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29 Jun 2017

An Easy Way to Attract Visitors to Your Church

Raul Rivera

Today’s church is dramatically different from the church at the turn of the century. Outside of the unchanging message of salvation, to some degree the church is hardly recognizable.

Change can be attributed to the culture around us, and the culture around us is largely influenced by the rapid developments of technology. There is no doubt that the Internet has revolutionized the way we live, conduct business, interact with one another, travel, and even the way we “do church.”

A 2016 Forbes Insights report, which is based on a survey of 250 retail executives (nearly half of them being CEOs or business owners), says that “according to retailers, most customers - 82% - conduct research online” before making an in-store visit and purchase. 

The report also indicates that “a third of survey respondents believe that their website draws customers to the stores.”

With that being said, I think that most individuals who are looking for a church begin their quest online. 

The question is no longer, “Does your church have a website?” Rather, the more appropriate question today is, “If someone visited your church website would they visit your church?”

Connecting a parable with your church website

In Matthew 4:19, Jesus told Peter and Andrew, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” In this passage we see Jesus using a familiar event to teach Peter and Andrew the concept of winning souls.

If someone visited your church website would they visit your church?

Likewise, the concept of fishing relates to your church website. Let me explain.

A fisherman studies the tides, weather, and timing in order to place his boat in the perfect spot. He then casts a net hoping that his preparation pays off.

After studying the times and seasons, the Internet is a perfect spot for your church to “cast its nets.” Your church website is the “net” that will capture the “fish.”

The quality of your church website (“net”) matters

No fisherman is better than the net he casts. 

On one occasion off the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus told his disciples to cast the net on the other side of the boat. It produced a catch so numerous that they were unable to haul in the net. Since they were not used to having such a full net, they did not have a suitable method to haul in the big catch. 

Can your church website bring in a big haul?

Getting people to your website is the easy part. Getting the subsequent visit to your church depends on the quality of your church website. 

A good gauge to help determine the quality of your website is to ask yourself the following question:

  • What message is being sent to those who visit my church website?

I have seen many poor quality websites that send a message to its viewers to stay away!

9 features to include on your church website

Like it or not, your church website speaks to its viewers about the excellence of your ministry. Your website reflects what viewers may experience if they choose to visit your church.

As a minimum, your church website should include the following features:

  1. Upcoming sermon series: Planned messages allow you to spend quality time preparing messages that are high caliber. It also allows you to spend time advertising certain topics that touch people in different ways.
  2. Past sermons archives: This lets visitors hear you and get a taste of your messages. Oftentimes people connect after hearing just one message.
  3. News/events: The news/events section keeps the congregation up to date on the latest events. This requires maintenance. It is better not to have this section than to have one that is always out of date or managed improperly.
  4. History of the church: The church history is a wonderful story of how the Lord orchestrated events that led to the birth of your church.
  5. Staff bios: Not only are people interested in the history of your church, but they are also interested in who you are. Visitors to your website want to know the individuals on staff and the capacities in which they serve. This allows potential visitors to feel somewhat connected to staff members and other leaders in your church.
  6. Doctrines: Knowing what you believe is an important piece of the puzzle for those thinking of visiting your church. If you do not have your church doctrines written out, then you can click here to download an editable template to help you begin the process.
  7. Ministries of the church: Since God's kingdom consists of a variety of individuals in differing seasons of life, posting the scope of ministries offered at your church helps online viewers to better understand whether or not your church is a place in which they could feel connected. For example, singles are more likely to be drawn in if they see that a specific time each week a group of singles meets together, etc.
  8. Dedicate a special section for children's ministry: Many families will consider the children's program as their number one priority. If you have a lovely children's program then you should tell the whole world.
  9. Online giving option: Online giving is one of the most common giving methods to date. It is easy and convenient for both church members and nonmembers alike. To include this feature to your website, you need an account with a merchant service (such as PayPal or PayoLee) that serves as an intermediary to receive funds from donors and to transfer those funds to your banking institution. Merchant services charge a small transaction fee, which is either a small dollar amount or percentage of the transaction. Many of these services give a discounted transaction fee for public charities like churches and ministries. 

