Monday, October 22, 2012

That's your new website? Really?

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I'm in the midst of thinking about church websites.  I started, as many pastors do, by looking at what I think are "better" church websites.  What I find are a lot of sites that look the same:

  1. You have the static, old HTML format pages that are out-of-date, not relatable,  and ...well... ancient.  No thanks.
  2. You have the cookie-cutter sites from E-zekiel or some other company that are obvious from a mile away, are unintuitive, have back-end management systems that are either so complicated that staff job descriptions should require programming languages or are so watered down that you can't implement mainstream apps like google and youtube, well, enough said, No thanks.
  3. Or you have, what I'll call, the next-wave church website.  They are much better.  They are visually stimulating and are setup for more dynamic content and they are far less expensive than they used to be.  But they still all look much like one another...  they are still trapped in this mindset of "come to us," and they still tend to be 'information-based' instead of relational.
These websites have come a long way, but I feel like even the best of them are still running behind corporate websites saying, "We want to be like you.  Wait up!"

What is it we need for the church of this millennium?  What is the right answer for us?

In my blog I have already been shouting (in fact, I'm blue in the face) that we need dynamic, relational content on our sites...but I've, sadly, always been thinking of the existing model of church website with 'dynamic' content and more relational content in an existing structure.

This week I've been thinking that this is altogether the wrong concept.

Right now, the typical church website tends to have information about itself, some stories about upcoming events (all of this in a depressingly informational style), a calendar, a link to sermons / bulletins, and the *ALL-IMPORTANT* newsletter.  Hmmm,  Church websites, then, are taking a variety of things we already and making their proprietary website a forum for distributing them.

Why are we letting a gutenberg-based (500 year old technology) medium, for instance, dictate how we do church communications?  Why all the disjunct technologies and modes put together in such a contrived fashion???  How do we think completely out-of-the-box to redefine how our church communicates both on-line and internally?

I have a couple of thoughts, but, to be fair, I need to work on them here in Normal before I say anymore here online!  Put on your thinking caps and let's get outside of the box.  Let's transform church communications.

Here is to Creative and Effective Communicating!

Re-Thinking Communications at Church

In the church we are pretty good at one thing:  continuing to do what we've always done without asking ourselves "why?"  Now, I'll give you one thing:  we do often ask, "how do I do this better?" But we're often operating under the delusion that the newsletter or mailing formula we've used is the only way to do it.  Usually we are looking at a newsletter or bulletin or congregational letter and we are saying, "This is okay but I want it to look better or be more effective."

That is simply the wrong approach.

Lately, I've been looking at church newsletters and bulletins (not just the ones from my churches) and I've asked myself that first question a lot over the past few months.  I've considered some re-designs.  I've thought about whitespace, flow, and consistency.  I've looked at these documents from every perspective of design and communication that I can think of...

...but I had failed to ask the really pertinent questions.  I had failed to think fully outside of the box.

This week I took some time to contemplate questions like, "What are we trying to accomplish," and "what media (and format) would work best to do that?"

I made several realizations that I hope to share with you in the near future, once I put them into practice.

In the meantime, I beg all pastors and church leaders interested in effective communications in their church to do as I've done this week:  set aside your current publications and think bigger:

  1. What are you trying to accomplish with your church?
  2. What audiences do you need to communicate with?
    (worshipers, inactive members, active leaders, outsiders)
  3. What do you want to communicate to each of these audiences?
  4. What is the most effective means to use?