Heal Your Church WebSite


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

Mr. Zeldman meet Mike Boyink, one of ‘The New Samaritans’

During my short career as an opera singer in NYC, I lived by some hard and fast rules; one of these personal mandates being:

“Avoid singing for free, and under NO circumstances should you pay to sing.”

Why – that is why pass on some opportunities to “showcase” my talents merely because of money? Because it was my experience that those of us who were paid, even just a modest honorarium, were invariably treated better than those who weren’t; while those who paid to “showcase” their talents were routinely treated like crap.

After reading Jeffrey Zeldman’s post entitled “The New Samaritans,” and the Wired Magazine article on which the post was based “Changing the Face of Web Surfing,” I wonder sometimes if those of us who provide free web design services for churches wouldn’t get a bit more respect if we didn’t send said charities a bill for our services?

The Odeon Saga

Consider the case cited both by Zeldman and Wired of Matthew Somerville, an Oxford University math graduate who out of frustration redesigned the website Britain’s Odeon cinema chain – gratis. In fact, this free work was so stellar that Zeldman wrote:

“Mr Somerville did Odeon a favor by solving some of the site’s worst problems …”

How did Odeon respond to not having to spend thousands of dollars to enlist a top-notch ‘do-over’ firm such as 37Signals? Again quoting Mr. Zeldman:

“As it turns out, Odeon has hired a consultancy that specializes in the very work Mr Somerville did free.”

Ridge Point

Now if this sounds vaguely familiar to some of you, it is because it smacks of a similar treatment Mike Boyink received after volunteering $7,500 worth of billable hours to develop one of the premier church websites on the Internet; Ridge Point Community Church.

Here’s a very quick chronology for those of you unfamiliar with the story:

  • November 10, 2003 – After 18 months of work, Mike Boyink announces a pMachine-driven redesign of the Ridge Point Community Church website.
  • April 14, 2004 – Pastor Jim Liske announces that “The internet is always changing and Ridge Point is changing its website to include everything the old one had and more! After the changeover occurs, you will need to re-register on the site.Translation: Ridge Point decides to shelf the Boyink/pMachine design in favor of a Braunius/e-zekiel design whose sense and sensibility is best described by Tim Bednar in his “Open Letter to Pastor Jim Liske of Ridge Point Church.”
  • June 4, 2004 – Pastor Jim Liske announces a return to the Boyink/pMachine design.

Having gone through a similar situation myself, NOT at Redland where I’m currently blessed with a VERY grateful and gracious staff, but at my prior church, I can understand “shock and sadness” expressed by Mr. Boyink. I also understand why Mike, like myself, opted to take his talents elsewhere.

What Would Zeldman Do?

Realizing that those us who donate our time and skill to our church’s websites are not in it for Earthly rewards or recognition, and taking into account scenarios such as the Somerville/Odean and/or the Boyink/RidgePoint redesigns in mind, the killer question for this weekend’s discussion is: “what would you do in a similar situation?

For example, would you send the church a bill, which upon its receipt, you’d show up at the church office with a rubber stamp and mark the bill “Paid In Full?” Or would quietly you stick it out, even if it meant dealing with type A++ ministers with a penchant for micro-management?

It’s the weekend, let’s discuss:

21 Comments

  1. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” – James 3:13

    I think that techies shouldn’t show a bill at all, unless it is asked for, or part of the agreement. Wouldn’t it be weird if you dropped off a child at the sunday school and afterwards were given your child and a bill? What other services and ministries give a bill for their time? We don’t need to have the approval of other people because our reward is God himself.

  2. FWIW – the host that both my site and RidgePoint.org sits on appears to be having issues at the moment, and I’m knee-deep in tents, sleeping bags and coolers getting ready for a weekend of camping. I think a move is in order, at least for boyink.com.

  3. Submitting a bill ‘paid in full’ shouldn’t be any different than the church member who’s landscaping company mows the lawn every week. I’m sure he’s taking it for a write-off.

    But submitting a bill to the church should be a part of some agreement. Part of the problem with church websites is that no leader is responsible for it, no one authorizes it, and, unfortunately, no one cares. So there is no one to get a commitment from (or submit a bill to). In that case the work is truly a gift, not volunteering. Make sense?

