Basic Content on ELCA Websites

Logo for series on Church Demographics and Congregational Websites

In evaluating 101 websites, I had to pick qualities that were directly connected to website effectiveness, yet for time’s sake were easy to check. The simplest of these were the no-brainers, what I’m calling “Basic Content.” This is the stuff you’d expect to find in any tri-fold brochure, if your church still does that sort of thing.

  1. Contact information: office phone, office/pastor’s email
  2. Office hours and worship service times
  3. Location of and directions to the congregation’s meeting place
  4. Name of the pastor

This information is important to make a website basically useful, so the standard I used was that this information had to be findable within one click of the front page of the site. Visitors especially need to know how to contact the church, how to get to church, and when the worship service is.1

Characterizing the Data

Of the 84 with working websites in the sample:

  • Only 81 told visitors where they worship. I was blown away by this: almost 1 in 20 congregations with working websites fail to tell visitors where they can join the congregation in worship!
  • Fortunately, 81 provided some means of online contact, whether that was an online contact form or an email address. That doesn’t mean that there is someone on the other end – more on this in a later post.
  • 80 posted their worship times.
  • 79 provided a phone number. I was intrigued that more sites listed an email address or contact form than a phone number.
  • 73 provided the pastor’s name.
  • 52 provided some form of directions.
  • 21 posted their office hours.

The Connection to Demographics

First, I want to take a look at the relationship between congregational context and whether this information is provided.

  • Rural and small town congregations were least likely to provide driving directions to their congregations, with only 33% feeling that this was necessary. Perhaps they suppose that everyone already knows where they are?
  • 25 out of 32 (78%) of suburban and urban congregations provided driving directions. This would make sense – they are in communities with more churches and more people, and they can’t count on visitors knowing where they are.

My concern comes from the congregations in small and medium sized cities. Only about half of these congregations provided driving directions, yet most are in community settings where church locations are not common knowledge.

The other question is whether basic content is correlated with positive demographic trends. Unfortunately, the data set I have is not well suited to pulling that kind of correlation out. Here’s what I found:

  • 93% of the congregations had at least five of the seven Basic Content items. (Great!)
  • The six congregations that did not have at least five Basic Content items were mostly in medium-sized cities, not in rural areas as one might expect.
  • The six congregations above appeared to have 33% more growth than the other congregations with better websites. However, the difficulty is that of the six congregations falling short on Basic Content, four were in the community context associated with the strongest growth over the past five years (medium-sized cities). Compared only to other congregations of their context, these four were within 4% of their peers. A bad website didn’t hurt, but it clearly didn’t help either.

Ultimately, the lack of differentiation in Basic Content means that it’s not a powerful enough variable to tease out any differences between congregations with better and worse websites. An analysis incorporating all of the data I collected will be necessary.

Take-home Message

  • The limiting factor on having a basically competent website is not based on community context – rural areas have excellent basic websites.
  • Generally, most sites do a great job of covering the basics, but many churches, especially in small and medium sized cities, could do a better job of providing driving directions to visitors.
  • Most congregations could stand to benefit from adding simple information helpful to their members, e.g. church office hours.

Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at what I call “Advanced Content” – things like sermons, staff bios, and “what to expect in worship” pages.

Series Navigation<< Separating the Wheat from the ChaffAdvanced Content on ELCA Websites >>
  1. Timothy Fish, Church Website Design: A step by step approach, (BookSurge, 2007), 2 & 16. []

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