Help for Church Webmasters
Issue 26 10/27/03
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 Many churches have a calendar/schedule, but many of them are WAY out of date (sometimes YEARS out of date!).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.
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.
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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