Heal Your Church WebSite


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

Overloaded: Priesthill (Zion) Methodist Church of Hillsborough, Northern Ireland

One of the most beneficial features of the computer is its ability to contain and present overwhelming amounts of data in sensible and organized amounts that don’t over run our ability to digest it. A point I’m afraid the “Centred in Christ, Caring for People” at the Priesthill (Zion) Methodist Church of Hillsborough, Northern Ireland didn’t quite master.

Information Overload

Put another way: when you’ve got a lot to say, don’t say it all at once.

One of the keys to a successful website is sitting down beforehand and enumerating what compelling content best conveys your church’s purpose and personality. While it is clear that the webmaster at Priesthill (Zion) Methodist did that, what wasn’t done was strking a balance between offering ‘just enough’ home page information to avoid overwhelming the reader with too much.

The most obvious example of this is a trinity of menus surrounding the page that instead of inviting the first-time visitor to explore the site, made me feel like I was in a room full of used car salesmen all vying for my attention all at once. My intial reaction was quite literally, what am I looking at … where do I begin?

House of Order

“But all things should be done decently and in order.” – 1 Corinthians 14:40

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul instructs the church that the speaking of tongues should occur one or two at a time, with an interpreter. In this way the congregation is ‘built-up’ with a message while those peaking into the church for the first time don’t think of it full of drunken idiots.

In the same way, Priesthill (Zion) Methodist needs to rethink their navigation so first time visitors aren’t bull-rushed with the wealth of opportunities obviously embodied at this church.

Likewise, they also need to let the content for each page stand on its own merit, without the benefit of colored backgrounds that make it hard to read, and without the cheap clipart and animated gifs that plague a page here and there.

What is ironic is that while the home page screams about all the activities available, it fails to convey three essential pieces of information that would make it friendlier to both potential visitors and search engines:

  • Times of the service
  • Address
  • Phone Number

Healing it Quickly?

First thing I would do is purchase for the webmaster a copy of Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think.” I would especially emphasize reading Chapter 6 entitled “Street signs and Breadcrumbs: Designing Navigation.”

Next, I would see if the webmaster would be open to some form of content management. Not that CMS is the magic bullet that will fix all websites, but since the problem here isn’t so much the content, but how to present it … why not employ a system that generates the how on the fly?

The trick would be performing a thorough needs analysis not only of the user base, but also of the staff and laypersons that would manage the site.

Once a careful decision is made on a content solution that satisfies both consumer AND producer, it is just a matter of plugging in the existing data organization and plugging in the content, sans all the contrivances.

Finally, I would then revisit the content and work on making it just a ‘tad-bit‘ more compelling.

How about your church’s homepage? Does it say just too much, too little, or is it just right? I’d be interested in examples that would help the church mentioned above, and or could use some of the same advice discussed above.

5 Comments

  1. Hi Dean,

    This isn’t my current church (no web site yet – that will change, hopefully!) but the one I grew up in:

    http://www.andoverbaptist.co.uk/

    I think it says too little on the home page, and if you don’t have Flash installed, you have no hope of finding anything, because the links are done in Flash!

    Also, it’s beige – D U L L!

  2. The only thing I would say about putting service times on the front page is that the only people who care about our service times are people who already attend the church or who are visiting from out of town.

    The vast majority of unbelievers could not care less about our service times because they have no intention of attending our services. While I do believe that service time information should be on the site (and perhaps easily accessible – within one click of the front page), I think the front page real estate is much too valuable to use to present information which our target audience doesn’t care about.

    I think we have to take a step back and realize that most people (at least in the United States) aren’t looking for a church (cf. http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateNarrow&BarnaUpdateID=163).

    The front page of a church website, I believe, is better used to intrigue the lost enough to make them want to find out about our service times. I would advocate using the front page to highlight profiles of our people – people who have similar life experiences and interests to unbelievers who may happen upon our church’s website.

    Just my .02,

    Frank

  3. I know there is a time difference between the US and Ireland but the “Last Updated 12/05/04″ really got my attention.

  4. Frank, I think I see your point about people not wanting to come to church, but I don’t really see it applying to church websites. The purpose of a church website is to aid in communicating all of the information that people need. We didn’t use to have our main service times on our homepage (but we did have a link), and someone emailed us asking where that information was.

    Clearly there are people who desire to know when and where churches meet. From the response we’ve had, I think this is vital information for the home page. Now, to be honest we get a lot of traffic from different countries and other parts of the US, so that information wouldn’t apply to them. However, there are a lot of people who go and invite people in the community and give them an invitation card, and that has the website URL, so why shouldn’t we provide it? There should never be a chance for a person to get to our website and not know how they can come and hear the gospel.

    Adding a few more cents to the pile…
    ~Kristen

  5. hmmm. I read these pages with much interest as we’re suffering from wanting a great site, but having no skills/resources to do it. I note Tim (previously at Andover Baptist) has no site. I bet it’s down to the skills/resources issue.
    We had a horrendous site that was originally in NetObjects. We then moved to TikiWiki CMS at http://www.abclife.org. However, It’s still not what we want but we have no skills/resources.

    C’mon Deano, lets have an article on “how to get up a low maintenance professional site when you’re skills are being able to use MS Word an nowt much else”.

    Phylip