In February 2016, my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world. Two weeks later, we were sent into a panic. My wife had recently started a job with a local hospital on an as-needed status. She had basically gone through training and then been put on maternity leave. Two weeks after the birth of our son, she was asked to come back full time at the end of her leave. This meant we needed to suddenly find day care for our child. To complicate matters, the day care associated with our church had eight children already on its waiting list.
Like many parents, we hit full research mode with the first step being a simple search-engine query for day cares in our area. We then started clicking on the webpages that came up. What we wanted to know was simple: What curriculum was used? How many students were in each classroom? Was the school licensed? (Believe it or not, that is an issue where I live.) And finally, were there any reviews or testimonials on the site? Whether the day care was Christian or not, we wanted to know the answers to these questions. Schools lacking that information or making it difficult to find were put on the “last resort” list.
Parents want the most pertinent information clearly displayed and easy to find.
Fast forward to February 2019, when I have recently completed a major project. My church is part of a Lutheran school association that operates one K–8 school, one preschool, and one day care/preschool on a separate campus from the other two. I, along with one of the grade school teachers, just overhauled the schools’ website. It was a long process that included looking at different platforms and trying out a few designs. But before that, we did a lot of reading about what should go on a school website, even a private Christian (in our case Lutheran) school’s. The results of that research changed my mind on what should be displayed.
The old website was functional, but that was about it. It was overcrowded on every single page. On the homepage was a bunch of information about what was going on at the schools with zero information about the schools. The only saving grace was a clear menu header. On the introduction page, it gave a one-paragraph historical overview, a paragraph on the theme for the year, a paragraph on the Control and Government of the schools, two sentences on accreditation, five sentences on “authority” (based on the Word of God), the schools’ mission statement, and then three more paragraphs of history.
Part of our research involved looking at other Lutheran schools’ websites. A pattern quickly emerged. Many of them emphasized their faith by having a mission statement or statement of faith and little else. Many others just had a simple welcome letter from the principal. And still others were much like the school website we already had, overcrowded with what was going on at the school and very little about the school.
Now, I am going to make a controversial statement: both approaches are wrong.
A school website should have a balance of academic and faith content.
It can be hard to strike a balance between faith and academics on a school website. Whether a school is operated as a Lutheran school or a school for Lutherans, faith is an overriding component. After all, we operate our schools as an extension of our homes and churches. We want to teach the children about the faith into which they are baptized; we want to teach about salvation in Jesus freely given through the faith wrought by the Holy Spirit. The problem that can happen here is that the school website can become just another church website. On a “second church website,” very little information is given to prospective families about the educational philosophy or methodology, class sizes, accreditation/certification/licensing, extracurricular activities, and reviews or testimonials about the school.
Websites weighted too much on faith or too much on academics lack crucial information sought by potential families.
The flip side to this is what I call the “too much noise” site. In my research, I found that the biggest culprit on these sites is that they are designed to be this way by companies who solely make school websites. This type of site might be good for a public school because everybody already knows what they are getting: Traditional/Progressive approach, some limits on class sizes but by high school 30+ students per classroom, and tons of extracurriculars. But for a Lutheran school, what a website like this shows is the busyness of the school without really saying anything about it. And just like the “second church website,” it leaves potential families struggling to find out the educational philosophy or methodology, the class sizes, the accreditation/certification/licensing, and reviews or testimonials about the school.
Striking a Balance
The ideal Lutheran school website strikes a balance between academic and faith content. On the homepage, it clearly states in a simple manner the most sought-after information by potential families:
- Are you accredited/certified/licensed and with whom?
- What are the max class sizes?
- What is the curriculum?
- What do people say who have sent their child(ren) there, or what do former students say?
- Are extracurriculars offered?
Along with this information, provide how your faith shapes and guides the school’s educational approach.
The most surprising thing that came up in my research was that when talking with parents who had recently been through or were in the process of looking at schools, not one mentioned pictures being important. As a person who has read a lot about websites, I was thrown for a loop. What I found out was that while pictures are appreciated, almost every single parent did not care if a school website had pictures. What they cared about was the above list.
And this brings me to the next thing about the above list: faith and religious instruction are not on it. The reason for this is blindingly simple: parents looking at private Christian/Lutheran schools assume faith will be a key component of their child’s instruction there.
Potential families assume faith instruction will be a key component in Lutheran education.
Think of it this way. When people visit a church’s website, they expect the church to be what it is: a church. Most potential visitors are not looking for a faith statement or congregational history. Instead, they want the most pertinent information to them: service times. Potential families approach school websites the same way. They already know a Lutheran school is going to instruct the children in the scriptural tenets and truths of Christianity. What they are looking for is answers to the list above.
Potential families also do not want to be overwhelmed with information. What is best is a brief overview of the school’s faith and how that faith plays out in the life of the school. There should also be links to pages on the site that go into further detail (e.g., a detailed description of the school’s curriculum) and an easy-to-navigate menu.
By following the simple rule of having a balance between academic and faith content on your school’s website, you show potential families a clear snapshot of the school and how your faith works with your academics to provide an exceptional educational opportunity for children.
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