Churches often have more contention with popular culture than other churches. Yet there is something to be gained from looking at other church websites for sources of inspiration and encouragement. Corporate America often conducts regular competitive analysis studies on their largest competitors' websites, using it as both a benchmark and management's encouragement to fund projects. This practice can be utilized by the church to help assess where their strengths and weaknesses lie, as well as aid in illustrating the need for future projects.
The first step is to have something to compare other churches to, namely your own site. Perform an inventory of major areas of your website; highlighting major functionality. For instance, it is one thing to have a page outlining the importance of giving money to the church. How compelling is your content and message? Is there any supporting media such as video? Do you have an address to mail a check or money order to? Better yet, link off to a series of steps to take donations online. Put these in a spreadsheet, with each website section, page, and functionality as a new row.
Now that you have a good idea of what is on your website and what you intend to measure; go ahead and rank yourself. Get several opinions on this, as often the person who made the website (most likely you, my dear reader) has a skewed perspective of their handiwork. After this honest grading exercise, you are ready to move on to the next area; looking at other church websites. As for grading, I would recommend starting off simple with three levels; good/adequate, requires improvement, and does not exist. If you are more seasoned, feel free to be more detailed by not only grading, but adding more subjective information about why the grade is what it is.
Checking Out the Competition
I would recommend on examining at least three other churches in this exercise, but more than five may be overwhelming. Begin browsing their website with your spreadsheet at the ready; grading them using the same system you used for yourself. However, the trick here is to be open to including site sections your own site may not have. If a church you selected has a mechanism for soliciting donations, and you do not; please add this to the list of functionalities and give yourself a "does not exist" grade. This is the only way you will expose your site's shortcomings and garner support to invest time and money to change that situation.
Analyze Your Results
If you performed the above steps, I want you to take a step back and see where your church sits. With an honest assessment of yourself and others, your next website project should become more apparent. Yet I urge you not to jump the gun. If your pastor has made it clear that the church's current business goals do not line up, and having a deficiency is acceptable; listen to them. If you are adamant about this feature, then conduct some independent research so when the church is ready, you have plenty of ideas and solutions in mind.
Action Item: Create a yearly or 6-month reminder to conduct a quick competitive analysis. It is good to keep a pulse on what others are doing, and either "copy & paste with pride", or use it as inspiration for your own site. However, do not use this as your only source of inspiration. Realize that a live website feature is likely 6-12 months old from when it was first thought of. All you can ever gain is equality with another church, not an advantage. Lastly, depending on your relationship with the churches on your list (i.e. same denomination, down the street, etc.), you may feel comfortable reaching out to them to see how they implemented their solution and get some help with yours. Realize that while you are competing, you are ultimately on the same team in furthering God's Kingdom.
Photo courtesy of Christophe Libert