Help for Church Webmasters

Issue 26                                                                               10/27/03

 

Currency Needed

 

While I am sure that many of us would happily receive a few extra bucks, this is not a plea for you to send me money (but hey, if you have some extra cash lying around, I can forward you my address!). The kind of currency I am referring to is current information on our websites. 

 

I had an enlightening conversation with my pastor recently. He had the wonderful opportunity to take a sabbatical and one of the things he did during that time was visit other churches. He was quite excited to be able to do this and for the most part it was a good experience. The one downside he discovered is that it was very hard to figure out what was happening at each church or even where the churches were, based on their websites. In his particular case, he didn’t care to visit a church that was having a musical group visiting from somewhere else or some other special day; he wanted to hear different preachers preach. So he would go to their websites looking for information, only to be largely frustrated, even the websites of big churches had this problem. It is not hard to imagine that other people might also have certain things they are looking for and want to be able to find the information on the website.

 

A quick survey of church sites shows he’s right. It can be very difficult to see what is happening at a church. Many churches have a calendar/schedule, but many of them are WAY out of date (sometimes YEARS out of date!). Some churches do not even have a decent map or directions to their building. Some churches even once you get to a building it’s hard to tell where you are supposed to go. I’ve been to churches that after I get out of my car I am looking at several possible ways I could go, and it’s not clear that one is the main entrance. So you might even want to include some information like that on your site.

 

There are lots of ways to provide this information. It’s not clear that one way is always better than another. I think what works best is whatever you can keep current. So here are some options.

 

Calendar/Schedules (in no particular order)

  1. Use a third party calendar hosted on another site for your calendar. There are many of these types of services, most are pay, but there are a few free ones. I use this one for my site, http://www.calendars.net/. See mine here, http://www.downeychurch.org/Calendar.html.
    Pros:  This way you will be able to have someone else keep the calendar current, maybe the church secretary or the bulletin editor can do this task. The point is, they can have a password to the calendar but not the rest of your HTML, if that type of control is necessary. It’s free!
    Cons: You still have to find someone to keep the calendar current. You may still have other HTML pages to edit on your site to reflect the changes on the calendar – depending on what type of info you keep on your site. For example, you might still have to edit the main page for the up coming events.
  2. Keep all calendar/schedule info on one page on your site. You could simply keep all the information on one HTML page then you would have the minimum updates to make.
    Pros: Easy for the webmaster.
    Cons: Probably harder for the person viewing the site. Face it, most of us want current events on the main page or other prominent place. So it just isn’t very practical to make every follow a link to just to see the current information.
  3. Keep calendar/schedule info in limited places, not spread all over your site. Having the calendar for every ministry on their “own” page is a maintenance nightmare. Having on just one page is not really practical either (see #2), so just try to keep it on as few pages as possible. Probably a calendar page and a highlights section for upcoming events on the main page would be sufficient.
    Pros: Good mix of maintainability for the webmaster and easy of gathering information for the person browsing the site.
    Cons: You still might have to update more than one page. But those changes should be minimal.
  4. Church bulletins have limited value. I often get asked about how to easily publish church bulletins. My response is “It’s very easy, don’t do it.” The church bulletin has limited value to people who aren’t at church that day. The announcements might be interesting, but you should have that already covered on your site. The other stuff just doesn’t really matter if you’re not at church. Do you really care who did the welcome, or what song was played for the offertory if you weren’t there? Someone once told me, that they use the bulletin for schedule purposes. Whatever works for you is about the only answer I can give, but I don’t think the bulletin is a good schedule tool. Most churches don’t have a bulletin ready until late in the week and by the time you can get it on a website, it might be just a day before the service – not enough time to make schedule changes. If you need to post schedules for greeters, deacons, ushers, elders, music, etc., then post them in an area next to your calendar and let people see the schedule enough in advance that they can switch with someone if there are conflicts.

 

Maps

  1. Provide a map or very good written directions to your church. Depending on where you are, you must give appropriate details. For example, here in Southern California, if you don’t give freeway references, then people will have no idea where you are. If you live in a rural area, something like ‘next to the lake’ might be more appropriate. Remember, if you want people to come visit that maybe on vacation or new to the area, they need precise, detailed directions. Don’t assume that you can say “by the old McDonalds” and have everyone understand what that means.
  2. Provide a map from the parking area to the worship center/sanctuary. When someone parks at your church, do they have to walk up 3 flights of stairs before they can see the church? (I’ve been to one like that.) Will they be behind the building and they will have to walk all the way around the building before they can get it? (I’ve seen that too.) Are the children’s departments 3 buildings removed from the adults? Are the restrooms hard to find? Is everything handicapped accessible? The more details you can provide to a guest, the better. This might even warrant a “For the First Time You Visit” page.

 

Of course you can always mix and match solutions to fit your particular website. You could also make solution #3 a bit easier on you by using some format of an include. There are many various ways to do this, not all of them will work on every server. One of ways to easily do this that will work on most servers is to have a simply formatted file (usually plain text or VERY simple HTML) that can be included on several pages. So your calendar could be included in a scroller on your main page and included on your announcements page (for example), but you would only have to update one file to make both pages on your site. IFRAMES are another way you could do this. (hmmm, I feel a topic for the next newsletter coming on).

 

The moral of all this rambling is this, you must have current data on your site. You must organize the data so the person viewing your site can easily find the information. And you must organize the data in a manner that will not be so difficult to update that you will not want to keep it current (make it as easy as possible for yourself).  As usual, a great website is a balancing act, the users needs vs. your time vs. when you can get info from its source. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but do your best to give the first time visitor and the regular members good information as to what is going on at church.

 

 

 

See ya,

 

Bill

 

 

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the fine print… 

 

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It would be way cool if you could mention this resource somewhere on your web page! You can link to “Help for Church Webmasters” at http://www.downeychurch.com/HelpForChurchWebmasters.html