Heal Your Church WebSite


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

Landover Baptist or Ship of Fools or Wittenburg Door? You Decide.

Asked what he thought of critics, Mel Brooks replied, “They’re very noisy at night. You can’t sleep in the country because of them.

Still one of my all-time favorite quotes, I again find it a perfect reflection of how I feel when I receive ‘love notes’ such as the response to my recent review entitled ‘Church of the Spinning Animated Gif:’

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.

My initial reaction was amusement as I considered the irony that ‘Mike near Nashville‘ made his point with a comment laced full of the very same ‘judgemental language’ and personal ‘slamming’ of which he accused me — go figure.

Nonetheless, I think Nashville Mike’s message offers me an excellent opportunity to bring new visitors up-to-date on what this site is about, and why I feel it useful to build-up the Body online by tearing-down some of the not-so-good practices that plague so many church websites.

God concerned about spinning gifs?

You betcha He’s concerned. When a person moves to a new town, they no longer look in the phone book for a church, they look online. Clinical research from authoritative sources such as Pew/Internet confirm that when people turn to spiritual topics, they turn to church websites for the answers. Unfortunately, many of these seekers are turned away by crufty church websites that are more style than substance.

Why do poorly designed church websites inspired seekers to move on elsewhere? I think the answer is best penned by e-vangelist author and all-around-good-guy Andrew Careaga when he wrote in an article entitled “The Church-Internet (dis)connection:”

“We in the church must change our way of thinking about the Internet. If we don’t, we’ll end up with our own subculture online, just as we have in ‘real life.’”

‘[S]ubculture online’ is a nice way of saying Christian Ghetto, which is exactly what we have when so many of the Children of the King continue to proffer the online presence of a pauper.

Put in technical terms, this isn’t about casual wear versus suits, this is about clothing church websites with reasonable structure, accessible content and usable navigation as opposed to dressing them up with the rags of cheap tricks, Cross kitsch and other Jesus Junk.

Top-shelf web designer Mike Boyink best summarizes this sad situation when he opined in the article “Church Web Sites – What We Don’t Know:”

“People are going to the web, and your church site, with a specific task to do, or question to answer — lets forget about having to entertain easily-bored surfers.”

God concerned about spinning gifs? You betcha!

Routinely Slamming People

About once or twice a month now, I receive a “touch not God’s anointed” message from someone who somehow construes my constructive – albeit somewhat snarky – criticisms of church websites as hate-filled attacks on churches and/or their members.

I think any reasonable person who has read my postings since May of 2002 can easily conclude that I rarely, if ever go after an individual. I can only recall one instance in response to a church webmaster whom after reading a critique here took over the front page of his church’s website to send me a personal message. Oh wait, there was one other instance, when I received spam from a ministry after taking the extra effort to ask the minister to remove me from his list privately (and nicely) first.

No, in fact Mike, TN has publicly levied at me a false accusation, pure and simple. As proof, I’ve listed some quotes from past critiques – hyperlinked so you can check the context yourself:

There’s plenty more like this among the 1200 or so posts on this site … but the point isn’t so much a defense of what I do here, but to understand that I’ve put this blog out here so we can all learn from our mistakes — even if it means laughing at ourselves from time to time.

If you’re still not convinced, then why not search this site for those times I’ve bestowed kudos and compliments on those whom after reading a review here have brushed-off the temptation of taking a critique personally and instead have taken on a teachable spirit and improved their church’s web presence. Here’s just one example of many:

UPDATE – 25jul03 – Not long after receiving a nice email from the webservant, this site underwent a rather nice and effective redesign. My highest kudos always go to those with teachable spirits – and here is one case where the lesson was well learned and well implemented. Well done! If you’d like to see what the site looked like before, you can do so via the Internet Wayback Machine:

Slamming People? No. I’m slamming unusable navigation, inaccessible content and incoherent site structures in the hopes we all learn how to avoid it and/or fix it so our church websites better convey our church’s personality and purpose. Failure to do so … well permit me to quote Tim Bednar a bit out of context as his point is as applicable to a church [website] as it is to the “Purpose Driven Church Model.”

