Heal Your Church WebSite


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

Mike Boyink on the problem with free ice cream

Church Webmasters – Stop Working for Free!

Mike Boyink implores “church webmasters to stop giving it away for free.“. Like many others, has concluded the only reward for free ice cream is complaints about the flavors. Mike also asserts that this lack of perceived value on the part of pastors and staff leads to re-spinning of style over sustaining long streams of substance.

I’ve learned something interesting: if you give away ice cream, eventually a lot of people will complain about the flavors, and others will complain that you aren’t also giving away syrup and whipped cream and nuts. – Steven Den Beste – USS Clueless – Capitan’s log – final post.

The above quote immediately came to mind after reading Mike Boyink’s well-justified rant today:

Are you a web developer working on your church’s website on a volunteer basis?Stop it.

Immediately.

Walk away.

Or start billing for your time, at rates competitive in the local market.

Why?

Knowing what Mike went through with the whole RidgePoint debacle I’m tend to agree.

For example: Just recently I just helped out OnMission.com with an article on search engine optimization. They offered me a small honorarium but since they are part of the North American Mission Board I opted they keep the cash for those out in the field … and hoped they would provide me with a mere hyperlink.

Instead, many of my thoughts wound-up being attributed to someone else in the form of an interview (with that someone else). Perhaps if I had invoiced them what my time, OnMission would have have made more of an effort to return the favor in the form of some electronic recognition (though my name is buried in the masthead, in an 8pt font some 47 pages away from the article). My mistake for not asking for the link up-front, their mistake for not understanding the worth of what they were given.

Likewise in Mike’s post, I happen to know the church site he’s talking about and know they are about to make an expensive mistake … but worse, I think Boyink hits the nail on the head when speaking of the ‘great cloud of witlessness’ that is the Body online. Regardless of whether its FrontPage, Publisher or whatever the WYSIWYG toy-of-the moment happens to be, Mike is dead right when he writes:

I’m seeing a pattern here, and it angers me. It angers me that, as the church, we can always find the time and motivation to re-implement a site on a different backend, or change the site architecture, or implement new navigational widgets.But try…just try…to find someone to invest that same effort in writing interesting, valuable content. Or documenting people’s stories for the web. Or talking at a strategic level about what the church should be using the internet for. Try it and you’ll get unanswered emails, unreturned phone calls, and blank stares in meetings.

The emphasis is mine, but I suspect its an accurate assessment of what’s being yelled at on the other side of Mike’s computer!-)

29 Comments

  1. Here here! I too have had this experience! I worked on my church web site for 3 years, and we could barely even get 5 minutes to discuss in a staff meeting what the site could be. My team spent over a year planning, building, and deploying the site, and the only thing we ever heard was, “Who chose THAT color?” or “Could we maybe use flash?”

    It was a very frustrating experience.

    Then I started working with just my church’s youth staff to develop their site. They payed me for it (about half of what I would normally charge), and they were amazingly helpful every step of the way. They thought of strategic ideas and actually saw the site as a tool for ministry rather than as a pesky little problem that wouldn’t go away.

  2. Pingback: Church Marketing Sucks

  3. I agree, but wonder if this isn’t common among other ministries within the church. Is there something about church web sites that makes it easier for people to complain about?

  4. Weirdly, my situation is a little different. Our church website (http://www.whiteinchcofs.co.uk – brand new design, comments welcome, and if MeanDean would like to do an assessment, I’d be happy…… ;) ) was put together by a member of our church who works as a “professional web designer”, who donates some of his time to doing the work, but does invoice for certain things (eg hosting). However, while we spend a lot of time talking about the website, much of what we do has become dependent on the willingness of the designer, and many suggestions have gone by the wayside. Because we _haven’t_ paid for his services in full, it is harder to get changes made.

    Having said that, content is _still_ king.

    mrben

    (comments on website to mrben -AT- jedimoose -DOT- org

  5. This really seems to beg the question of, where do you draw the line between volunteer work and paid professional work? If there is no one in the church who has the talents to create a website, then I see no problem hiring the job out. However, if a church member is qualified and wants to volunteer his/her time, then that’s great.

    If you follow the logic, would we start paying every volunteer that teaches Sunday School? The greeters? Ushers?

