The New Church Website

Bryan Haley

What’s changed in church websites over the last year? How should your church view its website? We’re talking about church websites this episode.

Show Notes

Summary

A church's website is a central piece to any communication, marketing, or outreach strategy. Today we're talking with Tyler Rominger, the founder of Ministry Designs, about what he sees as vital to any church website's strategy, along with how things have changed for websites from the pandemic.

Today's guest

Tyler Rominger
Ministry Designs

Transcript

Jeanette:

It's 2021 and after a year of pandemic life, it's safe to say that a church's website is central to its communication strategy. So what's changed in church websites over the last year? How should your church view its website? We're talking about church websites on today's episode.

Bryan:

Hey, church communicator. Welcome to The Church Juice Podcast. I'm Bryan Haley, the producer of Church Juice, and I'm joined with my awesome co-host Jeanette Yates. We're here energizing church communications.

Jeanette:

That is right. We are. And today we are talking about church websites and our guest is Tyler Rominger founder and owner of Ministry Designs. Welcome to the show, Tyler.

Tyler:

And thank you guys so much for having me I'm pumped.

Bryan:

Absolutely. Tyler, why don't you just tell us the story of Ministry Designs? How'd you guys get started? What are you guys up to right now?

Tyler:

Yeah. So I youth pastored for a long time, but I was always kind of a website nerd, like a closet website nerd. Nobody really knew that I like tinkered and all of those types of things. So while I was youth pastoring, a lot of friends from different churches and things like that would ask me, hey, can you help with the website? Can you do this? Can you do that? And so it just kind of grew into this thing where it took the majority of my time. And so made the transition into full-time with Ministry Designs in 2012 and,

Bryan:

Almost a decade ago.

Tyler:

I know it's crazy. 10 years now. I know. It's almost 10 years.

Bryan:

Yeah.

Tyler:

February it'll be 10 years. But, and then I'm like, okay, I should've thought through this a little bit. What do I do now? Right. So like, because it takes a while for a website to rank, and get traffic, and for your digital marketing strategies to work. So I literally would sit down in the morning and cold call churches and tell them, hey, your website's bad, basically. I'll build you a better one and you don't have to pay me until I prove to you that I'm going to build you a better one. And it's only going to be 200 bucks and then you only have to pay me $10 a month after that. And so what I would do literally is I would call churches until I got somebody to agree to this. As soon as I hung up the phone, I would start building their site. I would deliver it to them that day and wake up the next morning and do it,

Bryan:

Oh wow.

Tyler:

All over again.

Jeanette:

Wow.

Tyler:

So that's how we got to start.

Bryan:

Man. I didn't know that part. That's pretty cool.

Jeanette:

Yeah, I didn't either. That's incredible. So in the intro we talked about since 2020 happened and everything just kind of, the script was flipped, as they say, a lot of things have changed in ministry in general, but especially with websites. And so over the last year, how has Ministry Designs adapted to the changing landscapes of church websites? What a church website needs or what has changed?

Tyler:

Yeah. So what's interesting about that is basically, I been talking about these four principles for years and these four principles really need to kind of happen in a sequential process. And ultimately what the pandemic did was just kind of amplified those four things. And really a church website absolutely has to do four things, or it's not a good church website. And you read all of these lists, posts of articles and the best church website, and all they're talking about is design. It can be pretty, it doesn't necessarily make it good, right? So like in order for a church website to be good, it has to be effective. In order for it to be effective, you have to define what effective means. So what effective means in general is it has to allow people to discover you, it has to spark some kind of likability aspect.

Tyler:

That's kind of where the design portion of it comes in. Then they have to trust you, right? So you have to build that trust and then you have to call them into action. And that person actually has to take the action that you want them to take. So like if your website doesn't do those four things, it's not a good website. It could be as pretty as pretty can be, but that's only one aspect of the entire four-step process. And so when the pandemic hit, it magnified that because if they can't find you, you're basically in a position where you're never going to be able to communicate, or impact, or whatever, because we can't meet in person. And then once they do find you, if your site is ugly and it's not likable, then they're not going to take the next step and to trust you and engage with your process. So that's ultimately four core critical things that every single church website absolutely has to do.

