WEBSITE BASICS -- Why Do Websites Go Bad?
Ministry and local church websites are a lot like a city mass transit system
I used to live in Toronto where millions of people ride the buses and subways of the huge sprawling city. If you walk out to the street just as a bus pulls away, no problem, because glancing down the street you can see the next bus cresting a hill not too far away. Imagine a large city without any buses. Everybody drives their cars or their bicycles (like a church without a website). The city fathers decide they need to get a mass transit system going. Before too long you can catch a bus or city van on the major streets every two or three hours and on the not-quite-so-major streets about once a day, if you are lucky. Six months later, because so few people were using the system, they sold off some of the buses. Perhaps you can see where I'm headed.
A website brimming full and up to date with what people are looking for will become very popular. That popularity will inspire it to grow and become even more successful (like Toronto's mass transit system). Most of the time, the church and its website never get past the point of critical mass where it finally takes on an enthusiastic energy of it's own. And so these sites do not get updated because they rarely get visited. These sites rarely get visited because they are stale and out of date and never did offer much anyway.
A surprisingly high percentage of church websites are in very bad shape, with many of them appearing to have been abandoned. Why?
The Webmaster Gave Up
A lot of church webmasters simply give up. Here are some examples that I have heard from webmasters:
- The site was uploaded a year ago and the hit counter on the home page only reads 12.
- I put an announcement in the bulletin six months ago asking for information for the website and so far nobody has called.
- The church office is supposed to keep the information management system up to date, but it's such a hassle, and besides, hardly anybody uses the website.
Deliver a speech, play a musical instrument, sing in the choir. The audience responds, a hearty amen, applause. You rub shoulders with people. You are part of the action. It can be inspiring.
Build a website and you don't get to chat with the visitors, you don't get that audience response, it's not like singing in the choir. It's like operating a CB radio with the transmitter MAXed out to a big antenna, but the receiver never did work.
After awhile, a lot of webmasters simple give up because they perceive that nobody cares. Very often the core problem is the perception that the website is a big waste of time.
A Team Approach Needed
It is a common misconception that a computer expert or someone with a degree in computer science is the ideal person to build a church website. This is all too often far from the truth. Making a good website requires a range of skills including artistic design and technical abilities. Few people have both, which is why there are so many ugly church websites. If you don't have someone with a flair for artistic design to work alongside your technical people then you may well end up with an ugly looking website.
During the years 2003 through 2006, the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, PlusLine, and TAGnet recognized churches that gave careful thought and attention to the design of their church websites. Each month a website was chosen as the outstanding "Website of the Month," and it received a special award. In December of each year, a finalist was selected from the twelve monthly winners that year. The finalist received the "eChurch Award of the Year." Some of the webmasters and web teams who built the award-winning websites shared some of the reasons for their success:
- Bill Aumack, webmaster for the Downey Adventist Church, was persistent with church members to get the information that he needed. Persistence gradually pays off, and the flow of information builds and becomes somewhat more automatic. His news letter on Promoting Your Website offered a lot of great ideas for promoting a website into a success story. A popular website does tend to breed success on into the future.
- The Norwalk Adventist Church website was a team effort, which is an excellent idea. Will Baron was the team coordinator, even though he had no claim to any webmaster expertise. This kind of a team stands a much better chance at success than when a church simply nominates a member who is rumored to know something about HTML coding and is a "webmaster". The San Francisco Central Church, Sacramento Central, the Jamaica Adventist Church, and the Sunnyvale Adventist Church are some of the other excellent examples of making the church website a team project.
- The church office team should have as one of their stated priorities getting information to the webmaster.
- A related approach is what the Pioneer Memorial Church webmaster did with SimpleUpdates, making it possible for each of the office staff and church leaders to directly help keep content up-to-date.
- Many church websites become more successful because one or more members take the initiative to encourage the webmaster or the web team or step forward to be the information-gathering agent. You don't have to know anything about website design to become a key ingredient for a successful website.
- The pastor, the church board, and other leaders need to communicate that the church website really is important. Make that clear to your website team, and make it clear to the leaders who need to facilitate the flow of up-to-date information to the website.
- The website should also encourage visitors to contact the church and to contact the webmaster. Sad to say, this needs to be done in a way that is not wide-open to the SPAMers who plague our email.
Primary Author: David Buxton