3 Church Website Mistakes That Make You Look Like A Pawn Shop

by Bobby Gilles

in Church Communications

Pawn Shop Advertisement on side of buildingIt’s no secret that church websites are among the most derided and lampooned in the web design community. Churches make many mistakes, including even simple ones like failing to list location and service times in a prominent place.

Here are three big mistakes that make church websites look like an unkempt pawn shop, a junkyard, or just a dirty, messy house:

1. Including Everything But The Kitchen Sink On The Home Page

And I mean everything. I’ve seen church websites that include a widget weather report on the home page.

Don’t be that church. Christians have a tendency to circle the wagons and create subcultures that eliminate the need for us to ever leave the circle.

It isn’t just Christians, of course. At Babel, God had to mix up everyone’s languages to get them to spread out. But Christians especially should not do this, because it goes against our gospel mandate from Christ (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). Yet even the early Church clung to Jerusalem until forced by persecution to scatter (Acts 8:1).

Let your people find the weather report on the Weather Channel or their local news websites. Don’t try to be their “one home for everything” on the web.

And you should even keep minor church announcements and event promotion off your home page. Communicating too many messages is like communicating no message. Focus.

Imagine your church is like a house. You may like to shop. Perhaps you find item after item that would look great in your house. So you keep buying furniture, paintings, knick knacks and other house hold items. Maybe each of those items, on its own, looks beautiful or provides a good function. But all together, they make your house look like a bloated monster that needs to belch out all of that stuff in a good yard sale.

#2 Flash Intros

I can’t think of any reason why any website would want to have a Flash intro. You know what I’m talking about:

  • Slow-loading
  • Often with music that automatically begins playing
  • Containing no useful information other than words like “Loading” or “Skip Intro”

Don’t make people have to click “Skip Intro.” Just skip the intro.

#3 Misleading Information

I’ve written before about coherence, which is or should be the essence of branding. Coherence is simply truth-telling.

Coherence: “What You Really Are = What You Say You Are”

Don’t include a big banner on your website that tells everyone “Come As You Are” if you know your members will be rude to anyone who shows up in ripped jeans and a Van Halen T-shirt.

And remember that out-of-date information is misleading, too. If you’re still advertising the April Women’s Retreat in August, then you’re going to disappoint women who see the banner and get excited about the retreat until they dig for info and find the lapsed date listed in tiny print on their second or third click.

Any other ideas out there? How can churches improve websites?

Pawn Shop photo by Joelk75, used via Creative Commons license


JoeS April 5, 2012 at 4:27 am

Don’t bury information beneath multiple layers. People will usually give up if they have to click 4 or 5 pages deep to find what they’re looking for. Have all pertinent information in one easy-to-find place with clear links to more details.

JoeS April 5, 2012 at 4:30 am

Clarification: To find out about the men’s retreat, click on men’s ministry and you should find the where, when, and how much right there. Then click on a link and find out all the further information. I was not suggesting to have all the information for the whole church in ONE place.

Bobby Gilles April 5, 2012 at 11:31 am

Good point, Joe. This is an easy rule to break, especially as the size of the church and number of ministries and events grows.

Russ Hutto April 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm

1) I know it depends on the culture of each individual church, and specific photo-release forms and such but I think people like to see real people in the photos of church activities/services and not just a casual, multi-racial, generic stock photo of people who have never been or will never be to your church.

Be creative with photography and keep everyone (in the photos) in the loop.

2) You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a website, but at the very least, hire/recruit someone who really knows what they’re doing to build/maintain it.

Bobby Gilles April 5, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Good points, Russ. I was just talking to someone from another church about this. They redesigned their website, which now features a big photo of smiling congregants … from some other church. Everyone at this church knows that the people on their home page don’t actually go there. They find it bizarre. Can anyone blame them?

Brian April 5, 2012 at 2:34 pm

“Don’t include a big banner on your website that tells everyone “Come As You Are” if you know your members will be rude to anyone who shows up in ripped jeans and a Van Halen T-shirt.”

