Last week, I spoke to a reporter from the NY Times. The reporter wanted to some insights the on level of impact the Internet has on bricks-n-mortar religious institutions. My reply was that though more and more people “shop” for churches online before paying a visit in person, there is still a great cloud of witlessness with regards church webmastes who are just not “getting it.”
Case in point: the website for the Bay View Baptist Church of Chula Vista. Note, I said the website, not the church. Dig deep past the 1999′isms such as a DHTML fly-in, broken script, beveled pictures, technicolor, multi-font text, all bold, all centered, all shouting and irregularly underlined, you will eventually find a hyperlink to their newsletter and a missions pages. Both pages indicate to me a genuinely Christ-centered institution getting it done for God.
The problem is, I’m not most persons as I’m digging in to provide a balanced review. Instead, the average user is going to see all this spurious stuff and fluff and right click to the back click button. In other words, though Bay View Baptist likely has an illuminating message, it is currently hidden under a basket of hackneyed contrivances and clichés.
“People expect certain things from certain sites. They expect to see a logo in the top left corner of the page, and they expect links to do certain things. Overall, users expect navigation to be in a certain place, and their expectations should be met.” – Vincent Flanders
So what would I do to heal this church website? First, before writing a single line of code, I would train the church staff and those laypersons involved with the website that the Internet is not television, movies or other visual media but rather is a medium unique unto itself. I’d teach them that visitors to their site aren’t going to find their site on a search engine because of a flying logo. Nor are seekers and members going to visit the site that often or long because it doesn’t directly answer their questions or solve their problems.
Once this is done, I would then take those involved with the website through the process of creating user profiles. During that same time, I would also gather up everything the church has in print and organize it into an outline that can be presented online.
Only after all this would I begin to discuss graphics, pictures, layout, look-n-feel, usability, navigation and accessibility; and try to convince them to delete their current website and start over.
How about you? Run into church websites where it’s clear they don’t get it? What are some other aspects of “not getting it” that bug you? Leave a comment and we’ll discuss.