What is an interactive church website, really? If you have been a part of or have known a little about the church web industry for a while now you will have heard the words “interactive church website” a time or two for sure. When church websites were born on the internet they all started out like very static brochures or were postcard-like pages. They just gave the user who came to the website the information the organization felt that user needed to have. But when did an interactive church website become important?
Well after a couple years, the need for a church website to go beyond just informational was realized by ministry leaders. The need for something more engaging to a first time visitor on a church’s website was realized so that visitor would want do more than just browse the site like: show up at a service, or respond some sort of other way with a phone call/email to the church etc. For a return visitor to the site, the need was realized for a more interactive church website so that the user wanted to continue coming back to the site using it more as a resource because it was a fun or memorable experience.
We started seeing things like: online sermons that could be listened to or downloaded by a user, church calendars of various kinds, prayer requests forms, and more. Out of this desire for a more interactive church website also came more moving parts like: flash graphics or flash intros, videos, photo galleries, etc..All of these things led people to want to respond in some way, do more, and we saw that people did start reaching out to the churches more and more that had these types of “interactive” elements on their websites. I know for the web development company I worked with we would hear more testimonials or feedback of success from our clients with more interactive church websites on how someone responded or took that next step they wanted the web visitor to take!
Some of these interactive type elements I mentioned above are still relevant on church websites but the times have changed and effective strategy on church websites looks a bit different now. Actually, some of those elements I mentioned should not have even been considered interactive but most people viewed them that way though. We were only scratching surface of what made for a truly interactive church website and we were actually confused about what an interactive church website really was.
I want to give you some tips of what are key interactive elements that actually make for an effective interactive church website these days but let’s first look at the definition of the word interactive to get a better perspective on things as we move forward. “Of two people or things influencing or having an effect on each other. Allowing a two-way flow of information between a computer a computer-user;responding to a user’s input. Its also defined as people acting reciprocally.” So knowing this, it is all about reciprocation and communication with a user on your site.
Here are 4 key tips that will give your church a truly interactive church website. I believe each are critical to have the best results online.
Interactive Church Website Tip #1 Online Sermons
This interactive element has stood the test of time for several reasons. Obviously, the preaching of the gospel will be relevant for a church to do until the Lord comes back but for a church this is always going to be a key thing to do online. Whether or not it is a member who wants to go online to listen or watch a message they missed, or someone wanting to view a live service; this is a key interactive element to have. As a pastor you obviously want people to hear the gospel being preached and allow them to experience your service a bit to get a feel, but giving people a way to respond to that message you taught is the main thing. Your goal should be to connect through your online message which would hopefully give your user a desire to visit your church. Allow them to comment on that message from the site, share it on whatever social media platform they wish to (isn’t this also a great way to encourage members to evangelize too?), or download the message if they wish. If you are presenting online messages with quality they will more than likely just watch or listen to it on their device right there.
Interactive Church Website Tip #2 Online Giving
This is a biggie now. I cannot think of a good reason that a church would not want this available to their members. It is extremely secure. Most banking is being done online now and you would be making it more convenient for someone to give any time(not just during the offering time at church). It allows people more control over their giving by tracking it better, designating offerings, and more. The current and next generation rarely write checks. By the way, you get to really communicate the heart behind what giving is 24/7 on your website. That is far more difficult to do from the pulpit every Sunday.
Interactive Church Website Tip #3 Social Media Integration with Blogs
Social Media in itself is interaction. Every church should utilize it mainly for church communication. However, it is critical to integrate it with your church website for several reasons. When most people use google to find a church or find your church they will go to your church website first for information. This is your opportunity to allow them to like you on facebook, see your tweets, or connect with you on instagram. There are neat plugins that allow your posts from social media to automatically push to your website too. This goes a long way to show how relevant and connected you are! You are giving people current content that they can respond to by connecting with you on social media and responding to what you are saying there as well.
A blog should be a non-negotiable interactive element now. As a pastor, don’t you have something to say every other day of the week and not just Sunday to your members or people looking for a church? Do you have topics you want to discuss within ministry life, current events or things happening in the world? A blog is the best place to do it and the more blogging you do the more people will see your blog, subscribe to it, make comments on it, and share it with others. As a inside tip, google likes blogs a lot and you will become more visible online when people are looking for churches. You want your church to be found, right?
Interactive Church Website Tip #4 Forms
Forms are still very important and make for a more interactive church website. Prayer request forms were the first type of form frequently used on church sites and are still great to have. Allowing people to fill out a form before registering for an event etc. is a key. It provides connivence for the user and information for you. Really some of the best use of forms on your website are ones just allowing people to ask more information about your church, or what to expect before they come. People have more questions these days and are more apprehensive to just jump in or visit. Invite them to fill out a form to “know more” or ask any questions they may have is a good online practice. The important thing here is to also have compelling content and a good call to action around the form so they feel more compelled to respond.
There are few interactive elements I left out for sure but these key things that are getting churches the best results online now. Any biggies I left out or cool interactive stuff you have seen on church websites lately?