Heal Your Church WebSite

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

United Church of Cohoes, NY

Okay, at what point did Dean Peters become the Dr. Phil of church web site design? Kidding aside, I am both glad and grateful that I can serve you guys and gals when you need to bounce ideas and problems with your church website. Believe me, I understand why you don’t always want to express such issues to your pastors and elders as all too often they misconstrue constructive technical criticism for apostasy. And unless you’re married to a total ‘Unix Chick’ like my wife, it’s often hard to find someone who gets where you’re coming from.

So please, continue to feel free confide in me, we are compelled by Christ to ‘Bear one another’s burdens.’ Moreover, I won’t make your concerns public unless you give me expressed written permission to do so. Which is exactly the case with tech blog4God’r ‘Yaak.’

I was first made aware of his problem when he left the following public comment last week:

Ah Dean, you do have your hands full, but, I bet I can match that site … My Church is holding a special session this week regarding their new site. The site here http://www.unitedchurchofcohoes.org/ is the new site!

The guy apparently didn’t pass it through the hands of reviewers first and the Church leaders are not happy. Part of me says he did his best and they didn’t give him much guidance so …

However, it needs Healing in a bad way…

Needs Healing in a bad way” is putting it kindly. Here is another site, that like a moldy bathroom, that needs to be ripped-down to the studs and rebuilt from the bottom-up.

I don’t know about you, but the splash page has that heavy, gunky 1997 look-n-feel that reminds me of the gaudy interior design of the set over at TBN. I think it starts with garish 31kb banner at the top which serves as big honking hyperlink, not back to the homepage as is usually the case, but to a completely spammable email address.

Within the body of the splash page, images that are somewhat better optimized, though one is of the building on a cold and snowy day. If you must show a brick building, why not wait for spring so that tree to the left offers some vibrant for your camera. Speaking of color, notice the use of bright blue fonts, usually reserved for hyperlinks, for the capital letters the author finds important. An effect I found breaks-up the ‘scanability’ of the text.

However at the bottom of this splash page, just before the link into the rest of the site, is the following comment in bright blue:

(Note: Before Entering, Must Have Java Virtual Machine or Equivalent Software Installed.
Webpage viewed at 1024 X 768 Only at this time. Change your Display Settings To Match.

I dunno about you, but considering the number of low-tech, senior citizen types that often comprise a church website’s demographic, I might think twice about sking them to know what the JVM, let alone download it and install it.

And it is this element that leads me to think this site needs to be redesigned. Well the JVM issue along with the fact that all the subpages are copyrighted not by the Church, but by an entity identifying itself as “Spritual Computers Web Solutions.”

The first step in any software development, and web site design IS software development, is to understand what you’re trying to say, and to whom. Though the aforementioned “main” page does show some though was given to what, I don’t see enough to elements, content or an informational hierarchy to convince me that user profiles were created and/or the site was tested thoroughly for usability and accessibility.

Here is just one example of how I am confused by the current informational hierarchy. On the “main” subpage, we see in the left frame (ugh, frames) a menu. Click on the first option, ‘Welcome’ and you get nothing. This is because unbeknownst to a first time visitor you’re supposed to double-click on the choice. When you do, you get sub-menu options, one which includes “Our Pastor and Family.” That’s not a problem, but then why have a top-level menu option below “Welcome” for “Pastor” when it’s “Pastors” because when you double click on “Pastor” you see the names of two pastors, neither of which is identified as “The Pastor” described back in the “Welcome” submenu choice for “Our Pastor and Family.

I could go on with other examples, but I think the point is made, the VERY first thing I would do if asked to heal this church website would be to re-define the information hierarchy in light of the purpose and personality of the church. This would mean going through everything the church prints, while concurrently interviewing and creating numerous user profiles. These profiles would describe the demographic and technical aspects of the average users, along with ideas of what type of information they’re seeking when they visit.

Once this is done, then we can worry about how to publish the site. In this case, Yaak informed via a private email me that he’s leading by example in creating a sample site using MovableType. Note, it’s still a work in progress, and please don’t worry folks, he gave me permission to mention it.

So Yaak, once you know what your categories are, here is a tip: click on the “MovableTYpe Weblog Config Menu Button” button on the left menu. Then click on the “Archving Options” along the top. For individual entries, you can use the following “template”:

<MTEntryCategory dirify=”1″>/<$MTEntryDate format=”%Y%m%d”$>_<MTEntryTitle dirify=”1″>.php

or even simpler:

<MTEntryCategory dirify=”1″>/<MTEntryTitle dirify=”1″>.php

For categories:

<MTArchiveCategory dirify=”1″>/index.php

At least that’s what I use over at Redland Baptist, the date/time stamp version over at the youth subdomain, the ‘or even simpler‘ variant to simply turn the post title into the page name over at the main site.

Meanwhile, if others of you have suggestions for Yaak, leave a comment. I’m sure he’d appreciate them.


  1. 404 Page:

    I haven’t been able to get my .htaccess error handling working on my site… I had it working at one time, but don’t remember if it was this host.

    “Additionally, a 404 Not Found error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.”

    My .htaccess:

    ErrorDocument 404 /var/www/domains/burtonsvillebaptist.org/custom404.htm
    ErrorDocument 500 /var/www/domains/burtonsvillebaptist.org/custom404.htm
    ErrorDocument 403 /var/www/domains/burtonsvillebaptist.org/custom404.htm
    # /var/www/domains/burtonsvillebaptist.org/

    # -FrontPage-

    IndexIgnore .htaccess */.??* *~ *# */HEADER* */README* */_vti*

    Any free tech suppo, er, thoughts? [grin]


  2. Normally, I’d save this for another article, but I like ya too much to leave you swinging in the wind:


    Too much.

    Your server is NEVER going to deliver HTTP content below /var/www/domains/


    ErrorDocument 404 /custom404.htm

  3. >> … I like ya too much to leave you swinging in the wind:

    Hey, once ya get to know me you’ll be pointing-out monkey bars in no time… [grin]

    That worked, Dean.

    Wanna hear what tech support said?

    >Live Support Message Delivery:
    >Is my path wrong?
    >ErrorDocument 404 /var/www/domains/burtonsvillebaptist.org/custom404.htm

    The specified path is correct. If there is anything else we may assist you with, please feel free to reply.

    You wanna host our website in your basement? [G]

    Thanks for the tech support…


    Fun with Zip Codes:


  4. Dean: you’re probably already working on this, but the Redland Baptist website is unreachable for me (and possibly others). IE says simply “This page cannot be displayed” and Opera 6 gets redirected to http://www.blogs4god.comsuspended.page/ [that's not a typo]


  5. Yeah, I’m working on the Redland issue.

    Some more hosting issues with old host provider.

    Move in progress … a week earlier than planned.