Am I Welcome Here?

welcomeSomeone clicks through to your website – maybe from a site that links to yours maybe from a search engine.  Within 15-60 seconds that person will decide whether move on to another site or continue looking into what you have to offer.  Either at the forefront or back of their mind, that person is scanning your site for the answer to three questions.  “Can I trust you?”  “Am I welcome here?”  “Can you meet my needs?”

This is an intuitive decision based on information, appearance, and emotion.  The images on your website play a large roll in that decision.  In part 3 of this series, we look at the way the images on your site answer the question…

Am I welcome here?

We all know the awkwardness that comes from being the new person.  Perhaps it was your first day at your new job, or maybe the first time you visited a church, or the first time you walked into a car dealership to buy a car.

high school cafeteriaI still remember my first day of 10th grade.  My family had moved over the summer, and so I was starting at a new high school.  Most of the other kids there had known each other all through elementary school and middle school.  I didn’t know anyone.  Morning classes went fine, but then the bell rang for lunch.  I went through the cafeteria line, got my food, and then stood there looking at hundreds of kids at dozens of tables wondering where should I sit?

If I sat down at a table where other kids were already sitting, they’d probably say “Who are you?”  Or even worse, “Somebody’s already sitting there.”  I was looking for the closest empty table.  Then I heard someone say, “Hey Paul!  Where you sitting?”  It was a guy I met that morning in English class.  “I don’t know,” I replied “Where are you sitting?”  And I followed him to a table where some of his friends were.

My new friend was basically saying, “Come with me.  You’re welcome here.”

Relational organizations

Churches and Christian ministries are obviously very relational.  The very definition of a church is a local community of believers.  If you want new people to visit your church or participate in your ministry, it’s important to make it clear to prospective visitors that you welcome new people and that you welcome people like them.

There’s a difference between simply tolerating new people and actually going out of your way to make new people welcome.  It comes down to priorities.  Are you primarily focused on your own needs and the desires of other members/participants in your church or organization?  Or are you willing to inconvenience yourself and other members/participants in an effort to give new visitors your attention and priority?

Showing your visitors they’re welcome

Just as I was back on my first day in 10th grade, visitors to your website are looking for someone to go out of their way and say, “Come with me.  You’re welcome here.”

welcome visitorsWhether you’re aware of it or not, your website is telling visitors whether they will be welcomed or merely tolerated.  That happens both through the text and the images on your website.

If an organization’s website is primarily focused on itself – describing its history and mission, and showing pictures of the buildings and leaders – that gives the impression that the organization is focused on itself.

However, if the website gives prominent placement to visitor information and includes pictures of regular folks participating, that gives visitors to the website the impression that the organization really does go out if its way to welcome new people.

Now, those of you with a good memory may be saying, “Wait a minute!  Didn’t you say in the last article to feature pictures of our leaders to convey trust and authenticity?  Now you’re saying not to include pictures of our leaders?”

I’m glad you remembered.  To be clear, I’m saying to be wary of focusing too much on yourself and your leaders.  There should be a balance between communicating who you are as an organization and how others can fit in and be a part of your church or ministry.

But am I welcome?

In addition to communicating through pictures that your organization is welcoming to visitors, it’s also important to understand who your organization appears to be welcoming.  Each person who visits your website is looking to see if you welcome people like them.

you are welcomeIf I was black and went to a church website and saw only pictures of white people, I would probably come away with the impression that only white people attend the church and while I might be tolerated I wouldn’t really be welcomed.

If I was 25, had lost my spouse, and went to the website of a ministry that provide support for widowers and saw only pictures of elderly people, I would probably come away with the impression that the people there wouldn’t understand me.

It’s very important to include pictures that show people of the specific demographics you are trying to reach – old and young, men and women, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, – whatever it is.  This may seem overly tactical, and it may feel awkward to say, “We need a picture of a Hispanic on our homepage.”  Or “We need middle-aged men on our website.”  But if you want to reach specific groups of people you’ve got to be intentional about representing them in the imagery on your website.

I’m definitely not suggesting you misrepresent yourself.  If your church is 100% Caucasian, don’t go off and put stock images on your site that give the impression that you have a multi-cultural congregation.  People looking for a multicultural church will show up and feel they’ve been lied to.  Be intentional, but be real.

Transactional Organizations

Perhaps your situation is different.  Maybe you’ve got an e-commerce website or an informational website.  Your website may be more transactional and less relational, but every website is relational to some extent.  Even large businesses have public relations and customer relations departments.  And they know that the relationship between their company and their customers is critical even if they never meet a member of their staff face to face.  Check out the way Wells Fargo, Exxon, and Proctor and Gamble use images on their site to say, “Yes, you’re welcome here.”

Do the images on your website tell visitors they’re welcome?  What steps have you taken (or are you planning to take) to use images to make your website feel more welcoming?

If you enjoyed this article or found it interesting, vote for it at Blogs4God so others can see it as well.

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

5 Responses to “Am I Welcome Here?”

  1. Thanks for the information about web-sites. I will look over my site and see what changes need to be made.

    Your comments are welcome

    I have two sites.

    http://coffeewithpat.org
    http://agapelighthouse.org

  2. ElderElderBob Apr 3, 2008 at 7:55 am

    I notice that your opening pix contains individuals with body language saying “I’m not too open to you”. Notice the crossed arms tightly clutching an object. Pictures need to be very carefully selected. There are no voices to be heard, nor words to be read until after the pix is viewed.

  3. Hi ElderElderBob. Thanks for your comment. I didn’t perceive the picture in the same way as you. Which makes for a great point – because the message in images is infered and based on the viewers perception people can have different responses to an image based on their culture and past experiences.

    It’s good to have several people review pages on your website and give you feedback.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. » Using Pictures to Answer the Three Questions Every Website Visitor Has - Mar 18, 2008

    [...] 2) Am I welcome here?  People want to know if they will fit in with your organization.  This is less important with transactional and informational sites, but very important for organizations and businesses based on relationships.  [...]

  2. » Can you meet my needs? - Mar 25, 2008

    [...] When someone visits a website for the first time, they make a quick, intuitive decision whether to continue reading the site or move on to another site.  I believe that decision is based on 3 questions the visitor is looking to the website to answer:  “Can I trust you?”  “Am I welcome here?” and “Can you meet my needs?” [...]