Reaching the Community with Church Websites
Presented as part of the requirement of the MA Degree in Global Issues in Contemporary Mission, Redcliffe College.
This dissertation is the product of my own work. I declare also that the dissertation is available for photocopying, reference purpose and Inter-Library Loan...
Ceri Rhian Longville
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PREFACE While working as web developer of a church website, I could see the potential for it to be used as a tool to make the church more accessible and relevant to the nonChristian/unchurched folk in the local community. This dissertation is the outcome of my investigation to find possibilities for doing this. Although an academic document, I have endeavoured to write it in a practical style that may be accessible and helpful to local churches looking to create effective websites. Having presented a case for the Internet to be treated as a culture in its own right and explained the challenge for the local church to contextualise the Christian message into it, I then use Primary and Secondary literature sources to propose possible ways to proceed in this task. I gratefully acknowledge the generous assistance given to me by the staff at Redcliffe College, especially my supervisor Rev. Dr. Colin Bulley for his valuable academic advice. I also wish to thank all the respondents who participated in my surveys. I am also grateful for access to the expertise of Mr. Tony Whittaker, editor of the Internet Evangelism Day website. His understanding and sharing of this vision has been an enormous encouragement. My thanks too, go to my family and special friends for their patience and support.
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1. Introduction and Research Methodology..........................................................................7 1.1 Introduction ............................................................................................................7 1.2 Field Research Methodology ....................................................................................8 1.2.1 Utilising the Internet Evangelism Day (I.E.D.) web tool.........................................8 1.2.2. Study of reactions of non-Christians to Church Websites.......................................9 1.2.3. Church Webmaster Study................................................................................10 2. Towards an Understanding of Internet Culture ...............................................................11 2.1 Introduction ..........................................................................................................11 2.2 Who and how many are online? ..............................................................................11 2.3 The Internet is a culture shaping us at different levels. ...............................................12 2.4 From Oral culture to Digital culture .........................................................................15 2.5 Searching for Truth in the Digital Culture.................................................................19 2.6 The Digital Age is shaping the way we form relationships, the new opportunity............21 2.7 Conclusion ...........................................................................................................25 3. Design, Usability and Readability .................................................................................26 3.1 Introduction ..........................................................................................................26 3.2 Design .................................................................................................................27 3.2.1 The Design should be welcoming ......................................................................28 3.2.2 The Design should be Authentic........................................................................30 3.2.3 The Design should be Concise ..........................................................................31 3.3 Usability ...........................................................................................................33 3.3.1 Navigation......................................................................................................34 3.3.2 Accessibility...................................................................................................36 3.4 Readability ...........................................................................................................37 3.4.1 Not too much text............................................................................................37 3.4.2 The text must be understood .............................................................................38 3.5 Conclusion ...........................................................................................................39 4. Content......................................................................................................................40 4.1 Introduction ..........................................................................................................40 4.2 The Message of Christ ...........................................................................................41
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4.3 Addressing the Quest for Community ......................................................................42 4.3.1 Seeing Church Community Life Visually ...........................................................43 4.3.2 Online Community Communication ..................................................................45 4.3.3 Sharing Personal Stories...................................................................................46 4.3.4 Content that uses the “Bridge Strategy”..............................................................48 4.4 Putting potential visitors at ease ..............................................................................51 4.6 Conclusion ...........................................................................................................55 5. implementing and Maintaining the Church website .........................................................57 5.1 Introduction ..........................................................................................................57 5.2 Not a task to be done solo.......................................................................................57 5.2.1 The work is too varied to do alone.....................................................................58 5.2.2 The work is too heavy to do alone .....................................................................58 5.2.3 The work is too important to do alone................................................................59 5.3 Enthusing the Local Church....................................................................................61 5.4 Making a Team Work ............................................................................................64 5.4.1 Building a team is