Heal Your Church WebSite


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

Church of the Spinning Animated Gif

As I wander about the great cloud of witlessness that is the church online I often wish that’d I win the lottery or something so I could spend the rest of my days on God’s green Earth healing church web sites, feeding the information hungry, and leading lost souls online to a better way at leading lost online souls to Christ. But that would mean having to take up gambling (or something) so the best I can hope for is enough spare time to redirect earnest but errant church webmasters through the narrow-path of usability.

Case in point is the New Life Vineyard Fellowship of Birmingham, AL.

A Confusing Conundrum

First let’s talk about earnest and effective redirection. Somewhere between September 2000 and May of 2001, it appears the church changed its domain from vcfbham.org to lighthousevineyard.org – without apparently (note I said apparently) changing the name of the church. Then it looks like the church, I’m guessing somewhere between 2003 and 2004, the powers-to-be changed the name of the church, only this time, they were fortunate enough that the Granite Creek Community Church was no longer using their domain – which now matches the name of the church: http://www.newlifevineyard.org

Now I’m not against churches changing names or domains, though I do strongly feel that the domain name should closely either match the name of the church, or match the church’s 1 line catch phrase and/or slogan.

Rather, one of the primary healing topics I wanted to discuss was how to successfully redirect individuals to a new site – and/or have multiple domain names aim at the exact same site.

Redirecting the Lost

On Linux systems, the most direct and most effective way to do this is through the mod_rewrite mechanism – specifically by modifying the .htaccess file to read something like this:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^(www.?)oldsite.com$
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.newsite.com/$1 [R=301,L]

Through the magic of regular expressions, the above snippet merely replaces the old URL with a new URL, while (presto-chango) keeping any and all query string arguments the user may have entered. While this can also be done programmatically – I prefer the .htaccess route as it tends to keep my well indexed sites, well, well indexed.

That said, not everyone has the expertise to do this, and since I’ve already shown you a Linux solution AND since today’s example is running on an IIS server, one sure-fire way to handle a redirect is to create a default.asp file that reads as follows:

<%
   sQS = trim(Request.Servervariables(“QUERY_STRING”) & “”)
   if len(sQS) > 0 then sQS &= “?” & sQS
   Response.Redirect “http://www.newlifevineyard.org/Default.htm” & sQS
   Response.End();
%>

The reason I’d use server-side .ASP versus client-side Javascript is that a server-side works regardless of the user’s browser & configuraiton, and in most cases redirect appears to the user immediate. This as opposed to client-side redirect built-into the HTML generally does not — well, I take that back — if you keep the page small and fire-off a simple single line of JavaScript without too much fanfare or graphics on the old page then you can probably get the same “immediacy” impact you get w/server-side execution; e.g.:

<script language=”javascript”>document.location=http://newurl.com/</script>

If that fails, you need to make sure there is a <noscript> solution that includes the “refresh” meta tag to get the job done. If there is an HTML solution in your future, don’t forget to neglect what’s between the <title> tags as well.

Today’s example uses a JavaScript solution, but puts it on a timer. Now this isn’t so bad at first – that is to tell users that there’s been a change. But now that the change has been in effect for some time now, it is probably time to ditch the delay.

Church of the Spinning Animated Gif

Those of you who regularly read my rants about Jesus Junk know my feelings about the ubiquitous spinning cross found on so many church websites … but just in case you haven’t heard this one “if your church doesn’t have a spinning gold cross on its steeple, then you’re not allowed to have one on your website.

While the New Life Vineyard Fellowship (NLVF) is thankfully devoid of Cross Kitsch, they’ve got just about everything else. Well, okay, that’s an exaggeration but the does employ those irritating spinning email icons that StrongBad makes fun of in episode #51 simply entitled “website.” If you haven’t viewed this very good piece of Flash Animation – do so now – keeping in mind it is a parody of what not to do.

Along with spinning email icons is a flashing “upcoming events.” Now one of the reasons this site needs to “flash” its users is because of the overuse of fire engine red, an eclectic mix of navigation, and some colors and background combinations that make the site look as if it was developed back in 1997.

If you’re using MSIE, you also have to deal with “page fades,” “drop in text” and a few other page transition type tricks that may seem neat at first, but tend to annoy regular repeat visitors – provided you have any after abusing their bandwidth with such silly stuff.

Style over Substance

Now here’s what really gripes my cookies about the NLVF’s web presence – and makes me wish I could heal such sites on a full-time basis: they have done the difficult task of organizing their content and making a fairly compelling of why someone should attend on Sunday. But then they go and hide their light under a bowl of gizmos and garishness that could be easily overcome with a simple off-the-shelf template for FrontPage or DreamWeaver, or via a blogging mechanism such as MovableType and/or Expression Engine.

Here’s what I’d suggest to the NLVF webmaster – visit other sites, successful sites, that quickly and easily instruct a new user where to go, and don’t encumber repeat visitors with little nifties that only server to detract from the message. Moreover, I’d take care of some real issues such as adding TITLE and ALT arguments to hyperlink and image tags – I’d also get rid of confusing navigation such as clicking on Pastor Lamar’s “John Wimber-like” face and getting a page that contains a singular image that says “building for sale.”

In other words — and feel free to quote me on this — unless your church hires a Chinese plate twirler to perform while your pastor is preaching, then you’re not allowed to add other show-boating gimmicks and side-shows that have little or no relevance to the purpose and personality of your church and its online message.

How about you? Agree, disagree? What else would you do to heal this church website?

8 Comments

  1. Pingback: 42

  2. Here ya go the Cheat’s website with all of StrongBad’s great ideas!

    http://www.homestarrunner.com/sbsite/

    Mean Dean Note – ack, thanks Russ, meant to link that up in the orig.post (sb email #51) … thanks for reminding me!-)

  3. I’d also ditch the midi background music: It tends to be jarring, sound bad on your average computer speakers, and usually is musically a bad arrangement.

  4. So would a spinning cross on an otherwise well-designed page be an example of leaven that works its way through the dough?

  5. This is one of the most ‘unchristian’ christian sites I’ve ever seen. Everything is laced with sarcasm, judgemental language, and slamming people for creating a website. This is basically a parallel to churches where their members routinely slam people for what clothes the wear to church when they don’t wear a suit. I’m sure God is very concerned about topics like spinning gifs and flash-enabled websites. I think you should rename this blog, Movable Type/Firefox Pharisees.

  6. I’d work on the font as well. And I agree with the overuse of color.
    As to Mike above, get a life! You obviously know little about web design. The points are very well made if a bit sarcastic, ehich is the point!

  7. “…get a life! You obviously know little about web design.”

    Woe, hey there. Hate the post, love the poster. (The same goes for sites.)

  8. Hey there,

    Just happen to go to Granite Creek Community Church. Was there when pastor Kap renamed the place. Our site is clean, basic and BORING!
    What would you suggest for our little niche on the net?