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Posts Tagged ‘church website’

The ludicrous case of the lost links

January 21st, 2010

Do you ever visit web sites only to find that the page you wanted is missing? It happens when web masters (web slaves – or whatever you want to call them) either move a page so the site is less cluttered or because a page is now so out of date that a new one is required. If you change from a static site to a dynamic site (html to php or something) then you will inevitably mess up every link that existed prior to the change. Sometimes, of course, the link was never right in the first place.

So there are a couple of things it is wise to do to avoid such problems:

1) Be careful with your links and do your best to make sure they work – perhaps have a rolling program of checking your links (there is software that will do this and if you sign up for Google webmaster tools you get a report on duff links but my experience is that they are never perfect).

2) Set up a special 404 page. You can see the one I have made for this web site here (opens in new window). It is just a very simple page and you could put in a lot more detail (make sure you use absolute URLs though – e.g. full web address to any images etc. There are various ways of setting your site to use these pages and most good hosting companies will have a way to enable this to happen. Here is a way to do it if you are looking for the technical stuff (opens in new window).

So, there are ways around the problem and it pays to put in that little bit of extra effort to help your visitors.

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Web site resolutions

January 14th, 2010

What are your plans for your web site over the coming year?

This is a very important question to ask and you should think carefully about your answers. It is the nature of the Internet that things change quickly and often, however the basics of what makes a good web site remain the same: good content, clean design, easy navigation.

Why not take some time to think about what you intend to do with your site and make a plan for doing it. If nothing else I would recommend committing yourself to doing some work on your content.

Thoughts

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.

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Convincing the committee that your church needs a website

September 29th, 2009

So you think your church/organsiation should have a church web site but you need some help to support the idea when you present it. Here are some important points to back you up.

Point 1: The Internet is increasingly the way that people find out information

Research shows that people are using the printed Yellow Pages less and less whilst Internet advertising and usage increases.

See http://searchengineland.com/google-trends-yellow-pages-will-be-toast-in-four-years-12256 if you doubt this.

Some have predicted that the Yellow Pages will be out of business in 4 years – I’m not so sure about that but it is certainly in decline.

Churches need to have an Internet precense to ensure that those looking for a church can find it.

Point 2: Other churches in your area already have a web site

Given todays consumer approach to church going (this is not a judgement on its merits or otherwise) people are looking for a church to attend and want information to help them make informed choices. If your church does not have a website you can be sure that other churches near you do. The information provided by these sites may encourage people to try those churches over yours. Denominational loyalties are dying out.

Point 3: 75% of Internet users are under 54

http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/Generations-Online-in-2009.aspx?r=1

and Internet usage now equals T.V. watching according to IBM

This means that one of the most effective ways of reaching the very people that most churches want to reach is through the Internet

Point 4: The cost of having a professionally designed web site compares very favourably with other ways of promoting your church

Web site prices start at around £500* (although there are some even cheaper alternatives). A content managed website is likely to cost in the region of £2000*. Getting a brochure designed and printed is likey to cost in the region of £2000+*. Of course a website lasts for years and can reach millions whereas many church brochures sit in cupboards for years and although they are often passed around they are limited in who they can reach.

* Note that these are U.K. prices and folk from other countries will have to adjust these

Any other ideas?

Do you have any other reasons that you could add to the list? Why not leave a comment …

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Does the attraction model of ministry work for the Internet?

July 23rd, 2009

Table of contents for Models of online ministry

  1. Models for online ministry
  2. Does the attraction model of ministry work for the Internet?
  3. Conforming Outreach
  4. Social Interaction Model

Everyone who is interested in models of ministry seems to have their own names for things – often because they want to redefine what each one means. Because there seems to be no one definition for anything I guess I’m going to have to do the same thing. I’m going to take a look at some of the models I’ve come across (feel free to tell me about others) and see how they relate to online ministry.

The attraction model works on the basis that people will be drawn to that which they find attractive. So by making the Christian faith attractive people will be drawn into exploring it and joining it.

This model has a lot going for it because it has been proved to work on more than one occasion. Let’s look at its merits:

  1. It works. This is a model that works for everything, people really are drawn to what they find attractive. This works for the precontemplaters as well as those already committed so we can start to draw in those who are not even interested in the first place.
  2. It’s simple because it works on some basic human instincts and you don’t have to get too carried away with being clever.
  3. It works for everyone. Even those people who are in the church find that it works to keep them interested and engaged.
  4. It self perpetuates. People are willing to tell others about things that they find attractive (well most of the time anyway) and so it helps to spread the message.

