These days, the website has superseded virtually all other forms of advertising. It is the first place that a parent will go when considering where to enroll their child, and that first decision is not undertaken lightly; nor will it be changed over the ensuing twelve years without good reason. It is therefore critical for Christian schools to have a website that presents their ministry to a prospective family as accurately and winsomely as possible.
When designing a website, it is important to think through some very fundamental questions:
1. Who is the primary audience?
2. Who are the secondary audiences?
3. What is important for each audience?
4. What does a website do best compared to other forms of communication?
Who is the Primary Audience?
Many people mention parents or teachers, and some will suggest students or the public in general. Any of these could be true for public schools, but they are all wrong as far as Christian schools go. It is important to remember some of the many distinctions between a public school and a Christian school. Too many Christian schools pattern their websites after what they see in other schools without thinking carefully about these differences.
First, most public schools are neighborhood schools. That is, families who live in the neighborhood send their children to that school simply because of geographic proximity. Even where choice options exist, 90% of families do not avail themselves of the option. Simply put, they chose their school when they chose their home. Their enrollment will rise or fall primarily in line with the economic fortunes of their neighborhood.
Christian schools are different. They are all schools of choice. While time and distance are factors in determining which Christian school a family might choose, the decision to attend a Christian school is primarily a function of faith and funds, not location. Enrollment rises and falls in part on the economy, but primarily it is a function of the ministry being provided to the children.
Principle #1: The primary function of a Christian school website is to communicate with prospective families.
Parents, teachers, and students are already involved in and committed to the school. They understand the mission and values, and they will be willing to drill down a couple of clicks to get information on the latest school events. Prospective families don’t know what the school is all about and are certainly less inclined to click through numerous menus to find out. This leads directly to the second principle:
Principle #2: Put first things first.
To do this, a school must answer the question, “What is of central importance to us?” If that answer includes things like an excellent program of character development and academic training, then those things should be front and center on the home page. I have visited many a Christian school website where, other than the name, there was nothing that clearly communicated that the school was filled with people who were sold out and on fire for Jesus Christ. The reason every Christian school exists is to expand the kingdom of God by educating the next generation of children. If the mission of the school is its driving and burning passion, and if the mission statement clearly communicates this, then the mission statement should prominently appear on the home page.