Bryan:

Yeah. So thinking about those four things, another kind of catchphrase that I think we all hear a lot is that the church's website is the new front door. People aren't really looking at the church sign anymore to see when worship is, they're basically Googling you, they're finding your website and realizing that you exist that way. What does action look like? Or what are those four elements that you just talked about, what does that mean when we talk about the new front door being the church website?

Tyler:

Yeah. What's so incredible is one of the things that I'm most passionate about is search engine optimization. Even today, 80% of website traffic still comes from a search engine. Doesn't matter how much social media effort you put in. It doesn't matter how much paid advertisement you put in, 80% of local website traffic still comes from a search engine, primarily Google. So when I talk about being discovered, your website absolutely has to be SEO optimized. And when we think about conceptually, what that means from a new front door perspective, I kind of want to take that a little bit further or a little bit of a step deeper. So I was doing some research for an organization. It was a suicide prevention organization and I was doing some keyword research. And we ultimately compiled a list of key terms that they wanted to try to be supportive of on a kind of a national scale.

Tyler:

And ultimately what we determined was there's about 65,000 searches per month around this concept of suicide. Like, will, I go to hell if I commit suicide? Will it hurt if I... So what's happening is, and this has been a trend for years, but again, the pandemic has just amplified this because the human contact limitations. People are turning to the internet to ask questions that they're embarrassed to ask in a human to human context.

Tyler:

And so we have to take this seriously. We're called to go and tell, and people are going to the internet to ask questions in their most dark moments. And if we're not taking that seriously and we're not responding to that call, we've missed the point. So when you're talking about somebody showing up at your front door, they're showing up at their front door, but they're also doing it in their lowest moment in life because they're too embarrassed to ask anybody else. And so when I think about search engine optimization, if your church wrote an article on local resources, but then you also had an opportunity for them to connect with you, that's minister into a group of people in a way that we haven't even started thinking about yet. And we absolutely have to take advantage of that.

Bryan:

A really good thought.

Jeanette:

That's really amazing and really gets to the heart of the matter as far as it comes to using that front door of the church, that website as the front door. But we hear a lot from churches. And I know you probably hear this too. A lot of churches wrestle with the idea of who their website is really for. Is it for that new person that might be coming to the website for the first time in a vulnerable state? Or is it for my members so that they know all the committee meetings they need to go to? So is this a central place where my members can find information? Or is this the place where people discover the church? And can you kind of speak a little bit into that? Or what advice can you give churches that might be working through some of those discussions?

Tyler:

It is 100% for new people. There's no variables. There's no doubt. There is no conversation that needs to be had. Listen, people that are involved in your church have the opportunity to but yes, there needs to be a section on your website. Or yes, there needs to be a place for them to go to gather this information. But a resounding the 99.9% of your website needs to be strategic less. And the purpose of a website in its original form is a piece of marketing collateral, marketing, right? So like, yes, there's a subset of people that we need to market to that we already interact with quote, unquote, communicate to, whatever term we want to use. But the reality is, is we need to be leveraging our website as the core of everything that we do, because it's the place that we own as church leaders.

Tyler:

We don't own social media, we don't own Facebook, Google, Twitter, any of these other things. So what we do is we try to garner attention from those places. And then we send them to the place that we own, which is our website, and then try to collect some information from them so that we can follow up on them. Kind of another point to this leveraging search engines in a way that's advantageous, that kind of speaks to collecting information is, think about it in like a father, son context, or a mother-daughter, or a family, right? So like there's a family that's new to town and the dad Google's fun things or unique things to do with my kids. Well, the church has already thought through this. Let's be specific about it. Father, son, fun things to do with my boy. Okay. So the church has thought through this. They write an article about 15 things that the father can do with the son in the town.

Tyler:

Okay. While the dad is on that particular webpage, they have a downloadable PDF that says 10 movies every dad should watch what their son. Oh, well, I'm looking for things to do with my son. So I might as well just go ahead and download this PDF of these 10 movies. And now this person has given you their email address to download this document, to understand what these 10 movies are. And then the church has again, thought through this. So now they're doing a father, son movie night. And so what we've done is, is we've knocked down barriers, because now we can invite this dad who's potentially new to town or maybe a single dad or whatever situation he's in, but we would invite them to church with something that we know specifically he is passionate about because he wants something to do with his son.

