What, Why & Wherefore
How can churches use websites effectively?
In November last year, I ran a survey on Church Technology topics and received about 80 responses over a period of a couple of weeks. As you can see from the graph, it seems like some of you want to find out about websites, so here we go.
What are websites?
Websites are fundamentally a collection of documents on a server running a program to use a set of defined technology protocols to make the documents available for display on a remote, but network connected, computer. The motivation behind the original technology was to create an easier way to share academic research within the academic community and focused on text documents. Over time, the enabling technologies have been expanded and evolved so that now, website technologies are what drives everything from online banking and online shopping to social media to remote control of your house air-conditioning and lighting. Today, a “standard”, bread and butter website would use server-based software called a Content Management System (CMS) and build the site out of a collection of components that contain content and display that content in different ways.
So, why have a church/parish/congregation website? Like many things in the communications field, the first question is, “What are you trying to achieve? What is that makes this a desirable objective for us to accomplish?” Given that there is no truly free way to develop a website – at the very least someone will spend time, and time has a value, even if we don’t end up paying money for it. We need to make sure that the resources we spend make us a return of the type we are looking for. In my experience, there are three general types of things churches try to achieve in their websites, in combination or by themselves. But whatever type suits your situation, remember, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well!”
- “Brochureware” site – I call this type “brochureware” because it is an online clone of the printed brochure some congregations have their greeters hand to new arrivals. The objective is to give a summary of the congregation’s “Vital statistics” – the phone numbers, addresses (email, postal, physical), what groups meet and key contact people. Often, congregations will try to go beyond the purely administrative information and try to paint a picture of the type of community the congregation is to help strangers viewing the website try to assess how well they would “fit” in that community. The “Find a Church” feature on the methodist.org.nz website is well-suited to hosting sites of this type. (Alec Utting is the webmaster for this site and would be happy to talk to you about getting your Parish page up to scratch.) Given the research that indicates that something like 70% of people who walk through your door for the first time has already checked you out with Google, I think this type of site is a no-brainer.
- Internal Admin site – This type of site is focused on communications between the parish and its members. It provides access to things like rosters, prayer requests, meeting agendas and minutes etc. The nature of the material means that usually some form of access control is required so that confidential information doesn’t get viewed by people who aren’t supposed to. Often this type of site adds community building features to help facilitate and foster the relationship between there members. Personally, my feeling is that unless you have very specific requirements, it would be easier and cheaper to set up a closed group on facebook or a similar platform.
- Community site – This type of site reaches beyond one’s own members and tries to engage the people in one’s community. To do this well is very resource intensive (in comparison to the other types), but has the most potential for working for good within one’s community, building a presence for the congregation and building a real role for the church within its community.
I’ve run out of space. Obviously, I will have to write some follow-up articles in future issues.