However, there are some serious problems with this approach as well:

  1. It only works if you can make something attractive. One of the problems that the church in the U.K. has had to face is that often it isn’t very attractive. Small numbers of people in a crumbling old building, keeping old traditions alive (I like some of these old traditions so don’t misunderstand me) is very hard to make attractive to others.
  2. It only works if you have a number of people already interested. This is perhaps were it becomes unstuck for the Internet. To draw people in by attraction you have to have a group of people who already think something is attractive. Without a following there is no growth.
  3. There is a temptation to cheapen the message in an effort to keep things attractive. This is especially true when there are a small number or a very large number of followers. If attraction becomes the focus instead of the gospel things start to go wrong.
  4. It’s primary job is only to draw people in. There is rarely a time when this is all that a website would want to do.

So it can work in certain circumstances but is limited and dangerous.

It is possible to present the attractive side of something to get attention and then use the interest to get a message across. In fact this is how I became a Christian myself. I was a young man and I encountered a church where there were lots of young women. However on the Internet things are a little different than in a church. In a church meeting you have a somewhat captive audience. Once they are in the building they will give the church a chance to say something, they will also come back. On the Internet there is no compulsion to stay. If someone comes to a website and they don’t like what they read then they will simply click away. There is the added problem that unless they have bookmarked the site or come from a site they often visit there is a fair chance you will never see them again.

So in my opinion the attraction model doesn’t really work very well. It is an appealing model because you can persuade yourself that if something looks good then people will come without you having to go out and find anyone but it has too many problems to be a simple cure all approach.

The conclusion is that whilst it is important for a website to look attractive, it is unlikely to make a site successful on its own.

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Remember that everyone who visits your site is a person

June 25th, 2009

In my youth I loved gadgets. I thought that the best T.V./Stereo/Camera/etc was the one with the most lights and if they flashed in different colours it was like going to heaven. I then learned that perhaps the best ones might be the ones with the least amount of flashy lights – after all if they need flashy lights perhaps it’s to cover up how bad they are. I now know that it has nothing to do with the lights at all – it is how good they work. There is still a bit of me that likes the flashy lights though!

One of the things it is easy to forget is that a web site is not about features it is in fact about people. I visit an awful lot of web sites (and believe me some of them are awful) and too often they seem to revolve around the gadgets. I get this a lot from customers as well who always want the latest gadget that they heard about on the T.V.

The point is that gadgets are nice but only if they help you get the message of your web site across.

A web site is about the people who will read it and not the technology. Too often gadgets and new “features” get in the way of the message itself.

Perhaps I’m just getting old but for me the importance of the Internet is not the technology that drives it but the people it connects.

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Is it possible to do church on the Internet?

June 16th, 2009

There seems to be an assumption among some churches that there is a need to get worship onto the Internet. Now don’t get me wrong because I love a bit of good worship but I think sometimes we miss the point that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

I’ve seem lots of attempts to get worship on the Internet and most of it seems to be aimed at getting non-Christian or nominal Christians to join in. However I think there are some big questions that need as answer.

1. Can people participate in collective worship online?
I’m not really convinced that many churches have worked out what collective worship is when they do it in their own building and so really struggle when it comes to getting it online. Can people worship together with others when the only connection is through wires? What is participation in worship? What is worship anyway?

2. Is the Internet capable of delivering what is required?
I’m not personally convinced that it is – yet. The Internet is, after all, a collection of people using computers to join together. Do the computers get in the way or do they help? Most efforts seem to revolve around streaming video but surely this is nothing more than a cheap and convenient way of doing T.V. – perhaps there is something more that the Internet could offer. I’ve also seen efforts where people are expected to type a prayer on the keyboard. Is this really collective worship? Doesn’t this reduce worship to an action rather than a state of heart and mind?

I think the Internet is a great way of getting a message out to others but I sometimes wonder if we are missing the boat? Should Christians concentrate more on what can be done rather than trying to force the issue by trying to do something that the technology is just not capable of delivering.

I’m still thinking all this through so I’d welcome some of your thoughts. I fear I have raised more questions than given answers.

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Simple designs work best

May 6th, 2009

One of the frustrations with the Internet is that it is always changing and developing. Whilst this kind of development is usually good sometimes it makes us a little lazy.
In the good old days (about 10 years ago – ancient history on the Internet) sites had to be built using the very smallest of images and the very least amount of html. As broadband becomes more and more available the stringent rules we all used to follow have become a little more relaxed. Where I once had to handcode all the html for a site I now use software and very seldom have to code a site using just html. I see this as generally a good thing.

However there is one rule that I think should always apply (and this will be forever): keep it simple.

The Internet always has been about speed. Those people who don’t mind waiting are those who are wanting to be entertained. Unless your viewers are looking for entertainment then you will have to deal with the speed issue.

From a design perspective I’ve always believed that the simple designs are the best. The design of a site is not its most important reason to exist and if your site is all design and no content people will very soon get fed up and go elsewhere. You might win an award for the way the site looks but it won’t make people use your site. You do want people to use your site don’t you?

However although I advocate simple designs I do advocate some design. The design should help people find the content. This something where an awful lot of church sites fall down.

So make sure you have a design but keep that design simple.

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