Making your platform a welcoming and user-friendly place to visitFeb 14, 2023
I don't know if you're already familiar with my backstory, but I'd like to take a quick moment to share a few things about the journey the Lord has taken me on over the course of my adult life. And if you'll bear with me, I'll show you how some of the lessons I've been learning can directly benefit your online platform, even if you don't share my personal faith.
When I was attending college, I initially planned to become a high-school history teacher. I love history. I love people. I love teaching. I thought that would be a great context for me to serve others and make a difference, and it certainly would have been if that's what God intended for me as well. But partway through my college years, He led me on another path.
I was attending a local church while I was living on campus, and I started volunteering to help with their youth ministry program. Eventually, the youth pastor accepted a senior pastor position at another church, and before he left, he encouraged the pastor of the church I was volunteering at to hire me to lead the youth ministry. That pastor took his recommendation, offered me the job, and gave me the opportunity to experience what it was like to work on a church staff.
After serving in this role for a while, and gaining more experience with leadership and public speaking, I became convinced that I was being called to serve as a full-time vocational pastor instead of a history teacher. Most people in my life heartily agreed, so I changed my career trajectory, and since 1998, I've been serving in church leadership.
During the remainder of my college years, I often wondered what kind of church context I would eventually serve in. Would I serve as the leader of an established church or would I get involved in planting a new church? For the first decade after graduating, I served well-established churches. I loved the experience, but I had an itch to start new churches as well, and in 2008, I was presented the opportunity to re-plant a church in Langhorne, PA that had less than ten people left and was in the process of closing down.
After I met with the remnant of people who were there, I became convinced that God was calling me to move to their community and attempt to re-plant the church. My wife and family were on board, as were the various ministry boards I sought approval from. So we moved to Langhorne and got to work. By God's grace, the church has grown and matured. The truth is, the Lord has blessed the work so generously that we've outgrown our meeting space. We regularly run out of seats and parking spots when we're hosting services and other events. That's a new challenge that we're in the process of addressing.
So what does this have to do with online platform development?
There are many factors that helped facilitate the growth of our church, many of which are spiritual and providential in nature. We didn't have control over those factors, but there were a few other things that we did have the ability to address, so let me explain what they were. And by the way, if you're in the process of building an online platform, there's a lot you can learn from a local church ESPECIALLY if your platform features a membership community.
1. Aesthetics. When I started leading our church, I took a good look at the building and made some immediate changes. The building looked neglected and forgotten, at least in my eyes. There was graffiti on the sidewalk, overgrown or dead landscaping, clutter throughout the building, and the seating and carpets needed to be replaced.
How long has it been since you've given some thought to the aesthetics of your online platform? Do your colors match? Does your site have a theme and a logical flow? Are your pages or branding images looking a little cluttered? Have you tested your links to make sure they're all working? How does your website look on a desktop computer and how does it look on a mobile device?
2. Welcoming atmosphere. When someone arrives at our church, the front door will be held open for them, they'll be invited to enjoy some coffee and snacks, and I will greet them again before they walk into the sanctuary area. Light music will be playing, and the sound of pleasant conversations will fill the building. A table with the word "Welcome" on it will be the first thing a guest sees as he or she enters the sanctuary area. On that table they'll find more information and a variety of free books they can take home to enjoy.
When someone visits your online platform, will it feel dry and uninviting or will they get the immediate impression that they're welcomed? Do your graphics and text seem to anticipate the arrival of visitors, or is your platform something that only makes sense once you've been there for a while. If you're leading a membership community, or if you're selling products, is there a place on the site that shows people where to start and how to get the most value out of what you're offering?
3. Signage and branding. The previous church had a very dated looking sign out front with movable letters that had yellowed and were hard to change. We changed the sign so that it features a large image of our logo with our website directly beneath it. We also added more lighting to make the sign highly visible.
Is your logo visible on your website? Are the directions and navigation tools working? How hard does someone have to work to find the information they need when they attempt to interact with you and your content?
4. Group assimilation. In our church, it's important to us to help new people get to know one another and find a way they can serve within the church. For that reason, we host a variety of fellowship oriented events, and we also have a large variety of ministry teams that people are welcome to join based on their areas of interest and strength.
Are you creating a sense of community inside your platform? This is especially important if you plan on offering a membership option. Create opportunities for members to get to know each other. Encourage interaction and collaboration. Celebrate the connections that are being made. Make your members feel welcomed.
5. Functional systems. Our local church has also developed functional systems and policies. This helps us maintain momentum, and it reduces the conflict because it helps us all remain on the same page. Functional systems also reduce leadership burnout.
Do you have systems and policies in place to guide your platform or your membership community?
6. Leadership development. Healthy churches replicate leaders. Healthy platforms and online membership communities often do the same. I view our membership community as a place where leaders and learners can gather for information, inspiration, and accountability, then use the principles we teach and model to be a blessing to those who are served by their platforms.
What kind of investments are you making in the lives of those who are studying and observing your style of leadership? Are you showing them how to lead so they can go and lead others?
If we want our platforms to be of service to others, we need to make them welcoming and user-friendly. I'd encourage you to use the list I just shared, as a checklist to help you determine if there might be an aspect of your platform that needs a revision or an update. And if you find something that can be improved, improve it quickly so your platform can become the welcoming place you envisioned when you first created it.
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