A First-Impression Homepage: What's the VIBE?
After you’ve met a new group of people or gone to a job interview, what do you walk away thinking? “Gee, I hope I left a good impression…” First impressions matter! While we may not always give an accurate first impression of who we truly are, the way you first talked, dressed, gestured, and made eye-contact leaves an impact on those you encountered. First impressions are defining experiences.
The same goes for all websites. The homepage is the first thing a new visitor will see and there are a few critical features and characteristics that will shape a user’s perception of your church. These characteristics will be broken up into several blog posts.
What is the VIBE of this place? What does it feel like? How am I going to feel if I visit this church?
The way a person feels when they visit a website can subconsciously set their expectation for what it would be like to visit that which is represented. My husband needs to get his eyes checked soon and is thinking of switching clinics, so I have been researching various eye clinics around our neighborhood. I admit, I was judging the websites! Some of them were straight-up dismal. I mean, getting your eyes checked isn't the most exciting thing you can do, but I at least want to feel like it is going to be a friendly, enlightening, and helpful experience! How much more the experience of visiting a church.
Think about the dominating colors of your church’s homepage. Is it dark? Drab? Does it feel boring, corporate, or stark? I have seen a number of church websites with dominantly dark home pages and boring content; however, upon digging further I’ve found that some of these churches are traditional and family-friendly with kids programs and ladies’ quilting groups and weekly get-togethers. What an awful misrepresentation! When I think about those vibrant aspects of a church, I imagine bright greens and blues, helpful information about how to get connected, and photos of smiling faces.
How do you choose colors? Choosing colors is a key component of the branding process. "Branding" is the process of establishing a unique identity for your company, organization, or church. Often times, the focus of branding is the visual representation and the messages those visuals create.
Take Target Corporation for example:
The bright red that is used as Target's staple color gives Target a certain personality. The color red is often attributed to love and desire, but also to speed and on-sale items. On Target's website, the bright red is paired with stark white creating a vibrant and bright atmosphere that sends a message of excitement and simplicity, encouraging visitors to shop!
When choosing colors for your church, consider what message you are trying to send. While all churches have many facets to their personalities, you may want to express that visitors will find peace when they visit. Perhaps you would like to communicate that your church is active and vibrant! Or maybe you want to evoke a deep reverence through the colors you use. The colors you choose will be very consistent throughout the website and therefore become part of that lasting first impression.
PHOTOGRAPHY IS KEY
Speaking of photography, there is this one phrase I’ve heard once... something like, “A picture is worth a thousand words”??? Have you ever heard that one? (ha) Church is a safe place for some and an uncomfortable place for others. Not everyone has had a wonderful and loving experience attending church as a child or teenager. Some people, Christians and non-Christians alike, have had some very hurtful experiences with a church. Others may have stepped into a church only a handful of times in their life, or even never! Your homepage is the place for the photography that speaks the clearest messages about who you really are as a church. It is the best way to help people feel safe and comfortable because it shows them what they can expect if they choose to visit your church.
If you are thinking about acquiring new photographs of your church body, here are some ideas to help get you started:
- Candid Sunday morning gathering area
This is one of my favorite types of images on a church website. Often times, these photos capture at least a dozen people smiling, laughing, talking, helping their kids, handing out programs, and other normal things that happen on a Sunday. A newcomer can look at an image like this and gather all sorts of information. To name just a few: dress code, ages of attendees, whether or not there are kids, if people enjoy being there!
- Worship music/band
When people ask me about the church I attend, one of the questions I sometimes get is "What's the music like?" Just about everyone wants to know about the music at a given church! Why? Because it defines the experience and personality. Churches that err on the more formal and traditional side may have piano, an organ, or maybe even a choir. Churches that take on a more modern and current approach may opt for a full band with electric guitar and drums. By learning about a church's music style, a potential visitor can pick up on more aspects of a church's overall vibe.
- Non-Sunday activities and gatherings
Try to get some shots of various events such as small groups, cook-outs, service projects, or mission trips. These images express what goes on beyond the Sunday mornings.
- Children's and Youth Ministries
One of the most frequent questions a potential church visitor may ask is "What's available for my kids?" Including photos of the kids' programs is reassuring to curious parents who are looking for a place where their children can have fun and learn more about Scripture.
- An exterior shot of your building
While this type of photograph may not give as much information about your personality as a church, this one helps assure visitors that they have arrived at the right place if they choose to check you out.
Finally, how is your homepage arranged? Does it feel organized and refreshing? Or cluttered and overwhelming? This is part of your first impression. I think as humans we can tend to allow these first impressions to unfairly construct lasting ideas about what is represented. The same goes for church websites. Unfortunately, a cluttered website with 20+ items in the navigation menu and multiple columns of written information, images, a calendar, and other elements can poorly reflect on a well-organized and thriving church.
Here are two side-by-side graphical representations of a couple real church websites:
A clear and organized layout is going to make a potential website visitor feel at greater ease. Not only does it help them find information more easily, it also gives the appearance that your church is helpful, not complicated or wrapped up in details. More importantly, you have a greater ability to communicate a clearer message if the content is simple. Don't make the mistake of trying to put all of your information on your homepage. It can be tempting to include photos of your staff members, a greeting from your pastor, a complete calendar, a complete mission statement, your beliefs, announcements, and even the current weather... but choose just a few items that are really important.
Take a step back. It's easy to get lost in all of the technicalities and specifics of your church's website, but take a moment to look at the big picture. Upon first glance, does your website give your church a realistic first impression? How does the appearance make you feel? What do others say about it? It is winsome and inviting? As you step back, try and put yourself in the shoes of someone who is looking for a church. Perhaps they have just gone through a difficult time and decided that it is time to seek God. Or maybe they've just moved to a new town and want to find a new church for their family to attend. Or it's possible that someone just decided to follow Jesus and they are looking for a family of believers. In any case, seeking a church is an emotional process full of excitement, uncertainty, and even fear. In those moments, how a person feels can become their entire world. That is why this is so important.