    It seems to me that the real underlying issue is a problem with lack of communication and too much bureaucracy in some churches. You can look to almost any ministry in the church and you will find someone who feels undervalued or unappreciated. It doesn’t mean that the church needs to pay them; it means the church needs to wake up and take care of their people.

    However, though in the end we work for God, not the Church.

  6. If you follow the logic, would we start paying every volunteer that teaches Sunday School? The greeters? Ushers?

    Good question – I say yes – at least long enough for the church to understand that each person’s service to the organization has a real tangible value — and should be respected as such.

    Paying for such services, even for a short time, would also make a church realize just how expensive it is to continually “start all over again” as opposed to building on what’s already there.

    Imagine if the church were to knock down the bricks and morter every time a new pastor walked through the door? So why do we do the same with effective youth ministries, music programs and church webs sites that are (note my emphasis on effective

  7. Boy, could I not agree more. I have CMS changes I’ve wanted to make for a long time, but I’m on strike until I can get updated copy from my ministries. It’s nuts.

    I also volunteered to put together an interim website for a missions organization while they got their professional site created (was supposed to take three months). They wouldn’t submit me their content, they just wanted to talk obsessively about look and feel and how they wanted their nonexistent content presented. I finally had to tell them I wasn’t going to discuss presentation any more until they sent me their copy. We’re still friends, but they haven’t written their copy, and their site is still “coming soon” after a year and a half.

    I’m sad for their missed opportunity.

  8. Boy, could I not agree more. I have CMS changes I’ve wanted to make for a long time, but I’m on strike until I can get updated copy from my ministries. It’s nuts.

    I also volunteered to put together an interim website for a missions organization while they got their professional site created (was supposed to take three months). They wouldn’t submit me their content, they just wanted to talk obsessively about look and feel and how they wanted their nonexistent content presented. I finally had to tell them I wasn’t going to discuss presentation any more until they sent me their copy. We’re still friends, but they haven’t written their copy, and their site is still “coming soon” after a year and a half.

    I’m sad for their missed opportunity.

  9. Great articles, and thought-provoking comments all around.
    I see NOTHING wrong with charging for services from which you normally make a living. Volunteering is good (I’m a former pastor)…but if you provide quality professional work, you deserve consideration. Fortunately (though this might backfire at some point) I completely own my church’s site. The domain is mine and I’m the only one who makes changes. Yes, I have trouble getting content…no, I don’t struggle with politics. It’s mine, and they can have it when I leave.

  10. Great articles, and thought-provoking comments all around.
    I see NOTHING wrong with charging for services from which you normally make a living. Volunteering is good (I’m a former pastor)…but if you provide quality professional work, you deserve consideration. Fortunately (though this might backfire at some point) I completely own my church’s site. The domain is mine and I’m the only one who makes changes. Yes, I have trouble getting content…no, I don’t struggle with politics. It’s mine, and they can have it when I leave.

  11. Great articles, and thought-provoking comments all around.
    I see NOTHING wrong with charging for services from which you normally make a living. Volunteering is good (I’m a former pastor)…but if you provide quality professional work, you deserve consideration. Fortunately (though this might backfire at some point) I completely own my church’s site. The domain is mine and I’m the only one who makes changes. Yes, I have trouble getting content…no, I don’t struggle with politics. It’s mine, and they can have it when I leave.

  12. There’s another side of it, too. When faced with a choice between volunteer work with a church’s web site (the one I worship with has about 10% of the congregation using it) or paid work that will feed and clothe my family, I’m probably going to choose the latter without feeling too badly about it.

    On the other hand, if I’m paid – even a token amount – I’m going to feel more responsible for doing what needs to be done.

    Or maybe I’m just a slacker. ;)

  13. I see two distinct factors in play here. First, it’s always much easier to critique someone else’s work than to perform your own work. As an result of this, church web sites and several other sites that I design and maintain for other organizations all have plenty of technical and design suggestions (i.e., things that I should be doing, not doing, doing differently, or doing better) and an almost total lack of substantive input from other areas (i.e., things that involve actual work by the critics).

