The redesign of my church’s website is behind us, a website update policy has been developed and is being implemented and tweaked, and we’re well into the ongoing maintenance of the site. Staff and volunteers are making weekly updates to the calendar, news page, sermon notes, and podcast. Less frequent updates to the site are being made for new sermon series and to ministry pages. The site is running like a well-oiled machine (more or less, anyway).
But periodically big things come up. Big things that defy regular maintenance procedures. Big things that call for more than just a graphic or a two-sentence announcement on the homepage to reach their full potential. Big things like Christmas.
What you can do with your website to make the most of big opportunities?
The Biggest Opportunity of the Year
Christmas is huge at our church. We place a high value on outreach, and unchurched people are more open to attending a Christmas event than almost any other kind of event. So, every year we do a big Christmas production. This is not your typical Christmas Eve service where the congregation sings the same carols every year, teenagers play with hot candle wax during Silent Night, and everyone speculates as to whether this year the soloist will be able to hit the high note in Oh, Holy Night.
At Cypress Meadows Community Church every Christmas is a creative adventure designed to engage people’s hearts and minds with the Christmas story in a new way. This year’s Christmas presentation includes dance and Cirque Du Soleil-like aerialists.
A considerable amount of time, energy, and financial resources are being poured into the 5 Christmas services, and so a considerable amount of time, energy, and financial resources are also going into efforts to invite people in our community to be a part of these services.
Invitations have been created that attenders of our church can give to their family, friends, and co-workers. Members are being encouraged to host “Matthew parties” after the services and invite friends to socialize and discuss the service. Posters are being distributed around the community in places where the arts are appreciated and taught.
Because the website is now the hub of church communications, it’s also at the heart of the outreach effort. So, here are 10 things we did with the website to try to maximize the Christmas opportunity.
- Make it jump out on the homepage. Information about the Christmas service is the most important thing we’re trying to communicate, so we want it to be the first thing people notice on the homepage. There are rumors that we may add a “splash” page, that is a page that people see first before they ever get to the main homepage. Another option would be to rearrange things on the homepage, because after a while people get used to where things are and stop noticing certain parts of the page.
- Create a special page. We added a special page specifically about the Christmas service. It describes the service, includes dates and times, information about childcare, and reservation information. Not every event your church does or opportunity it provides should get its own page, but the most important ones should.
- Use multimedia. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth at least a million. One of the staff created a 30 second promotional video for the Christmas service and put it on the Christmas page. I think it’s fantastic!
- Help people spread the word. We added an “Email this video to a friend” link on the Christmas page. It’s a simple “mailto” link that when clicked opens up a new message in your email tool with the subject already filled in and a link to the Christmas page inserted into the body of the email.
- Tell people what to do next. Because there will be 5 Christmas services and our church only holds about 300 people, we ask people to reserve tickets for the service. The tickets are free, but we want to be sure that we don’t have more people show up or a particular service than can fit in the sanctuary. The church’s new website has an awesome event registration feature in it. We set it up so people can reserve their tickets by filling out a short form right there on Christmas page. When all the tickets for a particular service have been reserved, it will not allow any more reservations for that service. Too often churches make the mistake of describing an event, activity, or ministry but don’t tell people specifically what to do next if they want to participate. That leaves people wondering… Do I just show up when it starts? Do I need to sign up ahead of time? Do I need to bring something?
- Provide contact information. Regardless of how good your information is, there are always going to be some people who have questions that you did not anticipate. We included the church phone number and a link to the contact form and invited people to contact us with any questions.
- Put the services on the calendar. “Duh!” you might say. But you’d be surprised at how often little things like this get overlooked.
- Provide opportunities for follow-up. In addition to the efficiency and time savings the online event registration functionality provides, because it asks people for their email address in the reservation form it provides the church with an opportunity to communicate with people after the service. Of course filling out an online reservation form does not give the church license to permanently add people to 100 different ministry newsletters, but a nice follow-up email thanking a person for attending the service and inviting them to join us on Sundays in January would be reasonable.
- Put the church web address on all other materials. Last but not least, we put the church web address on all the printed materials created for the Christmas outreach including invitations, post carts, posters, and probably some other things I’m forgetting.
- Cast vision via email. Since a big part of the outreach strategy for Christmas is for people who attend the church to invite their friends, it’s critical that the members and attenders of the church catch the vision for the Christmas service. We want peoples’ hearts for their unsaved friends to swell and their excitement about this wonderful opportunity to invite them to boil over to the point where they can’t help but talk about the service with everyone they know. I’m sure our senior pastor will email our congregation several times over the next few weeks for this purpose.
That’s what we’ve done so far. What do you think of the steps we’ve taken? Are there other things that could be done with a website to help make the most of a big outreach opportunity like a Christmas service?
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