Heal Your Church WebSite


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

You need to explain the difference

An interesting thing happened to me while sitting poolside here at Aqaba, Jordan. I was talking to an individual who works for one of the larger Christian marketing firms. He wants to develop a lay-ministry website for a neighborhood prayer ministry. Like many people I run into via Heal Your Church Website, he’s brilliant within his chosen vocation, and knows which end of the mouse of the computer to speak into, he’s no geek.

Its for these reasons he’s registered a domain and has subscribed to the web-development services offered by Register.com.

I mentioned that perhaps a blog-driven format might suit him better since his site is more current events oriented. Just type the post, no HTML in involved. He shrugged his shoulder and replied “well, I can do that with register.com.”

I didn’t reply. Instead, I just looked out over the beautiful blue waters of the Red Sea and thought that when I get back, I need to think of a way of describing the differences between a turnkey static website management system such as those offered by Register.com and the services one might get from a dynamic publishing system such as TypePad.

And more than explain the differences, explain why one would be better than another depending on the user’s context. Oh yes, and be able to explain it in non-techical geek terms.

How about you, un in to this much? If so, how have you explained it. Leave comments.

28 Comments

  1. It’s a tough difference to explain to someone, especially if they’re new to maintaining a web site. I’ve struggled with this very issue at Ridge Point – the average understanding of a web site is a structure, that, when you have new content, you find a place in the structure, plug it in, and forget about it.

    The blog approach of rolling, time-based, only on the home page for so long then it gets pushed down way of structuring content is radically different.

    I keep getting asked “where on the home page can we link to ___”, and I say “blog about it”. They say – “But then it goes away when new posts are added”. I say “then blog about it again, give an update, tell a story, tell me what’s changed”. Inevitably the answer is “I don’t have time for that”.

    The frustrating thing is I know how much more effective a blog-style approach to promoting things can be, and how little time, really, it would take them to post an update.

    I think in their mind, no matter how many times I say a post doesn’t have to be long, they still are in the “page” mentality where anything new they put on the site has to pretty much fill the screen. Add in the traditional workflow for publishing anything new (authored, revised, internal audit, revise, audit again, approve, etc) and it would be overwhelming.

    What I try to sell about the blog approach is that “maintenance” really just becomes “add the new stuff”, and the site does the rest – pushing down the older content, chunking it into archives, etc. With a more traditional site you’re also tasked with getting rid of old content yourself.

  2. On the tech end, I would think that the benefits of comments, trackback and archiving would be enough to sell anybody on a blog-based site rather than a simple DIY-wizard type of option. I would also think that being able to customize the app (with a little help in this case) would also be a big plus, though I’m not sure how much TypePad is customizable. I beta-tested it and had a tough time finding access to the raw HTML.

    On the personal end, though, I would say that community is a big thing. The ability one has to communicate with and link with other TypePad users…and other bloggers in general, would make his site more accessible. The weblog is just such an accessible format, and one that people are so familiar with…I think it would lend itself to really helping this guy rather than hindering him.

  3. I am in total agreement, but there is a specter that lurks behind this, at least at my church (which went with a service similar to what it sounds like register.com offers, though it has not been implemented yet). The “canned” approach was chosen over a site built with MT for the sole reason that we don’t know how long whoever is taking care of the back-end of the site (the templates, CSS, and whatever else may be involved) will be at the church. Paying a company to do this means they’ll be more reliable with regards longevity than a lay person. Period.

    It seems sad to me, and I’m not happy with the choice (and the relevant parties know this), but I can see why it was made. Now they’ll have a web site that is easy to maintain, though a much lower quality, and no one here needs to know the details of how it works.

    That could be a scary reflection of current societal trends, too (i.e. how many people really know how the Internet or any other piece of modern technology works?). =(

  4. Would like your comment on Lynne Cheney’s novel of steamy lesbian sex, “Sisters” published by Signet. Her main character watches two women in each other’s arms and laments that they have “a passionate, loving intimacy forever closed to her. How strong it made them. What comfort it gave.” Seems like the V.P.’s wife is willing to make money off lifestyles she and her husband claim to be against.

  5. Personally after using MT for a while, and all of the hassles I have had to get it up and customized, I would not recommend it. I have in the past recommended the static content sites to people, simply because it fit the need. Sometimes the best option isn’t the best option because it’s more than people need.

    I used to go into computer stores and watch the salespeople work, simply because I wanted to see how they met the customer’s need. Invariably every-time they were trying to sell the users on more than they needed. Do 80-year-old grandparents really need the latest gaming machine if they just want to do email and web? Why are we trying to sell people on something when they want something basic?

