Thursday, August 25, 2005

Church Webmasters - Stop Working for Free

Today I read an article called Church Webmasters - Stop Working for Free by Micheal Boyink. For those of you who are webmasters, web designers, IT specialists, or simply recognize the usefullness of the web as a relevant tool for the church's use, I'm extemely curious to hear your thoughts on the article.

11 comments:

Karate Explosion said...

well my html using friend...I agree and disagree...

first off, let me tell you how pleased I am with you and your baby.

But i agree and disagree with this article...and here is why...

The emphasis put on the website being a big deal because a church paid for it makes a ton of sense, i consider our site or atleast want it to be a site that is used evangelically...However, there is also something to be said about "tithing" your gifts and time to the church...

But what do i know, I am but a lowly It director...yayer

Marcus Neto said...

Jason,

I read that same article about a month ago while perusing Church Marketing Sucks and it was a real eye opener for me. I will agree with him on most parts. You know what my experience has been with developing church websites and there is a big difference between using your God given talents of leadership or mercy and giving of your industry trade. Maybe I am still a bit burned out in regards to the time and energy taken to put together Reston Bible Church. And if that is the case then I apologize in advance. But the amount of timne and energy and at times the stress involved in doing that was ridiculous. Would I change it? No. I learned a lot about myself and others during that process (namely how much I valued some people's friendship ^wink^). But as the author of this article states I really never felt as if the staff realized the importance of the excercise of putting that website together. It was really disappointing in how some of them treated their ministry. Some of them could not give a 3 sentence description of their ministry and what it did. They took forever in getting back to us IF they ever did. A good portion of the site had to be written based on what we thought the ministry did because the person in charge did not feel as if it was important. If they cannot effectively communicate what it is that they are trying to accomplish or what they are doing then why are they doing it? Does it not take energy away from the church's (i.e. RBC) momentum in any one direction.

I think this underlines something else though. One of the thoughts that I have had recently is that there are two types of churches (well there are really more but humor me in this) there are the types that think of their work as a business and there are those that don't. I tend to like those that view themselves as businesses (i.e. Northpoint, Willow Creek, Saddleback, McLean Bible etc) because they are the ones that are structured and organized. They have a defined purpose and are doing everything that they can to chase after that purpose. They typically have a great leader that understands that you have to be "out there" in order to draw the lost in. There has to be something interesting or different about the church. For instance Northpoint has very few ministries. They focus all of their energy into small groups. and it shows. Last time I talked to Woodall they had like 15,000 people in small groups! That is a God thing. Lives are being changed through that. How this translates to our discussion here is that the churches that run themselves like a business usually understand the power of advertising. They understand that in order to get people in they have to get their attention. It is once they get them in that they share God's Word with them and pray that it will take root.

So all this to say that yes I do believe that a church website and any other business functions that are needed around the church should be paid for. They should be done with excellence. And they should be done with one thing in mind.... Reaching those that have not yet been reached. The church website is not for the members. The language and the structure of the information should reflect that.

Anyway, I have written a disertation here... Anyone else care to comment?

matt said...

Jason,

Glad to see you in the, dare-i-say, blogosphere.

That article raises some interesting points, but I tend to think money is beside the point.

The problem as I see it... church administrators ask too much. Church webmasters promise too much. Both sides, often out of some sort of pride, want to do better than the neighboring churches. They have a picture in mind of what a great church website looks like, and they do everything they can to reach that without questioning whether that's a good picture.

I'd recommend ruthless simplicity. Every feature and every page you add to a church website will require at least 2 tylenol for everyone involved. Save the tylenol. It's not worth it.

Here's what I'd recommend:
1. Make it crazy easy for anyone and everyone to put content up. That might mean ditching your fancy CMS and going with a community blog, forum, or wiki. If it takes more than 3 clicks from the homepage to add content, it's too complex.
2. Drop all your preconceptions of how a site should be structured.
3. Allow anyone to add content; moderate it and keep the good stuff.
4. Allow the message of your church to form over time. Make it easy for people to add content, and it will.
5. Don't force anyone to be a part of it. If it's worth it's weight in bytes, it'll take off on it's own. If it doesn't, it's not simple enough.
6. Tend to the community you build. When someone writes something, thank them. Question them, engage them.
7. When you have enough content from your church community, organize it for others to quickly understand.
8. Keep it simple. Don't do any custom programming, don't show off to your graphic design friends, don't make anything you'd feel bad about if it was deleted.

For example, A moderated community blog in the style of metafilter.com would work much better for a lot of churches than their current sites. For that matter, A simple online forum could too. Craigslist.com is hugely popular, but relies on the most tylenol free architecture I've ever seen.

It'll take time before churches realize that, just like church, the web is more about community and less about information propagation. Those that do, the ones that can grow their sites like craigslist.com or any one of the thousands of online communities, will see their work rewarded.

