One of the non-technical books that inspired me to create Heal Your Church Web Site is Franky Schaeffer’s Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts. In the book he talks about how the Church has lost its influence on society by losing its influence on art, music and other forms of media. Had the book not been written in 1981, I’m suspect Mr. Schaeffer would have included the Internet, possibly citing web sites such as Grace Baptist Church – Bowie, Maryland.
This web site was brought to my attention by a long time friend of mine who is both diciplined in the area of the visual arts as well as in the field of computer technology. He asked me lay healing hands his church’s website in hopes that they would modify their web presence so the virtual reality would match the physical reality of what goes on inside Grace Baptist, which my friend describes in his email:
Our lay ministry staff includes Dr. Harten, the Dean at Capitol Bible College..as well as other professors from there. Annual budget is about 1.5 mil with 28% going to missions.
My friend goes on, but the point is we have a very talented church with a large pool of resources and matching funds who’s first impression is something low-budget and, IMHO, rinky-dink. I know that’s pretty harsh, but I’ve been around similar churches of similar stature and budgets, I know they’re capable of much more.
Something else bothers me here. The redirect sends you to a CGI script, who’s only purpose I can discern is to engage you in a slide-show. Now while I do think that pictures make for good compelling church content, forcing first time visitors into a slide-show application is confusing. Maybe all they wanted was the calendar of events, driving directions or the times church services are held? Maybe they want to see sermons or what the church believes. None of that can be found on the front page. In fact, there is nothing on the front page at all indicating that such information exists! Instead, just links to the photo galleries.
Now about this slide show. If I’m going to force my users into a slide-show up-front, then at least use one that creates or uses thumbnail images giving your user the option to see the physically huge image by clicking on the physically smaller picture. Instead, the current application only “virtually resizes” the HUGE original image via the height and width arguments of the <img> tag. As I’ve said this in numerous articles before, this DOES NOT physically reduce the size of the image. Take for example the image 6 of 15 for Theme Day 2001. The 480 x 640 image is almost 46kb in size. The <img> tag only makes it “appear” smaller … though load-times tell no lies. Had the webservant used a gallery program that physically reduced the image to a 200×267 thumbnail, the image on the front page would have been less than 8kb. Considering the impact on one’s dial-up users, that is a huge difference.
So I clicked on the link entitled “Church Photo Gallery” … another CGI program that led me to yet another menu. So I clicked on the first choice, “Children’s Photos.” Same CGI program, and YET ANOTHER set of links. So I click on the first link, “Acorn Choir.” Would you believe it? Yet another set of links, ubiquitously named “Photo 1, Photo 2 …” all sans the ALT argument. To get back home, I have to click on a link entitled “Photo Gallery Home Page” and then choose between three links [GBC Front Page] [GBC Graphics Home Page] [GBC Text Home Page] .
So now I’m even more confused. What’s the difference between their front page and their home page(s)? I can only assume that the ‘front page’ serves the purpose of a ‘splash page’ … and we all know how purposeful and useful those are. So I click on the middle link, the GBC Graphics Home Page. What do I find? Jesus Junk, cheap graphics and a page that hasn’t been updated since June of 2001. Though the scariest animated gif was the one that said the page was best viewed with Nestcape 3.0!!!
So I click on the “What’s New” link … which apparently didn’t make it out of the millennium. Since there are no convenient text buttons of the main menu along the bottom of the page, I hit the back button. Then I check out the events. Better. There is one event and two sub-menu links. I hit the back button again, and go for the church staff page. Yet another level of links. So I click on the “Pastor” link. More cheap graphics (divider and background images), and not much text. Which makes me wonder if all these little staff subpages couldn’t be consolidated into a single staff page with small tight headshots and the terse descriptions. One less level of navigation == one less confused seeker.
And so it goes with the rest of the site. So what would I do to heal the pages? First I would map out these deeply nested pages then figure out ways of of reducing the levels of navigation; as I suggested in the previous paragraph regarding the consolidated staff page. As I consolidate, I would add more content to each section. I would then lose the ‘splash-page-front-page-slide-show-thingie’ and find a template that would include a menu along the left side that would include the major areas of ministry this church offers. This wouldn’t be too hard since these areas have already been defined on the [GBC Text Home Page]. I’d pick a consistent color and font scheme and stick with it. I’d add some more compelling such as adding the text of the sermons. Finally, I’d find a graphics gallery that would provide a simpler interface to the many pictures this webservant has accumulated.
In other words, there is enough of a hierarchy and content to make a rather nice site in a relatively short amount of time. Its just a matter of reading the rules and then putting them into practice.