    I think that the approach with forcing users to post again just to keep an announcement showing is a bad user choice, and unfortunately can’t be circumvented using MT (unless the template is written differently).

    Now I know that it is not feasible at all for churches to have web programmers on staff, but our site is done in PHP so we have a lot of flexibility. We are planning to implement in the next week a system of announcements where they are category based, and end on a specific date. This way they go away when they are supposed to, but they stay up until they are supposed to. This also allows us to separate the web site updates from the general announcements. The announcements are completely separate from the event calendar, but show near it.

    I hope I haven’t alienated any of you out there, I’m open to discussing this.

  6. Kristen, I’m with you. In fact, I’m working on an announcement system for my own church website. I’ve got a static site now. I’ve looked at nearly every blogging/CMS tool ever invented (not the ones that cost big bucks, though). All are either too complicated or fail to meet requirements or both, IMO. So I’m writing my own announcement system. Is that the “right” answer? I don’t know, but at least I’m having fun.

  7. Hmm…I guess I wasn’t clear (pretty normal for me..;).

    We don’t run “announcement” type stuff on RP’s site – for a while I was “bulletin-diving” for content like many church webmasters, but we (myself and the church leadership) decided that wasn’t the best use for the site – the weekend program/bulletin is still an effective way to communicate many things in the church.

    The content I was thinking of while posting my comment here was all in relation to the capital campaign we’re in right now – we have an unfinished building and we’re bursting at the seams in the space we do have. This campaign has featured videos, brochures, Q&A sessions, a targeted message series, etc – but nothing new or original for use on the web site.

    When I was finally asked to “put something on the site” I thought the best, most appropriate way to communicate the status/progress of the campaign was to blog about it – give out weekly/biweekly status reports, answer new questions that came up during the sessions, post stories of people giving above and beyond what is called for – in short, make the web site content reflect the importance of this campaign to the church’s life, rather than just using the site as a “dumping ground” for digital versions of materials produced for the other communication channels.

    But the use/value of a blog in a situation like this is still tough to communicate to people used to plugging in content to a static structure and checking off the “update website” on the project plan.

  8. Heh…here’s some irony…while submitting that post a 35 MB PDF version of a 5 page brochure came in via email for “putting on the web site”.

    Sigh….

  9. I’m expecting to deal with this issue soon, too. I’m designing a new web page for my church. I use MT for my personal page, but I’m trying out Postnuke for the church page (do you know of any sites that are to Postnuke, what this page is to MT?) Anyway, I’ve been at it for 2 weeks and I haven’t put any content up yet. I’m still learning how to use the CMS. I think I can convince people why this will be better than a mostly static page, but thy also have to understand that it does take more time, especially at the beginning.

  10. Kristen,

    I’m fairly at home with MT and am growing into it more and more, so I tended to default to that when presenting an option for the church. However, that was after many meetings about what was desired for the intent and “look ‘n feel” of the site. The option that they have chosen defeats both of these to a certain extent. (the service uses a templated system, but you can’t alter the templates, just chose from a set of six or so designs).

    I feel like MT and many other CMS appications are capable of delivering the ease of use that the service chosen can bring to the table while at the same time allowing those with the skills and talents within the church to use them for service. But that brings the flip-side that there’s no guarantee there will always be such talented and skilled peope in the church to help when things go bad.

    You mention having a PHP run site. I’m curious as to what contigencies you may have in case the church ever finds itself with no members that know the inner workings of PHP or not enough time or desire to learn PHP in order to help with the web site should something beging to fail or required updating?

  11. “Why are we trying to sell people on something when they want something basic?”

    This is an interesting nut to crack too. I don’t know about you guys…but what the leadership from my church “wanted” and what they needed (IMHO) were two different things. What they wanted was what we had – a nice little static site that didn’t look too out of date, and didn’t take any of their time.

    But the church leaders were/are, frankly, out of touch with what technology can bring to the church communication table. I think there’s some room for leadership in this area to help them along…

    Case in point – the dicussion forums we implemented. We had a nice little one-way email list for communicating prayer requests. We had used it for 4-5 years. The staff, frankly, was quite happy with it. They didn’t want to change.

    But it didn’t allow response. You never got to hear from people – that they were praying, or how God had taught them in a similar situation. I saw how people interacted in other web-based forums and wondered what would happen if RP had the same tool.

    The idea, however, was nearly killed (“what if someone says something bad?”)- somehow I managed to get the leadership to take a chance..and try the forums.

    The response to the forums has been overwhelming. Just today there are 14 active topics with at least 50 posts. And the content has drastically changed – people are being vulerable here where the old email requests were very “churchy”…

    The Senior Paster himself admitted “I was wrong – I didn’t think people in church would connect this way.”

