensure launch of your new website.  The first two are only applicable if you had a previous website:

    1) Implement Redirects from your old site to your new site

    This is something that most people don’t know about and most web developers don’t talk about.  Redirects (specifically 301 redirects) perform two primary functions:

    • A) Tell the search engines to apply any authority and search rankings earned by your old web pages and apply them to the new versions of those pages on your new website.
    • B) Redirect any person who tries to go to a page of your old website to the new version of that page on your new website.

    If you don’t implement redirects, you will lose all the search rankings gained by all your web pages (except your homepage) of your old website.  And if anyone has bookmarked or “saved to favorites” any of those pages of your old website, they will get a “Page not found” error when trying to access those old pages.

    Doing proper redirects is a bit of a technical process, so I suggest having a qualified website company perform these for you.

    2) Perform a Domain Name transfer

    If you already have a website with a domain name and you want to keep using that domain name with your new website, you will need to transfer it to your new website.  If you are building your new website with a different company than who hosts your existing website you will need to either change the DNS settings yourself, so your domain name points to your new site, or you can transfer the domain name to be managed by your new hosting company.

    If you transfer your domain name to your new hosting company, they should walk you through the process of transferring the domain name. It can take as long as 2 weeks to go through the domain transfer process. Therefore, if you want to have your domain name ready for your new site when the new site is complete, start the domain name transfer process 2 weeks prior to the new site being complete.

    3) Install a SSL certificate

    A SSL certificate will encrypt all the information being sent to and from your website.  It also prevents someone from being able to steal your username and password that you use when logging into your site.  For all the reasons and steps of installing a SSL certificate, please read our article here.

    If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail! ― Ben Franklin

     

    Step 10: Create an Update Plan

    You may be tempted to think once your church website has launched the website design process is done, however…

    • Do you want it to continue to function well?
    • Do you want your search rankings to improve?
    • Do you want people to come back to your website regularly?

    If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should create a Website Update Plan.

    There are 3 categories of updates to include in your plan:

    1. Software Updates.

    The WordPress core, plugins and theme all need to be updated regularly. If this isn’t done, your website could get hacked. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to check for updates and make updates to the WordPress core and plugins. Login to the WordPress admin, and look in the top left corner for “Updates.” If there are updates available, you can usually install them with 2 clicks. We recommend doing this once a week.

    Unfortunately, the “Updates” feature of the WordPress admin usually won’t tell you if your theme has an update, and it definitely won’t tell you if a plugin has been abandoned by its developer. Therefore, we recommend setting a quarterly calendar reminder to review your plugins and theme.

    By the way, if you go with OurChurch.Com’s church website design service or build your website with our WP-EZ church website builder, we take care of all of these updates for you.

    2. Content Updates

    Some content like news and calendars need to be updated regularly. How often depends on the type of content, but we recommend most churches update their content once a week.

    3. Content Additions

    If you want to improve your search rankings and keep visitors coming back to your website, one of the best ways to accomplish this is by regularly publishing valuable content to your website. The most common types of church website content are sermons (audio, video, notes or transcripts), newsletters, and blog posts. Sermons and newsletters are usually published weekly. Blog posts can be published weekly or even 2 or 3 times a week.

    Consistency is extremely important when it comes to publishing content. Therefore, it’s important to create a content plan/schedule that is sustainable.

    If content additions like sermons and blog posts are something you’d like help with, those are options with our church SEO service.

    If it’s not on your calendar, it doesn’t exist, and it’s not going to get done. –Paul Steinbrueck

     

    So, there you have it: the 10 steps or phases of our church website design process.  We hope you find this helpful as you build or redesign your church website whether you do that with us, on your own, or with another website developer.

    We wrap up The Ultimate Guide to Church Website Design with some additional church web design tips.

     

    Church Website Design Tips from the Pros

    tithely-iconIf a visitor can’t find out when and where to be without clicking or scrolling your church website is not doing what it’s designed to do. -Dean Sweetman, tithe.ly

     


    One of your highest objectives with your website should be to build your email list so that you can nurture the relationship with prospective visitors. Without capturing leads, you’re working hard just to have visitors “drive by” and never see them again. -Kenny Jahng, kennyjahng.com

    Keep an eye on trends, but never sacrifice usability for flash. Keep fighting for simplicity and your audience will thank you! -Matt Ehresman, courageousstorytellers.com

     


    The church website is an opportunity. It’s a chance to show what your church is all about and why people might want to come. Are you taking full advantage of that opportunity, or are you letting it slip through your fingers? -Kevin Hendricks, churchmarketingsucks.com

     

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        About the author

        Paul Steinbrueck

        Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck.

        1 Comment

        • These tips are fabulous and you have a great sense of graphics. I have personally tried some creative web designing services and also logo designing services but this really soo helpful to understand the actual mean of designing.

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