By Helen T. Goody
How many times have you heard it? “You’ve got to have a good Web presence.” “It’s crucial to get connected.” “Got net?”
A 2005 Pew Internet & American Life Internet Project survey (www.pewinternet.org) suggests that 64 percent of Americans use the Internet for religious or spiritual purposes. And you know that your church’s online image is vital for capturing the e-seeker, as well as keeping the congregation in touch with what’s going on in your faith community.
If you have a Web site, you may have already experienced one of two things: 1) Your Website gets outdated fast, mainly because you don’t have time to update it. 2) You had a volunteer who designed your site for you, and the church news still reads May 15, 2004-the day your volunteer graduated from high school.
So how can you rest assured that your Web site would be designed and maintained professionally and in a timely manner? And who can you get to help you? Starting with a simple plan for how you will design your site, develop your vision. Use Learn The Net’s (www.learnthenet.com) guidelines for stages of planning: 1)Planning, 2)Content Development, 3)Graphic Design, 4)Programming and Technical Help, 5)Marketing and Promotion, and 6)Maintenance. Each segment of development has special needs, and you can use a combination of volunteers and employees to keep your Web site up-to-date and fresh.
1] Planning – Use volunteers and existing staff. Touch base with the people who best know your church-include both new members and veterans. Ask them what you want your church Web site to do. How often would they visit the site? If they were looking for information on your church site, what are the most important things seekers need to know? What features might actually deter your church members from face-to-face fellowship?
“Most churches with professional Web sites spend the overwhelming majority of their time thinking about design and then content,” says Frank Johnson, church strategist (http://www.strategicdigitaloutreach.com) and contract Webmaster for many Christian Web sites, including The Bridge Church Atlanta in Georgia (www.thebridgechurch.org). “The most important thing a pastor can do with regard to a church Website is considered issues of strategy.”
2] Content Development – Use volunteers and existing staff. The mistake too often made with the Web is that its quick communication. Don’t overlook speed for quality content – remember that your website may be the first thing that seekers see. Be sure that you are leaving a good impression; you may not get another chance! Als,o make sure that your congregation members have a reason to return to the church Web site. An interactive, well-visited site is attractive and reflects the close community that surrounds your church.
“The tendency is for church leadership to simply want to have a Web site up and running,” says Johnson. “How it is used often seems unimportant. They decide unquestioningly that having a Web site is a given and that once they have a site up and running, that task is finished. Unfortunately, most churches never think about strategy and about how their Web sites can be effectively used for the kingdom.”
3] Graphic Design – Use a professional. Sure, you can get your youth group kids, who just learned what WSYWIG means in their high school computer classes, to build a Web site for you. (“What You See Is What You Get” describes HTML editor software that lets you design pages without knowing all the code behind them.) But you’ll need a professional either paid or volunteer to make sure your site has a professional look. “When a church gets a Web site for free, it evidently has no value,” says Web professional Michael Boyink (www.boyink.com) of Holland, Michigan. “Things with no value get replaced or reimplemented on a moment’s notice, on staff whim, or as soon as the person leading the effort is called away.”
4] Programming and Technical Help – Use a professional. Time is precious. If you find yourself paying someone to make daily changes, or if you are desperate to post a Sunday school registration page online, then you’ll need a programmer.
5] Marketing and Promotion – Use volunteers and professionals. General marketing and promotion may just mean remembering to add your Web site address to all your publications. Challenge a volunteer to be the champion who verifies that your Web site is everywhere you want it to be. But when it comes to online marketing, you’ll need someone who has dedicated time to make sure your site shows up in search engines and knows how to match your strategies with your site visitors.
6] Maintenance – Use volunteers and professionals. Enable the people who own certain sections of your site to maintain the content. “If your site is designed properly,” says Conrad Weaver of Frederick Christian Fellowship Church in Frederick, Maryland (www.fcfchurch .com), “you’ll not need to hire for [site updates].” Weaver also suggests establishing a system of double-checking facts, grammar, and spelling, before updates are published.