    Something from the site has been mentioned in every service for the last month – it’s having a real impact on the life of the church.

    So yes, there was a sales job on my part, and it’s not “basic”, but I firmly believe it was God’s vision for our church website.

  12. This is all interesting to me since we’re looking at taking on a complete site redesign. We’ve got a quote from Christianity.com for $5k for redesign plus $400/month for hosting and commerce stuff. I really like the idea of blog plus discussion groups as you’re discussing (I’ve been planning on phpBB). I’m a blog newbie! How do you get a great look-and-feel with a blog-based site?

    ssh

  13. Steve – the choice of using a blog package doesn’t have to determine or dictate the site look and feel. I’ll offer up RidgePoint.org as an example of a site that runs on a blog package – pMachine – but doesn’t present itself as a blog. Entirely anyway.

    Check out Deans Redland Baptist site for another example, running on MoveableType.

    BTW – $400/mo seems way high for hosting, what’s the commerce thing all about? You can get simple web site hosting for as little as $10./mo.

  14. To answer the question about contingency plans for the PHP site in case I go away, I don’t necessarily have an answer. I also have no plans on not working on the site even when I leave the church (I’m planning on moving in a few years), I really enjoy it. I do have somewhat of an idea what would happen if I were to stop.

    I plan to open source the site and create an easy to use way of entering data so that any church can just upload the code and use it. It’s called the Paristemi Portal Project, you can see some preliminary stuff at Paristemi.com. The great thing about open source is that if there are problems, knowledgeable people can look into them and resolve the issues.

    This is probably as close as I get to a contingency plan, but I think it will suffice. What plans do you all have in case something happens, and there isn’t anyone capable of maintaining the blog system?

  15. I actually see this as an advantage of using a blogging tool – you shorten the learning curve for your successor.

    I’ve given the church staff pMachine contact info, and all the account user names and passwords, etc. If something happens and the site needs maintenance, they’ll simply have to hire someone to do it.

    I’ve been careful not to hack pMachine – everything I’ve done is straightforward “within the lines” configuration. It would be very easy to hand over to anyone else who has implemented a pMachine site.

  16. Boyink,

    Thanks for that. I am going to have to understand the different packages and the pluses and minuses (any pointers to information like this would be really wonderful!). I did visit those sites, and they helped me learn that I have a lot to learn! I’ve been doing the web thing since Tim B-L invented HTTP (and hypertext before that!), but I haven’t spent any time with blogs and am grateful to have found this site–hoping that you can help me get up the learning curve faster than I otherwise would.

    Any tutorials or other how-to pointers would be great. Also, if there’s any interest in helping us with look/feel/design, please let me know.

    I agree on the hosting. I’m finding hosting for $10-$20/month with phpBB and other important components.

    The commerce is for both bookstore transactions and taking donations on-line. Is anyone else doing this?

    Thanks, again, I appreciate any help you are willing to offer!!!

    God bless,
    ssh

  17. We are currently taking donations through PayPal, they allow you to customize the interface before it gets sent to their server. You can see our implementaiton at http://www.ccshoreline.org/support.php . The only problem is that PayPal charges a service fee, but otherwise it’s great. It can be used for anything you want.

  18. Steve – Here’s my somewhat dated writeup on doing the RP site:

    http://www.boyink.com/portfolio_more/105_0_4_0_M11/

    At least you can see if the requirements that we developed are close to yours. The only other blogging package that I used for awhile was Radio Userland, and it’s not worth considering for anything but the strictest of one-user blogs.

    pMachine has also just release a new package called ExpressionEngine, which promises to be a nicer, more CMS-capable package. It’s just coming out of beta, though, so I haven’t perused it in depth. The forum/mailing list aspects were still in development, and we’re using those quite heavily on RP.

    Otherwise the forums at the pMachine site are a good resource – lots of links to different sites using it to power them.

    Design-wise, we engaged with a local designer who worked with alot of direction we gave regarding branding / culture, etc. All they really had to do was develop a template – once we had that we were able to take off and implement.

    Feel free to contact me offline with any other questions…

  19. Ahhh! Just the people to ask!

    I know enough of what MT can do, to know that I want to use it to restructure/republish my old website (at least in part.) So far, I’ve just been blogging, because I’m not a tech geek. But I -know- that I can do this, and MT can do what I want it to.

    Anyway, does anyone have any links to recommend for info on using MT for website building (ala Redlands Baptist?) I’d appreciate it greatly.

  20. Anybody tried Plone? It’s a CMS based on Zope, which is an object server written in python. I am looking for a CMS to use at work and maybe for my church small group.

    I know python, but I don’t know perl or PHP.