    The other thing is a natural tendency for people to treat something as worth roughly what they pay for it. For example the military used to ignore almost completely the skills and talents recruits brought with them when they could draft as many bodies as they wanted; once they relied on volunteers, they immediately started paying much more attention to this sort of things. Another instance was obvious to me when I was teaching college. I could always tell with almost perfect accuracy which students were paying their own tuition and fees and which ones were living off mommy and daddy or their employers.

    I’ve started billing close to market ratesfor my services, then voluntarily contributing to those “employers” who make good use of my services. Those who persist in wasting my time and their money, I politely tell that I’ll be avaliable to help them when they’re ready, but that both their money and my time would presently be better used for other purposes.

  14. At the risk of being publicly mocked and accused of incoherence a la Mike from Nashville, I’m going to attempt to add a constructive counterpoint to this conversation.

    The point I see being made is this [begin snarky comment] By charging for your services, people will (a) appreciate you more (b) listen to and follow your advice more (c) provide meaningful content when you ask for it (d) listen attentively to you at meetings (e) attribute website changes to you rather than themselves (f) place your name prominently on the website to spotlight your talents. [end snarky comment]

    I respectfully submit my disagreement to the entire gist of this thread, if that is it. If there are interpersonal or communication problems between volunteers and church staff; if there are differences in opinion as to site layout technologies or the relative merits of various cms frameworks; if there are folks lacking the gift of strategic planning and forethought, I humbly suggest that these conditions will still exist after you become a vendor.

  15. I think Carl may be on to something. Hmmmm. But that does not eliminate the essence of the discussion occuring here and at Boyink or Church Marketing Sucks.

  16. I read the OnMission article and thank you. My situation is possibly typical of smaller churches – I inherited the job from the senior pastor’s son after he got bored playing with his Dreamweaver and Flash (praise the Lord). It has been a long hard road, much political correctness and months of making small incremental changes so as not to upset anyone. Eventually the site is in some semblance of shape, we have at least now got meaningful content and I have got rid of all the extraneous code Dreamweaver left. We are up and functional and the site is doing its job. The project has, without doubt been a time hog; time I was and am giving freely.

    I did raise the question of a nominal payment for a minimum number of hours per month. The church provide nothing other than payment to the host and frankly with a church planter for husband, we have taken vows of poverty. Our personnel team were supportive of this but the senior pastor responded that there would be no more paid positions created other than pastoral staff. OK cool with that. Two weeks later I am informed we are now creating positions of paid nursery workers since no one wants to “volunteer”. The pastor’s son will now be moving up from part time paid AV to full time with expansion – I guess that’s where our purpose has driven us to. Our church is incidentally just about to start a $2 million building program.

    It is hard not to come off sounding bitter, which is very bad, but used and abused probably fits the bill. Reading your pages makes me realize that it is time to stop whinging, live with it and get on with what God has tasked me to do! Thank you again

  17. Reading this article reminds me of how blessed I am to have a supportive, open minded Session (ruling body) which sort of allows me to do as i please – as long as it works.

    Funny thing is, the complaints I hear are more from people who shouldn’t be allowed near a computer in the first place. The general pattern is, end user sends email, mis-spells the email address, and when it doesn’t work, calls 30 people to tell them how bad the church web site and email suck. Then, I get an email telling me that the email doesn’t work (again).
    I had to solve that problem by creating aliases for every possible mispelling and permutation of any name that is not Smith or Jones.

    The point is, the ministry isn’t mine, and I try to keep that in perspective and not be too offended.

  18. Carl Wrote:
    “By charging for your services, people will (a) appreciate you more (b) listen to and follow your advice more (c) provide meaningful content when you ask for it (d) listen attentively to you at meetings (e) attribute website changes to you rather than themselves (f) place your name prominently on the website to spotlight your talents.”

    I respectfully disagree with your disagreement..:)

    At least on a couple of those points. I don’t think charging for a site will cure all the issues you mention, but my original point was more from the church staff perspective.

    It’s not about being appreciated as a volunteer.

    It’s not about being paid.

    It’s not about getting better sites – although on average that would probably happen.

    My point was, that by paying for the site, a non-technical church staff would naturally value it more.

    And because they had paid for it, and valued it more, they would be less likely to make snap redesign/redevelopment decisions like throwing a working, standards based, built on a CMA site back into FrontPage because the new person really likes FrontPage.