HA! I love this quote. 🙂

I also wanted to follow-up on the outdated, misleading information line you wrote near the end of this article…

The question that many churches fail to ask is this – “who will manage their site’s content?” Is it the techy volunteer that could be gone tomorrow? The techy staff member who can use Wordpress, Drupal, or other fancy tech-sounding-names? Assuming those people never leave, the next question becomes – is it fair to ask that guy/girl to create new pages and content for every ministry, department, and future event for both now and the rest of time?

I’m totally biased because I’m in the industry of helping churches control their own websites, but the fact remains – the platform on which a church website is built should take into consideration the skill-sets of people who will help manage it’s content. Some churches, definitely not all, should consider decentralizing the access and usability of their site for maximized relevancy. Meaning, they need an easy to use web content management system that enables anyone, regardless of technical skill, to quickly and easily upload pages, content, and those pesky calendars that make mention of the April Women’s Conference in August. 🙂

Thanks for the great article! Looking forward to reading more posts! 🙂

Bobby Gilles April 5, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I agree, Brian. A lot of pastors simply have no idea about this kind of thing. They think they can get a volunteer who has a Tumblr blog or active Facebook page to be their sole “web person,” not realizing that this person may have no idea how to do the things they’ll be asked to do.

Josh April 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm

A PDF of the bulletin should not be the primary method for people to find out about activities that week — Ideally, it should not even appear on your website at all.

Michelle April 6, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Make sure to include your statement of faith. Also make sure that your statement of faith accurately represents the way you actually “do church.” There are some churches out there that have all the “right answers” on their statement of faith page, but then you visit the church and find out they’re Emergent or Seeker Sensitive, or whatever. Just be honest so that people who are looking for a new church to visit can find what they’re looking for.

Same thing with denominational affiliation (if your denomination isn’t already in your church’s name). If the name of your church is “The Church on the Hill” or something like that, but it’s Baptist, say so somewhere prominent, so that people looking for a Baptist church (or NOT looking for a Baptist church) will know whether or not your church is for them.

Josh Henry April 9, 2012 at 2:28 pm

I think too many times church’s fall into the trap of thinking that just having a website is good enough. This can’t be further from the truth.

We are in 2012, the days of opening the yellow pages or looking in the paper at the church directory are over. Visitors of your church will search Google, (do you show up?), they will then look for your website (do you have one?), they will then make a determination about your church from that website (are you accurately portraying your church online?)

If you chose a cheap web template, (or an expensive one) for that matter then the answer is definitely NO!

The image portrayed on the website will say a lot about your church… kinda like the burgandy and flowery drapes in your foyer…

Is your church ready to reach this generation?

Scott April 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Drives me crazy when I go to a church website and some of their pages say “Under Construction” with a cheesy little .gif graphic of a construction worker. Basically, it tells me that the church staff/leadership are either lazy or stupid. Some of those pages stay “under construction” for years!

Eric April 9, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Of course, if “you know your members will be rude to anyone who shows up in ripped jeans and a Van Halen T-shirt,” then maybe the crummy website is the least of your problems…. 😉

I’d suggest: If you’re considering hiring a “web guy,” spend a few moments reading Clients From Hell. If you don’t get why the stories are funny, figure it out before hiring a web guy.

Jack April 25, 2013 at 8:54 am

Piggybacking on point #1, Identify what the top few purposes people are -or will be- actually visiting your site for. Then make sure those few things are on your home page, or easy to find and accessible from the home page.
My guess is that most churches will find those things to be service times & location, calendar of events, recorded sermons, and contact info for pastors/staff members. I think it’s a great idea to have a “current series” graphic for non-church members visiting the site. Give them a reason to want to show up next Sunday.

Paul Alan Clifford April 27, 2013 at 5:53 am

I just did a little research on this, myself. Two things I think churches and ministries should stop immediately is having too many pictures of the pastor (I went to a site that literally had 13 pictures of the pastor on one of the main pages and most were slight variations) and stop using free services for your site. Mychurch.wordpress.com, firstchurch.webs.com, etc. are advertising that you don’t think your site is valuable enough to spend $10 a year on a domain and a couple bucks a month on hosting. Sad, really.

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