  21. This has been an excellent discussion – it’s great to have a site with experienced users like this. I’ve thought about lots of options for our church’s site but haven’t really taken the time to overhaul it yet.

    One thing I wanted to mention was a service I found about recently called TeamMinistry.net – anyone else seen it? It’s currently a “members-only” portal specifically designed for churches. Very full-featured and a good price. I’m hoping our pastor will OK it for our church – it provides an out-of-the-box solution for one side of things.

  22. Hmmmm – Just completed an initial redesign of our church’s website and now you guys have me thinking. I like the interactivity and community feedback aspect of the data-driven site approach, BUT so often the resulting website feels more like a spreadsheet than “the body of Christ”. The Ridge Point site has a better balance of text/white-space/photos than most – the big photos really do help communicate the “life” of the place.

    Updating of a static site IS an issue. The approach currently under way at Calvary Sacramento has been to use Contribute to allow our secretary and others to update the “events” pages – BUT I really like the idea of “online community” presented by the BLOG.

    Maybe some combo approach?

  23. PS – You can host a static site at places like catalog.com for only a $30.00 annual fee. I’d have a hard time justifying $400/month for a church website unless it generated a revenue stream – and then I would have to wonder if that money were not better sent to any number of needy missionaries in the field.

  24. Greg, boyink, and the rest, thank you so much!!!

    It first helps me to know that I’m not insane to think that $400/month is way too much for a church to spend on hosting, especially given our relatively new plans for it. Our current site is at http://www.vinelife.com/ and shows a purely informational site. We’d like to expand it to include a bookstore, on-line donations, a calendar, and an easier approach to updating the various ministries’ sites (hence the interest in PayPal–or alternatives–and this blog approach to the web site).

    Thanks, again. Any more comments are welcome!

  25. Wide range of requirements there, Steve. I’ve found the simplest approach to updating to be either using a program like Contribute (assuning you have a “typical html site” or designing a blog based site.

    You could buy a “plugin” which make developing an event calendar in Macromedia Dreamweaver easier – but may not be easy to update. You might need to do some research here.

    Paypal could be used for online contributions – but it’s ease of use pales in comparison to something like Amazon. I don’t think you could do this in a blog – but I could be (and often are) wrong.

    A couple of books you might want to checkout for “website programming” would include – Dreamweaver Unleashed by Matthew Pizzi and
    Dreamweaver Magic by Sean Nicholson et all.

    A “reality-check” may be in store here as the design and maintenance of a site which includes a bookstore web application and online contributions may outweigh the benefit.

    I bet there is a way to simply link to Amazon and have them handle all of that messy backend work. They might even pay the church some percentage on each sale.

  26. I would like to suggest Mambo Server as another php based CMS tool that has a lot of user support. If you can install MT yourself, I think you can install Mambo. It’s pretty powerful with a lot of modules to plug in that let you extend it as needed. I think that it is a good option for moving up a step from the MT approach if your site needs to be more than just postings and you don’t want to hassle with writing your own extensions for MT.

    No affiliation to the project in any way, just have been using it for awhile and it seems pretty robust.

  27. Greg,

    Thanks for the thoughts. The “bookstore” is really just the products that we offer for sale at the small bookstore at the church, including but not limited to audio/video of the services and materials for classes at the church.

    The thought for on-line donations was that some people might want to set up recurring “subscription-style” donations, and that we could do it on-line. Honestly, I’m not sure what the real goals are, since I haven’t been able to see what they had created, yet. That makes it more difficult for me to discuss, obviously. Most of the goals I currently understand as a result of feature requests (as I’ve mentioned: streaming, on-line donations, bookstore, etc.).

    My focus initially was on providing real interaction with constituents first. That’s why I was focused on phpBB as a (the?) key to the site. There is also a desire to provide access to the church calendar, including a way to reserve rooms for various purposes, but they want some of that to be invisible to “average” users (if someone is having a private prayer session, we don’t need that information to be available to any visitor to the site, but we’d want to know that the room is occupied).

    Anyway, lot’s of thoughts; forgive me for rambling. Is there a BB-style site that has a similar topic to this one?

  28. I’ve been operating a successful “PostNuked” church site for more than a year. While some blog or bbs tools may turn your church site into a dynamic announcement site, the modular archtecture of Postnuke allows you to build an on-line collaboration/community. We have self-managed directory (w/ photos!), forum, calendar, polls, birthday reminder, etc.

    I understand that this is a “hard sell” to some people who think template-driven solution offered by register.com or forministry.com is good enough for their organization and they ARE NOT WRONG. However, if they want to turn their church site into an on-line community, they have to move to something like PostNuke.

    I have a demo church site running at http://cpdemo.i-cho.com. You’re welcome to login and check out the member features.