  4. Just FYI – I didn’t take it as a write-off. In order to write it off you first have to claim the invoice as income. In my case, this would have put me in a higher tax bracket and in the end would have cost me more in taxes than the write-off would have saved.

    YMMV – check with your tax person if you plan on going that route.

  5. Thanks for your bit in contributing to this issue, MeanDean, and asking about it here – yeah, it’s touchy indeed.

    I think there’s often a big lack of understanding about what kind of time and effort goes into webdesign and programming – as well as the knowledge necessary to get these working effectively. Pastors who aren’t thinking carefully can easily feel that they are the ones worthy of congratulation for getting their congregation a nice free site, and in Mike’s case, it sounds like perhaps the pastor liked what he got, but then wanted more (the e-church site mentions chatrooms, forums, lots of server-side functionality). Hey, I did great in bringing our church into the digital era with a modern updateable site, wouldn’t I be doing wrong not to go a step further in blessing our church with all these other goodies, you know, getting like really hip-digital? Maybe Mike’s just too driven by his selfish attachment to his own work not to see the new possibilities – maybe even needs? Which later prove to be distracting bells and whistles, of course.

    I’d advise people doing free webwork to make very clear to the “owners” of the site what the work entails, and what your expectations are for the site, and your work on the site. This includes consultation. Busy pastors often use time as an excuse to avoid responsibility issues; on the other hand, we webpeople also can’t expect them to spend unlimited amounts of time discussing techno-babble. Pastor Jim’s responses sorta sound like this may be the problem – he really wouldn’t answer Dean’s metrics question at all, he was probably impressed with some functionalities he saw in E-zekiel and didn’t have the time to listen to why this really was not a good idea. Will a pastor meet with you to discuss proposed changes, or is his idea more like, ‘go do this and that?’ Will you be able to call the shots after hearing your pastor out, or will he want to call the shots, and will he even want to hear you out? Think of your own skills and expectations, and those of the pastor as well. If you get these things straight, you’ll at least know what kind of conditions you’re working in. If you just discovered FrontPage and want to make a site for your church, your pastor should probably call most of the shots, without expecting a lot of consultation. If you’ve been doing webdev for a long time and your pastor thinks he is Holy Spirit-inspired HCI expert, you might suggest that his son or nephew could have a lot of fun learning how to use Mozilla Composer and that he direct his spiritual web gifts to that end. If your pastor’s answers are accompanied with a lot of hand-waving and god-talk that does not address these issues and won’t really get down to brass tacks, assume you’re not only doing it for free, but that what’s being proposed is an exercise which could be interesting for your own learning or edification, and may or may not have the public utility you’d like to see it have, and think about whether you are still happy with doing the work. You may also want to scale down the time and work you do if this is the case.

    Of course, you could also refer your pastor to Dean’s posting here as the kind of situation you would like to avoid if he seems intent on hand-waving.

  6. Kristen:
    “We don’t need to have the approval of other people because our reward is God himself.”

    Dean:
    “Realizing that those us who donate our time and skill to our church’s websites are not in it for Earthly rewards or recognition, …”

    Kristen, this isn’t about rewards. It is about how to best get ministers and laystaff not to take such work for granted to the point they throw it out for lesser creations.

    In other words, how do we make sure our work as church web designers isn’t merely an act of futily casting ‘perls’ before swine?

  7. So the question really is: How do you remind the decision-makers of the church that your work is more valuable than the brochure they just received, WITHOUT saying or doing anything that would look like you are trying to value your own efforts or cause others to do so.

    That’s a toughie! All I can think of is to keep them involved in the design and maintain a team atmosphere.

  8. You know, Mean Dean, this blog is aimed at church webmasters, but you might consider a well-linked posting aimed at those who are looking for web design services, like pastors. Are there any advisable practices in dealing with the techies? Stuff to be thought about when it comes to agreements? What kind of bananas do you need to throw your in-house webmonkey? When are you in danger of behaving like a swine confronted with a pearl, and when are you really just dealing with a stick-in-the-mud techie dweeb who’s not open enough to pastoral input? I bet this could be a real asset, and where else besides hycws are pastors likely to turn when they’re looking to stake out their territory on the net?

