Heal Your Church WebSite

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

5 Things Churches and Charities can learn from Google

So how did Google become a verb? Glad you asked … it did so by building an organization around intelligent people who understood how to grow the corporate needs around what the customer wanted. Put in more “Christian” terms, it’s about satisfying one’s self by first serving others.

Now I know what some of you are thinking, “Dean, Google is a mammoth, for-profit, corporate entity, how does this relate to my organization?

Glad you asked …

Here’s yet another list of 5 things you church and/or charity can learn from Google that apply to your charitable operations and/or church website:

1. It’s about not NOT being different like everybody else

In part 2 of LifeChurch.TV’s multi-part series on ‘What the Church should learn from Google,‘  Bobby Gruenewald’s begs the question:

There were already very strong and well-funded search competitors like Yahoo, Lycos, and Alta Vista. Contrary to modern-day perception, Google did not invent the search engine; instead they perfected it. But, have they actually perfected search?

While I entirely disagree with Bobby’s answer, he asks the right question in a day in age when many churches are shedding their uniqueness in their quest for mega-church status … just like every other “community church” in their neighborhood.

Similarly, in 1998, just about every search engine on the block was busy becoming different like everyone else by becoming a portal.

In both the cases of community churches and portal-ized search engines, they stopped focusing on what the customers really wanted and needed, instead they constantly re-invented themselves, junking up their place with all sorts of distractions … when all seeker really wanted was answers.

Google on the other hand Google realized that they would become everyone’s home page if they gave people what they wanted and needed … useful and relevant answers; sans spurious distractions and spam.

2. It’s knowing that you are not your user

Google knows its less about the technology, and more about the judicious use of selective technology to help their seekers find useful and relevant answers.

This is why along with a herd of capable coders, Google hires Interaction Designers whose job description reads:

“Focus on the user, and all else will follow”. That’s one of the key philosophies behind everything that Google does, and we’re looking for Interaction Designers to help drive the design process for new Google products and features. As a UI Designer, you will work closely with engineers and product managers throughout all stages of the product cycle. If you’re a critical thinker with a good design sense, a strong technical background, and an eye for making things better, and if you’re looking for a job where your work can have an impact on the web experience of millions of Google users, then this is the role for you.

So along with the geeky guy who does your church website, does your church and/or charity team him/her up with individuals whose focus is on the seeker?

If so, are they working alone in the vacuum of an empty classroom … creating SiteMeter like situations?

If the answer is the latter, then I highly recommend a quick read the Macromedia Developer Center article entitled “Ready, Set, Go: Usability Testing” as a place to start. It might also be a good idea to test your site across multiple browsers.

3. It’s about innovation, not instant perfection

In the 2006 post ‘Things We Can Learn from Google‘ at Second Wind, author Tony Mikes quotes Google vice-president for search products and user experience Melissa Mayer’s “The Nine Notions of Innovation.”

One notion relevant to churches and charities – some of which can tend to be run by “Type-A” personalities – simply reads:

Innovation, not instant perfection. Google launches early and often in small beta tests, before releasing new features widely.

I don’t know of any churches that do that with their programs. It’s been my experience that if a new program falters in anyway, a host of detractors come along to point out its failures and drive the poor volunteer or staff member getting started out the door.

Instead, I might recommend more consideration given to Ms. Mayer’s 9th notion:

Don’t kill projects — morph them. There’s always a kernel of something good that can be salvaged.

Amazing … that grace thing … isn’t it?

4. It’s about looking after infrastructure … theirs and yours

One Google’s lesser known secrets to their success is the fact that in many ways, they’re just like Wal*Mart. That is, they understand the value of not only BUILDING their own servers, but also the power source that keeps them humming, as cited in this article in the San Francisco Gate entitled “Google to spend hundreds of millions on developing renewable energy:”

Google Inc. says it will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop renewable energy as part of an ambitious plan to clean the environment and reduce the company’s own power bill …

… Google also hopes to license any technology spawned from the effort to other companies so that they, too, can reduce their reliance on more polluting forms of energy while saving money.

They further extend this philosophy to their user base by providing product on platforms that replaces the most expensive and difficult element to maintain  – the IT guy.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:

Microsoft Office doesn’t just cost you $139 per user, it also costs you in money and man-hours required to manage keeping the various products up-to-date, secured, and backed-up on computer hardware that often requires additional disk and/or RAM with each iteration of Office and/or the Windows operating system.

Why bother with all that hassle when Google now provides the education edition of Google Aps to non-profits with current 501(c)(3) status in the U.S.?

So my question is this: what has your church and/or charity done to reduce the cost to congregants in terms of time, travel, money, etc … ?

5. It is about keeping it simple, stupid

Now here’s a point where I feel LifeChurch.TV’s Bobby Gruenewald and I agree, where in his first post of his Google series he asserts:

Make your user interface simple!

Amen! And a thought which neatly closes the circle with my first point, but is such an important point that it bears repeating. Here are three ways to make it so:

  • When it comes to the 20% doing 80% of the work in your church and/or charity? Facilitate them, don’t burden them with a bazillion bureaucratic power games.
  • When it comes to the to the seeker at your door, make it easy, open it for them rather than place a buncha junk in their path.
  • When it comes to your church website, facilitate the congregants and volunteers, and don’t put a bunch of junk in the way of seekers.

The Big Finish!

Here are some other relevant links on the topic of what churches can learn from Google that I found while researching this post:

Bottom line? “… But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” – Matthew 6:33

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