When I was a minister in a vibrant, busy congregation there was always something more caring and time-sensitive to do than sit down and write for the congregation’s website. Because the website had no clear deadline (like sermons and newsletters and pastoral care) it stayed at the bottom of my to-do list for years.
What I didn’t realize then, and what I know now, is that our websites must be high priority. And it’s not enough to simply keep them functional and up to date. They are where we tell the world who we are, what we do, and why it matters.
People’s experience of our websites form indelible first impressions. In the minds of online visitors:
- If our websites are wordy and sparse on people, we are wordy and sparse on people.
- If it’s hard to find what you need on our websites, it’s hard to find what you need from us.
- If our websites are full of insider language and graduate-level language, we are too.
It can take a lot to undo those first impressions.
Instead, let’s show how our congregations are welcoming, warm, and accessible. Let’s show that by looking at our site with “outreach glasses” – using the lenses of the people we want to reach. Wearing those glasses involves thinking about what the people are looking for when they come to our sites. Each comes for a reason, whether they’re seeking emotional information or technical information.
Here are some congregations that are doing a great job answering the kinds of questions that website visitors bring:
Who are Unitarian Universalists? What do they stand for?
Sacred Path: A Unitarian Universalist Church, a small congregation in Indianapolis has a very engaging, highly visual way of answering these questions. Explore their About section to see what I mean.
First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY, a large congregation, has a wonderful explanation of Unitarian Universalist beliefs and values, with their original words and theology. It’s a story a visitor wants to be part of.
What are the people like? Could they be my people?
Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, a small congregation in Pittsburgh, shows their personality and values throughout the site, presenting themselves as engaged, warm, friendly, bold, and edgy.
How can I get involved in something meaningful right away?
First Parish Unitarian Universalist, a midsize congregation in Needham, MA, has three columns of highly accessible and attractive information on their homepage. Site visitors get a quick sense of what’s going on and how to get involved.
Allegheny UU Church’s section What You Can Do for Justice shares accessible ways for newcomers and committed UUs alike to work for change.
These are just a few of the excellent websites built by our diverse and dynamic congregations.
I invite you to join me in looking at your website with “outreach glasses.” Look with the lenses of someone who’s spiritually progressive, someone whose ideas about the sacred don’t fit neatly into any creed, someone who wants to make a difference in the world – yet is not familiar with Unitarian Universalism. Take a look, and talk about what you see.
Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, the UUA’s Outreach Associate for Digital Ministries, will be blogging regularly on Growing Unitarian Universalism about the connections between outreach, growth, websites, and social media.
One additional recommendation is to ensure that a congregation’s web site looks good on mobile devices as well (e.g. smartphones and tablets). Almost half of our web site traffic (according to Google Analytics) mobile device users.