Have you ever thought you were doing someone a favour only to discover you weren’t actually helping at all? Perhaps you discovered you were in fact getting in the way, or making more work for them!
This happens when we assume we know what the other person needs, rather than asking them what will be helpful.
This can happen with church websites. We want to serve people who don’t yet attend our church. We think we know that it is people don’t yet attend our church want. And this desire and these assumptions shape the website’s development.
It is right to put first the needs of people who don’t yet attend your church. They should be the primary audience when you are planning, developing and maintaining a church website, and there are many different ways that this could be approached.
But unless we work hard at understanding what it is they actually need (not what we think they need), we won’t be helping them.
Here’s a couple of examples:
- If lots of people in your community speak a language other than English and your church website is only in English, that’s not helping them.
- If most people in your community have never been to church before, but your website doesn’t address their questions (e.g. “Aare people who aren’t Christian welcome at church?”), that’s not helping them.
- If you run a great youth group with a big banner saying “Check out REVIVE!” but people don’t know what REVIVE is, that’s not helping them.
Good intentions aren’t enough. We cannot assume – we must strive to understand if we are to serve well. And we only understand others when we speak with them and listen carefully to them.
Here’s a suggestion for how this could look:
Step 1. Get feedback on the existing website.
Invite people from the community who don’t attend church to comment on the existing website. Ask them:
- What makes sense?
- What’s confusing?
- What words don’t they understand?
- What questions does it raise?
- What links/banners do they feel curious about clicking on?
- Does the website pique their interest, or push them away?
Step 2. Create wireframes of new website.
Combine this feedback with any other ideas you have about your church website. No doubt the church has changed since the current website was built, and new ministries need to be added, etc.
Put together some wireframes – very basic outlines of the structure of the proposed new site. There are lots of helpful tools you can use for this purpose, including Balsamiq, Invision and Lucidchart. You could even sketch it up on a piece of paper!
The purpose of the wireframe is to get feedback before it’s too late – before you’ve invested too much time and energy into a final concept. Often feedback is requested when a site is 99% completed – at which point you’re really just hoping for validation and thanksgiving!
Step 3. Get feedback on proposed new website.
Invite people from the community who don’t attend church to do some user testing. These could be the same people from Step 1, or a new group. What would this look like? I would invite them to complete some tasks that people like them would want to carry out on the website. For example:
- Can you find what time church meets on a Sunday?
- Can you find out what our church offers for preschoolers?
- Can you find out what Christians believe?
This 3-step process has a number of benefits:
- It is a great opportunity to engage with people in the community – many of whom would gladly share their opinion in exchange for a cup of coffee.
- It seek’s input from the kind of people you want to use your website, and serve with your website.
- It challenges your assumptions.
- It gathers their input at a point in the process when it’s not to late to tweak (or even make major changes).
- It is a means of loving your neighbour.
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