For the month of June, we looked at a random sampling of ten church websites that Evoke manages (from across the U.S.) to identify the percentage of users who were on a mobile/tablet device while browsing these websites.
Can you guess the average percentage of users who were browsing on a mobile device?
57% of the users visiting these church websites were on a mobile or tablet device. That’s almost two-thirds of your website visitors!
If your website is not automatically optimized for mobile users, you have missed the opportunity to make a good first impression with most visitors!
So how do you optimize your site for mobile users?
Here are a few ways to ensure your site looks great on mobile devices and increase overall engagement with mobile users.
1. use a Responsive Website Platform
Be sure your website platform is “responsive”, meaning no matter the screen size the user is on, your website content layout will automatically adjust for the specific screen size.
Gone are the days when you need a separate mobile website. Website coding technology now has the built-in capability to adjust the layout of content in response to the specific size of the screen being viewed.
Some website platforms and templates do this better than others. The best way to test your website for this feature is to browse your website on a computer/laptop, grab the side of the browser window and condense the size to whatever size you choose.
Does the content “responsively” reorganize based on how large or small the browser window is? If not, you need a responsive website platform. Evoke can help you with that!
2. Decrease the Number of Pages
20 years ago, all of your website content needed to be “above the fold” because people would not scroll below what they could first see on the screen due to slow loading times.
However, user behavior has changed (thanks to the invention of smartphones and social media). There is no longer an apprehension to scroll down web pages which means you no longer need as many pages on your site.
If your menu looks like the example below, you are overwhelming users with too many options and making it hard for them to find the information they need in one place.
Condense multiple pages of content into one page and ultimately, simplify your menu to a handful of pages (shoot for 10–15 pages depending on your organization).
Your most important information should still be “above the fold” and designed to inspire users to keep scrolling but you are no longer limited to this small area—Yahoo…can you feel the freedom!?!
Here is an example of a condensed menu:
3. Interlinking of pages
Because of all the scrolling as mentioned above, mobile users rarely click on the website menu to browse a site.
The menu disappears the second we scroll down and appears as three lines in the top corner, called a “Hamburger menu”.
Therefore, it is crucial for your website pages to be interlinking, meaning one page of your site includes links to another page on your site so that users on a smartphone do not have to use the menu at all in order to browse around your website.
Like breadcrumbs leading Hansel and Gretel through the forest, interlinking helps mobile users explore deeper into your website, keeps them on your site longer, and also boosts your search engine rankings.
It’s a win-win!
Here is an example of interlinking on a church’s worship page:
4. Skimming is King!
5. Important Links as Buttons
Notice in the example above, there is also a button to “Email Gary”. Although you can hyperlink text on your website (or in emails), we recommend that important links are also made into buttons.
Why? They are easier to click, especially for mobile users.
Buttons also draw more attention to the action you wish for the user to take, therefore, increasing overall engagement on your website. More engagement = more RSVPs, volunteers, or donations.
Spend some time looking over your website and implementing these strategies so you can be sure you make a great first impression no matter which device visitors use to find your organization!
And if you need help redesigning your site on a responsive platform, reach out to the Evoke team.
As church members and staff, it can be helpful to have a “second pair of eyes” experience your congregation, worship services, and processes—especially someone who has never visited or come in contact with your church before.
Having an unbiased person(s) experience your property, signage, feeling hospitality, and experiencing the worship flow, usually brings to light a few areas of improvement to better serve those who may be new to your church or new to church in general.
Over the last two months, the Evoke team completed a few “secret visitor assessments” for churches on the East Coast and in the Midwest.
During our last few assessments, we found four common recommendations that churches should consider to become a more hospitable congregation:
#1: Hospitality Begins Before Arrival
Before a visitor even steps foot on your property, you can assume they will visit your website and online worship services if you live stream. Having an easy-to-navigate website that showcases your visual identity/personality is helpful in inspiring visitors to take action and engage with your congregation.
#2: INTENTIonal Inclusion of people with disabilities
As we explore our biblical call to welcome all of God’s beloved people, you must consider how you welcome people with disabilities. The ELCA has some great resources from their Disability Ministry as a place to begin your exploration of what true inclusion looks like.
We commonly found a lack of visible signage for accessible entrances on the outside of buildings, aisles that were not wide enough for wheelchairs or walkers, very few or no chairs with arms for those needing extra support while standing/sitting, and a lack of communication about where to find large print bulletins or hearing devices.
