Church Websites 101: Know Your Audience

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Church Websites 101: Know Your Audience - by Kevin D. Hendricks

So you think your church needs a website. Or a new site. Or a better site. Rock on. Welcome to Church Websites 101, a quick and dirty series about how to start or restart your church's website.

A key to any successful marketing is to know your audience. You don’t advertise heart disease medicine during Hannah Montana. And 60 Minutes is likely not the place to plug your Transformers toys. Marketers are experts at knowing their audience. Churches could learn a thing or two about this as well.

It’s called targeted marketing, and in general churches don’t like it. After all, Jesus told us to go into all the world and preach the gospel. He didn’t tell us to segment the market and only reach specific cultural groups. Churches want to cast a wide net and reach everybody. That’s a commendable goal, but reaching everybody is a good way to reach nobody.

If you’re like most churches, you probably bristle at that statement. That’s fine, we don’t need to argue about missionology. But knowing your audience has important implications as you sit down to build your website. You can ignore the advice about targeted marketing, but there are still realities about your audience that will change what you do on the web.

I can imagine no greater failure than a website designed for Internet Explorer 6 that’s loaded with animated GIFs and targeted to an audience of iPhone using Twitter-heads. Except maybe a site loaded with streaming video and fancy coding that requires the latest browser upgrade targeted to an audience of Luddite baby boomers who never bothered to open their company-issued Blackberrys.

Who Is Your Audience?
First of all, you need to look back at your overall strategy and your plan for your site. Are you building a site for your church members or for potential visitors in your community? (Or some other group? Some churches build their website with a worldwide audience in mind.) You need to clearly define that audience.

What Do They Do Online?
Next, you need to figure out some specifics about the behaviors of that audience. How widespread is broadband usage in your area? How technically savvy is your audience? Are they using Internet Explorer 6 or the beta version of Chrome? Do they know what RSS is? Do they use e-mail? Are people constantly texting or is that behavior frowned upon? The answers to these questions will have major implications for your website. If the majority of your audience is technically inept, you need to scale it back and keep things simple. If your audience is full of techno-hipsters, ramp it up.

How Can You Reach Them?
As you ask these questions a clear picture will develop of who your audience is and how you can reach them.

  • You might discover that Facebook is the place to be for your audience and you need to have a major presence on Facebook that’s integrated with your site.
  • Or maybe you learn that your audience loves e-mail and while you can provide an RSS feed, you better make sure there’s an option to subscribe via e-mail.
  • Maybe your audience wants to create their own content and if you don’t give them an outlet on your site it will never gain traction.

The important thing is to learn about your audience and apply those lessons to how you build your site.

Reaching Multiple Audiences
As you learn about your audience you’ll find more and more segmented groups. You’re not likely to have an audience entirely of hardcore techies. That’s OK. The beauty of the web is that it’s easy to serve multiple audiences. While you need to know and cater to your audience, you can still give options that appeal to minority groups within that audience. Having a mobile version of your site will please the texting masses but it won’t confuse or distract the IE 6 users.

Keep It In Perspective
Just remember to keep things in perspective. If only 10% of your audience is technically savvy, limit your time on the techie toys to something proportionate. If the majority of your audience is still loving the snail mail, printed-on-paper newsletter, your website might need to be a tiny percentage of your time and effort. There’s no sense building something nobody will use.

Know your audience. It’ll change your website.