“But whatever is in style now will inevitably be out of style soon, and the cycles of change are getting shorter and shorter, aided by technology and the media. New styles and preferences, like fashions, are always emerging. Let me give you a word of advice. Never attach your church [website] to a single style – you’ll soon be passé, and outdated.”

Most ‘unchristian’ christian site … ever ?

Actually, that dubious distinction goes to the not-so-good folks at Landover Baptist (LB). While I love religious parody – Ship of Fools and the Wittenburg Door come to mind – the bitter boys over at the LB win the title of most unChristian website hands down (with a dishonorable mention going out to Westboro Baptist Church).

In fact I’ll go one step further, again for Tennessee Mike’s edification, and the education of new users. Behold some of the fruits of my labor that you may decide how ‘unchristian’ this site actually is:

There are other more secular demonstrations of my time and talents that have none-the-less spared many of us from pr0n or spam … but I think my point is clear enough …

Body slamming? No thanks, there are enough people who’d rather find fault without the benefit of offering solutions. On the other hand, I know my feet are made of clay – which is why I prefer to pull the speck out your church website’s eyes — in love –while having you guys and gals help me yank the plank out of mine.

Critics == Crickets?

Unfortunately, I fear Mike from Nashville will continue to mistake my constructive criticisms of church web designs as church member bashing. Perhaps because it is easier to get all stiff in the neck to fire-off an anonymous email to an insignificant player such as myself than engage a larger audience in a debate over something far more serious, such as the Church’s addiction mediocrity and its impact on their online presence. Who knows?

What I do know — well actually it is my (humble) opinion that — I’ve offered enough point-by-point detail to provide a good example of how this site works and how to go about discussing my critiques intelligently, without name calling and/or second guessing God’s Grace and Salvation in my life — or the lives of others. Remember folks, we are judged by the standard in which we judge others — and not always reaping what we sown — you’ve been warned.

Oh, speaking of divine wisdom, here is how the entire Mel Brooks quote went down:

  • Interviewer: What do you think of critics?
  • Brooks: They’re very noisy at night. You can’t sleep in the country because of them. But, otherwise, I like them.
  • Interviewer: I think that’s crickets you’re talking about, sir. I meant critics.
  • Brooks: Oh, critics! They’re no good. They can’t make music with their legs.

22 Comments

  1. I think you have an excellent site here. I’m don’t know how to design websites (well, at least not good ones), but I do know what good ones look like. I think you’ve developed an excellent set of maxims for churches when they evaluate their websites or decide to start one. You’re a credit to the church and blessing to the Kingdom work.

    Thanks, and I always enjoy reading!

  2. Though I do like your site as you make many great points, the posting of this guys email address in such a manner comes across as a bit like getting back at him. I’m sure you are familiar with email harvesters and the havock such a post can have on his account. (Granted he has a hotmail address and already is heavily spammed.) Anyway, he sent that to you, not in such a public manner. It certainly set me in a mindset to read this as an aggressive response rather than the truth in love that I’m sure you both desire to support.

  3. I agree that posting his email several times does look hostile… I reserve a tiny bit of faith (since I’m not going to bother to check closely), however, that Dean has done something or another on the page to snare the bots. (he has occasionally put bot-traps sprinkled around the page)

  4. Thanks for the comments, keep them coming.

    Josiah, you wrote “Anyway, he sent that to you, not in such a public manner.” Actually, he posted his remark as a public comment in my last post.

    Greenup & Josiah – I debated about posting Mike’s email address. Had he offered something more than an anonymous and unsubstantiated drive-by comment (well actually two, one got deleted) I would have not posted it. As it stands, I generally respect contrary opinion, even when they’re hyper-ascerbic and patently false.

    That said, when they’re anonymous, I tend to want to flush them out to see if there isn’t some other agenda going on here — which is what I suspect is actually going on here (e.g., I suspect he’ll retaliate by posting my email address, at which point I can google on over to his ’20 figure out this guy’s real agenda).

    Well that I wanted to convey that there is a cost for not being thoughtful and intelligent. All too often, when you allow such freedoms, they’re abused until consequences appear — think speeding tickets.

    Greenup – actually, several bot traps and blocks – enough that most harversters basically consider any email address here as tainted.