#3: The Right Signage in the Right Places
You may not want to crowd up your walls outside and inside a church building with too much signage, but our team has yet to experience what too much signage could look like at a church—not enough or not in a helpful place is the most common issue.
Right type: What we mean by “right type” is the method by which the signage is displayed or hung.
If you have long hallways, consider installing wall-mounted signs that stick out above the door of highly trafficked rooms (fellowship hall, nursery, restrooms, etc.). A sign displayed on the wall next to a door is completely unhelpful when a visitor is looking down a corridor.
Reduce the volume of signs needed by using directional signage for multiple areas. Directional signage in common areas can be helpful in pointing visitors in a general direction of where they wish to go.
Make sure these signs are SIMPLE—architectural sketches of the building and all of the emergency exits are usually more confusing than helpful. Directional signage is also incredibly helpful in parking lots and around the church property.
Right Place: As members or staff of a church, you get so used to navigating the church building that it becomes second nature. It is not second nature to your visitors. The location of signage matters to visitors so that they never feel lost along the way.
#4: It's Not Enough to simply say hello
During one of our assessments, our secret visitor was on a church property for four hours attending two services and a fellowship hour.
Want to take a guess how many people out of approximately the 200 in attendance introduced themselves to this 30-something person?
One person took the time to introduce themselves to the visitor—that’s only .5% of the worshipers who took a moment to welcome an unfamiliar face. At that rate, it is no wonder churches are struggling to “fill the pews” or “grow membership”.
Plenty of folks said “hello” throughout the morning. But a quick hello is not enough. People want to be seen, heard, and in a community with people that care about them. Without genuine connections, visitors won’t feel like they were welcomed into your community of Christ and will most likely not return.
It is easy to say hello as we pass by, but it takes courage and dedication to welcoming all people into the church community to say “Hi, my name is Jan! I don’t think we have met before.”
Evoke’s secret visitor assessments consist of:
Imagine you are out for an afternoon walk (hopefully with a cute pup in tow) and you pass by this house.
What is your first impression? What do you notice?
What thoughts did you have about the owners of this property?
Looks a little unloved and messy, right?
Just like a physical location, your digital presence leaves an impression, a feeling with those passing by.
Whether people “walk by” your website, Instagram reel, or email newsletter, we want to avoid any feelings of chaos or confusion so that you can inspire them to take action and engage with your organization.
You can do just that through a consistent, personalized visual identity.
Below are a few reasons why a visual identity is so important to the success of your organization.
Every interaction with your organization needs to offer a quick and easy introduction to the mission of your organization, what you value, and how others can get connected.
A visual identity is crucial to making a great first impression.
With overall church attendance continuing to decline year after year, many congregations are searching for ways to better their visitor engagement and get new folks connected into ministries.
As we look to the summer, usually a high visitor traffic time for congregations, we wanted to share the top three common pitfalls we see in church visitor engagement as well as solutions to overcome these pitfalls.
It is easy to point out the problems—we are committed to helping you find solutions to the communication and engagement issues you face every day!
Okay, let’s get into it!
Pitfall 1: Processes are Focused Solely on In-person Visitors
According to a Barna study about the new Sunday morning as a result of the pandemic, more than one-third of practicing Christians attended online worship with churches they do not normally attend and 42% listened to/watched messages from other religious leaders!
Although this study was completed in June 2020, you can assume this practice of “virtual church shopping” and finding spiritual guidance from various sources continues today.
Just like the front door of a church moved to a digital space in the 2000s in the form of its church website, Christians now have more sermons, choir anthems, devotions, and online worship services at their fingertips than ever before.
It would be negligent to assume Christians are not using these resources to help them have a better understanding of a particular congregation, who is welcome in the church’s physical space, and what the church values are prior to walking through your physical front door.
Why prioritize the online experience?
At Evoke, we have seen a shift from prioritizing the online experience, back to an acute focus on “butts in the seats” under the lens of “rebuilding community.” Because churches are no longer required to maintain an engaging online presence, some have let it fall to the wayside.
As budgets have taken a hit over the past three years, along with the constant comparison of “before the pandemic” numbers, we understand the human reaction to revert back to what we understand best.
Yet, there is a lot we were forced to learn about how technology can be used to enhance worship and engage more people in ministry.
However, these important learnings seem to be lost in the fearful shuffle of what comes next for churches in a post-pandemic world and how to get people “back in the building”.
Instead of believing the ways of doing ministry during the pandemic were temporary, how could your congregation utilize your learnings and integrate technology into your processes long-term to feed your in-person ministry opportunities?
