Heal Your Church WebSite

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

Note to Pastors: #1 – Why Website Maintenance Sucks

Why do the churches rage, why do the webmasters plan in vain, because the maintenance phase of any software system sucks.

Inspired by a number of the comments left here and there to Mike Boyink’s post “Church Webmasters – Stop Working for Free” and supported by my 20+ some years on software development it is increasingly clear as to why, in spite of an era of free and relatively easy to use web-based content management systems it is no wonder we hear of churches ditching systems created in data-driven systems such as MovableType or pMachine in favor of brochure-ware rendered using FrontPage, Flash and/or E-Zekiel.

This is because creating and designing websites is sexy and hi-profile – whereas maintaining code and a consistent stream of compelling content is difficult and is about as glamorous as the janitor who keeps the toilets clean.

Unfortunately, when a church needs to bring in a new webmaster to take over a legacy site they’re more than likely find volunteers of an ‘artists’ mentality than that of a ‘programmer.’ This isn’t to say one is better than the other – but rather this is to say that if this were a football team, the designers would be begging to play quarterback whereas it is more likely that the code-monkey would be satisfied inflicting maximum pain playing the offensive or defensive line.

And this is why we find churches equipped with data-driven content management systems providing pages with excellent search engine rankings ditching their existing systems for the likes of FrontPage.

After all, what benefit is provided to the designer’s personal portfolio by learning how to code and modify someone else’s templates? What accolades can the artist possibly receive for sticking to streaming substantive compelling content when they can garner the ooh-and-ahs at the Wednesday night dinner by offering something stunningly stylish? Besides, FrontPage is almost as fun as Flash!

What is needed to solve this problem is for pastors and church councils to understand that there is an effective website needs both the artistry of a designer – with the intellect of a programmer.

But before this can happen, pastors and church councils need to develop a long term plan and mission for their online presence. Unfortunately this is not likely to happen because it would mean having to understand how web-based technology is employed to extend the real-world ministry. Something that is also unlikely to happen until seminaries begin staffing-up with online media instructors.

Bottom line: those who fail to plan – plan to fail. Usually this happens in the form of schilling out to style over substance. The problem is, substance means maintenance – and we all know that maintenance programming sucks because it’s not sexy, it means learning new things and you generally don’t get to take any curtain calls.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment – oh and by the way, I’ve temporarily disabled trackbacks until I can upgrade to MT 3.1x.


  1. Echoes my post today…web sites need to be seen as a “program”, and not a “project”.

    I don’t even like the “maintenance” word..as it implies that the site is more or less “done”, rather than continually building towards a long term, strategic goal.

  2. MeanDean,
    I think you’re right on the money here. I suspect that many churches look at a web site more as a brochure than as a newsletter. The brochure approach is not without merit. But if that’s the approach it’s important that no time-sensitive information should be present.

    However, the newsletter approach is certainly more valuable. A site that has the latest information says to a visitor that this is an active congregation and it provides the visitor with more points of entry to the congregation. And, of course, a continuously updated site is a resource for members as well.

    As you point out, keeping a site updated takes work and is often seen as less “glamorous” than launching a new web site. But that’s no different than any of the dozens of other volunteer jobs that keep a church running.

    David Salahi

  3. We take your cassettes, CD’s or MP3 files and handle, host and update a podcast for our client churches. Podcasts are the best way to send audio content because subscribers can automatically get updates without having to keep checking the church site to see if a new sermon is posted.

    We have entry level packages for small churches. We set up our business in response to the issues raised on this post — we suggest that outsourcing your sermon podcast to us is a cost-effective and practical way to have an online presence without even having to build and maintain a website.

    Please visit us at http://www.pulpitpodcast.com for more information.

  4. I’m on MT 3.15 and the only TB spam benefit is mass deletion. Have you read anything at Six Apart on MT 3.2? Sound’s pretty good, you might want to wait.

  5. Hi MeanDean,
    Great article! I’m always suspicious when I see a newly-designed website where the homepage fits neatly into one screen. You can just tell it was the result of some powerpoint presentation to a executive director or board chair that rarely uses the web.

    The problem is that the people who make decisions involving church website design are not the target audience of the website. I work for a national denominational body of Quakers and I can assure you that most members of our 160-member governing body never look at our site. They don’t need to, because they already know what we do. When they have questions, they feel comfortable phoning in and know who to ask for. I’ve written a little about this in How Insiders and Seekers Use the Quaker Net (though I suspect some of the observations are pretty universal.) I think the way out of our insider heads is learning as much as we can about how people use our sites and put up my last usage report as Nonprofit Website Design and Measurement.

    Thanks again for the article. I’m going in for an interview tomorrow with a conference center looking to revamp their site. My proposal is all about integrating Movabletype and Del.icio.us and Flickr and everything else I can throw in to concentrate the content and give users a pathway for related articles, etc. I will not be recommending brochure-ware, that’s for sure. I might just print out your article for them…
    In Friendship,
    Martin Kelley

  6. Well, being one of those pastors who is willing to pay a monthly fee to have our facilities cared for but not our web-site, I find myself guilty and ashamed. This is interesting reading, though I remian loyal to my FrontPage depravity. Perhaps more detailed reasoning and examples would convince me of my sin and lead me to the knowledge of web-design renewal.

  7. Great post Dean, I still prefer working with my own content mangement system rather than getting MovableType or WordPress to be a content managment system. I know there are trade-offs but bottom-line, I can make SiteNET manage just about anything, pretty quickly. Oh, I launched a new portfolio site.


    Sorry about the plug.

  8. Wow, that PulpitPodcast.com comment is spam if I’ve ever seen it (unlike Tim’s appropriate plug). I’ve been playing with an idea like that (SermonCasting.com), but haven’t done anything with it yet.

    Anyway, MeanDean, I was just going to give you a hard time about upgrading…the only way to really upgrade MT is to switch to WordPress :).

  9. Hi Justin, It’s not spam when you just add a comment to a public message board regarding web design for churches. I found this board on google. I wish I had a way to propagate spam in that manner. My comment was personally written and was not a cut-and-paste of junk. Anyway, we offer a service to smaller and less geeky people who are trying to get their message out and are not as into the technical side. Have a nice day, and send us your cassettes and we’ll set you up with a sermon podcast at pulpitpodcast.com

  10. I like to think of a good church site not as just as just brochure-ware or as something that members would never find a need to access, but rather as something that supports and fosters growth and community. It not only provides detailed and current information, but also ways for members/attenders to share information and discussion.

    That means maintenance, as well as having a good basic system that allows for shared editing, etc. ‘Maintenance’ doesn’t have to mean just keeping the dust off and the server running, it can mean the week-to-week information updates and more.

    (Admittedly we’re not yet doing enough of the sharing between members – that’s one of my goals to work on this year… but it is what I’m shooting for… as well as moving our site into a good CMS. 😉

  11. I can definitely attest to the fact that it’s always easier to get people to volunteer to help with a site redesign than to help with the week-to-week ‘maintenance’ work. sigh.

  12. I use the Postnuke CMS for my church website. It’s easily maintainable, there are plenty of custom theme designers that could produce a unique look for the site and you can install all the modules you need: gallery, forum, calendar, etc…