Archive

Archive for October, 2009

Should Christian websites have links pages?

October 30th, 2009

I’ve seen a move away from links pages over the years. One time it was pretty rare to find a website without some kind of links page but now it seems to be getting more rare to find one that has. I think the business world has traditionally frowned on them because they can take people away from a business to other businesses. Then also the search engines seemed to get it in their heads that loads of links away from a website showed that the website was not so important.

I never quite got that argument and I fear it may just be something made up somewhere on the Internet that became true without any real basis. Of course I do know that some folks tried to cheat the system by building sites that did nothing but list lots of links that were of a reciprocal nature. This would boost the links site to the top of the search engines. So search engines found ways around the system by being suspicious of reciprocal links.

Then there is the age old problem that if others find out you have a links page you might get spammers trying you to get to link to them. All this meant that fewer sites wanted to bother with links pages. However the Internet is all about links. The great benefit of the way the Internet works is because you can follow links to gain the information you want.

The main source of finding information should not be through search engines but through links on important sites. Google understands this and is on a quest to find ways of boosting authority sites to the top of their rankings (then the rest of us spend our time trying to work out what Google means by an authority website so we can get a top ranking).

So I come to the point of my post.

Christian websites can help promote the Christian faith through their links pages. So Christian sites should have links pages and they should actively seek sites that they can add.

By linking Christian sites we both provide a way for people to find the sites we link to and we boost the search engine ranking of the site we link to. Of course it works best if you are an authority site yourself and you provide a one way link (e.g. not reciprocal) to the site. Reciprocal links tend to cancel each other out by all accounts.

Then when people search for issues relevant to Christianity it is the Christian stuff that will come out on top. I’m not advocating trying to trick the system but just that this is a way of doing mission online. However please try to ensure that you link to quality sites and not just any old site just because it is Christian.

Online Evangelism

Keep adding more features to your church website

October 29th, 2009

There is always a temptation to add more features to a website. After all, if you like the Internet and the many features you find on other peoples sites then you will probably feel that you should have them on yours. The other problem is that when you work on a website for a while you start to think that your site is getting old fashioned and needs spicing up a little.

Please try to avoid this disease because it can be fatal to a church website.

Only add features that are necessary to meet your website aims and only if they are not distracting from those aims.

You have thought about the main aims of your website haven’t you? If you haven’t then you need to because without aims your site will become bloated and unusable.

If you need some help thinking this through then I’ve attempted to make a list of all the different kinds of Christian websites are and what some of their aims might be here.

I think most church websites fall into the kingdom supporting category and this means that they primarily help other Christians and church members find out what is happening at the church. The sad truth is that very few people who are seeking faith will come directly to a church website – unless they are trying to find out about your church and how to attend it. Of course there is opportunity to encourage people who come to your website to explore the Christian faith through the many good websites that exist. You can easily give links to that information from your website.

So focus on your aims and only add the absolute minimum features that you need to meet that aim. I say absolute minimum because the more features you add the more choices people have and when people have too many choices they simply choose not to.

In the last local elections in my area I have to vote for 3 people and I had a choice of about 40 names (or at least it felt like 40). I did vote but only because my convictions made me – given a choice like this without a good reason to choose I would simply have walked away.

This is exactly what people will do if they are given too many choices. Only the dedicated will bother to try and find the choice that suits them.

Also too many features are a distraction from the main content of a website. Did you know that peripheral vision is as important as where your vision focuses when you navigate a website? If you have things flashing or moving or more exciting on the edges of your content then people will want to look at them and not the content. Of course this makes the content pointless and content is what a website is all about.

So keep the features down to what you need.

Don't do this ,

Reaching those not interested in faith

October 28th, 2009

getting people to come to churchHere is a news story published on Christian Today about a scholar who says that we should harness new technology to reach out to people who are not yet interested in finding out about Christianity.

http://www.christiantoday.co.uk/article/scholar.churches.can.use.internet.to.reach.nonseekers/24446.htm

To me this seems pretty obvious really although I’m glad Dr Fischer-Nielsen has confirmed this to the church.