  5. I inaccurately assumed this was a private email rather than a public comment.

  6. I inaccurately assumed this was a private email rather than a public comment. Nonetheless, I count 5 links to his address in the article and am left wondering why is it so important that I know the identity of this commenter.

    You make a good point that there should be a cost for posting in a manner that is quickly judgemental. Now knowing what I do about the bot traps it seems for less vindictive and more calling a rat a rat. I am also glad to hear that you didn’t do it rashly. I may not have done the same in your situation, but see why you did.

    My response would likely have been more personal. (Which, for all I know, you made an attempt to do.) At a point where this was ignored I’d have considered the approach you took. That is my understanding of Biblical principle. What I’m thinking of is in Titus or 1,2 Timothy though I can’t recall verse.

  7. Actually Josiah (and there was no way of you knowing this), I did attempt a private correspondence, it was met with Mike reposting my private response here. Hence, the charge for his drive-by remarks. That said, thank YOU for your thoughtful remarks – as I said, I don’t mind if you disagree – just make it smart and fun. You did both!

  8. Sounds like you did it as I would have then. :-) I think your response was appropriate. Thanks for being willing to let me drag it out of you. :-) It has made me realize Nashville Mike’s position also.

    Perhaps now that your side is out, he’d care to share what his position is in a more rational, less emotional form for review as well?

  9. I don’t have time to answer this properly and give you all the kudos you deserve Dean. Just multiply the “Thanks” of this post by the 1000 times that I have been helped by your site and you might get some idea of my first week of viewing.

    …and after that it got better.

    Actually, I don’t agree 100% with everything you espouse (no really I don’t!) but it is always constructive.

    Say “Hey” to Mike for me, he sounds like he has the passion we all could use if properly placed.

  10. Pingback: Step Away from the Tables

  11. Churches generally don’t have a decent budget for developing a website. Sure, large churches generally do but the smaller ones probably don’t.

    The point is that this site offers free advice that is often on a professional level, if not presented in a professional manner.

    Usually a client pays good money for some of the same feedback from a professional consultant. I hope more church webmasters realize this and take comments about a particular site as the challenge they are.

    And, on a totally different note, thanks for mentioning ExpressionEngine in your list of tools. We usually get left out!

  12. Wow, where to begin?

    You are quick to mention how you praise those with “teachable spirits” when they implement your unsolicited recommended changes. But what about a teacher’s spirit? Someone with a teacher’s spirit would find a poorly designed website and offer their critique privately, as a service, not as an open mockery. This is what seemed “unchristian” to me. While I’m sure some of your site’s visitors enjoy your wit and sarcasm, I can’t be alone in feeling a twinge of thinking surely the ends don’t justify the means.

    As for me being anonymous, I could’ve used a bogus email to post my comments but did not. Was I supposed to post my vitae in my comments as well? Others have already noted your aggressive use of my email and reference to my locale throughout your latest post. Good for you, you can do a whois. I could post your address and telephone number but I don’t need to prove my Magnum P.I. is bigger than your private dic.

    You list four bullet points to prove to me and the world how christian you are. The only problem is I never attacked you…I said your blog was unchristian in the way you “teach” others. So why are you getting defensive when you mock, sneer and generally pronounce other websites as stupid? I used the pharisees imagery to ask, is this site pronouncing arrogant judgment of others that don’t use the same tools or skill sets that you possess? Have you ever considered drawing in the sand?

    While we’re talking about websites, I must say that the links you provide to the websites you’ve “designed” basically look like every blogger/movable type/typepad page known to man. It’s plain as day you’re an intelligent person that loves writing code and making style sheets, but movable type/xml/rss et al is not the end-all-be-all in the world of web design. Personally, I don’t care to pull my scroll wheel 32 times to get to the bottom of a web page (see youth.redlandbaptist.org).

    You suggested in one of your taunting emails to me that maybe I should get a blog (one email I posted in comments on the other thread but you deleted it.) Well, the only way I would blog is if I was a contributor to one and not the capstone. It’s been my experience that bloggers (as fallen men and women) start to believe their own press clippings after awhile…especially when they write their own. Since you’re fond of the ESV (and I highly respect Crossway’s Lane and Geoff Dennis as business associates and casual friends) I’ll quote its take on Mt 23:12- “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

    You chose to quote scripture about judging others. Maybe I’m the only one that finds that ironic since your comments throughout your posts are often times flippant, arrogant, and judgmental.