    Look…say your church uses an old theatre to meet in. You get the space for free. No one cares what you do with it – they’re just happy to have anyone using the space. There’s a wall along the side that, if bumped out, would allow you to put a fridge in the kitchen. You have builder-handyman types who attend, and who are willing to do the work and donate the materials.

    How likely is it that the wall would get bumped out?

    Now think about that same church, in a brand new building – fresh off a $3M stewardship campaign. Lots of design reviews, building committes, and architects have been involved. After a year long building project, the paint has barely dried on the walls. The echoes from the dediation ceremony are still ringing in the rafters.

    Now…throw out that same idea to bump out a wall, and what will happen? Think anyone would get upset? I do.

    This is all I’m saying – that well-intentioned, well meaning web heads are donating their time to churches, doing the “right thing”, designing great sites, using web standards, content management systems, and building on web strategies.

    But these great sites we’re building have no *value* to non “web-heads”, because they haven’t had a *cost*.

    No cost = no value.

    Now you can argue (and several folks have) that you can create this value from the perspective of the staff by involving them more, by working with them to determine the vision, by educating them about the process and the results.

    But I ain’t buying that anymore. It all sounds very nice and professional, and it may work for some developers and some churches.

    But me? I’ve been there and done that with more dillegence than most commercial gigs require. And the site still got trashed.

    And I don’t think it would have if the church had paid for it. More people would have been aware of the value because the budgeting and invoicing process would have touched more people.

    Throwing away a couple-thousand dollar item surely would have raised some red flags outside the small team involved in the building of the site.

  19. The crux of Boyink’s frustration [from carl's perspective] is Boyink’s comment:

    …that by paying for the site, a non-technical church staff would naturally value it more. And because they had paid for it, and valued it more, they would be less likely to make snap redesign/redevelopment decisions like throwing a working, standards based, built on a CMA site back into FrontPage because the new person really likes FrontPage….

    General agreement on point one. If a church volunteer does gardening, their work is valued to the extent that the parishioners and staff place on landscaping. If landscaping is highly valued at a church, the volunteer work that gardener does is highly valued. It appears that your friend is not blessed with a church that values websites the way Dean’s readers do.

    I completely agree, however, with your assessment that the problem is a value disconnect between staff and webmaster. In fact, I believe this is the heart of the problem.

    But when I hear that a church makes a snap decision to dismiss the webmaster’s months of hard work, long hours, and effort creating a standards-based content-managed and cohesive system in favor of FP because the new guy is used to it, then there’s more to the story than “they don’t value the website” and dynamics at play far more complicated than anything charging for web services will solve.

    From reading the description of the account I think the church in question has a “interpersonal skills and people appreciation problem” and not a “web appreciation” problem.

    If a gardener volunteers long hours dressing up a plot of land next to the church, you don’t bring in the cement trucks and expand the parking lot over top of it without consulting the gardener first. It’s common sense and it shows consideration and appreciation for the work done. Even if the expansion is unexpected, care and consideration for the gardener, a person precious in God’s eyes, is more important than a mixture of sand and cement.

    I think that church has a people appreciation problem.

  20. I was thinking about this some more…no we don’t pay Sunday school teachers, ushers, etc…I am on our praise team, don’t get paid for it, I view our activities at church on a Sunday to be a part of our worship. What I do at church on a Sunday, I don’t charge for but what I do during the week (whether it’s print, interactive, etc) I charge for (but always keep it within their budget).

    Michael

  21. I was thinking about this some more…no we don’t pay Sunday school teachers, ushers, etc…I am on our praise team, don’t get paid for it, I view our activities at church on a Sunday to be a part of our worship. What I do at church on a Sunday, I don’t charge for but what I do during the week (whether it’s print, interactive, etc) I charge for (but always keep it within their budget).

    Michael

  22. Crazy… I thought I was the only volunteer church web master facing these perils….

  23. I am a new member at my church, and having designed the site for my former church I was recently approached and asked to “volunteer” my programming and design services once again.

