I’m very excited to announce that First Presbyterian Church of Warren, MI wins the prize for the first church to be featured in my spotlight series. The pastor there, Rev. Emma Nickel, asked me to give suggestions on how their church website could be improved.
So here’s a caveat on my advice for Rev. Nickel’s church, and others wishing to be feature in the spotlight series: I will try to give suggestions that are based on my objective view of the website as an outsider of her church. I understand that those who are members of that church may experience the website differently, but I can only offer the perspective I actually have. I will try to encourage where I see things going well, and give suggestions for improvement. We are all learning together, and I know how personal the website design and creation experience can become, but I do not set out to attack or discourage anyone’s work. I’m simply calling it as I see it, because I want every church to have the kind of online presence that is representative of the life of that church, and the church universal. You don’t have to agree with my suggestions, and you’re certainly always welcome to contact me to discuss them further.
So, to First Presbyterian Church of Warren’s website (you may click to open in a new tab, but I’ll include screen shots of what I’m talking about as well). The first thing I see is the banner image of the top of the page, and the address info at the top. While I like the ability to easily see the address and phone number of the church, the first thing I want to see on a website isn’t really black text with information that isn’t engaging. Yes, it’s important, but it belongs more in the footer (and is already prominent in the body text of the home page.)
Next, while I like the idea of the custom designed banner image with the church name and location included in it, the images strike me as generic and dated. Can you create a new image for this that includes pictures of the actual people in your church? As it is, it doesn’t help me get to know First Pres Warren better, why it is special, unique, and why I would want to go there.
The next most prominent thing my eye is drawn to on the site is the very friendly and welcoming large text “Welcome to First Pres…”. It’s great to welcome visitors to your site, but I have an issue with the font color — it clashes with the aquamarine blue-green in the background and link text, and the lavender purple in the banner image. Can you change it to match, or choose another color in the palette that will compliment it? Also, it might be better to replace the “welcome” message with a short tag line from your “welcome visitors page,” something like “A Place Where You Can Experience God’s Love,” which is in the “why visit us” section. Tell a story about your church in that tagline.
Next, the large photo of the church. It’s a great-looking high-res photo, and I always encourage photos and images on the site. But as with the banner image, this photo doesn’t really help me know more about the actual life and ministry of your congregation. Is church just a building to you, or is it about God and how the people in the congregation are living out their calling? Even if you just had some of the people from your congregation standing in front of the church in this picture, that would make it more inviting to me. Try to take some new photos after worship or during special events that really show off what a wonderful, dynamic, and welcoming church you are, so that as a visitor I can see how I might fit in there.
Right underneath, you say that Rev. Emma Nickel is pastor – could you put a picture of her here?
Next, I love how you put very important information about your church in a very prominent position and in a larger font to make it easier to see and access. Yes, you need to change the blue text here as well, and I’m not crazy about the red because that doesn’t fit in the color palette of the aquamarine either, but again it’s good you didn’t bury this information somewhere on a secondary page. This content should be on the homepage because it’s what people are looking for, so nicely done. Is there any way you can group this information into a couple or several columns, so that users of your website don’t have to scroll down as much?
In terms of the site visitor count, it can be nice to show off how many visitors your site gets, but I would remove it. It makes your site appear dated, and again, it doesn’t help me understand your church better (the same goes for the questions/comments send email moving gif – dated and visually distracting).
The contact section is nice, but there’s yet another brownish/orange color in the “click here” buttons that doesn’t fit with the rest of the site. Also, the rest of the text above is centered, so even though I would try to put the above text in columns, I would still center this text.
Lastly in terms of nitpicky stuff, the presbytery and synod images on the bottom of the page also strike me as dated. I know there’s not much you can do about those images since they’re coming from someone else, but maybe consider just including text links to those pages and not the images.
I apologize for how long this is getting, but final overarching comments on the site: I love how much information you provide on the site. It really is rich in resources and tells me most of the information I need to know. But I’m wondering if you could include a horizontal navigation bar at the top of the page that groups your many pages into simple categories to make accessing all that great information easier. You might want to look at other church websites to get an idea, but popular nav categories are something like: Who We Are, Ministries, Get Involved, Contact, Worship, etc. Although you have all these pages in the navigation bar to the left, sometimes less is more. It can be visually overwhelming to see all these pages when all someone is looking for is one or two particular things.
Again, I think your site does a great job giving people the information they need. The way forward is thinking how you can make the site more visually appealing and personal to your individual church, as well as ways to organize information to make your site less cluttered with info and more user friendly.