In particular he talks about the Internet and Social networking. The church has always known that most people come into the church through friendship with another. Social networking is simply another way of making friends. The problem would then be to get people from being friends on the Internet to get them to going to church. There is quite a move from an e-relationship to physically going somewhere.

And. of course, there is the problem that not all people who meet on the Internet are honest about who they are. I would strongly recommend that anyone considering this form of evangelism (especially young people) should take sensible precautions and never arrange to meet someone you have never physically met before on your own. I have to add this warning – and it seems from the news this morning that someone has been murdered by someone they met online. My thoughts go out to the family.

Getting back to online evangelism, taking the psychologists view of change they would fall into the pre-interested group. Those with no interest in finding out about God at all. These are quite possibly the smallest group in society and may be the toughest to work with. Yet they deserve to hear the gospel as much as anyone does. Personally I think the church spends too much of its effort (proportionally) on trying to engage people in this bracket and often neglects those who are seeking. This becomes pretty obvious when you see the rise in interest in alternative forms of religion and in my area the JWs are doing very well with lots of young families attending.

Sorry I’m getting off point. So how do you engage people who have no interest in Christianity. My idea would be this:

  1. Befriend them. Listen to them and ask them questions about themselves. Be genuinely interested in who they are and don’t do this just to try and convert them you have to genuinely want to befriend people.
  2. Offer to pray for them. Don’t talk about Jesus at this stage and don’t say anything more than offering to pray. When they say they have an issue to get over just simply offer to pray. You’ll find most people will welcome the offer. Also don’t assume you’ve lost your chance to evangelise them if they say no. Be patient and keep listening. If another problem comes along try again. You’ll have to be sensitive to their mood.
  3. If you are using a social network you may like to post the occasional message about going to church events, etc. Your e-friends will get to know that you are a Christian and will appreciate you not banging on about it or telling them they should find Jesus.
  4. Suggest they visit some of the Christian sites. But only when they have shown an interest. Let them initiate any conversation. If they ask you about your faith then be prepared to answer. It would be wise to have worked something out in advance (and something that will fit into 140 letters). When they ask don’t just fire off a quick response even if you have thought it through but instead leave a sensible pause so they can know that you are thinking about it. People are suspicious of those who fire off rapid responses to questions. And anyway you should pray before responding and give yourself some time to make sure your response is the right one. Then let them have a link to a good Christian website (I’d suggest my site about Jesus at http://www.jesuscourse.info if modesty didn’t stop me ;-) ) and offer to talk about if with them. Or why not offer to look at it with several of your friends at the same time? You don’t have to be an expert or agree with everything you read – you can always plead ignorance and offer to get a better response.
  5. When the time seems right – ask them if they would like to go to church. You will then have to look for a good church near them and possibly warn the church in advance that you are asking someone to attend. This will need to be your judgment call but some churches have special services for non-Christians that might be more appropriate that this Sundays service. Also you might look out for a church doing the Alpha course so you know there is another way for them to find out about Christianity.

Ultimately its going to be about friendship and sensitivity.

Online Evangelism ,

Mystery meat navigation

October 27th, 2009

Mystery meat navigation is so called because you have to hover over it or click it to find out what it does. You see this kind of navigation a great deal in many “cutting edge” websites. Presumably “cutting edge” means sites that you can’t use.

15614272It’s called “mystery meat” as a tribute to old school meals where there was a meat dish that you have to eat to try and work out what the meat was (often unsuccessfully).

Navigation in a web site should be obvious. The last thing anyone wants is to have to learn how to use a website whilse they are trying to get information. It should be as obvious as possible as to where to find what people are looking for.

On a similar note – and I’m just forgetful enough to say this kind of thing again some time – don’t try and reinvent the names for buttons.

I’ve seen buttons with names like: “connect with us” and “talk to us” or even “network” when what they really meant was “Contact us”. Don’t make people search for things – make it obvious. It may be boring for you but web users will love your site if its easy to use.

Don't do this

Should I welcome people to the church web site?

