What Makes a Good Church Web Ministry (Part 3)

OK, here we go!  Let’s look at some examples of real live church websites that I have encountered recently.

As we get into this, let me give a brief explanation of how I am treating these.  Each of these are real websites that are live on the web as of this writing.  I have not manipulated these in any way, except that I have blurred anything that would immediately identify the churches or people involved.  Yes, you could probably figure out the churches if you try hard enough.  They are in public view anyway.  I am only concerned with being as fair as I can in critiquing them.  The second thing that I have done is to format the sites to best fit the image that I snapped of them.  I have also called both of these churches.  In one case (the good example) I ended up having a long and very fruitful conversation with the pastor.  In the case of the other, repeated calls have gone unanswered, and no one has ever answered their phone when I call.  I am curious as to the growth strategy for a church that never returns requests for communication, but that is another issue.  These same stipulations will generally hold true for any church site that I use from this point forward, unless I mention otherwise.

This is a less than effective site Example 2

In the first example, a hand drawn logo is at the top.  The frame is filled with blue, some links line the top under the header, and a few frames show a google map of the church’s location and welcome message.  When I visit the site, I immediately find out that they want to welcome me to their service, when it is, and how to get there.  The pages contain a few grammar errors, and there is a main link that says “under construction.”  On a brighter note, the calendar of events is up to date, although their “Vision Meeting” says something ambiguous about “blessed pot.”  Maybe they will have an influx of local community college students.  Another thing of note is that their google map on the home page is a screenshot, not an interactive google map.

Example 2 is a different story.  I am not holding this up as the paradigm for church websites, and I think that the design is quite old.  But immediately on accessing the site there is a wide range of stuff that grabs my attention.  There is a quick link to the sermon podcast that is up to date, there are some quick links for location and contacting in the upper right (you can’t see this well on the screenshot). and the phone number is there too.  The tabs are clean, and there is a slide show advertising a sermon series, picture galleries, and some shots of their location right at the top.  The events calendar is at the bottom of the homepage (not on this screenshot).  They did do one of my pet-peeves, though.  The senior pastor’s picture is right at the top, and there is a picture of the senior pastor and his wife less than an inch away near the welcome message.

This is one of those things that is just not well thought through, and a note to pastors:  OK, you are married.  Unless you are Rick Warren or Erwin McManus we don’t need to see lots of pictures of you and your family on the homepage.  People go to your site for a couple main reasons.  If they are thinking of attending your church, or if they are a current attender they might be looking for new information.  People are seldom looking to check out a church because you are the pastor.  They won’t know you until they come to your church usually.  One picture is fine if it looks professional.  A future entry will discuss building community through your site, and introducing your staff through the site.  This is not the way to do it.

Tied to that is the picture with “John and Jane Smith, Pastors” caption underneath.  If both spouses are equally in ministry together, they should have their own separate pictures.  People can figure out that they are married.  Another picture on the “Bios” area can have the two together with the family.  This is almost never the case, though.  In most cases the church just lists it that way because they think it is the new kitschy and inclusive thing to do.  That is not what is communicated to outsiders.  When the CEO of Apple puts his picture up with his wife and “Steve and Laureen Jobs, CEOs” underneath, then you can too.  Until then, it communicates unprofessionalism, and outsiders just think it looks weird.  We don’t need to copy the world, but we should try and keep from creating an out-of-touch subculture.

I know I ranted on this point, but it is a big issue.   -Ryan

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What Makes a Good Church Web Ministry (Part 2)

See part 1 here

Starting with the next post. I’ll start to get to where the proverbial rubber meets the road.  I am doing this quickly in this course of this blog because I believe that practicality is the name of the game.  We could discuss paradigms of effective communication in the Internet Age all day long and it won’t give any church an increased ability to do ministry online more effectively.  It might be best to look at some examples and then maybe pull back and see why what works.  I think that this might be more effective because of what I call the People/Code Dilemma.

codeThe People/Code Dilemma works like this:  The people who are usually great at developing websites are the people who like to look at code.  To them the WordPress tagline, “Code is Poetry,” rings true.  They like to look at numbers and formulas, and prefer things to be neat and logical.  These are not usually the people who are in church ministry.  Church ministry people are very often people people.  They realize that people are emotional and often illogical.  Looking at formulas is usually the last thing that these people want to do.  Sometimes, it is difficult for these people to communicate together in a way that makes an effective website.

To illustrate this further, I often work with a particular company that manages the CMS (Content Management System) for many of our company’s clients.  I am in a really unique relationship with them because I am a retail partner with them, and I am a user of their system through my own ministry.  Though I am definitely not a programmer/designer, I have realized as of late that my ministry uses their CMS at a level that is far above any of their other clients.  In fact, in a recent call one of their service guys told me that I know more about the CMS than any one person that they have.  This is not to say that I am brilliant.  It is just that each one of their programmers knows the code and functionality of one specific piece, but those people don’t know how to relate what they do to the whole of the system, or one particular customer’s need.

