When people talk about website strategy, the conversation dips into many interesting areas. The problem is that the word strategy means something different to different people. Thus, to have an effective website strategy, you need to define what strategy is. In this article I offer you a framework to define various levels of guidance.
My time in the military taught me a lot about strategy, tactics, and what should govern them. Those higher levels of direction came from policy and doctrine. Policy is set by the executive branch of our government, and doctrine is set by the heads of the various branches of service. Each branch had a doctrine on how they would support the President's policy. Then various components of that branch would provide the strategies to execute. Lastly, the lower level entities, would develop the tactics to defeat the enemy on the battle field. Remember, if the tactics were not aligned with the previous levels, you might achieve a tactical success (destroy an enemy's bridge), but have a strategic failure (your troops eventually needed to cross that bridge).
While your church website may not have such dramatic examples, I will show the various layers of planning that you put in place, along with an example of a common church goal.
These are the founding principles that should guide your church for five to ten years. In terms of the Church, we are blessed with already having something capable of this; The Bible. By basing everything about our church and church website on scripture, we greatly increase our chances of success. However you probably should not base your direction on the entire Bible at once. Select a few themes or individual verses to move forward with. Also note that you do not need to equally focus on all your policy points. Your doctrine will allow you to shift between them so you target the correct goals at the right time, and with the correct intensity. My example here is the Bible verse "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" Matthew 28:19.
This is when your church outlines a few large goals it would like to accomplish over the next few years. These goals need to be based on scripture. In fact, I urge you to write down your doctrinal statements; each followed by the Bible verses that support it. Your doctrine should be reviewed no more frequently than annually. In fact I would advise at creating different doctrinal goals that stretch out one, three, and five years. You may want to focus on membership for a period of time, and shift to bolstering a particular ministry once you have the resources to make it flourish. To continue my example, the doctrine is to "boost the congregation's size by 20% over the next two years".
It is at this point that your various ministries and your website actually comes into play. Your church will need strategies to meet the goals you have set forth in your doctrine. This may seem like an unnecessary layer of abstraction, but trust me that it is helpful. Consider the doctrine example of boosting membership. Your website strategy can be a two-pronged attack, "increase new members and retain existing ones". Demonstrate reasons why people should want to join your church, and help keep existing members actively engaged.
This is the step where most people try to start. They want to provide solutions when they do not properly understand the problem. You need to derive the problem from your previous guiding layers, not the other way around. So if you need to increase membership and retention, the tactical solutions involve effective calls to action in various areas of your website. While you may not think of it, you can include your children's ministry in this. Getting parents to volunteer and help is a great way to keep their interest and retain them for the long haul. Obviously areas that describe your tenants of faith make a great space to ask visitors to take the step toward membership. However, instead of going for the hard sell, maybe you can ask they subscribe to your newsletter or like your page on a social media platform. Keeping on their mind might be the next step they are most comfortable with, not a membership class.
While half of the topics covered in this article deal with things your upper levels of church leadership are concerned with; if your website does not support your overall goals, what is the point? So see where your church's leadership is going and how the website can support it at various levels. The various levels of guidance should help you decide where certain decisions need to be made. Plus when leadership comes to the website team and asks for a specific feature, it will be up to you to show how it ties to those higher level goals. If that is not possible, then it is time to prayerfully push back. If you focus on the church's goals rather than personal agendas, it should make the resolution easier.
This article was inspired by the BoagWorld podcast episode titled "Digital Strategy"
Photo courtesy of Daniel Tiriba