“Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do
not fight like a man beating the air.” – I Cor. 9:26
Imagine running a marathon, or stepping into a boxing ring blindfolded? Unless you are used to being visually impaired to the degree of legal blindness, this would be a pretty stupid thing to do. Yet this is exactly what I see happening with so many church websites today. They, like many under-funded endeavors, have felt the pressure to present a web presence, but without the benefit of careful planning.
… we get church and para-church websites so chock-full-o-junk that they drive people away even before all the spinning animated gifs and cheesy MIDI files can load. Or worse, church’s whose websites greet us with nonfunctional splash pages … more often than not, using a bloated, non-streaming Flash presentation. Either that, or we get some page that looks old, cranky and stuffy.
Whatever evil befalls these sites, they all confirm an axiom I’ve heard over-and-over again at oh-so-many conferences and studies that asserts:
In case you haven’t figure it out, let me get to the heart of this lesson. You don’t need alot of money or even all that much computer savvy to create an effective website, just so long as you are willing compensate for your lack of talents by carefully planning everything.
That said, one of the very first things you need to determine is who are you trying to reach with your website … and what are you trying to say to them? And considering that you have only about 10 seconds to get the average web-surfer’s attention, what type of first impression are you trying to make?
“I stand at the door and knock” – Revelation
I love parody, especially at my own expense. Perhaps that’s why I often find myself drawn to the Mystery Worshipper project, run by the good folks at ship-of-fools.com, “the online magazine of Christian unrest.” This project showcases volunteer reporters who visit churches of all denominations worldwide, leaving only a calling card in the collection plate. After which, these anonymous visitors post their impressions based upon a stock 15 question criteria. It is absolutely amazing to see how many churches blow the simplest things when it comes to making visitors feel welcome.
The same is true with so many church-related websites. Which is why, over the next few weeks, I’m going to compile a list of proverbs and commandments which I’ll eventually boil down into a checklist-like criteria that I can use to critique sites here, and that you can use to evaluate you’re own site. So without further adieu …
- Who am I? Why am I here?
If you don’t know, or are misguided as to your purpose … then your page will surely show it.
- For God is not a God of disorder but of peace
If you are not organized in your approach and layout … then your page will become about as inviting as a noisy gong or an incessantly clanging cymbal..
- Break a Vase
There is a difference between being cheap, and being on a restricted budget … if you choose cheap, then expect to be perceived as giving God your second best.
- No one can serve two masters.
If you are doing this page to pad your resume, or feed your ego … then don’t expect your visitors to feel like their needs have been served.
- They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders,
If you don’t respect your user’s bandwidth or intelligence … then expect them to show contempt for your work, and leave.
- A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket.
Don’t obfuscate your navigation and don’t pick a stupid domain name … instead, learn how to effectively create search-engine friendly content that answers the questions your community is asking.
For those of you about to publish, or with sites already out there on the web, I’d like to offer you my patented 5 Hezekiah Rule. This rule essentially asks several questions about your site that need to be answered before you can count:
“1 Hezekiah, 2 Hezekiah, 3 Hezekiah, 4 Hezekiah 5 Hezekiah.“
Think of this as a criteria or checklist you need to apply to your home page, or whichever page your visitors surf to first:
- Does the page load by the time you’re done counting?
- Does the site plainly state who you are and what you are doing?
- Is the navigation conspicuous and intuitive?
- Does the user feel welcomed, respected, and wanted?
- Does your page look like a ministry rather than an 8th grade web-project?
Unless you can objectively answer all five of these questions with an emphatic yes, then you run the risk of wasting your visitor’s time and bandwidth … which means when the click to go somewhere else, you’ve lost a potential member, contributor and or opportunity to minister.
To avoid this… I’ll say this one more time … before you write a single line of code, invest time in outline your website’s message, layout, target audience and navigation scheme. More on how to do this later.