Every church has a message to share. And nearly every established church these days has a website in which it promotes and “brands” its church and message. Doctrine aside, I thought it would be insightful to see just how the top 20 churches in America (in terms of reported membership) go about visually communicating their messages on their respective official church websites.
Below you’ll find a collection of visual images and a description of what I found in a brief survey of each website. What you’ll find may be surprising. I found that of the top 20 Christian churches, only 3 actively use images of Jesus Christ on their site. Most churches don’t visually emphasize church doctrine or principles, but rather emphasize recent news in the church or upcoming conventions, concerts, and speaking series. Most of the churches choose to advertise programs or other websites and they promote their bookstores and other products for purchase. Some churches emphasize healthy living, taking care of the poor, and providing relief during disasters. Some have a really strong emphasis on the leadership of their church, directing readers to church hierarchy and important people.
One thing you’ll want to notice from each church is whether or not they are incorporated. You’ll find an interesting connection between the churches that have a “.com” website address and their visual emphasis on money-making conventions. The .org sites tend to be focused more on doctrinal and faith-based issues (but not all).
If you’re wondering how your church visually promotes its message in comparison to the others, check out the top 20 below, listed in order of largest denomination to smallest. (Statistics from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research).
#1 The Catholic Church - 68,202,492 American members
The Catholic church’s official website has a heavy visual emphasis on the leadership of the church (primarily the Pope and cardinals) and on great edifices and other structures owned by the church. Some religious symbolism, such as the cross and dove can be found, but they are minimal in comparison to leadership buildings.
#2 Southern Baptist Convention - 16,136,044 American members
The Southern Baptist Convention has a heavy visual emphasis on upcoming events (revivals, speakers, and annual meetings) and donations. Other images images include small photos that promote attending camps, listening to speakers, having patience with spouses, and helping the needy.
#3 The United Methodist Church - 7,679,850 American members
The United Methodist Church has a strong visual emphasis on multiculturalism and global collaboration. The website is designed much like a news magazine and also presents many thumbnails of news stories around the globe.
#4 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) – 6,157,238 American members
Perhaps the most image-rich of all the denominations’ websites, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon Church) has a heavy visual emphasis on daily living according to Jesus Christ’s teachings. Images emphasize service, strong family relationships, praying, friendship, forgiving, marriage, giving humanitarian aid, sharing the gospel, and remembering heritage. It is one of the few websites that displays actual images of Jesus Christ.
#5 The Church of God in Christ - 5,499,875
The Church of God in Christ has a heavy visual emphasis on registering for upcoming events, mostly large conferences and convocations. Other images encourage donations, honor church leadership, show church hierarchy.
#6 National Baptist Convention , U.S.A. , Inc. - 5,197,512 American members
The National Baptist Convention has a heavy visual emphasis on upcoming events. There is also a strong visual connection to church leadership and voting. Some imagery emphasizes black heritage and donating to the church.
#7 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - 4,274,855 American mebers
Another image-rich site, the Evangelical Lutheran Church has a strong visual emphasis on global outreach and service to the community. Images emphasize starting Christian conversations and giving to those in need. Images also encourage praying and reading the bible.
#8 National Baptist Convention of America , Inc. - 3,500,000 American members
The National Baptist Convention of America has a strong visual emphasis on attending upcoming events. Images also encourage subscribing to events and purchasing new books and manuals on Christian topics. Images emphasize importance of church leadership.
#9 Assemblies of God - 3,030,944 American members
Assemblies of God’s website is design much a like a news website with images emphasizing articles and stories around the church. Images advertise other church affiliated websites about following Christ, purchasing Christian resources, and the Assemblies of God Trust. Images also emphasize attending upcoming conferences.
#10 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) - 2,675,873 American members
A site with relatively fewer images than the others, the images from the Presbyterian Church’s website spotlight local congregations, advertise news and events, and encourage attending workshops and summer camps for youth.
#11 African Methodist Episcopal Church - 2,500,000 American members
One of the least image-rich of the churches listed here, what few visuals exist on the website strongly emphasize leadership and church hierarchy. Images encourage reading messages from the leaders, show how the church is structured, and where members can find active bishops.
#12 National Missionary Baptist Convention of America - 2,500,000 American members
Another site with relatively few images, the National Missionary Baptist Conventional of America has a visual emphasis on leadership in the church and attending conventions.
#13 The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS) - 2,278,586
The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has a strong visual emphasis on upcoming events and conventions. Images advertise church radio stations and donating to disaster response. Other images ask “Who Is Jesus” and advertise articles that provide relief to those who suffer natural disasters.
#14 The Episcopal Church – 1,951,907 American members
The Episcopal Church takes an artistic approach to their website. Their images depict events within the church, both historical and contemporary that define what the church is today. This is one of the few websites that actually includes images of Jesus Christ.
#15 Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. - 1,800,000 American members
A very commercial website, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World has a heavy visual emphasis on attending their conventions. Visual emphasis is made to declare sold out events, hotel accommodations for events, and subscription magazines that advertise the church.
#16 Churches of Christ – 1,639,495 American members
#17 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America - 1,500,000 American members
With the use of artwork and imagery of older leadership, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has a strong visual emphasis on history and antiquated approaches to Christianity.
#18 The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church - 1,400,000 American members
Very image-rich, the website for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church has a strong visual emphasis on taking care of oneself and taking care of others. Images emphasize having health insurance, getting eye exams, helping those suffering during disasters, giving to relief programs, attending college, and going to conventions.
#19 American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. - 1,308,054 American members
The American Baptist Churches USA has a strong visual emphasis in highlighting church activities. Images emphasize involvement in the recent church summit, concerts, and in activities that involved giving to the poor.
#20 Jehovah’s Witnesses - 1,184,249 American members
Another image-rich site, Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize the preaching of the gospel to all the world. Images emphasize the reading of the bible and subscribing to their magazine, The Watchtower. Images provoke inquiry by questioning “Should You Trust Religion” and “Is Protest the Answer”?