costly ..................................................................................64 5.4.2 Integration - the Input of the wider congregation .................................................64 5.4.3 Keeping it going! ............................................................................................66 5.5 Team Structure......................................................................................................66 5.5.1 The Webmaster...............................................................................................68 5.5.2 Ministry leader................................................................................................68 5.5.3 Graphics and Media Advisor ............................................................................70 5.5.4 Communication and content worker ..................................................................70 5.5.5 Extra roles ......................................................................................................71 5.6 The technological practicalities of more than one person keeping a site running ............71 5. 7 Conclusion ..........................................................................................................73 6. Conclusion.................................................................................................................74 6.1 Concluding Summary ............................................................................................74 6.1.1 Understand digital culture ................................................................................74 6.1.2 Attract digital culture.......................................................................................74 6.1.3 Address digital culture .....................................................................................75 6.1.4 Go into digital culture supported .......................................................................75 6.2 Recommendations for further investigation...............................................................76
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6.3 Final reflections ....................................................................................................76 Bibliography..................................................................................................................78 Appendix 1 Internet Evangelism Day Church Website Assessment Survey...........................82 Appendix 2 Church Website Usability Study .....................................................................88 Appendix 3 Short General Church Website Survey.............................................................90 Appendix 4 Survey of Church Webmasters .......................................................................92 Appendix 5 Glossary of Technical Terms..........................................................................93
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CHAPTER 1 Introduction and Research Methodology 1.1 Introduction “Your church website has enormous potential as part of your outreach strategy to reach into your community. It can be like an enticing ‘shop window’ and virtual doorway to draw people into faith and fellowship. However, many churches do not understand how to design a site that will do this effectively.” (Whitaker, 2009) Reading the above statement on the Internet Evangelism Website was an instigator to this research. Excitement and curiosity stirred up inside me. Excitement when I appreciated the church’s online presence could be used in such a missiological way and curiosity to discover how. The aim of this dissertation is to investigate strategies for a local church website to implement in order to relate to and touch people living in its surrounding community. I appreciate that the Internet has in many ways made the ‘global’, local. The potential of using the Internet to reach people with the Good News on a global scale is enormous. However, the local church also has a responsibility to reach out to non-Christians living locally and this will be the focus. This dissertation concentrates on the missiological issues that are involved in discussing approaches to church website development. I therefore have not included detailed technical information; however there is a glossary1 of technical terms provided.
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See Appendix 1
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Langham Place, London said, “Internet Evangelism Day has put together this brilliant church site design tool. Although it may highlight problem areas in your site, it does so with great tact!" (Bewes, 2009) From my perspective and experience in web development3 the tool looked sound and, with its credibility reinforced by reading reports such as the above mentioned, I thus took on the task of using the assessment tool, answering the questions for 20 churches. The sample of churches was taken from a list of all church websites on the Evangelical Alliance Website (located in one city4). This enabled me to gain a snapshot of how church websites are doing according to the standards of this tool. 1.2.2. Study of reactions of non-Christians to Church Websites 18.104.22.168 A Usability study5 In addition to checking church websites using the benchmarks of the experts, I also wanted to hear the opinions of real unchurched people. By listening to the people we are trying to reach we are in a more informed position to communicate in a way that is both relevant and understood both online and face to face. I thus selected four contrasting church websites, each with their differing positive and negative attributes6. I then asked six willing unchurched volunteers to undertake a lengthy exercise of examining each of these church websites in order to answer an online questionnaire compiled by myself. Questions were worded in such a way that
I worked as a webmaster for the organization Compass Braille for 5 years. I chose to focus on one city so that I could have a good cross-section of denominations of evangelical churches 5 See Appendix 2 6 For example some sites were poor on design but good on content (based on the advice of the I.E.D. website) and others visa versa.
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their answers could be used to assess how each particular website influenced how they perceived the church it was representing. 22.214.171.124 Short General Questionnaire7 I compiled a short online questionnaire to get a general idea of what information a nonChristian would like to know beforehand, should they ever attend a church. 60 nonChristians participated. 1.2.3. Church Webmaster Study8 Finally I wanted to hear something of the story from church webmasters. The object of this study was two-fold. Firstly it was to see how many church webmasters felt they had enough support and secondly to get an idea of how much consideration church webmasters give to non-Christian readers. 40 church webmasters participated in my online questionnaire.