So to sum up. Ruthless simplicity. Community not content. If it doesn't work, back to the drawing board.

That's my thirty-second manifesto. Thanks for asking!

Marcus Neto said...

Matt,

Spoken like a true post modern ;-)

Your example holds true for church too doesn't it. get rid of all the show and focus in on building community. Be ruthless in stripping everything away that does not follow that thought and see what is left.

M.

Natala said...

amen - community not show...

Karate Explosion said...

I would like to poin out that the idea of a post modern church in which we refer to today, is slightly palaverous considering what you base your definition on is what the church was, and has always intended to be.

the bpc said...

I basically agree and disagree as well. In my experience churches and organizations both can suffer from having disorganized websites.
When I was involved in such it was because I was the only one who knew how to do any web-related stuff. My church and organizations invested nothing time-wise or monetarily, and gave me no information or data to go on. I had to specifically tell people, 'hey, I cant build your website if you dont provide the information I ask for'.

What I believe is that churches should not be last place in modernization like we always are. If it takes hiring a web developer to have a decent website, maybe it should be that way- just to get things organized. But I don't agree with paying an outrageous price, because after things come full circle, why should we pay to having something done when it was free before.

BRM said...

There have been some good points made - both in the article and here on the blogs. However, I would like to note that things won't change simply because the webmaster is paid. Companies often pay programmers for years, and when the programmer moves on and they bring someone new in to take over, the new programmer will rewrite everything.

The same goes for people providing information about their work or ministry. No amount of money will make staffers or faculty or employees take a website seriously, rather getting them to understand the impact it can have will, and that is invaluable.

On a slighly related note, as a programmer and a Christian, I find that Open Source software, which is done extremely on a voluntary basis in a similar manner with the top notch often being picked up by companies when convenient to the companies, to be extremely reflective of the passages in Acts where it talks about the early church and how they shared everything. Personally, I think we as a Church (not simply RBC) have a lot to learn from that passage alone, and as a community we have a long ways to go.

van.diesel said...

Some really good comments here! Thanks for giving me some thoughts to chew on. Maybe I'll follow this up at some point with some further thoughts. Thanks again for taking the time to respond.

joy mccarnan | karagraphy.com said...

"Because when a church gets a website for free, it evidently has no value. Things with no value get replaced or reimplemented on a moment's notice, on staff whim, or as soon as the person leading the effort is called away."

he doesn't say "has no value" to whom? how does he know? it's a rant. there is a difference to be recognized between "value" as in appreciation and inherent worth and necessity and "value" as in that evidenced by monetary compensation.

there is a natural and understandable disparity between joe churchmember's concept of what goes into web design and maintenance and technoboy churchmember's concept (which includes awareness of the current market and wages and the intricacies and headaches involved).

joe churchmember's concept of composition/visual quality might not be in sync with current trends, or the value he places upon what constitutes a "sharp" website might be lower. or he might define "stewardship" more narrowly and/or short-sightedly. he might think -- "wow, a thousand bucks is a ton of money for a website! can we afford that? can't we just start a free blogger blog or use my new ISP homepage? how can we justify that kind of an expenditure just to have a 'nifty' site that keeps up with the joneses?"

unfortunately, i'm qualified to comment here. not because i'm a great designer/web tech--i'm not. i'm a complete hack who's so busy i don't have time to study the right way of getting things done. but i'm the only alternative they've got at my church.

mine's a church plant, pouring its money into people above programs. they are sacrificially generous but limited. a website is crucial to public ministry, to PR in the sense of a "front porch" for many in the community. if it's a lame site, it generates jack squat.

i'm still working past "lame," but what we've got and the new stuff is better than we would've had if we'd gotten what they paid for.

case in point: i lobbied with my church leadership to request a logo/identity design job from an outside but ministry-friendly designer. he agreed to do it for $50...for someone who would normally charge $800-1K for that, it was practically pro bono. he turned out a great little piece, but there were some hangups and disagreements and too many reiterations back and forth.

so finally, for the artist's sake, i canned the project, paid him his paltry $50, and designed my own (which was, in my mind, obviously substandard) makeshift logo/identity to tide us over. ironically enough, there weren't any hangups with mine (i.e. it was valued more highly, even though my supposedly web-savvy taste can distinguish the shameful disparity in design comparisons).

in general, i agree with the mentality that a church should, if possible, pay volunteers what they can. however, it's just not always practical or feasible.

if the volunteer can handle it without compromising other clear-black-and-white principles from Scripture, and if that system works for that church, i say that an article (rant?) is just one viewpoint. it doesn't prove to me that i'm violating any biblical mandate by going this route. it doesn't even prove to me that i'm violating logic. if you operate deliberately with an eternal longview/"save life-lose it" ultimate aim in mind for your mental-temporal expenditures here on earth, unpaid volunteer web design is not necessarily a waste. not in any sense of the word.

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