Is your church empty (online)?


Empty Sanctuary

Here’s an easy and cheap growth tip:
Put some people in your church, online that is!

I’ve been looking at a lot of UU websites lately and have seen many medium and large congregations with sites that don’t show people.

If you want to grow, make sure your website speaks to the people you are seeking to bring into your community.  And that means seeing a bit of themselves in your community.

Want Young Adults?  Make sure there are some Young Adults in photos on your site.  Want a thriving RE program?  Show one….

Your website should not tell who you are, it should show who you are. And that means people!

Here is an exercise to try.  Print out your website, at least the main pages.  Then cross out everything except for the graphics, photos, video and the headers (the big bold text).  What does this content say about your congregation?

Here is an example.  Take my home congregation. And I single them out because I’ve talked to them about adding people to the website and they will be doing so in the not too distant future.

As of today (11/12/09)  their website has these images on its main pages:

Front page:   THE BUILDING
Worship Page:  NO IMAGES
Lifespan Faith Development: THE OTHER BUILDING
Get Involved Page:  AN EMPTY SANCTUARY
News & Events:  A WINDOW
About Us:  The Video Amy & I made. Better!
Newcomers Page:  AGAIN, THE EMPTY SANCTUARY
Newcomers > Our Faith & History:  THE PULPIT
Newcomers > Video:  EUREKA! THREE VIDEOS with HUMANS!!

Do you hear what I’m saying?  People go church shopping first online.  They see the website as a virtual representation of your congregation. Has my beloved home congregation closed its doors to the public only opening for building tours?

Look at the site. No people except a couple links to the “You’re a Uni-What?” video.

Again, I’m singling out my home congregation because I’ve pointed this out and we can use the before and after for educational purposes.  I’m also going to be helping them make a welcome video which will also help.

So if we look at the site now, what does the website say?  To me it says the congregation is  all about the building…

Is your church empty online?
What does your website communicate to visitors?

Here are some photos of the congregation from 2002, accessed via the internet archive. Note both pictures were previously on the website and were taken by me.  Also, approximately the same membership now vs. then.

Sunday Worship  First Unitarian Providence

Full House, First Unitarian Providence

A few examples of people on and “off” UU websites.

  • UUA.org has people on every page.
  • UU Church of Berkeley has a welcome video with ministers and parishioners on the front page, smiling staff photos and other people images peppered throughout.  Nice!
  • Our Nantucket, MA congregation has added a facebook fan widget instantly adding people to their site — all its fans!
  • UPDATE: And take a look at the amazing website of Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA. There site has had a major revision since I last saw it.  Thanks to June for pointing this out.

You can instantly add people to your site by adding the Voices of a Liberal Faith video to your front page. If you have a Facebook fan page, and these days you should, place that on the front page too… Both are free and can be added immediately.

If you read this post at a later date and find that my home congregation has people in it (online), please comment below and I will update this post.

7 thoughts on “Is your church empty (online)?”

  1. Great point!

    The beautiful and empty building photos look like they are out of those “History of Architecture” coffee table books.

    People make the church!

    Buildings are important but the “edifice complex” will never fill your heart that way the gathered souls on Sunday can.

  2. I think You have a point that images of actual people ( hopefully some of whom are associated with the congregation in question) will draw people in.

    However, it seems that getting images and getting clearances to have images of people posted on a church site is a major hurdle.

    Also.. nice to see this blog. Good work!

  3. Hi Jenny, Thanks for your comment.

    I *thought* that getting permission to use images would be a major hurdle. However I’m realizing it is easier than one might think. For a recent video I was editing for a UU congregation they wanted to use previously taken still images. I recommended they go with the most recent photos, both because they are more relevant and its easier to find the people in them. From the whole batch of photos we sat down and I pointed out which people were recognizable enough to warrant permission. It was 30 children and adults total. The minister and DRE identified the people in about 15 minutes, split up the list, emailed them requesting permission to use their images and we had all permissions (simple email permission, not formal form) within the week.

    Another option is to tell the congregation “Hey folks, next Sunday were going to take pictures for the website. We’re going to take the photos at the end of the service. Those not wishing to be in them may head to fellowship hour early. We’re going to take full sanctuary shots, then have people wishing to be featured in closeups come up front, light the chalice, and so on.”

    I think our members generally want our websites to be better, are proud of their involvement (hopefully), and if pitched in a fun way can be a great experience for all.

  4. Hi. If you’d like to see a UU church that has turned itself inside out because: We are the best marketing tools — Ourselves. We show our Beloved Community: what we think, what we do (our deeds); how we minister and how we support each other.
    I lead programming of content, community, social media, instant messaging and more at AOL, Discovery, and other places for about 12 years. I’ve brought that experience together with what I’ve learned from making social learning networks for k-12 schools in the last 5 years. There are similarities between those and the ingredients to make a relational (social) church. Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA is a Church Without Walls. Take a look at our Online Sanctuary, uucava.org We are a large church but smaller churches can accomplish something similar. Happy to discuss. Kind regards, June Herold, UUCA.org member.

    1. June, thank you for pointing out your fabulous website. I added an update to this post directing people to it. Perhaps we could organize a phone call where we could discuss the site, its impact, and your thoughts on how smaller congregations might move in this direction. Maybe record a phone interview and then share? I’ll email you to discuss.

  5. When I was creating the site for our Fellowship, this on the UUA site (http://www.uua.org/leaders/leaderslibrary/leaderslibrary/55397.shtml) gave me pause.

    >Better Left Out
    >
    >Ask permission before posting:
    >
    > * Personal information about your members (phone >numbers, addresses).
    > * Photos of your members.

    I guess the asking permission part didn’t sink in. But I feel the same way, the Fellowship is about the people and community. I wanted to project some of that warmth and vitality in the Fellowship’s website.

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