One last important consideration for your church website

While the quality of your church website is important in order to help bring more visitors to your church, we would be amiss if we did not talk about the compliance aspect of your church website.

As a nonprofit organization, there are certain things you must consider regarding your church website. For instance, 

  • Can your church sell items and products on its website without jeopardizing its tax-exempt status?
  • What about ads? Can your church sell advertising space on its website?

A fair question to ask yourself is, “If the IRS were to review my church website, would it be 100% compliant?” 

Let me give you the three most common areas of a church website where the IRS may find significant issues.

1. What is your church selling online?

The IRS is catching up to the increasing number of churches selling things on their websites. Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 512 was authored by Congress to make the carrying on of a trade or business a taxable activity. 

Currently, if a church has a bookstore, its sales are not taxable if they occur during regularly scheduled church worship activities. On the other hand, if a church has a bookstore opened during regular secular business hours (i.e. 9am - 5pm, 5-6 days per week), those sales are considered unrelated business income and become taxable income. 

(Recommended reading: “Heart is Good, Advice is Bad”)

Yet, what if a church has an online bookstore? Are those sales considered unrelated business income?

Like any other business activity, if those sales compete with other legitimate online bookstores, then they are taxable and the church must pay income tax for those sales because they are not considered substantially related to the church’s tax-exempt purpose.

2. Selling ads vs. corporate sponsorship

Many churches these days raise extra revenue by selling ads in their church bulletins, websites, and in other materials. 

In short, any paid promotion of a private business is classified as advertising and an unrelated business activity. 

The good news is that the IRS has created a safe harbor for churches to raise advertising revenues by selling ads known as corporate sponsorships. 

It is important to know that there is a legal difference between selling ads and selling corporate sponsorships. The IRS allows tax-free corporate sponsorships so long as they meet certain criteria such as publishing their logo, slogan, website address, telephone number, and they do not contain qualitative or comparative descriptions of the sponsors' products or services. 

You must not publish the sponsors' prices, or other wording that promotes savings, value, or endorsement.

3. The pastor’s blog

Pastors today are taking advantage of blogging. For many, it is a way to stay connected with the congregation during the week. 

I know of several pastors who send out a blog on a regular basis and a good number of the church members read it and leave comments. These pastors make efforts to reply to each comment. Every Sunday, many of the members feel that they have had a personal conversation that week with their pastor because of the blog. 

Now, the million-dollar question is: “Under what circumstances could a pastor’s personal blog have negative implications for the church?”

Since the answer to this question requires a rather lengthy response, I encourage you to read a previous blog article I wrote called, “The Best Way to Remain Connected with Your Congregation”.

“You are the light of the world”

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells us that we “are the light of the world--like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.” While it is the way in which we live our lives that the light of Christ shines through us, your church website can also shine as a light that attracts visitors to your church and ultimately into a relationship with God.

In today’s digital world, it is a form of cultural stewardship to have a website that reflects not only the vision of the church, but also a godly pursuit of legal compliance.

At StartCHURCH, it is our goal to be an invaluable resource for churches and ministries just like yours. If you have any questions or concerns about the compliance side of your website, please feel free to give us a call at 877-494-4655. Also, check out the link below and register to join us at a conference in a city near you.

Register for a Conference Today

Click Here

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“Customers Like to Research Online but Make Big Purchases in Stores, Says New Retailer Study”;

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

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About the Author

Church Planter. Speaker. Author. CEO. Raul Rivera has had ample experience in the church planting world. His current venture, StartCHURCH, has helped 1000's of churches to start right. Raul has compiled an array of manuals and software tools that help churches stay compliant with the IRS. He also hosts over 35 national conferences per year, training pastors on how to launch their churches. Raul is married to his wife Genel, and they and their five children live in Atlanta, GA.