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


7 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Church Web Ministry (Part 3)

  1. Hi Ryan

    These are certainly valuable thoughts on a vital issue.

    Have you seen our church site self-assessment tool at
    where we also try to look at these things.



  2. Actually Tony, I had not yet seen your stuff. I am very intrigued by it, and have looked through your site. I can think of some real possibilities there. Please email me when you get a chance. I have some resources that might be able to help you.

  3. Pingback: What Makes a Good Church Web Ministry (Part 2) @ Come on in

  4. Just to point this out to you Ryan, and Tony if he still reads this – MySpace is a horribly designed site, usually failing any evaluation you could give it. But it is one of the most popular sites on the web. Research and figures are starting to indicate that most people care less about design as much as they care about socializing on the web.

    That is starting to become one of my pet peeves online, is people that put up ways to see if you have a good site or not, and then put up a list of Web design 101 stuff. That stuff is good to think about, but really only matters as an after thought. Websites that do not take in to any account anything about social connectivism are pretty much drying up and dying, no matter how well they are designed.

    This last week I presented on “Will Web 3.0 change how we educate?” at a conference. Web 2.0 is starting to fade, and we as the church are still worried about Web 1.0 stuff like colors and use of Christianese phrases? (I actually did a little experiment once and found that all of my non-Christian waiter co-workers in college were confused by a very famous Christian’s writings that were used as examples of “Christianese-free language.” It was quite hilarious).

    I guess I have a hard time seeing web design having anything to do with web “ministry”. Good web design just gives you an online pamphlet to look at. Ministry actually implies connecting with someone in a social manner of some kind. Maybe you will cover that next, so sorry if I am jumping the gun for part 4 or 5 🙂

  5. Matt,

    Great point, and as always, thanks for the comment. I would be very interested in hearing the information from that conference, as well as the specifics of your water cooler survey.

    I completely agree with your function trumps form argument (reducing your point, I know). That is why at Epiphany Systems, we are focused on these aspects of social connectivity. In my analysis of the websites on this page, I am in part 3 of what will be a long look at all aspects of web ministry.

    I wanted to start with simple things everyone could see at a really rudimentary level. If I stopped with this, it would be ignorant, but please travel with me along this path. I am really interested in your thoughts on all of this.

    This post had to do with design, because I know that most ministry professionals will be looking to analyze things at that level first. I am trying to show people what works, just on an immediate “first look” basis.

  6. Well, re-reading my comment, I sound a bit too cranky. Shouldn’t make comments late at night before I go to bed – sorry! To be honest, I think I am really just bitter about this issue of design. I went to check out some hot selling book on killer web design a few years back and it was basically my art design 101 class from college re-written for web people. If I had known that people didn’t know that basic stuff, I could have written the same book and made a fortune! So, call me bitter on that one 🙂

  7. Sorry, Bitter. You should write a book. I’ve read some of your stuff on your sites—some good writing. Just keep in mind as you read this stuff, that my intended primary audience is not web-pros, or even pro-sumer types.

    I am mostly writing to church ministry types who have much less knowledge about these things. There is still a big belief out there that all you need is a cool-looking website with your service times and a map. Most churches look at more than that as a massive luxury.

    I even ran into a church recently that was spending over a hundred dollars monthly for a yellow pages ad, but balked at spending more than $30 monthly on a website. I talked to a large church today in Tennessee who told me that they had just launched an expensive website. I didn’t know what to say. It looked like an AngelFire site with a homemade logo. That is who I’m trying to reach. In coming posts I will be discussing less design, and more Web 2.0 theory.

    Please, keep up your comments, even the cranky ones. If you totally disagree with me on something, write it up and I’ll either link to it, or put it up here under your name. I love it! Keep it up 😀

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