Part of my joy in being an advocate for WordPress is showcasing how WordPress is used around the world. In a fascinating discussion with Darren Hoyt, Interviews with Church Designers looks at web design and WordPress blogs from a unique perspective: Christian churches, specifically American Christian churches.
Like me, Darren admits he didn’t understand the market for christian church websites, nor their design considerations.
Browsing the various CSS galleries is one way to gauge which industries place value on good design. I was surprised these past couple years to see a big surge in lavishly designed church websites. As a non-churchgoer, I wasn’t sure I understood why so many churches suddenly wanted a cutting-edge image for themselves. What especially caught my eye were the dark and grungy styles, something my childhood church (my only point of reference) would have never considered. I began wondering who made these decisions and how they served the church.
I decided to do some interviews with a handful of respected church designers and marketers. I’m not fond of design Q&As that consist of “what brushes do you use” or “who are your influences” so I tried to ask challenging questions. I got some very thoughtful responses and the more I read, I realized it was me who was out of the loop. Churches wanting to look cutting edge was part of a more complicated discussion.
From a business perspective, this interview with web designers for churches tackles many of the issues web designers confront when designing for anyone, especially when it comes to the hard and soft sell. Modern churches are seeing a drastic change in customers, from dying and shrinking patrons and attendance to overflowing pews and demands to “get with it” and embrace social media. They have to accommodate the needs of their current audience while constantly reaching out to the changing world around them.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from such a shifting industry about how they make their pitch on the web and use social media to enhance their standing, visibility, and communication efforts.
Darren is working to build all of this into a project called “The Role of Design in Modern Church Marketing” and I encourage you to read this first draft section. Here are a few points that struck a nerve with me.
Matt Adams (Factor 1 Studios): Generally we find that most of our High end design clients are looking to not only compete with other churches, but also with main stream media. With so much marketing targeted at consumers today, churches continue to feel pressure to earn the attention of a potential church goer away from the likes of computer companies, auto dealers, the movies, and tv shows. These churches also want to be attractional to the unchurched. I’ll be honest and say some try and take it too far…
Matt Adams: We find that most of our clients are trying to communicate how they are different. So many Americans have been burned by church, or turned off by church. Sometimes the reasons why someone no longer attends church is so minor, that often communicating to them how this church is different is the key theme.
The outside perception of the church definitely influences design and tool decisions when developing a website or blog. Are you really clear about how your product, service, or you are judged and damned by others as part of your web development project? The church has to be. James Dalman summed up that point with:
Professionalism, authenticity, knowledge, looking from the outside instead of within.
Church Business is Serious Marketing Business
The church is a business, and as a business, it has to make business decisions on the web that impact its economics as well as social survival. With the growth in church marketing, I was surprised to have Darren point out that there are now major economic publications covering “Christian Capitalism” with articles like Forbes covering Megachurches, Megabusinesses and Holy Real Estate.
A glance around the web found many blogs covering church marketing and business exclusively:
- Holy Cow
- Ministry Marketing Coach
- Christianity Today – Your Church
- Modern Church Marketing – Church Communications Pro
- Church Marketing Sucks
- Church Solutions Magazine
- Outreach: Church communication and marketing tools
- Think Christian
I found a lot of websites offering church marketing coaching, training, web development, and web design, clearly a growing targeted business. Blog World Expo this past fall had a whole workshop track specifically targeted towards church marketing in the new online economy and world.
There is also a growing industry in creating church-specific WordPress Themes, with some Theme developers specializing only in those Themes. There are also blogs that cover how to use WordPress in your church to promote and encourage online social activities.
In The evolution of church marketing by The Responsible Marketing Blog, they highlight some advertising methods used by churches recently, admitting that some of it “ain’t half bad.” One of the ads they explore looks more like an ad campaign for Target than a church, an example of how churches are pushing themselves into mainstream media.
In “What If Starbucks Used Church Marketing?” by Think Christian, Jerod asks:
When I look at a church’s image, I have a big interest in visitor’s perspective. What is it like from an outsiders view when they visit the church’s website, first drive into a church’s parking lot or walk through the front doors? Most likely they have a lot of questions. Where do I go? Where can I sit? Is it safe to leave my kids here? Is it okay that I’m wearing jean shorts?
I feel like churches are really mixed in handling this well and not so well…
And asks the question that faces many church marketers as well as traditional markets, what if Starbucks used church marketing? The funny video answer from Beyond Relevance is a great example of the struggles both face, and how churches must change how they work.
Just as businesses are exploring their marketing strategies online, from blogs to social media tools, learning how churches, experts in conversions, work and the choices they make in their web designs and marketing strategies, can benefit all of us in the web development industry.
This is an example of how American christian churches are changing how the work on the web, but what about other religious industries? Is Islam changing their online and marketing tactics for their members? What about the Jewish community? Buddhists? Wicca? What about christian-based churches outside of the United States? How is your religion and church changing its marketing and communications tactics in this web world today?
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