Every once in a while, if you are regarded as 'young' or else 'you understand that sort of thing', you may find yourself called to provide a website for a parish church, or a team of churches. I have now done this three times in my four-year ministry as one who - at the point of ordination - hadn't the faint flying fig how a website worked or how to make one happen.
But we learn!
It is not a simple thing. The first question to be asked is: what is this website for? For what purpose? Then the next questions that revolve around 'for whose sake?' and then the fast following 'what should be in and what should be out?' These are not easy questions to answer. In a commercial environment, it solution is often manifestly clear - this website is for my intended customers/clients so that I can provide this or that service for them and so that I may profit from their involvement in my business. Surely not for church websites?
It seems that the aspirations of a church website should be loosely aligned with those of the commercial world - with a few tweaks and changes of focus.
1. A parish website should be an outward looking vehicle - something for those on the outside of the community.
2. It should also provide information at the appropriate level for those who are on the 'inside', but not so that the website excludes those who have no idea what happens behind the big oak doors.
3. The website is the biggest and most looked through window in the church. Our website's hits (pages viewed) has exceeded a thousand in the 36 hours it has been live. It will take a month and a half for that many people to enter our church building, let alone pick up leaflets and read them.
4. When people look through windows they want to see - not read. I believe that image should lead text. The 'life inside' can never be conveyed as much by word as it can image. The right pictures are very important - not dull and lifeless or of a half-empty church in February.
5. People want to glide in and out of websites, taking what they will. Thousands of words of text per page, arranged in bewildering array just won't be read. Equally, the multiple flashing gizmos that can be perched on a webpage are just distracting. Simple bright images, supported by punchy text under page headings that do what they say.
6. Currency - it is now a capital crime to leave information on a website beyond it's sell-by date. It speaks of a lack of care and love, and worse still of a lack of pride. If we don't appear to care, why should those we hope will read and better still, choose later to enter the real doors?
7. Replace the thing wholesale every three years. With words and images safe and re-usable, and with so many website builders available, replace old with new. The websites I built three years ago now look like three-year old websites. Technology and abilities are increasing exponentially, so what is now just a dream might then be possible. Equally, a website should be sparring at the same level as those among whom it stands.
8. Say what you stand for. We are not just 'a church', but we have (somewhere) a vision and a purpose which should not remain implicit but made explicit. Why indeed should people worship in your church? Match benefits to needs and the celestial sale is complete.
These are just a few of my own observations. I am a rank amateur at this sort of thing, but learning apace as I strive, with some very gifted help, to enhance and widen my church's window. I hope that people will look, and that will like what they see. What they will see is then a matter for everyone currently within the place...
... not the webmaster (whose job is, it must be noted, thankless)