October 26th, 2009

An awful lot of church web sites have some kind of welcome message on them. I guess this is because we want to be welcoming to people, but does saying welcome do this? Most savvy designers will be able to tell you that welcomes on a web site are not the done thing. Why is this and should we take any notice?

Here are some of the arguments:

  1. It’s obvious that people are welcome to your web site.
    If you didn’t want to welcome people then you wouldn’t have built the site in the first place!
  2. It take up room.
    Space on a web site, especially a front page, is very precious. Anything extra that clogs up a page and makes it too complex is not a good idea and on a front page you want to use every bit of the visible page to encourage people to get stuck into the content of your site. Taking up room saying something that is assumed anyway is just plain wasteful.
  3. It takes time to read it.
    Some recent research I read said that most people take less than 1 second to decide if they want to take a look at your site. I guess this is about the time it might take someone to read a welcome message. Don’t underestimate the speed with which people hop from site to site.
  4. The site should speak for itself
    If you go to Google’s web site (or IBM, or Microsoft, or Yahoo, etc, etc) do you see any welcome message? No. The site says welcome and take a look around – you don’t have to say it.
  5. People don’t really read web sites anyway
    When people first come to a web site they tend to skim rather than read. They look for words that stand out that might answer their questions. Welcomes do nothing for this but instead just offer words that a user must get through before they can get what they really want.
  6. Welcomes are nonsense when a person returns to a web site
    We all want people to return to our web site don’t we? At least I hope we do! The second time someone comes to a site the welcome message makes no sense anyway. And don’t think this calls for a clever bit of cookie coding because people get even more annoyed if they return to a site and find they have to work out all over again how to get to what they wanted. Removing a welcome message can cause confusion.

Sadly welcome messages also often deteriorate into descriptions of what people will find on the web site. This should be done by meaningful links and not messages.

The sad truth is that most people are generally not really interested in what we are proud of. They come to web sites looking for information and not for descriptions of things that we are trying to achieve. They don’t want to know that we want to welcome them warmly they want to feel the warmth from what is on the site.

Of course, some will want to argue that it personalizes the site but this is really best done through the design and content. People aren’t fooled just because someone says “welcome”.

web building

Google Sidewiki

October 23rd, 2009

Have you heard about Google Sidewiki? This is a controversial service offered by Google that allows anyone who visits your site to leave a comment for others to read. Google believes this is a good thing because it helps people spread around information that may be helpful to others. So for instance you could have some nice comments about your worship or testimonies from people who have really appreciated all you have done.

However there is a big flaw in the system. That flaw is that the web site owner has no control over the comments that are made. For businesses this means that whilst they might get some nice comments about their service it allows competitors to leave comments that might rubbish the service. For churches it could mean some nice comments or perhaps some militant atheists bad mouthing your faith.

My immediate reaction was to think that we are Christians and good at turning the other cheek. We just have to learn to live with it.

After giving it a lot of thought I think it is a bad idea. In an ideal world where everyone was nice and bad people always got their comeuppance this system would work. However the world is not like that. I’ve always maintained that most people are good (and I still believe this) but there are a few (and it only takes a few) who will see this as an opportunity for mischief. Take a look here for some of the arguments about the system (WARNING! some of the stuff on this page is quite strong – not from the author but the examples of sidewikis).

I very much hope that I’m wrong about this but I believe this system is bad.

I’ve visited a couple of Christian sites that are blocking anyone who uses a Google toolbar. I don’t think this is the solution myself because it will just annoy people and make them go elsewhere.

There are plenty of sites that offer suggestions to ways of protesting. I guess we may just have to weather the storm in the hopes that Google get the message and stop the service – or at least offer an opt out.

There is an option to report abuse of the system and I suggest we make good use of that system – perhaps the amount of reported abuse will make Google think again.

Other options are to stop using google and uninstall the google bar.

I’ll keep you posted on anything I find out.