  9. James,

    Having some inside information regarding some of the RidgePoint issues, and some direct contact with Pastor Liske and Burt Braunius:

    a) this is NOT an issue of Mike Boyink being inflexible to the needs of the RP site. In fact, while MB publicly enumerated the needs that drove his design, there has been to this date no response from Liske or Braunius to several requests (by myself and others) for any form of needs analysis that justified the shelving of MB’s design …

    … especially in light of the fact that pMachine provides all but one of the ‘features’ cited by Braunius and Liske (photos, forums & chat).

    b) this is NOT an issue of Mike Boyink not meeting with the parties concerned privately

    c) this is NOT about church webmonkeys demanding banannas to feed their ‘well-optimized’ egos and/or assuage their ‘stuck-in-the-mud’ oversensibilities

    Rather it is about those of us who are trained IT and/or design professionals wanting to know how to handle and possibly avoid situations where pastors and laypeople in power who confuse “wants” with “needs” and in the process, throw away something — or someone valuable.

    The simple fact of the matter is, Liske had been asked on several occasions, both publicly and privately to provide anything in the way of measureable metrics to support the shelving of an entire desire.

    Instead, we are left with the question, WHY in the light of compelling needs — so compelling as to ditch a very well designed and well functioning website — did Ridge Point revert back to the very design they ditched; without modification? Either it accomplished its goals or it didn’t. Either these needs exist or they don’t.

  10. Dean: “In other words, how do we make sure our work as church web designers isn’t merely an act of futily casting ‘perls’ before swine?”

    This is something that is going to be different for each person. I think the important thing is to understand the congregation and the pastoral staff together. Then to sit down and discuss the game plan. What are their needs, what are their expectations, and what are their wants? From there draft up a specification that meets all of those issues. If there is a site already, talk to people who use it and find out what they think. During this process you can probably learn a lot about the people you are working with, and potentially find out if this is something that God is really calling you to serve in (and your own motives as well).

    The only time things have been difficult have been when we took everything that anyone said to us as a high priority issue after the first release. Things started to clear up a whole lot when we got a bug tracker and started setting up when things were going to happen, if they were going to happen, and priorities. This way both parties feel like they have had their voices heard.

    I think it is also important to have two members of the staff involved that have differing view points, then when someone is micro-managing or has some crazy idea that “has to happen”, there is someone else bringing light into the subject.

    Anyway, this is just what I have seen, and I’m sure much of this Boyink did. Thoughts?

  11. We (desingers,coders) do this (donate our time) because we think God deserves the best. We see improvements in coding techniques (Web Standards,etc) and see how they are better than what has gone before, and we aspire to apply these to sites we are involved with. In some cases this goes as far as donating huge amounts of time to implement something, the finer points of which are lost on most people.

    I sold Web Standards to my company on the basis of access and speed. We get emails from people in rural areas (9600 dial-up) thanking us for a “fast site”. Now people at work see it is a no-brainer – why would anyone bother doing it otherwise?

    Content is king as has been mentioned before, but this cannot be replaced by technology. How many briliantly produced albums contains terrible songs?

    When we combine technology AND content we have a powerful vehicle for change.

    Leadership does not have a monopoly on vision. They need the input of people with other gifts.

    For that reason I feel that church web teams need to comprise of people who specialise in content AND techology, and also contain represenation from the leadership.

    Only WHEN they can proceed in unity should anything be built or changed.

    One part of the body cannot say to another “we don’t need you” and certainly they should not say “you don’t understand, we are moving forward without you”. We all have gifts to offer and these only when we use them together can the full picture be seen.