    I personally do not mind doing the work for free. I find the process fun and the on going maintainence, while tedious, gives me personal satisfaction. Anyway, to the point of this article, I agree that when you give an inch (or even free ice cream) they’ll take a mile (or want additional toppings and new flavors)

    I have decided that a solution for my situation would be to form a “web ministries committee” (like our church needs more committees). By deeming myself “webmaster” and someone else as “director” and selecting content managers from each discipline of the church and then putting everyone on a committee – you now have accountability. I’ll do my work. Everyone else will bring me content.

    If someone doesn’t like the way everything looks don’t bug me – talk to the director or bring it up at a business meeting. The pastor can’t just buy e-zeikial (or whatever its called) because he’d have to pass it through the online ministries committee first.

    See how burocracy can be a good thing sometimes?

  24. These discussions have made me appreciate my own church much more.

    I would maintain that at least for small churches like mine, volunteering my services as web developer is fun and has been a very positive experience so far. I would not discourage anyone from trying it.

    I have read about Mike Boyinks previous problems, and the only thing I can say is that volunteering is very like giving your money. If you feel your money is being misused, you would probably not give as much. Same thing can be said for your time.

    I do not believe that playing off the way people overvalue money to get them to value your work is the right answer. If web design is part of what you want to give to a church then find one that will support your ideas. I think Mike has partially found this in his new church site at MannaIs.org.

    I have compiled more of my own thought into a piece of writing called “Making Stone Soup”. Feel free to give it a read:

    http://ddombrow.backpackit.com/pub/118468

  25. I didn’t read all of these but Jason posted some of my thoughts.
    I’m a web developer who works for http://www.ntara.com and I donate my time, services, to my church at no cost. I have no griefs, having been in the business for almost 10 years I have to say that I’m accustomed to clients constantly changing their minds, wanting last minute content entries or changes. The real issue is that of what Jason said:
    “LACK OF COMMUNICATION”
    and I might add, LACK OF LEADERSHIP.
    Hey we’re the professionals, we’re supposed to guide them. At some point when we decided to help our church, I hope, I pray, we didn’t offer to get something in return, or payment even( not that its entirely wrong mind you), but I think this is a different issue. The problem is clients (church members) don’t understand the web like we do, they don’t understand usability, they don’t understand that the blink tag is not cool, or the stupid java water ripples. Most think of a website as they would a telephone ad or business card. Sure a church’s website can be basic church information — business card like and boring, yet if it is then we have failed as developers and designers. We have the creativity and if we listen to the client (church member) then we can offer suggestions and direction, and also explain why we would and would not do something.

    Here are a few rules I follow:

    1) have one person that has authority to approve the website concepts, know who the real client is.

    2) never send designs through email for them to review before meeting with them. Always review them together either in person or by telephoning them. This will allow you to explain each concept to them before they have formulated their own thoughts.

    3) if you’re like me, you’ll want to get the project completed as quickly as possible. Layout a timeline for them, when content is to be finalized and sent, when things are to be approved, completion or phases completed.

    4) if you want a tax break, at the end send an in-kind donation letter of a website in the amount of whatever you would normally charge for the website you delivered. This will be helpful for tax time as most likely they will send you a donation statement.

    5) be kind, everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle. People are going to make negative comments, its life, this provides and oppurtunity for you be used by God to possibly minister to that person, its not an attack on you, its a plea for help– in a nutshell, this is what serving will get you.. needy people. just remember number 1.

    Just my thoughts.

    Brandon Richards
    http://www.brandonrichards.com

  26. Am Pastor Rick Warren recently based in California the Author of THE PURPOSE DRIVE CHURCH AND THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE. As you may know.
    It is my great pleasure to write to your church on behave of a church that is need of help, partaining to their uncompleted building purposely want to made for church activities, am so much in a great condition to donated $5000 us dollar to nthe church which is the 4% of what they are in need i.e the ground total of what they need is $20000.
    Thus: Blessed are those merciful, for they shall obtain mercy!
    Mark 5:7.
    This church is like a brethren to us will need to encourage them in building the uncompleted building which we think is possible as a child of God, we need all sources to help each other to encourage each other in many that we can preach the Gospel of God is very important.
    So therefore, brethren this church need to build the image of God i.e Church of God
    Any amount you donated is highly appreciated & granted, I pray in the name of Lord that it shall brings it back to you in multitude. If you found it in you heart to help, please reply this message how much you are minister by God to donate while the information of where to send the money, will be mail to you back.
    Thus: Blessed are fortune and happy and spritually prosperous are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be completely satisfed!
    The Gosple of Mark 5:6.

