04 Feb 5 Keys of Local Baha’i Websites
So, your Local Assembly has finally decided to bite the bullet and authorize the creation of a website for your Baha’i Community. Great! But what should you look for in the finished product? Here are five keys that will help you build a truly high-quality Baha’i website.
Let people know why you exist.
Too obvious? Well, the reason I point this out is because we’re the Baha’i Community. We’re not the big church downtown. We’re not the post office. We’re not something that everyone just knows about. Most people, honestly, still have no clue who the Baha’is are. Therefore, as obvious as it seems to us, it’s important to tell them, sometimes very directly. Perhaps consider adding a purpose statement/tagline under your logo. Maybe think about a main image on the homepage that encapsulates what it means to be a Baha’i in your city. Whatever it is, make it at least a little obvious, without being overbearing.
How do they get to you?
Again, this sounds obvious. But is it? The truth is, in a lot of Local Baha’i websites (by far the majority), if you were to be a seeker looking at it trying to find when and where Baha’i events were happening in your neighborhood, you’d be out of luck. Sure, you could probably click around for a while and learn tidbits about the history of the Faith or read a statement about climate change from the BIC, but good luck finding out when then next devotional is being held. But that’s not what seekers are searching for when they browse your website. Most of the time, they want to find you. Yeah, you, like the people in the Community.
So make sure that you make the events on the calendar front and center, provide directions (and hopefully a map), event times, and even how to dress. How to dress, you say? It’s a big deal for visitors to any religious activity. When I grew up, you had to dress your “Sunday Best” if you wanted to be let in through the doors of the Baptist church. Believe it or not, some places are still like that. Remember, nobody wants to stand out because they dressed inappropriately, especially around people they don’t know. If your Local Community dresses casual at devotions, say so clearly — it can go a long way to removing barriers between people and their Lord.
In general — just let visitors to your site know the details they’ll need to be comfortable when visiting you in person.
Long distance relationships
Believe it or not, there will be a lot of people looking at your website that don’t live anywhere near you. Perhaps a Baha’i family from out of state is going on vacation nearby and would like to attend an event in your Community. Maybe someone is thinking about relocating for work, and is evaluating their options with the quality of the Local Baha’i Community in mind. (We’ve actually had someone contact us through our website with this exact goal in mind). Make it easy for people to drop in at a moment’s notice.
When I moved to my current city, it took me weeks to get in touch with the Baha’is here. Now, I’m a Baha’i, I’ve been one for about half of my life now, and if anyone should be able to figure out how to get in contact with Baha’is on the ground, it should be someone on the inside, right? So if it took me weeks to find the Baha’is, imagine how long it would take a seeker if they didn’t know anybody. If they weren’t super persistent, they might just give up looking for us altogether. Think for a second about that: a seeker, earnestly trying to find Baha’u’llah, stopped in their tracks because the Baha’i Community didn’t care enough to make themselves easy to find. Unacceptable.
You can do better.
Reflect your city honestly
One of the great things about having a website, whether you’re a business, church, or non-profit, is that you can project any image you want, because it’s the internet. DANGER! You will be tempted to try to project the image you want your Baha’i Community to look like onto your website instead of the one that actually exists. I mean, it’s understandable, isn’t it? Who doesn’t want to project themselves in the best light? Wouldn’t it be nice if your Local Community had more Black people, Latinos, Asians, and young people, just like your wider city?
It’s great to aim for diversity, but don’t fake it on your website. Visitors will find out the truth, and they’ll be disappointed. People don’t like being lied to, even if the intentions are good. People who are truly interested in learning about the Faith will show up no matter what the people in your Baha’i Community look like.
Show — Then tell
When people are browsing your website, they’re not just looking at the history of the Faith, our beliefs, or even what activities are going on, though those things are important (especially the activities!). What they really want to see is: Who is in this religious group? What kind of people are they? Are they really part of our city?
A lot of times when you’re looking at a Local Baha’i website, the first thing you notice is a picture of the Shrines in the Holy Land, or a House of Worship in a land far away. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see the Temple in Wilmette. While these places are amazing and even sacred for us, they don’t really have much relevance to seekers. If you have a Baha’i center, show that of course, but the most important thing is to have lots of pictures of the people in your Baha’i Community. Use images and video to show what’s going on. Are you doing study circles? Show pictures! Are you doing Junior Youth empowerment groups? Show pictures! Are you volunteering in soup kitchens? Show pictures! People need to see that your Local Baha’i Community is bigger than just overtly religious events. They want to know that it’s a real community of real people who care about each other and live life together. Progressive beliefs can be very attractive, but without the real spark of human love and activity you’re not showing the whole picture.
Join Caleb as he helps you think about the 5 Keys to building a outwardly oriented Local Baha’i Website.