Tricks from the Churches: Websites

See also: Growing Community, Building Relationships

Part of the Series: Tricks from the Churches


  • Religions have centuries of experience building and promoting values-based communities.
  • Some strategies effective religious communities use could be effective for Humanist communities also.
  • Promote your values.
  • Make a welcome video.
  • Post images of happy members.
  • Showcase member stories.
  • Visit Church Marketing Sucks for more ideas.

For this post on community marketing – the first in a series of “Tricks from the Churches” – we are going where atheists fear to tread – deep into the websites of churches. Why? Because religions have centuries of experience building and promoting values-based communities, and some of the strategies effective religious communities use could be effective for Humanist communities too. This is a core Humanist Community Project principle: just because it comes from a religious community, doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

Fair warning: some of the images I’m going to use are extremely, well, religious. Some of the churches mentioned here engage in practices we find objectionable. We think that’s OK: if we want to promote our Humanist communities effectively, let’s choke back any instinctive feeling of discomfort (I call it the “faith-yuk”) and see what these highly-successful communities are doing to encourage people to attend and to spread their message. Remember, we have values to convey too, and we believe that the world would be a better place if more people embraced them. If we can learn effective techniques from institutions which don’t share our values, we can use those techniques to more effectively promote our own beliefs.

All these examples come from churches that have been recognized for their success in conveying their message or have been recommended due to the quality of their marketing. Clearly, they have been designed by trained professionals, and it’s always wise to collaborate with professional designers when possible.

Values First

This is the common denominator of all the most effective church websites I analyzed: they put their values first. Every single page made it abundantly clear what that community stood for, what they were passionate about, and reinforced that message through every design decision.

Look at this example from GLIDE, in San Francisco, CA (throughout this post you can click on each image to view a larger version):

The text is crystal clear: this is a “radically inclusive, just and loving community”. The photo shows a smiling person growing something – you will grow here too. The logo in the top-left shows a heart with the word “unconditionally” beneath it – another reference to the “radical inclusion” and “loving” already mentioned. The name GLIDE speaks of effortlessness and elegant movement. You know immediately what sort of place this church aspires to be, what its core values are.

How about this one, from Bloom in St. Paul, MN:


The choice of name is evocative of the experience of growth they hope to provide. The tagline, “No Judging. No Politics. Just Jesus.” is clear, simple, and expresses what they hope to provide and what experience you are likely to get if you attend.

Finally this, also from GLIDE:

On this page GLIDE describes their core values with evocative headings and short, simple descriptions, accompanied with photos which attempt to portray that value. Some sites I investigated even had values videos, with a short video to convey each core value.

Humanist communities have some different core values to religious communities (notably a commitment to naturalism, science and skepticism, and this-worldly ethics). But we can learn from these church communities how to convey those values effectively to a public which often seems oblivious to the possibility of nonreligious value-sets.

A Video Welcome

Many of the church websites I investigated had welcome videos which (big surprise) welcomed new members, reinforced the church’s core values, and gave prospective visitors a tour of what they offer. Here’s an example from Guts Church, Tulsa, OK:

Note how it introduces all the different services the church offers (each targeted to a different age-range, gender or disposition), reinforces the church’s values, and shows masses of footage of people having fun. A short video like this could make the difference between someone visiting your community or passing by. Invest some time in one.

Happy Faces

On the point of happy people having fun, these effective websites are peppered with images of smiling faces. Here’s an example from The Crossing, in Boston, MA:

It’s obvious why churches do this: if it looks like other people are having fun somewhere, it seems more likely that you, as a potential visitor, will have fun also. Since the enjoyment of life is a core Humanist value, why don’t we show ourselves enjoying it on our website? Make sure these images honestly represent the diversity of age, race, class and other factors in your group, as this says something about your community too (its openness, friendliness, cross-generational relevance etc.). But be honest and sensitive: tokenism is not appropriate.

Tell a Story, Tell a Hundred

Many of these churches used videos or posts to showcase member stories. This lets you get to know people in advance and see if you’d like to spend time with them. The featured members tend to reveal something about the church community they particularly like, and their enthusiasm can be infectious. They also, again, serve to reinforce the values of the community, by telling viewers what they care about and why they attend.

Consider this example from Liquid Church in Morristown, NY:

Note the number of formats: single members, a couple, a montage of “Life Change Stories”. Try out all these ways of showcasing your members’ passions!

Use of these strategies will make your community seem more vibrant, exciting and welcoming, and will convey to the public precisely what you are passionate about. This will lead to growth, which in turn will enable you to make greater change in the areas you care about. So, steal these tricks from the churches, and spread Humanist reason, compassion and hope!

About James Croft

James Croft is the Research and Education Fellow at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, and has been working on the Humanist Community Project since its inception. He is a Cambridge and Harvard Graduate, and is currently studying for his Doctorate in the philosophy of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist.

5 comments on “Tricks from the Churches: Websites

  1. Pingback: State of Formation - The Humanist Community Project – Building Communities of Reason, Compassion, and Hope

  2. James,

    I’ve shared with AHA some ideas I’ve had that are totally consistent with your theme here. I’d be happy to share them with you (Blueprint for (a) Humanist Community, 11 pages), and you can decide if you’d like to post them on the site.

  3. Pingback: Anatomy of a Successful Humanist Ad Campaign | The Humanist Community Project

  4. Pingback: Reason, Compassion and Hope in Community: A Response to Criticism for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard | In Our Words

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