  12. Dean,

    By no means did I wish to suggest that Mike Boyinck was either inflexible, or not good at communicating, or demanding. However, a pastor with dreams about how he is going to boldly lead his flock into the digital era etc. etc. might very well use these, or the ‘no time’ excuse (and as an excuse for himself before God) to do what seems to us as nearly unthinkable. Trying to think on the pastor-side of things, ‘how could this have happened’? Having known a number of different pastors, I can see this happening very easily. My language may have been less than clear – the thought that, for example, the pastor might ‘throw the webmonkey a bannana’ by, for example, mailing him a note that says ‘nice site’ or say some sweet words about the webmaster’s hard work, talent, and dedication to God yadda yadda in front of the congregation, and there, he threw the webmonkey a bannana, webmonkey should be happy and now site is pastor’s, pastor should feel free now to add text with the blink tag – or replace your work with a flash site or whatever else glitters.

    There are indeed stick-in-the-mud techiweenies out there, even churches have BOFH-like characters – and this knowledge is probably enough for pastors to assume that you are such a BOFH. How could a person possibly be emotionally mature if he/she can do so much stuff with computers? The church is about helping people, not about machines! (heard this one?)

    Kristen: like this idea, but it’s only likely to be effective if your pastor truly thinks laypeople exist who are endowed with enough wisdom to be worth listening to when he thinks he has a really bright idea, and you’re not just somehow or other preventing God’s will from happening. But hopefully in most cases it should at least help some. Bugtracker for a church site, you’re really going high-tech! If you can’t do a bugtracker, you can always have closed forums – people in charge of site can go there when they want and don’t feel they’re overwhelmed with your mail on every last techie point. Also good if you’ve got a number of people submitting the site to directories etc., to keep track of which one’s you’ve already covered.

    Richard, this Pauline insight contains so much truth, but is so difficult to live by. I think technoweenies in the church are often seen more as a pair of shades or a pocketprotector than a part of the body. This verse is given a great deal of lip-service, but often people confuse it with being a social worker – helping those ‘truly in need’, the poor, sick, and redundant etc., and not being edifying in one’s day-to-day contacts with other people. Or else in being a spiritual worker – always having a little bit of spiritual wisdom you need to hear that should really help you if only you would listen. And not in dealing with you as someone who is doing a portion of God’s work, and work which is unique and can’t just be done by everyone.

    Finally, pastors are often overworked and under-appreciated – pretty emotionally challenged. If a pastor does do something unseemly to you well, maybe he’s kicking the dog after having a hard day at work. Never fun, but you at least learn how it feels to be a kicked dog, and are confronted with the challenge of dealing wisely in such a situation. Try to do better than your pastor.

  13. I work for my church doing a thousand things, one of which is designing and maintaining the church website. I welcome my Pastors input as well as fearing it!

    I welcome it because my site doesn’t exist by itself but as part of the Church here – so it should in some way reflect the Church, its character, ministries and personality – my Pastor is able to give great insight into that because he is the Pastor! He is also not an experienced browser so can give a lot of insight into how usable the site is for the uninitiated.

    I fear it because he’ll ask me questions like ‘Can’t we change the font?’ or ‘Why can’t we have 10,000 images on this page?’. He doesn’t care that the site avoids tables or that it uses mod_rewrite for nice urls and neither do 95% of the sites users. As techies we are impressed by techie stuff but that is not always the best way to look at a site!

    It became evident recently that my Pastor thought you could design websites like you could a powerpoint slide. I showed him some PHP! A lot of Pastors might misunderstand the techie because he doesn’t care about standards, accessibilty and the box hack – in fact in many cases they are just like the people browsing the site!

  14. Hi Folks…

    While this might be one of those times where discretion is the better part of valor, I do feel inclined to respond to a few comments that have been posted. I’m hoping to do this in a “learn from what happened to me” mode, and apologize in advance if I slip into “salvage my pride” mode..;)

    First and foremost – my family and I didn’t leave RP because a couple pastors decided to replace the website. We had already decided to move on — yes based on some of the things that had happened while working on the site, but also based on many other factors like wanting to find a church that was more focused on simple Bible study for believers.

    The work it took to move off the pMachine site was begun the night that I formally handed over all site materials to the staff – which was the week of spring break 2004. In church terms I think you all know what spring break means — a mostly empty office. The move to the eZekiel site was a spur of the moment decision by one person working largely solo – hence the lack of response to Deans request for any formal justification for the change.

    Dave J wrote: “Part of the problem with church websites is that no leader is responsible for it, no one authorizes it, and, unfortunately, no one cares.”

