Note: This page was written some time ago, when I was still a Christian. I'm not any more, so it's likely that some material in here no longer reflects my current opinions.
This is a (lightly reformatted) Usenet article I posted to uk.religion.christian ages ago. Someone asked
What do UKRC members look for in a church website?
and I replied, at great length ...
Up-to-date information about
- service times
- other church activities
- contact names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses
Other information that doesn't go out of date so quickly:
- where it is (a little map is useful; so is a picture that shows the church in enough context that I might recognise it when looking for it)
- what it looks like inside and outside
- some indication of its style (prayer, worship, fellowship, teaching, theology): this needn't be done explicitly if it's conveyed implicitly.
Also good to see:
- some feeling that the website has been produced by a real live human member of the church with a real live human personality, not put together by some faceless web design company from a few bits of paper reluctantly supplied by the church office.
- a site that's easy to find your way around. That's subjective, of course. But, for instance, a "site map" page, listing all the pages on the site and giving some indication of their relationships, is good. A consistent "navigation bar" leading to major landmarks on the site is good. Carefully chosen page titles are good. Copious links within the site are usually good. A well thought out overall structure to the site is good. If you have, say, only two pages then this is probably not an important issue. :-)
- links to other relevant places: other churches in the same area, other churches of the same denomination, other things in the same area, local maps, other Christian organizations, maybe even members' own web pages.
And, of course, I like a site that indicates that the church is the sort of church I like. But since everyone has their own "sort of church [they] like", I shan't bother detailing that bit. :-)
I've been doing some work on the website my church has developed, and I'd like to start adding some functions to it, as it contains only static information pages at the moment.
I'm thinking of adding features such as:
- a community forum or message board (for prayer requests, notices, discussions etc)
- a 'prayer/reading of the day' section (if I can find a link for one)
- a photo section with close-ups of interesting church features with accompanying text
Is this kind of site useful, or am I being too ambitious?
It sounds very good, but
- before putting in place a community forum or message board you should convince yourself that it will actually get enough use to be valuable
- before putting in a prayer-of-the-day thing you should convince yourself that it really will keep being updated.
It's rather offputting to look on a web page and see something like "NEW Daily News. Last updated 20th August, 1863". This is, more generally, a good reason to make the whole thing as low-maintenance as possible. Whoever takes the site over from you may not have as much enthusiasm as you have. (Nor may you, in six months' time.)
The "interesting church features" thing is good, because such things don't go out of date until they start pulling the church down. Some people may get uppity if they feel that the website is focusing on the buildings rather than the people (or the worship, or the doctrine, or whatever). Ignore them, or at any rate just ask: If the pages of photos / history / whatever weren't there, would this person be complaining?
You should have a think about who's going to be finding the website useful. I can think of the following groups.
- Members of the church. They'll be looking to check that the service isn't at a different time next week on account of being the third Sunday in the second consecutive month whose fourth Wednesday is a prime-numbered day of the month; looking for a copy of the text of last week's excellent sermon on why the Euro is the Scarlet Woman of Babylon; wondering how to get involved with the church music group and whether there's just a regular practice at which they can turn up; wanting the church office phone number.
- Prospective members who've got there by asking Google for churches in West Flumley. They'll be looking for some clue about what sort of church it is; wanting to know how to get there and whether it's near their home; wondering what times the services are and what other activities it has; curious to know what sort of people go there.
- Tourists looking for nice buildings to look at. They'll want to know about the wooden font carved by Grinling Gibbons; the old stories about the disgruntled parishioner from the 17th century who still haunts the clergy; the elegance of the stone pillars and the radiance of the stained glass windows. They may not be expecting to discover God afresh in the process, but there's no reason why you shouldn't give them a gentle nudge in that direction, one way or another.
- Visitors who already know they're going to go to your church and wonder what to expect. They want to be warned in advance that anyone not wearing a bowler hat will be turned away at the door; that they should expect to be ministered to in prophecy and healing if they are foolish enough to cough during the half hour of free intercessory prayer; that for the sermon they should bring either a pencil and paper to make notes with or a good book to read instead.
- Random people from half way across the world looking for information about something else. This is only likely to be very relevant if your church is associated with some famous person or event, or if you find something really interesting to put on the website. (For instance, if you post all the sermons and your church's sermons are unusually good; or if you do something like http://elvis.rowan.edu/~kilroy/JEK/home.html.)
Once you've decided who your main audience is and what you have to say to them, things are liable to be clearer. Maybe.