Tyler:

So now Saturday night comes, hey, we're doing a father son movie night, come bring your son. And what has happened is like, I've been a Christian my entire life. I was a youth pastor for years. I've been involved in church forever. I still to this day, get uncomfortable about walking into a new church. It's just an uncomfortable situation,

Bryan:

Absolutely.

Tyler:

Because it's almost like they're holding you hostage, right? We're being held hostage in this situation. Am I uncomfortable? And I mean, you're not going to just get up and leave in the middle of the church service, right? That's an extreme, holding me hostage is kind of extreme. But once you're there, you're not going to get up and leave. But if you're in a father-son movie night, you want to be there. So what you have the opportunity to do is look down the hallway and see the nursery. Take a look at the sanctuary in a non-threatening context, which would then give you the opportunity as the church leader to say, hey, by the way we have church here on Sunday morning. You already know where to park, just come on back, bring the rest of the family.

Bryan:

That's awesome. So I like the idea of providing felt needs, which we've talked about I think, in several episodes recently, just kind of meeting those needs that people have. But going back to Jeanette's question, she was asking about who's the audience for your website? And you said overwhelmingly, it's the first time guests. Right? So in a world of digital first, digital communication, how do you recommend that churches, if their church website is primarily focused basically solely on the first time guests, how do we disseminate communication for the people who are already connected? What does that look like?

Tyler:

Yeah. I mean, I think that's maybe a subsection. Like you can create a specific section for people in your congregation. I think that's like a digital bulletin type section that's not necessarily your website. That's actually one of the questions that we're in the process of answering right now internally.

Tyler:

We're actually shortly going to be releasing an actual digital bulletin because we get this question all the time. Yes, we understand the power of the potential marketing opportunity, but we do also have to communicate to people. And I understand that. Right. But you don't want to create blurry lines and you don't want to create confusion. Don Miller says, if you confuse, you lose, right? Everybody says, that's his token thing that everybody repeats. It's almost impossible to be strategic about reaching new people with your website while simultaneously communicating when the committee meeting is. You want one page to serve one purpose and you want that purpose to be ultimately for them to interact with you in some way so that you can start to build a relationship. And in addition to that, you have their contact information. So just communicate to them directly through email or whatever it may be.

Jeanette:

So you did mention that a good design, a pretty website doesn't necessarily equal a good or effective website, but I do want you to share a little bit with us about just some design tips or maybe even trends that you're seeing right now in website design for churches.

Tyler:

This kind of goes back to the confuse, you lose comment that I just made. One of the things that I see that is, we see this all the time and it's extremely overwhelming to me. And I look at websites all day, every day. That's literally what I do.

Bryan:

Right.

Tyler:

From a design perspective, what we have to do is we have to first define who we're designing for. And the purpose of that is the new visitor. So then we need to define specifically what we want this page to do. In the example that I gave about the father, son, all we really want that person to do, yes, we want them to find 15 to fun things to do in the community. The real thing that we want them to do is to come to the father, son movie night so that we can in person invite them to church on Sunday morning.

Tyler:

So when we're talking about designing something for something, we want to start with the end goal and work our way backwards. We have to answer the question, did it work? We want our homepage to inform people as to what to wear and where to show up and what time to do that. Does it do that? Yes, it works. So one main theme per page, don't over clutter it. Don't put too much information on there. That's the problem is, is we feel like we want to just kind of communicate everything all in one spot. We need one thing, one page, one outcome.

Bryan:

That's awesome. So we recently at Church Juice released a free study on the best church websites. And I think you've touched on some of this a little bit, but what do you think makes a great church website? And what sets a good website apart from all of the other church websites that most of them are not good anyway?

Tyler:

So good is not subjective. Good is effective. Right? So like design is subjective. Everybody has their preferences. Everybody has their opinions. The thing that I, it pains me to do it, but I also love it because I get to make my point is when we're having a conversation with a church leader and they're advocating for this subset ministry that absolutely has to have an announcement on the homepage. So I say to them, cool, well let's to the Google analytics and see the data of how many people have actually clicked on that particular ad and have actually spent any time on that page. Almost inevitably when somebody has made a case for their page, unless it's something like the major things that people are looking for, which is where do I go? When do I go there? And how do I get there? And what do I do when I get there? That page basically has no views.