    This was not the case at RP. The responsibility for the site had been formally assigned to the director of development, who also did any advertising and program/bulletin creation. She was very involved during the entire project – but sadly was also left out of the loop when the decision was made to go to the e-Zekiel version of the site. She cared very much – and was deeply hurt by the move.

    On the volunteer/for hire subject, there actually was a short period of time where I billed RP for my work. This was late in the project, when the staff (mainly the director of development) realized that they were asking for changes that required large amounts of my time, and these changes were last minute, reactionary, not being well-thought out, etc. The requests for changes were starting to interfere with my paid work, and my hope was that by charging for the changes the church staff would be more careful about both the nature and timing of the changes. It worked to a degree – it’s kinda funny how much more resourceful and self-reliant the staff became….;)

    OK – onto the project management aspect of the discussion:
    Doug wrote: All I can think of is to keep them involved in the design and maintain a team atmosphere.

    Kristen wrote: Then to sit down and discuss the game plan. What are their needs, what are their expectations, and what are their wants? From there draft up a specification that meets all of those issues.

    Members of the RP staff – including Liske – were heavily involved in the entire site design project. Look at the numbers that Dean mentions – 18 month project, and over 350 hours of my time (that actually got logged). The actual production of 95% of what you currently see on RP’s site took 50-60 hours over Spring break 2003. The remaining 300-ish hours mainly consist of discovery meetings, audience definitions, brand definitions, backend and front end functionality requirement gathering, lunchtime communication sessions, design reviews, training sessions, etc. I’ve posted an overview of this process on my site:
    http://www.boyink.com/portfolio_more/105_0_4_0_M9/

    I do need to note, however, that there was one staff member who was not involved with the site until right before the first planned launch, due to being hired at RP late-on in the project. And even though we met with this staff member and went through the history of the project, and gave him copies of all the documents created, and gave him a tour of the site front-end and back-end, this staff person was ultimately the one mentioned above who started the work to replace the pMachine site.

    After the e-Zekiel site was put live the question haunted me – What could I have done differently that would have prevented this from happening?, and the answer was, nothing. I had approached this project in the same manner as any web or software development professional would have – doing all the discovery, due dilligence, stakeholder interviews, specification documentation, etc.

    In the end – after almost endless discussions between ourselves and with other current and former RP folks, my wife and I firmly believe that this event ultimately happened due to a faulty church organizational & leadership model. RP is part of the “Pastor as CEO” church movement, and in RP’s case there is both too much responsibility put at the feet of the Senior Pastor, and a lack of formal “buck stops here” staff and leadership accountability to the congregation. We believe this structure is the root of many of the problems we’ve seen over the years at RP, and it was another major factor we looked at when deciding to leave the church.

  15. Wow!
    “the “Pastor as CEO” church movement, and in (church name)’s case there is both too much responsibility put at the feet of the Senior Pastor, and a lack of formal “buck stops here” staff and leadership accountability to the congregation.”

    I’d have to agree with that summary. This whole topic opens way too many open sores personally with me to comment objectively, but it is an area that needs to be covered. Thanks Dean. Thanks Mike. God Bless!

  16. So Dean… I’ve got some new ideas for our youth website. Let’s have some lunch when I get back from vacation and “we’ll” see if it’s reasonable!

    Signed….

    One of the Pastors at your church!

    PS: It’s all about communication! I see our site through “normal peoples eyes” ;) Dean sees them from the geek side of things! Please don;t take any of this personal! Dean and I have been working together for 5 years! Aagin… it’s all about communication!

  17. So Dean… I’ve got some new ideas for our youth website. Let’s have some lunch when I get back from vacation and “we’ll” see if it’s reasonable!

    Signed….

    One of the Pastors at your church!

    PS: It’s all about communication! I see our site through “normal peoples eyes” ;) Dean sees them from the geek side of things! Please don;t take any of this personal! Dean and I have been working together for 5 years! Aagin… it’s all about communication!