See Appendix 3 See Appendix 4
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CHAPTER 2 Towards an Understanding of Internet Culture 2.1 Introduction “The Christian faith never exists except as translated into a culture.” (Bosch 1991, 447)9 Although Bosch was clearly not referring to the Internet here (it started to become widely used in 1996), his statement can certainly be applied. to the Internet. The Internet is a new culture and I strongly believe it is the church’s responsibility to ensure the Christian faith is being translated accurately into it with an active online presence. “The church is more than a sender of certain individuals called to cross cultural witness, which we have traditionally understood missionary work to require, but she herself is sent.” (Lundy 2005, 1) .The church has been sent by God into the digital world10, to ensure we are being heard. To do this, we must acknowledge the changing times, recognise the power the digital age is having on society and understand how people use the Internet. 2.2 Who and how many are online? As with the studying of any other culture, it is good to look at what its population is and who it encompasses. The growth of the Internet has been phenomenal and is indeed a global revolution. In just over a decade it progressed from being utilised by a minority of very technically
See further on this below. See further on this below.
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minded people who thrived on writing computer code, into a mainstream communication medium. In 2008, the number of web users reached 1.5 billion - nearly a quarter of the world's population. (Internet World Statistics, 2008) Statistics show that 65% of the UK population had internet access in 2008. (National Statistics, 2009) The Internet is utilised by all ages, but is particularly dominated by younger people. The Pew Internet & American Life Project produces reports on the impact of the Internet in the USA11. They reported 72% of the adult population had Internet access. Their findings revealed the following percentages of each generation who regularly go online: 87% of Teens (12-17); 84% of Gen Y (18-28); 87% of Gen X (29-40); 79% of Trailing Boomers (41-50); 75% of Leading Boomers (51-59); 54% of Matures (60-69); and 21% of retired people (70+). (Pew, 2009). Internet culture is a highly populated place. It is thus worth churches spending much time studying it in order to succeed in contextualising the Gospel for such a time as this. 2.3 The Internet is a culture shaping us at different levels. “Interactive computer networks are growing exponentially, creating new forms and channels of communication, shaping life and being shaped by life at the same time.” (Castells 2000, 2). It is important to recognise that different people are immersed into digital culture at different levels. Futurist theologian, Leonard Sweet (2000, 15), makes a distinction between two groups of today’s Western society. He divides the population into “digital immigrants” whom he defines as those born prior to 1962 who are comfortable with
The UK does not have the equivalent detailed research.
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print, linear thinking and strategic planning and the “digital natives”, those born after 1962 who have been born into the digital age and been shaped by the new technologies of digital images on screen and who thrive on new experiences. I am unconvinced that being born prior to or after the year 1962 (I have found no reason for his using it as a dividing year) puts you in one camp or the other (and leaves the question, where do you fit if you were born in the year 1962?!). I think it is much more fluid. However Sweet is right to point out that one’s age plays a large part in how comfortable or shaped one is by the digital age. Sweet shares (2000, 21): Like all immigrants, I feel most comfortable in protective enclaves of people who share a similar cultural background and customs. But also like all immigrants I learn most from my children...who can translate the cultural cues and clues, not to mention free us from digital ignorance and homelessness. The main message of Sweet’s writings is to challenge churches not to try and preserve a culture but instead to work in and learn the new native one. Caeraga (2001, 76) points out that “If we are to be missionaries to the Internet, we first must understand its culture. This means we must immerse ourselves in cyberculture; understand its habits and customs, its language and its world views.” Here he is rightly applying missiological and contextual issues of reaching out with the Good News in the digital culture: “No missionary worth his or her salt would enter a field without first doing an exhaustive study of the culture he or she seeks to reach.” (Johnston 2002, 10) Immigrants have usually needed to learn a new language. The language of the Internet culture includes words such as ‘Wi-Fi’, ‘bandwidth’, ‘gigabytes’, ‘browsers’, ‘doubleclick’, ‘uploading’, ‘downloading’, ‘spam’. There are many colloquialisms to be learned too, for example when you are chatting online ‘brb’ means ‘be right back’ and ‘rotfl’ means ‘rolling on the floor laughing’!