    Lastly, I stumbled upon your website when googling for a church that had contacted me for, well, that’s not important. The number one ranking was the church’s website. The number two ranking was a post on your blog making fun of its website along with your advice on how to fix it. This is where my apology comes in. I shouldn’t have posted my comment on your blog, I should have emailed you personally. I should have corrected you in private. Of course, you don’t feel the need for correcton I’m sure, but I should have sent you my “venom” as you called it privately.

    You see, when I was searching for that church’s website and saw right underneath it a christian site slamming and mocking it, I snapped. I had a turning the tables over in the temple moment. At least that’s how I had it in my head. Poor analogy I’m sure, but the world needs to see more christians helping each other, not sniping at them in apparent arrogance and with an aire of superiority. And since I realized I’ve unwittingly contributed to that, I’m profoundly sorry.

  13. Good to hear from you Mike, thanks comments that equate to more than a drive-by. Understanding the human condition of a ‘turning the tables‘ moment, I’ve removed your email address from the post in response.

    That said, I am very disappointed that now calm, you find the need to parse your own words (and mine) – mostly out of context – to defend your almost unintelligible point; and again make reference to my faith.

    Worse, you still offer not a nary factiod of how this site tears down the Church – but rather continue with unsubstantiated allegory and opinion about my approach – and the fact that you don’t like scrolling down a youth website whose content I do not maintain (and whose templates have long been passed onto the youth minister at RBC).

    I’m thinking something like bullet points instead of a long rant would have been nice – an example of your church web design even better.

    Here’s a thought – you say you found this site via a link via a search query – give us the query so we can find the article you originally found here so others can check it against your litany of complaints.

    Then again I’ve seen my referrer logs, I’ve got a pretty good idea of the SEO work for whom you’re referring to – too bad you don’t follow the advice I offered but instead chose to go after me and this site.

  14. Dean,

    Not once have I called into question your salvation or disputed the reality of grace, which you’re still harping on. It’s my understanding that a Christian can still act in un-Christ like ways.

    “Intelligable (sp) point?” There’s that smugness and arrogance again. Evidently you’re the only one allowed to post endless rants, but that just points to the double standard still at work.

    You ask for a “factoid” of how this site tears down the church. Can you really say that if you met one of these webmasters or better yet pastors that built one of the sites you’ve targeted that you would still include the barbs and snarky comments? Most of me says “I doubt it.” The rest of me shudders to think.

    As for my “litany of complaints” (hyperbole for sure), I only had one: you making fun of or mocking websites for your entertainment and the entertainment of others covered by the ‘grace’ of wanting to help them.

    As for your distancing yourself from those uncontrollable youth pastors ruining your templates, some might argue that a well designed website is youth pastor proof. Create a visually engaging site that can’t be monkeyed with and give the youth pastor a blog where his students can endlessly scroll.

    You clearly didn’t design that website with the audience in mind. The postmodern youth does not gravitate towards websites that resemble blogs. Whether it sits well with you or not, youth of today are visually-oriented and have a short attention span. That means graphic-oriented sites not text-oriented. As anyone that has taken a Speech 101, Marketing, or even a beginning web design course should know, it’s about the customer and what they want, not what you want the customer to want. And the customer in the end isn’t the youth pastor. It’s the youth.

    By the way, I have no idea what SEO work is so your sleuthing work (again) seems a little paranoia-driven. In fact, the church contacting me had nothing to do with “work” as you assumed. And I don’t work in tech, IT or web design.

    Keep trying to get to the bottom of my “hidden agenda”, you might just find a spirit of admonishment.

  15. This is all so sad…pitiful, really.

  16. Mike,

    I’m quickly coming to the opinion that there is no debating anything with you.

    I mean how do I discuss the finer points of using a blog as a poor man’s content management system when you would besmirch the good name of the youth minister at RBC while blame shifting?

