Thursday, November 11, 2010

Haven't We All Heard Enough About Church Websites? Part III

Here is a link to one of the church websites I've recently been admiring: UU Church of Charlotte.  Considering the amount of content they have on the site, it is easy to navigate and engaging.  I did notice today that I have to scroll the site, which I don't like, but check it out because it's pretty great.

Here's a screenshot:

So now that I've contributed my voice to the many out there calling for better church websites, I want to go back to my question, haven't we all heard enough?  Why are there still so many bad sites out there?

Here are some of my observations:

In all the churches I have been in, as either vocational staff or congregant, since the time that churches started having their own websites, I have noticed one problem that seems to be common among them, and it inevitably results in bad websites.

The problem is as follows.  A website is generally considered a one-person project, and for good reason.  While a "communications committee" or similar body can help with planning and design, one person -- a volunteer with website building experience, an administrator, and sometimes even the minister -- needs to be the webmaster.

The webmaster has to play the role of the gatekeeper.  It's a necessary function.   And yet, if the gatekeeper doesn't have enough time for the job, nothing ever gets through the gate.  No changes or improvements, and only the most minimal updates.  The most common problem I see is that churches don't ever have someone doing the job who has time for the job, or for whom that particular job is top priority.

Sure, there are plenty of other reasons for bad church websites too: lack of vision, uncertainty about whether the website is for members or for folks just learning about the church, poor graphic design, and so forth.  But I really think that all the problems would be much easier to solve if the gatekeeper was doing more than just standing in front of the gate. 

(By the way, sometimes the pressure starts to build outside the gate, so the gatekeeper opens the gate a little to relieve the pressure, and every idea the congregation has ever had comes through like a flood.  I have seen more than one church website go from fine to terrible as congregants excitedly chatter on about how great it would be to, for example, get meeting minutes up on the website, even though those really belong in another medium such as a blog, Google Docs, or something like PB Wiki.)

What are models that eliminate this challenge?  Do we have to have webmasters on staff for that purpose, or are resources like Cloversites able to take away enough of the website design challenges to provide more time for actual design?  What of these models, if any, would be sustainable in a problematic economy?

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