Heal Your Church WebSite

Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

1st Impressions 2

Plan Diligently

The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.

For those of you in a hurry, here it is, short and sweet. The best looking
sites are more often than not the best planned sites. Or as I’ve had to remind
more than one programmer under my wings:

It is cheaper easier to make your mistakes on paper than in code.

Perhaps the biggest mistake I see with church websites are those instances
where someone or some group says "hey, we need a web presence" …
goes out and buys a tool like FrontPage, then hacks out a web site. Don’t do
this, I don’t care how tempting it is, just say NO! And if I can’t convince
you of this, maybe God can:

Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than
for him. Proverbs

Personality & Purpose

So where do you start? Well, here is what I do.

  1. Collect printed materials for the church/organization.
  2. Sit down and talk with those in charge, and if possible, those really running
    the show.
  3. Chit-chat with new-comers and new members about what attracted them.
  4. Physically walk the facility during various points in the day and week.
  5. If it’s a church, observe their worship, their prayer times, attend various
    Bible studies.
  6. If it’s a church, read or listen to past sermons.
  7. If it’s a para-church/charity, visit those who’ve been helped.

What I am after with all this information gathering is a good, lucid and easy
to state picture of the PERSONALITY of the church &/or organization. Say
what you like, but these days, those who do go to church, or get involved with
an charity, do so because they feel a connection with the PEOPLE that comprise
the congregation or organization. Certainly much of it has to do with the BELIEFS
and the MISSION of such charities, but only to the extent that these PURPOSES
are exhibited by the congregation/people who make up the organization.

If I can’t obtain this information, then it may indicate a group that needs
to get it’s act together before getting on the web. If I can get a handle on
the organization’s TRUE personality and purpose, then I attempt to boil it down
into a single sentence or two that is easy to remember and recite. For example,
Redland Baptist is "a grace-driven church for a grace-needing world."
Once I have that, I then try to sum up the entire organization in one or two
brief and easy to understand paragraphs. There is plenty of time to go into
gory detail once you get the individual in the doors.

Know Your Audience

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke

Which brings me to my next point, now that you’ve figured out what you’re saying,
determine whom you’re saying it to. Now some might disagree and say that targeting
your audience is your first step, and if I were running a business website,
I would agree. However, which churches, it cannot be so if the church wishes
to remain loyal to its commission. In other words, it’s one thing to be "all
things to all men
." It’s quite another to "conform
to the pattern of the world
." Hence, I strongly suggest you select
your audience AFTER determining your organization’s personality and purpose
to avoid the temptation of playing the virtual chameleon.

What I have found is that there are two or three main categories of audience:

  • someone looking for a church to visit
  • someone who attends the church looking for information
  • someone looking for educational resources

While your mileage may vary, once you have determined your audience(s), you
need to "package" your purpose and personality at these targets. What
I do is grab a legal pad, and create bullet points of the content I intend to
distribute, for example:

  • welcome message
  • history of the organization
  • calendar of events
  • relevant links
  • the staff

… in other words, you should be engaged in what technicians call a "brain
dump," where you just LIST every idea for content you have.

Atomize & Organize

Once you’ve dumped-a-bunch-o-brain-cells, you need to begin organizing your
material into categories. For example:

  • about our church – welcome message, staff, contacts
  • calendar of events – weekly, specials
  • resources – sermons, classes, links
  • ministries – youth, seniors, missions

At this point, I usually grab a stack of 8×5 note cards, and begin to scribble
content. If the content is too much to fit on a card, then it’s going to be
too much to fit on a single page. What I generally do is create an "upper
level" of note cards that have brief explanation and bullet points. Then,
for each bullet point, there is another card that describes each point in detail.

The beauty of this approach is that each note card becomes a page on your website.
That said, I would strongly recommend keeping your hierarchy no more than 2
levels deep.

Determine Who and How Much

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down
and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? Luke

Real simple, how much money can you spend on this? Who is going to develop
it? Who is going to maintain it?

Even though you’re likely to turn this responsibility to a ready and willing
church member, remember that in today’s transient society, such members may
not always available. Moreover, publishing information online means imbuing
these persons with a certain amount of trust. Something I’ll discuss in a bit
more detail in a moment.

To publish and maintain this site, you are going to need internet access. And
unless you are ready for the technical and security hassles of running your
own server, you’re going to need some sort of web hosting service. There are
also the costs of changing letter head to include your domain name. Oh yeah,
did I mention the cost of obtaining and retaining your domain name ?

It all adds up. Not taking the costs into consideration usually means a site
that goes uncompleted, or dies in mid flight.

Avoid Hidden Agendas

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the
other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. Matthew

One of the reasons I want you to think about your message, then your audience,
then what you’re going to say is so you avoid yet another major pitfall I find.
The dubious hidden agenda.

Part of the mission of the Church is to seek and save the lost. This means
having some needy and dysfunctional persons as members. More than once, I’ve
seen such individuals take control of a church publishing project to a degree
that the church and/or organization is held hostage.

One way to avoid this is to establish chains of accountability, and to make
sure that more than one person has the keys to the Kingdom. For example, at
Redland, I not only share the webmaster responsibilities, passwords, etc. with
another person, but we’re both answerable to pastor and the church administrator.

Pray for Wisdom

One last word of advice … make sure you include God in your plans. The last
thing we need are webmasters rushing into the web in the same manner as Uzzah
grabbed the ark

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to
all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. James