    Am so much happy and most concerned about the work of God as you’ve may know I will be so much happy and greatful if you can try and send the church any amount, is welcome by them and I too. Remain bless!!!!.

    Your brethren in Christ.
    Pastor Rick Warren.

  27. Rich Brown wrote: “The general pattern is, end user sends email, mis-spells the email address, and when it doesn’t work, calls 30 people to tell them how bad the church web site and email suck. Then, I get an email telling me that the email doesn’t work (again). I had to solve that problem by creating aliases for every possible mispelling and permutation of any name that is not Smith or Jones.”

    I used to have the junk mailbox set up for all emails to our domain that didn’t match an existing mailbox. I’d monitor it and redirect all the legitmate misaddressed emails and tell the senders the correct address to use. Eventually I found out that getting rid of that and just letting people get bounce messages was easier on everyone. They’d get the bounce and have to look up the correct address on the website, where I was telling them to look anyway. So, sometimes hand-holding is not only a waste of your time, but it’s counter-productive to the learning your users need to do.

  28. Lots of good discussion here… sounds like a lot of us are dealing with similar things.

    Personally I’ve been doing our site (www.centralpc.org) since ’96, mostly alone except for sermon proof-readers and when I pull some people together for redesigns.

    - Luckily I’m in a church that has always shown great appreciation for my time, skills and efforts, even though I’ve never asked to be paid. They are generally a pretty appreciative group for any volunteers IMO.

    - They have readily paid the non-time costs such as hosting, software, etc with no complaints.

    - Frankly I don’t *want* to be paid for this. This is my ministry, where I can give to God and my church community from skills I’ve built up and enjoy using. (no emphasis meant on ‘my’) Our church community is important to me, gives me a lot and it’s important to me to be able to give back from whatever skill I have, web or not.

    - There are some limitations in what we do that are because my time is limited. Paying me wouldn’t really change that, though finding a way to build a team with some others with web skills would. The church mostly accepts those limitations of my time with patience. The limits are probably more frustrating to me than to them since I always have a private/mental todo list of things I’d like to change or improve.

    - I have definitely had times where people were all excited with ideas for a section (new worship service, young adults group, youth group, etc), but when it came down to them taking the next step of providing actual content (that I wasn’t able/appropriate to write myself) then the enthusiasm and emails tapered off, and I end up doing what I can.

    - I don’t think that’s really just a web-thing though. I’ve seen the same thing on our sound/tech team. People will get all excited debating some new gear or technique, but as soon as you ask for anyone to do some structured research or actual work, all the email responses dry up and silence ensues. It’s frustrating sometimes of course, but its human nature, and happens at least partly because people are busy. (yeah, it’s a rationalization, but often true)

    disclaimer: I *do* get a lot of great content direct from our office staff, who publish a weekly thing (News and Views) that helps me update ministries and post some articles each week. Publishing that content that was created for the NV is easy for me. Getting someone to write content for me specifically for some website need is often the hard part, and a separate issue.

    - Interestingly enough, our pastor and staff may be at the point where they are wanting and nearly ready to step forward to some more-involved roles with the website and our online presence. If I can get us migrated to a decent CMS and some good community-building functionality, I might be able to share this effort. Now, if I can just get the time to do it… yeah, back to that time-limitations thing ;-)

    Anyway, that’s a bit on my situation and thoughts on some of this.
    Hope it’s some use or encouragement to someone. If not, oh well. ;-)

    As encouragement, realize that not all churches are seriously frustrating to work with, and with patience and understanding and willingness to give each other grace all around, it can be a pretty nice way to share your skills with your community for your God’s purposes.

    jeff wilkinson, webmaster for http://www.centralpc.org
    http://www.centralpc.org/admin/webminfaq.htm

  29. One note to add, unlike some of you, I’m not a full-time web-guy. So, web jobs are part-time, and have to fit in with the rest of family life. That may make my answers to these issues slightly different from those of you who are full-time web designers/developers.