Advanced Content on ELCA Websites

Logo for series on Church Demographics and Congregational Websites

There are plenty of things that churches can do to make their websites more appealing to visitors and members. I was curious to find out how common some of these “advanced content” ideas were. These things aren’t advanced because they require advanced technology; instead, they are just “above and beyond” a simple brochure-style website.

  • Pastor’s bio. Often times this can be the most popular page on a church website.1 Don’t ask me why, but I guess people would like to know whether the person up front has a screw loose before they come visit.
  • Sermons. Whether audio, video, or written transcripts of sermons, this content has Search Engine Optimization written all over it.
  • List of current ministries. I’m not really sure whether this is particularly interesting to most visitors, but it might indicate the vitality and diversity of interests in a congregation.
  • List of current leaders. Again, I’m not sure whether visitors care about this, but it might be useful to other members as they try to connect across the congregation.
  • What to expect in worship. In my opinion, a must-have. With the broad variety in worship styles, people want to know what to expect.
  • Real time communication. I was curious whether many church websites have begun to offer ways to connect in real time, whether through instant messaging, Skype, or some other way.

Characterizing the Data

Of the 84 with working websites in the sample:

  • Twenty sites (about 1 in 4) had sermons online. These were almost exclusively text transcripts, though some were available for download in audio formats.
  • Twenty-seven sites gave biographical information about the pastor.
  • Twenty-eight sites told visitors what they could expect in worship, but these congregations were almost exclusively in suburban or large-ish cities.
  • Thirty-seven sites posted a list of leaders in the congregation.
  • The most common “Advanced Content” was a list of ministries. Again, I’m not sure whether this is interesting to visitors, or whether this serves to make webmasters feel like they have a lot more “content” on their website, but two-thirds of the sites (56) had this.
  • Only 1 had any kind of real-time communication on their website. That means that 99% of ELCA congregations are missing the opportunity to connect immediately with visitors through the internet to answer questions, provide guidance, and offer prayer.

The two most popular Advanced Content items were a list a ministries and a list of congregational leaders, and where one was present the other was usually present too. The only two congregational contexts where this wasn’t the case were rural farming communities (which tended to put more sermons online) and near suburbs of large cities (which emphasized worship expectations more).

Take-home Message

  • The most common “Advanced Content” on ELCA congregational websites is lists of ministries and lists of leaders, which might not be interesting for visitors at all.
  • There is huge untapped potential to exploit Skype, chat rooms, and instant messaging to make immediate connections between church website visitors and ministry staff.

Tomorrow: Sure, you’ve got your email address on your website – but do you actually check it?

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  1. Mark M. Stephenson, Web-Empower Your Church: Unleashing the Power of Internet Ministry, (Abingdon, 2006), 47. []