    Even when you raise an interesting point about postmodern youth, you make it difficult to discuss with empirical opinions – unsubstantiated by any research or standards, while entirely dismissing the needs of the ministry to what is effectively a moving target ministry – and forgetting a critical demographic altogether – the parents.

    You screed arrogant when you bluster and obscure unintelligible for unintelligent, making it all the more difficult for anyone to believe that you’re not just out to ruin someone’s Palm Sunday.

    As for your personal opinions of my wit, so you don’t like it – hey, not everyone likes Garrison Keillor and/or Jeff Foxworthy, such is life so why should everyone like my style. As for ‘distancing myse.f from the RBC youth website’ … well … again … if you’d just do some research you’d find that I’ve moved some 300+ miles away and handed the site over to Steve Holt – who is not out of control – but effectively reaching his particular demographic without needing my hand-holding.

    Paranoid? Well, aside from the guys with the black suits hiding in the bushes, about the only other thing that confuses me — and what I was trying to get to the bottom of — is why you didn’t post a rebuttal on the site for whom you were doing the search engine work? Or if search engine placement was an issue, email me privately so I could help you take care of it … or at least follow the advice I offer along with the critiques instead of responding with “I doubt it.”

    You’ve made it abundantly clear you ‘feel’ I’m tearing down the Church – though you offer nothing tangible in support. Sorry you feel that way, but I learned a long time ago there’s nothing I can do about other people’s baggage – as I have my hands full enough carrying my own.

  17. Sorry to have to say this, Dean. As much as I love to read your blog and the advice you give, and basing my perception of Mike on only this post and the comments prior to mine, it appears to me that Mike does make some good points that shouldn’t be dismissed entirely out-of-hand. He doesn’t come off as a crack-pot, in other words.

    As far as not being able to please everybody all the time: that’s only too true; still, you don’t hear Garrison Keillor or Jeff Foxworthy publicly blasting their critics.

    People who live in the public eye must expect the occasional critic. Ideally, criticism should be parsed in a detached manner: any nuggets of wisdom should be treasured, the rest discarded and forgotten. Easier said than done, of course; you pour yourself into your blog and it’s hard *not* to take criticism personally. Bloggers, like any other public figures, need thick skins.

  18. SGalliver – thanks for the thoughtful and intelligent disagreement. Had Mike done likewise, we probably wouldn’t be discussing this here.

    You may also note, in my last comment, I didn’t dismiss Mike’s comments outright, but rather challenged him to offer facts to butress some of his strong opinions.

    Instead, he opted to take my private reply and put it back on this website w/his commentary. Anyone that eager to publicly discuss things should get what he/she asks for.

    In the meantime, it gave me a generic response to an increasing number of attacks, both on the site towards my and my faith personally. I’m pretty thick skinned, but I wanted to

    a) show them a better way and
    b) make sure they keep it civil or they’ll have to pay a premium.

    That said, comments such as your are always welcome! Good job.

  19. Just to let you know… Landover Baptist is not trying to be Christian. The website is making fun of those who call themselves Christians but are really snakes. I love it.

  20. Yes, I’m well aware of their lame attempt at parody.

    No, I disagree with you regarding their purpose – espc. as one of their writer/founders (Chris Harpor) regularly speaks at various atheist functions. In fact it is a snake writing about snakes of a different skin color and fabric (not to mention the time some of their fans decided to bait-in-switch bogus entries over at b4G).

    The Wittenburg Door and Ship of Fools on the other hand are church humor done well enough that it teaches. Laughing out ourselves if you will. The books “Right Behind” and/or the “Mantra of Jabez” are great reads.

    As I used to tell the teens in my Sunday school class, the trick to humor is how close it is to reality – not how many times you can say the word ‘poop.’

    Landover Baptist lost touch with reality and hence their ability to be funny some time ago.

  21. Is this site for real? I’ve been researching Christian sites and wonder, is this one legitimate?

  22. How could you fail to mention Lark News (http://larknews.com/april_2005/secondary.php?page=3) in your list of church humor sites? The above item is both incredibly funny and a great commentary on the current state of Christendom. Also see blog comments at http://bunniediehl.worldmagblog.com/bunniediehl/archives/014692.html

    Dave