At the beginning of every worship service, my church welcomes all of the new visitors; regardless if they know of any visitors or not. Sometimes we even applaud for them. Many church podcasts that I listen to also make a point to welcome all of their listeners. What does your website do to welcome new visitors? Do you simply have a statement that says "Welcome to our church", or do you structure your site so that their needs are immediately met with lots of information and content?
Your Website's Purpose
If you never address the needs and questions of non-believers or non-members on your church website; do not be surprised if your website is not viewed as a recruiting tool. It is great to present information to your current members. I am sure they need to know when the next bingo game, bible study, or spaghetti dinner is. However the last commandment Jesus gave to his disciples was:
"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 (NIV)
The Big Idea
Notice that it was not "hold another fundraiser". Thus a primary focus of any church website should be to recruit new members, not retain the ones you currently have. Granted there should be sections of your site that are indeed dedicated to current church news and activities. Let your current members find the section where all of their questions can be answered. The latest sermon topic, bulletin insert, daily devotional, and events should all have their place on your site. Just do not miss the opportunity to welcome in a potential member of your church.
My suggestion is to create a prominent link or section that is specifically for potential members. This should include non-believers, as well as Christians searching for a new church. Be sure to enumerate why you are unique as well as the key benefits for being a member at your church. Expound on all of the interesting things your church does. Even if that list is somewhat short, you can turn this into a positive by promoting how it is a small tight-knit church with a strong sense of community and support.
Review the content on your website and see what components speak to non-believers and potential members. How does it compare with the rest of your site? What is the ratio of recruiting content to that of retention content? If one of your high-level church goals is go grow your membership base; then by all means expand those areas geared toward recruiting rather than retention. Test that area of your website with non-members and non-believers to see how effective it is. Then measure your return on investment. Most importantly, do not forget to pray!
Photo courtesy of Valerio lo Bello