If you get any bad comments on sidewiki then let us know by leaving a comment.

web building

Design by committee

October 22nd, 2009

It’s not unusual for the a church to want to design a web site using a committee. Now I’m all for involving as many people as possible in the ministry of a church but sometimes this committee thing can go too far. Have you ever tried to pick a carpet by committee? I have and it doesn’t work. It isn’t long before you end up having to deal with church politics and peoples sensitives if you try design by committee.

When it comes to websites its better to let the committee pick the overall philosophies and then hand the project over to one or two people who know what they are talking about. You can always run the final design past a committee just to be sure but the smaller the committee the better.

One of the problems is that most people like shiny flashy things to look at and so they pick a design based on how many big pictures it has and not on whether it will work. It is a bit like designing a building to have a beautiful facade with nothing to actually live in. Marketing people are the worst in the world by reputation for this approach so be wary of anyone in marketing who volunteers for the committee.

Anyway we could spend a long time on this issue (committees have a terrible habit of using up your time on pointless things) so I’m not going to say much more. You know this is a problem so try to avoid it.

Don't do this

Mormon church sees technology as a good thing

October 20th, 2009

I’m not a Mormon myself and as a Protestant Christian I disagree with much of what they teach but they do seem to have grasped the idea behind technology. You can read a story about their latest efforts here.

According to Alexa Mormon web sites are amoung the most popular church web sites in the world (if not the most popular).

I think there is something to be learned by all Christian groups here:

  • embrace the technology and invest in it – the Internet is one of the most cost effective ways of sharing the Christian message
  • centralise efforts – it’s better to have several hard working sites that are well used and well funded than 1000s spread all over the place
  • encourage members to use the sites
  • have a plan

Thoughts ,

Manifest Presence Evangelism

October 19th, 2009

Manifest presence evangelism is based on the idea that being in the presence of God is going to be life changing. This often involves inviting people to a worship meeting where you know that the presence of God is going to be felt in a very powerful way. It then doesn’t matter that the worship may seem strange to those from outside who come because God will move in their hearts.

It is very obviously a good thing for people to be in the presence of God and I would have no problem with this approach except for one simple thing. If people are not open to the presence of God then some kinds of worship can seem so strange and alien to them that it turns them off.

It’s been my privilege over the years to worship in many different places. I’ve been in very lively charismatic meetings right through to high anglican and Roman Catholic worship. My own feeling is that there is something to be gained from all these styles and yet occasionally I go to worship at a place which feels weird even for me. It’s very difficult to sense the presence of God when you are feeling very uncomfortable being in a certain environment.

I think perhaps this is similar to the way Pharaoh felt when Moses was going on about letting his people go and we read that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.

How does this translate to a web site?

This is a very difficult question to answer. People will have experiences of being in the presence of God whilst they are on the Internet but they won’t experience the presence of God in the same way they might in a crowd of worshipers. Any attempt to replicate worship online that might generate the feelings of the presence of God in worship might be accused of being manipulative.

However the experience of watching many people worshiping when you don’t have to participate as if you were there (and hence feeling uncomfortable) might work well.

This model of evangelism really does mean that people would need to be open to Christianity in the first place – especially on the Internet.

online ministry

Scare your visitors

October 16th, 2009

Once again I came across a well meaning Christian on the Internet who wanted to give both gospel barrels on a web site. This time it was a forum about a celebrity and they wanted that celebrity to get the gospel. Please don’t do this – the double barrel bit and not the gospel bit.

I want to see the gospel everywhere but there are ways of doing it that don’t make Christians sound like a bunch of wierdos who hate everyone. I’m sure the well meaning person didn’t intend to sound like they were a raving lunatic but that is how it came across (with the shouting capitals as well) and reading the comments that followed the outburst on the forum was downright painful.

When you put something up on the Internet you represent Christ himself. Would Jesus really talk like this to someone who was searching for answers? I don’t think so.

So sensitivity and love are key when posting anything on the Internet to do with Jesus Christ. I’m not suggesting watering anything down but remember it’s not what you think you say its what the person believes you wrote that counts. You may have meant the capitals to be a plea to a loved one but they come across as a shout at everyone.

Don't do this