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As when they go into any other new foreign culture, immigrants need to adjust to new customs such as emailing, surfing the web, shopping and booking holidays online, social-networking, blogging, and Googling!. There is also etiquette (or netiquette) to be learned to avoid misunderstandings; for example, it is good to be aware that typing in capitals is widely perceived by recipients as shouting. Recent articles in Lausanne World Pulse recognise the Internet culture, alluding to there being another group12 , the “occasional tourists”: ‘Children who have grown up with computers were born into this new “digital country.” People who were adults before the computer revolution are at best “immigrants” and perhaps only occasional “tourists” in this strange new land.’ (Whittaker, 2008) I would like to add another group: “foreigners to the digital world”. There is still a vast amount of people who have never and will never use the Internet. Miller sympathises with such people: “We are not yet fully integrated into an interactive culture—perhaps some of us never will be. We read books; we watch television; and not all of us are comfortable with computers...we are still self conscious about using these technologies, and the self-consciousness is an antidote to their alluring power.” (Miller 2004, 137) Thus it is important we recognise these different groups in our church, the natives, immigrants, tourists and foreigners. We need to understand we all have different levels of comfort with technology. The immigrants, occasional tourists and foreigners should take care not to be too quick to discourage change in the way we present the Gospel or ourselves as a church. A test is to keep asking, is it the message or medium that’s changing? The heart of the message of Christ stays the same. If this is being diluted or distorted, intervention is needed. The essential Gospel must be guarded, but the
In addition to Sweet’s (2000,15) ‘digital’ natives and immigrants
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medium has changed. “We need to demonstrate a fresh willingness to separate out the timeless gospel from the cultural clothes of modernistic evangelism.” (Warner 1999, 257) Digital natives and the well adapted immigrants must also be sensitive, aware that others are consistently having to undertake huge learning curves, leaving behind the more structured print culture that dominated the life they grew up with and were accustomed to. The digital foreigners (mainly elderly people) will still need to use traditional forms of communication; we must not leave these people behind in our church planning or communication. Whether we like it or not, digital culture is here and will continue to grow in ways we cannot begin to imagine. The church needs guidance in how to use the Internet as a tool for communication rather than hiding away and risking not being able to engage with digital natives. “As we rush headlong into a world of interconnection, complexity, acceleration, intangibility, convergence, immediacy, and unpredictability, just trying to keep our ship afloat, we will be aided greatly by a broad knowledge not only of where we’re going but where we’ve been.” (Miller 2004, 12) 2.4 From Oral culture to Digital culture History is a good teacher, whereby we can learn from our past mistakes and successes. Miller’s extensively researched book, The Millennium Matrix, looks at the four major paradigms in communication over history (oral, print, broadcast, digital) and explores how they have impacted and shaped the history of culture and church. To understand and better equip us for the changes the digital age has brought to our culture it is helpful to look back in time and see how huge paradigm shifts in
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communication affected culture in the past. In his book, Miller conveys to the church that, although we do not know what the future holds with the Internet, this is not the first time the world has had a major change in communication culture: ”From the oral culture of Jesus’ time to the print world of Gutenberg’s Bible to the broadcast era of television to the emerging digital culture, readers will see the impact of communication on worship and spirituality.” (Millennium Matrix, 2009). The first paradigm shift, the shift from oral culture based on spoken word passed from person to person to the print culture, must have been unsettling. Although many people were literate in Jesus’ time, there was no mass reproduction of writings. ”In an oral culture the message and the messenger were one and the same, and the credibility of the message was tied. up with the credibility of the messenger.” (Miller, 2009). Thus spoken words had the capacity to be more powerful and authoritative (depending on whose voice it was). Of course, no voice had more authority than that of Jesus: When Jesus' miracles shattered the continuity of daily life, they did not need to get people’s attention with pyrotechnics, mood music, coloured lights, voice modulation and special effects. His words were so connected to the composition of the universe that they calmed raging seas, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead. (Miller 2004, 19). The introduction of the printing press was a major influence in changing the way people perceived the world and communicated with one another. Christians embraced this new tool by printing and circulating copies of the Bible, and it is today the most widely distributed book in world history (McFarlan & McWhirter 1990, 1997). When Gutenberg set the bible in movable type around 1454 and created the first mass produced book, it literally spelled the end of oral culture’s dominance and the rising of print culture... The development of the printing press signalled the world’s first step into mass communication, arguably the most profound cultural dividing point in history, and the general population could now have access to the same thoughts and ideas once reserved for religious, academic and government elites. (Miller 2004, 35).
