Heal Your Church WebSite

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

‘Confusion’ about the Body online

What a great week. You guys (and gals) have really carried the ball in some excellent discussions of what it takes behind the scenes to get and keep the content on your church website current and compelling. As you can see, I just sat back and took it all in … which is good because it was the last comment by Ken at Apex Community Church that got me thinking when he wrote:

We decided to take the approach that our website was an extension of Sunday morning and Wednesday night. Just like we wouldn’t just hand the microphone to just anyone then, we don’t just hand the “keyboard” to anyone on the web. And, in reality, we do. We just take time to approve it. Any issues that arise from this aren’t just swept under the rug, we just deal with them offline.

This reminded of the Apostle Paul mentioned in his first letter to the Corinthians when dealing with the issue of order with regards to the public use of Spiritual Gifts, in which the man from Tarsus writes:

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:33 NIV

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:33 ESV

With that in mind, what approach then should we take to publishing content online? Should we as webservants become the singular conduit for getting information online, thereby creating a bottle-neck from a single point of view? Or should we open the gates wide and allow anyone to post anything on any topic without regards to the purpose and personality of the church?

Yes, I realized I just cited the radical extremes, but in showing them, I’m hoping we can all figure out some middle ground. For example, do we offer forums for prayer requests? If so, do we moderate them so we don’t have people dominating it with requests for their kitten with the sniffles? Similarly, I mentioned getting staff involved, but not all staff is all things to all people … or websites. Is it wise to cut them loose, or worse, let some post their own content why denying others?

Again, I’d be very interested in your responses. Oh yeah, and about that. They’ve all been sooooo good I suspect this weekend I’m going to pick and summarize some in some sort of post so you can discuss these on your own blogs as I think the more we talk about it, the wiser we become as a Body online.

Thanks again for all the intelligent, thoughtful and respectful debate. You make running HYCW such a joy!


  1. The “centralize or decentralize” debate is a common one in the business world too: http://www.cmswire.com/archives/000063.html
    As I wrote about in the Ridge Point case, the “singe point of updating” model has failed Ridge Point in the past, so a major part of the effort with the new site was freeing it up so at least technically, anyone *could* post. Who *should*, is another nut to crack, and we’re still working through it.
    FWIW, the senior pastor made his first post to the new homepage yesterday, without any interaction from me. I got goosebumps seeing it show up in my aggregator…;)

  2. I’m in agreement with you, Dean. We need to be right down the middle. We don’t want to hand a keyboard to anyone who can hunt-and-peck out a half-baked sentence, but we don’t necessarily need to approve everything. I think it depends a lot on the scope of the information. For pages that are church-wide, like “About Us” or “What We Believe,” we should be very careful about what we post. Those pages need approvals. They’re high-profile and most of your visitors will probably see them.

    If, on the other hand, a sunday school class has a section on the site and the teacher wants to post blog-like comments or something like that, approvals could really clog things up. So how do you keep them from posting inferior stuff? There has to be a training process so that you can hold his hand through his first few posts. Then they’ll understand what is acceptable and what isn’t and are responsible for sticking within those guidelines.

    Don’t just throw the keyboard at anyone, but take them through a training process so they become part of the web content team…not just a rogue typist!

    As always…easier said than done.

  3. hi Dean-

    would ever consider hosting a wiki project dedicated to building and maintaining a church website? start from where to purchase the .org to where to host it, cms’s, etc etc etc.

    it would be nice to have a definitive [toungue in cheek] guide on how to do it ‘right’ that everyone could add/edit content to.


