By Jennifer Lieberman
The internet is a place where you have only seconds to grab your visitor’s attention. Snap-judgement decisions are made about the vibrancy of a school, business, restaurant, or house of worship. Your synagogue website has the power to influence how an outsider perceives your community. Making a positive first impression is key.
While our focus at Addicott Web is on helping synagogues thrive online, we began to wonder how similar niches, in particular, Christian churches, use their websites as a marketing tool. What we discovered surprised us and we came away with new ideas as to how synagogues can build a better website.
Here’s what we learned.
1. The church’s mission plays a starring role.
The first thing we noticed was that the best church websites excel at sharing their mission. It’s often wrapped up in a concise, neat sentence. Hill City Church RVA starts with “A safe place to explore your faith.” The Good New Church proudly proclaims “Good News is a place where anyone can be transformed by the story of Jesus.” These statements shape and support the content and design of the homepage.
What is the mission of your synagogue? What does your community do best? What makes your community special? The answers to these questions should guide the content you place on your homepage.
If your website is overloaded with upcoming events, consider what these events say about your congregation. Your Hanukkah party may be absolutely amazing, but a member isn’t joining because of a fun party. They want community, a sense of belonging, and a deeper relationship with Judaism.
By positioning your homepage around your synagogue’s mission, you are giving your website a sense of focus. You are elevating your website from a jumble of seemingly unrelated events to one that provides visitors with a broad and comprehensive look at your community.
2. Church websites speak directly to the reader.
Many successful church websites use outward facing language. It feels like the website is initiating a conversation with the reader. Words are carefully chosen and are designed to stir an emotional response. These statements are powerful, inclusive and effective.
Rockville Church, Rockville Maryland, notes that “Your presence will be welcomed when we gather for worship…”
Grace Hills Church in Rogers, Arkansas, begins with the large, can’t miss “We’re Saving a Seat for You.” This simple statement feels like a personal invitations for the reader to explore the congregation. You’re saving a seat for me? How nice of you!
Of course a synagogue cannot simply copy the words on these church websites. It wouldn’t work for many reasons, but the point remains valid. Personal invitations that are directed to the reader are much more powerful than a general “we are a warm and welcoming congregation.” How many times have we heard that one before?
3. Church websites use professional images and dynamic videos.
You can’t have a great synagogue website without great images. There is no way around it. The web is a visual medium and what people see needs to look good. Empty sanctuary pictures definitely have no place on your synagogue website, but if the pics featuring bright happy people are blurry or low-quality, they’ve got to go as well.
It’s clear that many of the best church websites invested in high-quality photography, are committed to hiring professional photographers, or at the very least have someone with a photographic background take photos – something any synagogue can easily do. This makes a big difference.
One interesting trend is the inclusion of silent, spliced videos showing people entering the church, greeting others, and making their way to the sanctuary. None of these scenes feel powerful on their own, but when placed together, these ordinary images tell a powerful story. Not only do they give the visitor a sense of what to expect, but they make you feel like you are already there. The congregation feels alive, the visitor feels welcomed, and going to church feels fun. In addition to the New Spring Church, College Park Church (Indianapolis, IN) and the Greenhouse Church (Davie, FL) feature these welcome videos on their homepages.
Imagine how a synagogue could create their own story through the use of a welcome video. It’s definitely worth getting excited about and we can’t wait to see a synagogue website containing such a montage in the future.
4. Church Websites are Focused on Community Building.
This is big. Really big. The best church websites are not listing upcoming event after upcoming event. Programming is important, but it does not take center-stage. Instead, the focus is on community building.
When we sat down with Dr. Ron Wolfson to discuss synagogue websites, he recounted a story by Pastor Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County. California. “Rick likes to ask: “What’s the first question people ask when they walk into a church for the first time?” It’s not “Where’s the bathroom?” It’s: “Is there anybody here who I can be friends with, who is in the same stage of life?”
Dr. Wolfson went on to note “That’s a great lesson for synagogues and their websites. If I am looking for a spiritual home, I would want to know “who are the people of this community? Why would I want to meet them? Why would I want to engage with them? And, is this a place where I can find friends?”
By building a website focused on community, friendship, and developing a closer relationship to Judaism, your site will evoke the kind of feelings that encourage a person to get to know your congregation.
Let your website tell the story of your congregation and community. For a synagogue to embrace such an approach, it will require a shift away from a website centered around promoting events. Upcoming events are still a part of your website, but the focus is on showcasing your synagogue from a high-level perspective. Think of your website as an introduction to your congregation and your synagogue is more than the sum of the next 10 events.
The best church websites excel at generating excitement and interest. They show off their communities in a way that makes them feel appealing to a potential congregant. They tell an enticing story and encourage visitors to consider why this place should become their spiritual home. Synagogues can do this as well. Use your website to show prospective members that you are the one – the right place for them to deepen their connection to Judaism and join a caring community.
Jennifer Lieberman is the business manager for Addicott Web.
Cross-posted on Addicott Web