So Your Church Wants a Web Site

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

The Internet can open up a great big world of opportunities for a church to get their word out to thousands upon tens of thousands of people all across the world in a very cost effective way. Just think of it, your local pastor can become an international broadcaster on the church’s creative and beautiful (remember, that’s in the eyes of the beholder) web page that spans the globe. And since you are the webmaster, this will allow people to see your creative and technical know-how for years to come.

That’s great, but oftentimes that’s where it all ends. I hope to shed some light on what it takes to make a successful web site and the tools, skills and support you need to make it all happen.

I have surfed around to many web sites looking at other people’s creations and I have found some good, some bad, and some just plain hilarious. Many of the church web sites I find are created by well meaning parishioners who want to help their church have a presence on the web. They purchase a dial-up subscription for themselves from their local ISP (Internet Service Provider) and included in the package are a few mega-bytes of personal web space. Well, they have no need for that space, but their church does!

Now the creative juices start to flow and the first attempt to give the “First Church of the Well Meaning Dude” an internationally acclaimed web site. He is focused on learning HTML and maybe even JavaScripts. On the first day he starts entering in the church’s name and address, maybe even getting in the list of scheduled services. On the second day he starts to play around with the background and font colors. On the third day he discovers animated GIF’s and starts placing them everywhere. Next, a banner or two and things are going great! He starts showing off his creation to other parishioners and they say, “It looks good”, and it keeps him going for many more days. Finally, the juices just don’t flow any more. The thrill of the “ministry” dissipates.

I have seen this scenario played out more than once. I know because I played the role of the “Well Meaning Dude” when I first started helping my church become Internet savvy. I guess I’ve learned through the “school of hard knocks”. Now I know that a church’s web site should be treated as an extension of its ministry and not just an Internet billboard advertisement. To make it so, it takes a team of dedicated members and a vision that drives it forward, not just for the short term, but for the long haul. I hope my guidelines will help to inspire creativity in the right direction.

I have compiled a list of guidelines to help you identify the steps required to create a successful church web ministry. Please keep in mind that this is not a definitive list and that I’ve not covered every possible nook and cranny in creating a web presence. This is a list to help you reach your goal and you will need to tailor it to meet your church and community needs.

Step 1: Develop a vision for the ministry
This is the most important step and it should be developed at a pastor and/or board member level. If you belong to neither of these categories, then talk with your pastor and share your vision for the web ministry. Be prepared with your ideas; as they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words”, especially if your pastor is not technology-minded. Pray for direction and create a few sketches. Even a PowerPoint presentation will help convey your ideas quicker and with less confusion. Also, surf the web and gather ideas that other churches have used. This doesn’t mean that you have to do it exactly the same way, but again this will help convey the idea of your vision. Do a web search and price out web hosting ISP’s. Get a list of feature and services they offer, and most important, all the prices that are involved. Remember, this will be a long term commitment and it must be one your church can afford. I would even call the ISP (most have toll-free numbers) and verify what services they can provide and all the costs that will be involved. Once this is done and approved it is time to go on to step number two.

Step 2: Recruit a team of dedicated members
Don’t just ask for volunteers in the bulletin. Pray for direction and personally go to the people that you know would have an interest in a web ministry and ask if they would like to be involved. You need people who will help you and stay with you for a long time. Look for people who are technically minded, software savvy, have an artistic flair, are good news gatherers, like photography, and have good English and grammar skills. You may find these qualities in a few or many people. Just keep in mind the more people that are on the team, the more opinions you will have and the harder it will be to keep on track with the vision.

Once the team is in place, share with them your vision of the web ministry. Use the same tools and methods as you did with your pastor or board members (no need to reinvent the wheel). Allow them to suggest new and different ideas that may enhance your vision for the web ministry. You may want to have a few meetings to finalize all the thoughts and ideas; laying out a road map of how the process will play out from start to finish. Identify and answers questions like:

• How many web pages will need to be created on the site?
• How will the information be accessed (web links)?
• What information will be on the different pages?
• What color scheme will be used?
• How many graphics should be used and where?
• What will your church’s domain name be?
• Do you want to use audio and/or video streaming technology?
• Will you be creating pages from scratch or with a software package like FrontPage or Dreamweaver?
• How often will the published web site be updated?

The list goes on. Also, decide who will be in charge of what area and develop a realistic time-line to accomplish individual tasks. After everything has been gathered, it’s time for the third step.

Step 3: Start the “Hands-On Process”
Now, this is where all the fun starts to happen. Think of it as your Internet ground-breaking ceremony. To get this part started, contact an ISP that you know can supply all the services (space, tools, scripts, support, on-line administration tools, emails, etc.) that you will need to accomplish your goal, your vision. This should have been taken care of in the first step. Subscribe to their hosting service and register your domain name. Most ISP’s allow you to do this when you first subscribe to their service. It may take up to 72 hours or more for your new web site to be recognized throughout the world, but that’s fine because you’ll need that time to start creating your web pages.

Now is the time that your “group techie” or webmaster should start getting their hands dirty. With all the required graphics created on-hand and detailed notes on what goes where, let the vision begin. Unless your webmaster is comfortable with building web pages using HTML and JavaScripts, I highly recommend using a commercially available software web building package like FrontPage or Dreamweaver. A software package that will offer a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) format will be the best, especially for a novice. Even with this software it is a good idea for your webmaster to have a working knowledge of HTML and JavaScripts.

When the basic pages are being created, review them with your team and make changes as needed. It is very important to work together on this process. I would caution you to not make the mistake of pointing fingers at each other because that will break up the team faster than anything else. Remember this is a ministry for the Lord. Continue the create and review process until it is complete and the pastor, board members and, of course, the team members are happy with the outcome (this in itself may take some time, but keep everyone focused on the ministry and it should work out fine).

Now publish your web pages for the entire world to see! Contact your ISP if you have any problems with this process. They will be able to take you through it step-by-step and save you a lot of headaches. Now that your web pages have been published, go to step number four.

Step 4: Maintaining the site
This is probably the most difficult of all the steps. Now that the biggest part of the job is finished a sigh of accomplishment fills the air and everybody wants to go home and forget about all the work that went into the project. This is fine for a little while, but the site cannot stay that way forever – it must be updated! To keep people coming back to your site you need to keep your web site current with the latest church information. Hopefully, in Step 2, you discussed with the team a schedule to maintain or update the site on a regular basis after it was published. If not, you need to round up the troops again and create one.

I would recommend an update schedule of no closer than one week apart, but no more than one month. If you update too frequently some people may miss a few articles and information, but too infrequently may cause people to become bored and never return. Automation is a great thing too. I have subscribed to our denomination’s news feed that they update every couple of days. They provided me with a display link, I inserted it into the web page and that’s it – they do the rest. I also publish an audio stream of our pastor’s Sunday sermons once a week and update our monthly calendar – you guessed it- once a month.

Whatever you decide, make sure that your schedule is realistic and can be accomplished over and over again – on time. Once your web ministry team gets into a regularly scheduled maintenance routine it should be like clockwork if everyone keeps their focus on the vision, the ministry.

Building a web site should be a fun and exciting project and a great tool to spread the “Good News” to your community, state, country and even the world. Just keep remembering that it is a ministry, and one that should be treated with full respect as you do with any other ministry. You will see success!