Tyler:

So now it's easy for that person who's building the website to say like, here's the data. That page is pretty. And I know it makes you feel good, but nobody's looking at it. It's cluttering what we're trying to accomplish. And so people have to find you, then they have to like you, which is where the pretty design component of it comes in. And then you have to answer their questions. Are my kids going to be well cared for? Are your volunteers CPR certified? Do you have an emergency plan? The time that we're living in there, anything could happen. Have you thought through the worst case scenario, right? Communicate that to people. You have to be proactive about answering people's concerns. You have to identify what those concerns are. And then the way that you do that is by understanding your demographics. You can start being proactive about answering questions and then being strategic about building trust. And then only then when they trust you, will they take the next step with you.

Jeanette:

So I think you've already answered this question, because we're kind of talking about this design versus function concept with the websites. But when it comes to a church website, is there something that churches tend to overlook? They're focusing too much on what does it look like versus what is it doing for my audience? Or is there something else they're just overlooking completely?

Tyler:

An interesting study that we did. This was a couple of years ago now, but we try to identify what are the top things people are doing? What are they going to a website for? And this was pre pandemic. But almost overwhelmingly, everybody wants to know what to wear when they get there. I don't want to show up in a suit if everybody's wearing shorts and t-shirt. Right. I'm going to look like the weirdo. So like show people what to wear. Pictures are a window. If the website is the front door, the pictures are the window on the front door, tell people what to expect by showing them.

Bryan:

That's awesome.

Jeanette:

I have one little, we're talking about church websites here and I have used Ministry Designs when working with churches. And we were talking about, does it look good? Is it functional? Does it answer the questions? And that's all so important, but I just want to give a brief little testimonial here about a website. When I became a church communications director, I knew nothing. I had to learn everything and build everything from scratch. And so I finally convinced the church that we needed a new website. I used a Ministry Design website and was able to build something that was beautiful, which is what I was mainly focused on honestly, but also did what we needed to do because I followed the strategies that I had learned.

Jeanette:

And I'll never forget the day that my boss slash the connections pastor came up to me and said, I just met a guest. They came here today, they're new in town. And they said, there's so many churches in our area. In about a two mile radius, we have about 15 churches. But the guests specifically mentioned the website as the reason that they chose to come to our church that day. And I thought, what a great testimony to the fact that like, they were able to go to our church, figure out what they needed to do, where they needed to go, and what was going to happen when they got there. And that was just the most special thing. And I just wanted to give a shout out to Ministry Designs for helping me accomplish that,

Tyler:

Thank you. That is awesome.

Jeanette:

Back in the day.

Tyler:

No, that's why we're here. Absolutely.

Bryan:

So if someone does want to reach out to you, what's the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Tyler:

Yeah, absolutely. Just, you can head over to our website, ministrydesigns.com. My team is always active in our chat. That's really the most effective way. You message us on social. Whatever's easiest for you. But we'd love the opportunity to just answer your questions, help however we can. We've got some really cool things coming up. Like I said, we've rolled out the digital bulletin. 2019, we rolled out kind of the most recent iteration of our technology, which was the omega technology. We just released an update to that, which is incredible. So basically all of this stuff that I've talked to you about, like discoverability, likeability, trust, effectiveness, we built all of that in natively, and then we've created different sections. And all you have to do is just drag them into your canvas and you're good to go. So we've literally had people build websites in a matter of a couple of minutes. So if we can help with that, we would love to do it.

Bryan:

Awesome. Well, thanks for joining us today. Always good hanging out with you for a little bit. So I appreciate it.

Tyler:

It is good. Yeah. Thank you very much for having me.

Bryan:

Well, we love being able to talk with church communicators from across the globe. We believe every church and every communicator story is unique and valuable. So this week we'll be continuing today's discussion on The Church Juices insider Facebook group. You can join this group as well as get today's show notes by going to churchjuice.com/podcast

Jeanette:

Church Juice's podcast is a listener supported production of ReFrame Ministries, a family of programs designed to help you see your whole life reframed by God's gospel story. Church Juice is produced by Brian Haley with post-production by audio engineer, Nate Morris in grand rapids, Michigan. For more information about Church Juice, visit churchjuice.com. For more information on ReFrame Ministries and our family of programs visit reframeministries.org.