Establishing a Web Presence and Ministry In Cyber-Space
The question I am receiving from more and more churches lately is how to get their church on the Internet. Different churches are at different places in their quest for cyber-space ministry. This article is intended as an overall primer of what is required to get online.
First, I would like to address a common theme. Many churches start thinking about web presence and want to host their web server on site. This is not an efficient method. The resources that it takes to properly run a web server (not to mention the bandwidth needed for such operations) is mind-boggling. The security patches alone that must be applied are constant – and we haven’t even mentioned the cost! I urge every church to seriously consider web hosting. There are literally thousands of good companies out there, all of themcompeting for your business. Prices are low, service is good, and maintenance is easy. They are all on solid pipelines to the Internet, thus ensuring good web-visitor experiences.
What’s in a name?
Everything! The first step in making your web presence is establishing a name! Act quickly. Every day more and more web domains are taken. Finding one that matches your church can be difficult. When thinking of a name, think short. Take the Technologies For Worship Magazine website for instance. They could have used http://www.technologiesforworshipmagazine.com, or http://www.technologiesforworship.com, or any other similar combination. Instead they chose www.TFWM.com. It’s short, simple, and memorable. Once you know they have used their initials, you can easily remember the site name. Also avoid hyphenation. I once had a site with hyphenation, (www.creative-illusions.com); I was constantly trying to explain what a hyphen was and hating the fact it was there. When it comes to domain names, Keep It Short and Simple. When choosing a name you should think not only of the website name, but bear in mind you will be giving it out as an e-mail address with a name in the front of it!
When you are ready to start looking for a name, visit www.whois.org. Simply type in the domain name you want to use and see if it is available. Remember the common extension conventions used throughout the web.
Of course, there is no real law about what extension you can or cannot use (with the exception of .gov); however, it’s helpful to stay within the conventions for people to locate you. Many organizations will buy multiple extensions with the same domain name (if they are available). There is nothing worse than to own a site with a cool name just to have that same name purchased by an adult website with a different extension!
Once you settle on a name, it’s time to buy it. Often times you can buy through your hosting service for a discount. For instance, I can buy domain names through one of my providers for as cheap as $18 per year. Verisign, on the other hand, wants $35 for the same name, same duration. So shop around and save money.
Okay, so now you have your name. Next you have to find a home. This is usually done at the same time you find your name (as I mentioned above, you can sometimes get a package deal).
Once you settle on a home (your web host), they will make sure the Internet name registry knows how to find you (this means when someone types www.yourname.org the Internet knows where your home is and takes the visitor there). Your web host will then provide you with as much space as they promised you, an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) site to access your space, usually some sort of administrative control panel to manage your accounts, and they are done. You are pretty much expected to know the rest.
This means you must now design and build your site, setup your e-mail addresses, and upload the site to your space. Once this happens, you are open for business.
An alternative is a value-added-service. I cannot recommend this option strongly enough. I use a service that is simply splendid. All I do is provide a graphic template of what the site should look like and describe how it needs to function. This provider then inserts all the code and sets up the site parameters. My customers can then go in and edit by simply pointing and clicking! Every addition and change is managed on the web and is so simple the most basic church secretary (or youth minister, or pastor, or volunteer) can update the site. Regardless of who updates the site, it will maintain its original design purity. The only change is content. The website manages the size, font, color, and every other property!
I prefer the second option, although it is more expensive, because it allows the church to focus on its primary purpose – ministry. It also eliminates dependency on volunteers or paid staff to manage the site, while ensuring the original design remains intact forever.
In a nutshell, web presence is critical for a growing ministry. The Internet has so much negative content on it that anything we can do to add positive Christian values will only help our society. The Internet is also a primary research tool of the average American. It is very likely that a potential visitor will browse your website to determine whether or not to visit your church. Your website will say a lot about your church. The look, feel, and organization will speak volumes. The content will tell a visitor right where you stand. Virtual tours and maps will allow them the confidence of knowing your facility before they ever step foot through the door.
There are so many ways the web can be used to further the Gospel message. It is really limited only by your imagination. Service streaming and general announcements are only the tip of the iceberg. Virtual campus tours, Bible studies, streaming video clips, chat rooms, 24/7 live counseling, radio shows – almost anything you can think of is possible. The web is perhaps the easiest way to take the Gospel message outside the walls of your building.
Spread the Word.