Heal Your Church WebSite


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

Rockville United Methodist Church, Rockville, Connecticut – a case for periodic site re-factoring

Just because our Lord “is the same yesterday and today and forever“ doesn’t mean our church web sites should follow the same model.

The other night I was through my unpublished backlog of sites in need of healing (if not a good ol’fashun Ernest Angley smack upside the head) when I come across a draft that contains not much else but a link to the ‘Rockville United Methodist Church of Rockville, Connecticut.’

A post originally cited and saved on September 16, 2002 for a design that “partied like it was 1995” for some of the following constructs:

Kitchy Animated GIF of Methodist Cross

  1. Rainbow divider bar – just like disco, so is this metaphor is dead
  2. Everything all centered all the time – just like a used car sales ad.
  3. A bloated, uncompressed picture of the church – we don’t worship buildings do we?
  4. Animated cross – not as kitchy as the spinning gold lamee cross, but close.
  5. Un-obfuscated email addresses – show your staff you love them, let them get spammed.
  6. Mission statement – yet more church-speak for the unchurched!
  7. PDF calendar and newsletter – ahem, at least could we have the latter in HTML?

And while I don’t have a screenshot, the Internet Archive WayBackMachine does, pointing out the importance of scheduling periodic makeovers – if only to remedy some of the 1990-ish constructs cited above; though I would hope any such evaluation would also take into consideration the ever changing tastes, habits and technologies employed by internet users whom would otherwise become potential/future church members.

For those who might argue that looks don’t count – some going as far as to suggest that site shelf-life shouldn’t an issue either – I pose this question:

If fresh appearances don’t count – then why bother with trimmed lawns, fresh paint jobs and replacemenet windows? Is it because potential congregants aren’t faithful enough, to put up with tall weeds, dirty walls and drafty pews – or because members of the grounds committee correctly realize that a lack of care for one’s physical premises sends the wrong message?

If we’re going to ‘become all things to all people‘ , then it might help to start with a periodic re-factoring of all our web pages.

Update, 12Feb12

I received a ‘nasty-gram’ from an individual who is a pastor at another Rockville United Methodist Church (there seem to be several across the U.S.), basically calling the information above useless.

My response to said ‘love note’  is simply: Proverbs 12:15

That said, I would encourage everyone to visit the vastly new-and-improved website Rockville United Methodist Church of Rockville Connecticut at:

I don’t know if these folks used some of the advice in the post &/or comments above — but I’m thrilled to see those talking points incorporated in the new design.

5 Comments

  1. One thought on the PDF issue… yes, they are a pain to use for reading compared to html. OTOH, sometimes they are used for ease of publishing.

    There are times where, either due to lack of good publishing tools, or just the hassle of posting something with all it’s layout, formatting, images, etc, it is reasonable (IMO) to post a PDF.

    For instance, most years I’ve posted our church’s annual report as a set of separate html pages, all nicely linked, with set nav, etc.
    (example: http://www.centralpc.org/docs/anreports/anrpt05a.htm)

    Since we aren’t yet under a CMS, that work is manual editing, so the whole process from copying all the content into template pages, doing the formatting and linking, editing and adding the images, etc; takes a number of hours.

    This year I didn’t have that time to spare so I posted one PDF of the whole report. The office staff could create it directly from publisher (or I could), and I could check and add it to the site very quickly.

    Yeah, there are better answers in general, including using better html publishing or CMS tools, and it’s nice if every page of your website meets all of JN’s guidelines, and is a work of beauty and grace. But sometimes it’s worth remembering that shortcuts aren’t the end of the world, and sometimes they let you publish something that you wouldn’t have *time* to publish at all otherwise.

    I wouldn’t recommend doing main functional pages of a site with PDF, and I wouldn’t do sermons in only PDF, but for single-shot things like newsletters, annual reports, etc, that are really most useful around the particular time of their publication, I can certainly see justification for using PDF as a quick means of publishing.

    P.S. Adobe is supposedly submitting the PDF format to one of the standards orgs to become an official spec. Perhaps that’ll mean that we get a better PDF reader from someone else, with better usability. The reader doesn’t *have* to be so bad, it could certainly have better usability itself.

  2. Actually, JN follows up the PDF article you mentioned with this one:
    “Gateway Pages Prevent PDF Shock”
    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030728.html

    … where he’s admitting that “Websites use PDF despite its weaknesses because it supports ease of posting, even as it denies ease of use. Basically, content providers save money by not having to convert the information into a Web-suitable format.”

    One place I believe we’re using PDF effectively, and more for its intended use, is in bible study guides. The church staff and some volunteers in the church have published some studies which are done in PDF so the user can print them out. Since it is meant for printout, they can do a much better job with the output than we’d get from print html pages from a browser. And yes, I am providing html gateway pages with lots of info and links for each. ;-)
    http://www.centralpc.org/study/study.htm

  3. Two more PDF-related thoughts:

    a) Jakob Nielsen follows up the PDF article you cite with:
    “Gateway Pages Prevent PDF Shock”
    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030728.html

    Where even he admits: “Websites use PDF despite its weaknesses because it supports ease of posting, even as it denies ease of use. Basically, content providers save money by not having to convert the information into a Web-suitable format.”

    b) One place I think we are using PDFs well is in publishing Bible study guides. We have a number of them, written in MS Publisher or Word by staff or members, then we post a PDF. The PDF provides far better output than printing an html page from a browser would. Since these are intended for printout, it makes sense. And yes, I am using HTML gateway pages for each, with lots of information and any appropriate links.

    http://www.centralpc.org/study/study.htm

    p.s. sorry if these two posts are on PDF rather than the main topic of your post. I would have commented in your older blog entry on PDF but the commenting there doesn’t work.

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