This means that in your average church, the people who have a vision to do ministry online don’t know anything about how to implement it.  The people who know how to implement the ideas often don’t have the people knowledge to connect the code to actual ministry application.

So what is the solution?  I would love to say “Do this and it will solve all your problems.”  I’d be lying.  There is no quick fix.  There are some general best practices that work well.  I’ll be listing and explaining them as they come along.  But, I will start out by saying this: Whatever you can do as a church to get your online ministry out of the hands of the techies in your church, and into the hands of the people of the church, the better.  No, you (pastor) are not going to be blogging weekly on your site and adding new picture galleries.  You may think you will, and you might for the first couple months, but then life is going to happen, and you’ll stop.

Like anything in ministry, whatever you can do to get the ministry of the church to be done by the people in the church and not just the paid staff,  will lead to success.  If you have hospitality food ministry, you need people in your church to take ownership of that  Otherwise, the pastors will get burned out, or other things won’t get done.  It is the same for the web.  Techies are nice and valuable people, but we do not need to burden them with things they can’t handle.

[A guy right behind me at the coffee shop just spilled coffee all over his laptop while I was writing this—but I think it is OK]

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Check out Part 3 of this series

10 Ways that Churches can Improve Communication

communicate It seems that the Information Age has been one of the most aptly named epochs in history.  The popular meme may be true, that the average American accesses more information every day than was accessed by our grandparents in their entire lifetimes.  But even if it isn’t, no one can deny that everywhere we turn some advertisement, announcement, print ad, or electronic message is vying for our attention.  The advent of the Internet has done nothing but make matters worse.  Now, instead of a couple dozen pieces of junk mail in my mailbox, I have an email box full of “cheap replica watches,” “free iPods” and unmentionable others.  Unfortunately, the church is doing a worse job at communicating that most of these spammers in my inbox.  Here are 10 ideas for your church to improve communication. Continue reading “10 Ways that Churches can Improve Communication”

What Are We Doing Here Anyway?

This blog really stems from who I am.  I am a youth pastor/church planter, Internet entrepeneur, and the husband of an awesome woman from Taiwan.  I have a passion for writing, seeing the Church use communication technology (specifically the Internet) in the most effective way possible, and helping to grow Christianity in America into what Jesus intended it to be.  I blog about these things here in separate pages according to these various themes.

What Makes a Good Church Web Ministry (Part 1)

It is time for a paradigm shift among most churches when it relates to the web.  This starts with the very nomenclature that is used to describe it.

Most churches “have a website.”  That is great!  Who doesn’t?  Most churches look at their “website” the way everyone did about 15-20 years ago, Web 1.0.  They have a site that includes some information about the church.  This is so that people who find the site will know what time the service is, how to get there, and maybe some info about how to dress and etc.  This paradigm looks at the site as a thing, sort of like a yellow-pages ad (really bad idea!) or a billboard on the freeway (in most cases an even worse idea).  It is a thing that displays information.

Might I suggest an idea that really came into my mind while preparing to speak about this very subject at a national conference last summer?  We need to stop thinking of church websites as a thing, and instead as a place.

As long as your church website is a billboard (or as we in the industry call it, an “ebrochure”) it will have no life, few visitors, and will be a waste of your resources.  Even with a free site donated by someone in the church, you get what you pay for.  I have talked to hundreds of pastors, and I have yet to hear one tell me that the free site donated to the church a year ago has been a great source of life and growth.

Instead, look at your website the same way that you do part of your building.  You church website is the sign out front, the foyer where people first make their impressions of who you are as a body, the Fellowship Hall where people gather, the sanctuary where people meet with God.  If you change your paradigm from thing to place, you have started in the right direction.

But that leaves one little detail unanswered.  You can’t really call it a website anymore.  A website is a thing.  To me “web ministry” better defines what churches end up with when they start thinking this way.  I will continue calling it that.  This blog is really meant for those who want a web ministry.  Folks who are looking for a website would do well to look up angelfire (do they still exist?).

Ryan

Check out Part 2

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A Great Church Tech blog

Drew of Monk Development, who makes Ekklesia360 (one of our partners at Epiphany Systems), just did a big Church web survey.  He blogs about some of the things that they discovered on his site: www.goodmanson.com.  I can’t even begin to describe how enlightening the webmeeting that we had the other day was.  I’ll include more of my thoughts as they coalesce.

Muchas gracias to Jon Bourne for using his secret spy tactics to share this with me.