The church growth gurus have had us all thinking for quite a while about intentional hospitality towards those who visit or who are new to our church: have some good signs so visitors can find the restrooms and worship space, let visitors know what to expect or why you do certain things that might seem unfamiliar (“We ‘pass the peace’ as a visible sign of our reconciliation with God and each other.”), and train some volunteers who will intentionally reach out to welcome visitors.
For 90%+ of your visitors, your church website is their first encounter with your church. The same sort of spirit of hospitality and welcome needs to apply to your website as when you welcome visitors in person.
In the world of website design, this is called “user experience”. Think ahead about who your site visitors might be: what they are looking for, what mindset they are bringing. And think about what you want those visitors to do on your site. Then guide them toward that action.
For church websites, while there is some functionality for your current members (what time is that potluck?), the primary focus should be on potential visitors to your congregation (usually for a worship service, but potentially also for a special service or learning ministry). And the more specific focus is to provide the website visitor with enough information about your congregation that they can make an informed decision about whether they might feel comfortable making an in-person visit.
This is more complicated than it sounds, because you have to have a clear sense of your congregation’s identity and mission, and be able to communicate it. Potential visitors will bring their own litmus tests for what will be comfortable for them (how you interpret the Bible, the role of women or LGBT folks, etc.). Proclaiming generically “everyone is welcome” doesn’t help them figure out if you are the kind of church they would be comfortable in.
It’s also more complicated because you need to strike a balance with a welcoming hospitality that is neither a clique-ish community, nor desperate for new blood. This is tough to do in person on Sundays, and even tougher to find this balance in a website.
Think carefully about the content you put on your home page and your menu, with the goal of getting a website visitor to visit your church. Weigh your choices of text, images, even colors as you think through whether they will help you toward this goal.