  18. Et Tu Redland?

  19. I am not a member of this church, but I have a grasp of what is happening here. I know who God is, and he is in my daily life. From the moment I wake up, untill the moment I fall asleep.
    I have an old jeep. I admire its simplicity in an age of modern vehicles that are beyond the realm of working on it myself. I found a very wonderfull website devoted to this very vehicle.
    I quickly found myself at odds with Mr. Boyink because of our diverse views, and his preponderance to post a reply to each and every question or statement on the message board.
    He seemed to be an expert on any subject concerning an early cj5 jeep, although he mentioned his Father had “given” him the jeep he was so proud of.
    He became a “moderator” of this message board, which also has a “parts for sale” section.
    He advertised there, for free, some brake parts at a reasonable cost, which I bought from him.
    I assumed he was knowledgeable about jeep parts due to his lengthy disertations, but they were for the most part, unusable.
    When I emailed him, he immediately refunded my purchase price, which was half of the shipping price, and basically said ” I am unemployed, and it wasnt really worth my time to send them. I lost money. they were NOT advertised as cleaned and inspected, or usable”. Now this is a self proclaimed jeep expert.
    The next time I tried to sign on the website, I was banned. I cannot exchange posts with jeep owners I have conversed with for over a year.
    Mr. Boyink also is allowed to post a blatant ad that outlines that he is prospecting a jeep parts internet seller to “refurbish” their website and asks this early cj5 website members to vocalize their opinions to create a financial opportunity for himself.
    I am a very simple man. But I feel I have been taken advantage of, and have been “excommunicated” from a message board that was invaded by malicious intent.
    I found this site of controversy, and am sadded by it. I sincerely wish that the congregation will grow and feel that the Lord is guiding them, and that there are many voices, outside the ones that seek personal wealth. Best wishes, Bryce

  20. I am not a member of this church, but I have a grasp of what is happening here. I know who God is, and he is in my daily life. From the moment I wake up, untill the moment I fall asleep.
    I have an old jeep. I admire its simplicity in an age of modern vehicles that are beyond the realm of working on it myself. I found a very wonderfull website devoted to this very vehicle.
    I quickly found myself at odds with Mr. Boyink because of our diverse views, and his preponderance to post a reply to each and every question or statement on the message board.
    He seemed to be an expert on any subject concerning an early cj5 jeep, although he mentioned his Father had “given” him the jeep he was so proud of.
    He became a “moderator” of this message board, which also has a “parts for sale” section.
    He advertised there, for free, some brake parts at a reasonable cost, which I bought from him.
    I assumed he was knowledgeable about jeep parts due to his lengthy disertations, but they were for the most part, unusable.
    When I emailed him, he immediately refunded my purchase price, which was half of the shipping price, and basically said ” I am unemployed, and it wasnt really worth my time to send them. I lost money. they were NOT advertised as cleaned and inspected, or usable”. Now this is a self proclaimed jeep expert.
    The next time I tried to sign on the website, I was banned. I cannot exchange posts with jeep owners I have conversed with for over a year.
    Mr. Boyink also is allowed to post a blatant ad that outlines that he is prospecting a jeep parts internet seller to “refurbish” their website and asks this early cj5 website members to vocalize their opinions to create a financial opportunity for himself.
    I am a very simple man. But I feel I have been taken advantage of, and have been “excommunicated” from a message board that was invaded by malicious intent.
    I found this site of controversy, and am sadded by it. I sincerely wish that the congregation will grow and feel that the Lord is guiding them, and that there are many voices, outside the ones that seek personal wealth. Best wishes, Bryce

  21. Bryce, or is it Joe?

    I’m not sure how to respond to such a ‘simple man’ who because of an issue entirely unrelated to church website design would hunt Mr. Boyink down to a third party, and then publicly double post a message under two different email addresses (both from the same IP address) to express your disagreement over a private business mattter in a manner contrary to Matthew 18? Especially when such a person claims to know God.

    My first thought was to erase your message, but it is my opinion your clear lack of genuineness with regards to the operational and software lifecycle issues facing RidgePoint, coupled with your total disregard of the property of my technical blog to liable someone who has to me provided countless contributions, speaks loud enough for your voracity and integrity – and demonstrates to me the type of inappropriate behavior that gets one ‘excommunicated’ from any message board on any topic.

    Good luck and thanks for all the trout!