When words are the primary means of communication, they matter... a lot! Church websites need to be especially careful with how they word things because of the hot topic religion has become. Even among fellow Christians, theological differences can cause splits in groups. I trust that your pastor will proofread the copy for your tenants of faith; however, you as the web team leader need to take great care when crafting the rest of the words on your site.
What Did You Mean?
The inspiration for this post came from the image shown to the right. It is a screen capture of a drop-down menu for a site's search functionality. At first glance it may appear normal. You can search for a few key items, or just the default "all". But think about what each item is. What is the difference between Products and Applications? Can multimedia files be considered Resources? What in the world are "Items of Interest"?
Avoid Internal Jargon
This non-example uses internal language for an external audience. You may know every difference between a Product and an Application. Items of Interest may be commonly known in your company, but you forget this would be lost on anyone else. Do you have nuances in your church that would be lost on an outsider? The solution is to use simple, plain language when describing your page elements; the most important of these being your site navigation. But do not skip over other important calls to action. Do not think you are being clever when instead of a button labeled "Search" you write "Pray for an answer"!
Ask For Help
The best way to catch any slips is to test your site. Depending on the size of your site, you can perform a test in about 30 minutes and for the cost of a cup of coffee. Ask a friend to help you, who is not a member of your church, or even better, not a Christian. Offer to take them out for coffee in exchange for them looking through your church’s website. Have them look through the site and see if they understand what they are reading. If they are not a Christian, emphasize that they do not need to agree with it, just understand it.
Review the copy on your site internally. When you think you have your revisions complete, perform the above test scenario. Bring the changes back to your team or committee and discuss the proposed updates. Make your changes and see if your site statistics or, better yet, church memberships go up. My last thought, don’t forget prayer in all of this and invite the Holy Spirit to work through you. If it worked for Jesus' disciples, it can work for you too!
Photo courtesy of Sigurd Decroos