  4. Our site ( http://www.ccshoreline.org ) has differing levels of content authors. All of the text on the about, calendar, studies & services, audio messages, multimedia, worship music, and pictures is done by the tech team (Church Secretary, Audio Engineer, and me the Web Monkey), where we post the content, choose how to word it and how to categorize it. For the ministries on the about section we get text from the leaders of those ministries, and then our secretary formats it and cleans it up.
    Our other area of content is our devotionals, and those are done by a select group of people that the Pastor has chosen (right now it’s the male office staff), and basically all that we do is copy and paste it into the database (with a few techie things along the way). We also get bible trivia from different people, which for the most part we don’t look at, just copy and paste into the database. If they are trusted people we will trust that the content is appropriate.
    Another area where it’s a lot more open is the prayer requests page. We allow any one on the web to send in a prayer request, but we have an approval process in place for anyone that sends a prayer that they want everyone on the website to be praying for. This is because we do not want to be putting up personal information (contact info) on the site, so we edit that out if it’s there. We may also edit it if there is gossip, but other than that we post it like it is. We also have a section in multimedia called Hard Questions, where we allow anyone to ask a question and then we record in audio our Pastor answering the question.
    So far there really haven’t been any issues with this, and it has worked out well. I think a forum would be way too much worry for what it’s worth. We have a venue for prayer requests, and for questions and thought with the previous mention.
    Ideally I would get the code to a point where I wouldn’t even be putting anything into the database (even if it is copy and paste). I think that we can trust the church staff to know who to allow to add content to the site, and I especially don’t think that we are the ones who should be making the determination whether someone has the ability to do so or not (even if they make a million errors). The church leaders know who is spiritually mature enough to be reaching out to the congregation in this way, and it’s better if they take that responsibility anyway.

  5. Having just yesterday argued in favor of uncensored forums, let me add a word caution. The church can be held liable for stuff that appears on its website. There was a recent case where a church had prayer requests online and somebody posted “Please pray for our custodian, Joe Blow, who is battling depression.” Now it seems that Joe and his church were not on the best of terms, and Joe sued the church based on the recent HIPA legislation, which prohibits dislosure of medical information without the patient’s consent.

  6. This sounds like a job for Dr. Boundaries and Professor Context…
    Just like we’d never build a website without thoughtfully designing and laying it out first [ahem], we should define the “forum” before it’s created. Learning from other’s mistakes (www.crcc.org) would save some heartache…
    The pulpit has boundaries and expectations, the Sunday School teacher has different ones, the worship attendee has different ones, and the back parking lot (e.g., the world) has it’s own as well…
    –For pages that are church-wide,
    –like “About Us” or “What We Believe,”
    –we should be very careful about what we post.
    Yeah.. that’s the idea…
    All the while keeping in mind that this bare textual medium is rife with opportunities for misunderstanding and requires a pretty high degree of spiritual/emotional maturity.
    It’s probably more dangerous than the tongue.

  7. My only debate with having a site-content “bottleneck” (because, beyond this, any debate should be left to the specific church’s discretion) is a monetary one.

    – Who is the bottleneck?
    – Do the congragation know that they can send content to this bottleneck? If so, how big is the congreagation and how many e-mails will the bottleneck be receiving/approving/editing?
    – Is the bottleneck a paid employee or a volunteer?

    Personally, if I were the volunteer bottleneck and I was receiving a few hundred e-mails a day to filter through, I’d quit.

    So, there should be a full-time church web developer? Is this in every church’s budget? Certainly not!

    But what if the budget was there… Would the bottleneck, after approving and editing, then have to run the content through other church staff? The pastor? Talk about time-consuming!!!

    I know that these questions don’t solve anything, but I’m spraking from the point of view of my church, who’s online collective is unfathomably staggering.

    Speaking of which, here are my opinions on my specific church’s discretion):

    Check out the amoutn of posts that are on our Discussion Board: http://jacobswellchurch.org/discussion/.

    And this discussion, however questionable at times, REALLY feeds our community.

    And this discussion board is only part of it, as a number of us keep Blogs.

    What about that? What about offering your church community a free bloggin service. You know, “Sign up for your free ‘Joe’s Community Church’ Weblog and e-mail address.” Then, the opinions could be disclosed as “those of the author and not of the church” or something like that.

    I understand that I am speaking on behalf of a church who’s value in community may be more central than other church’s, but I also have the opinion that community is central to our faith.

    Sure, you wouldn’t give a mic to just anyone during your service (although, I admit that our church does this as well), but you probably wouldn’t detour people from getting together after the service for lunch and discussion. That’s how I view message boards and the like — as after-church discussion.

  8. So I’m guessing the Wiki idea was shot-down like a hail of frogs.. 😉

  9. I don’t know if this discussion is still alive but I’ll post my comments anyway.
    Maybe you could create a hybrid system. At one end is the Wiki system where anyone can contribute whatever they want to put up on the web site and discuss it. Every now and then hand-picked editors will take appropriate content and then post it on the real church site. On the third level, the church leaders (or whoever else is trusted) can monitor all levels and decide to withdraw content that is deemed not suitable to be posted. My two cents only.