When your visitor processes neglect God’s beloved who may prefer online worship, families that are praying and reading scripture together in their living rooms, those who travel often for work, and those who cannot physically visit our spaces for a variety of reasons, we limit the power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit to only the righteous in-person few. And the God that I believe in will and can not be limited by our human view of how church must be done.
Solution: Establish an Online Greeter & Prayer Team
Just like your in-person greeter team, an online team of greeters should engage with those who are worshiping online, many of whom may be looking for a church home.
This team should be trained on the dos and don’ts of how to effectively engage with folks online and how to get them connected to digital resources.
Online greeters should be familiar with upcoming ministry opportunities and events, the church website (and necessary links they can share like a prayer request form), and service/volunteer opportunities.
“Where are you joining from today?” is a great introductory question to ask during online worship.
Notice we did not say “Where are you joining us from?” - stay away from “us” language (learn why here!) to help create a more inclusive environment for online worshipers.
Consider this chat scenario:
Greeter: Good morning church! Where are you joining from today? It is a wonderfully sunny day in Fairfax, VA today.
Lisa: Myself and my three kiddos are still in our pj’s this morning. The time change kept us away today—sorry!
Greeter: So happy to have you and the kids in worship today, Lisa! Here is a link to the faith formation resources for today, including some coloring sheets for the kids to enjoy during or after worship.
Lisa: Aww, thanks so much! Super helpful for my 3 and 6-year-olds.
Greeter: Glad I could help! Hope to see you and the kids for the upcoming Easter Egg hunt on April 8, too.
This team can also take it a step further and provide an opportunity to pray over those in need of prayer while the service is taking place. There are a few live stream systems out there that provide an option for private prayer--like Church Online—or use the Messenger feature on Facebook so the person can privately chat with you.
Online engagement is more than a friendly “Good morning :)”! You want to proactively provide opportunities for others to share a bit about themselves, their spiritual needs, and connect with others in the congregation.
Pitfall 2: Lacking a Process or Confusing Processes
As you grapple with how to reach out to church seekers and the surrounding community, congregations are trying out new approaches to connect with visitors or looking to other communities of faith for good ideas (copying is the sincerest form of flattery!).
Yet, the approach to your research and development usually goes something like this:
We like to call this the “spaghetti dinner approach”—throw some spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. If it sticks, then it must be good.
A critical step missing in the “spaghetti” approach is to first establish a few goals for your visitor process. What are you trying to accomplish with a visitor process? How do you want a visitor to feel when they come to your church? What does your congregation provide to those in your community that may be different from the church down the street? What is important for a visitor to know on their first, second, or third visit?
If the team of people doesn’t have a common goal for visitor engagement, then the ideas generated will feel scattered and disconnected, leaving it difficult to prioritize them.
The “spaghetti” approach can also lead to conflicting processes, confusing actions for the visitor, or a plethora of take-home materials that rarely get used and quickly become outdated.
Solution: Utilize the Tools You Have & Follow this Implementation Process
After you have set goals, the next step in your process should be to review and assess the current tools and processes. If you don’t have current processes documented or know how they should work, then how can you identify the areas that need the most improvement?
This step should include a review of the available tools, communication channels, and information collected to understand what you already have, what is missing, and what tools may not be fully utilized.
Ultimately, your implementation process should look like this:
Pitfall 3: Gathering Contact Info is Your Goal
When you set your goals for visitor engagement, we highly recommend you do not include gathering contact information as one of them.
Is it helpful to have contact information from a visitor for future follow-up? YES!
Does focusing on gathering contact information put the needs of your church above the needs of the person in your midst? Also YES!
Don’t get me wrong, you should build processes that help you gather contact information! But the request for contact information needs to come at the right time—which is usually not within the first five minutes of meeting someone.
When you solely focus on gathering contact information, you can easily forget that you might be just a stop on someone’s faith journey. And that’s okay. Your congregation is not going to be the church for everyone. But you should make it a priority to share the love of Christ with everyone in your midst.
Solution: Put the Visitors' Needs First
Have your team use their brainstorming power to come up with a list of reasons WHY visitors would come to your church.
Your list may include:
Asking a young adult who has unwillingly accompanied their parents to worship to fill out a connection card and share their email address with you is not going to be fruitful, most likely.
But providing a warm welcome, engaging them in conversation, and inviting them to the next young adult gathering might be what it takes—at least they will feel seen as a separate being from their parents and welcomed authentically into the community.
Share any other ideas or solutions you may have for better visitor engagement in the comments below!