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Print culture created a separation of the message from the messenger. “For the first time people were able to stand outside their ideas and observe them on the printed page.”(Hipps 2006, 55). The second paradigm shift was from print culture to broadcast culture. Many people alive today experienced first-hand much of the arrival of the broadcast age: ”In a fundamental sense the broadcast age began to erode print in the mid-nineteenth century with the invention of photography and over-turned it with the invention of television that really kicked it into high gear.” (Miller 2004, 55). Miller argues that the broadcast culture was the first major attack on modernity: Television was the ideal medium to reveal the inconsistencies between the well reasoned and well written plans and actual life...Television showed us that life and history were far messier and more interesting to watch, than the nice neat stories we were used to. (Miller 2004, 55). The third paradigm shift closely followed the second. “The computer is an even more significant technological development than the printing press,” claims Sweet (2000, 31). The digital communication culture takes onboard elements of all previous communication cultures, giving us interactive multimedia. Interactive digital media connect multiple modes of experiences into one, combining text, sound, data, and images onto one common platform and into one language. Digital media reconnect touch, thought and expression, they connect one person to another or others; and they encourage interaction. Digital media creates a simultaneous multimedia, multisensory encounter (virtual reality). It is the most fully engaged, broad-based, explicit, and calculating medium of expression ever experienced. (Miller 2004, 85). Because communication is the essential medium by which we perceive the world and create and maintain community it thus has implications for the way we as local churches communicate the Gospel. If we try to use methods which worked in a past communication culture and have gained an imagined sanctity as a result, we may receive little fruit. While the gospel does not change, the way we communicate it must constantly change. If you doubt this, root around for some Christian magazines, books or films dating from perhaps the mid-60s. They may have been effective then, but the ‘past is a different country’! (Whittaker, 2009)
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The digital age has come upon us quickly and we need to be salt and light within it. We can take comfort from the fact that huge changes have happened in the past, and appreciate that we have a missiological responsibility to engage with this new one.
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“The Reformation contextualised the gospel for the print era, but there has been no corresponding reformation to bring our Gospel to our image based [digital] era.” (Bolger & Gibbs 2006, 19) Perhaps a good first step in the church’s journey towards such a reformation would be a deeper understanding of why people today are suspicious of the printed word. Part of this mistrust comes from broken promises and trampled hopes; many postmoderns are the product of broken homes and relationships. Because of this, their circle of friends is very important to them; they tend to get their identity from the group with which they associate. Authenticity is their highest ethic. They do not trust words but look instead for coherent behaviour. (Shiflett, 2009).
2.5 Searching for Truth in the Digital Culture
“Christianity is rejected not because it has been tested and found untrue but simply because it claims to be true.” (Shiflett, 2009). So here we are in the digital age; the broadcast era seriously dented the belief in absolute truth and the Internet has almost obliterated it. We need only look as far as Wikipedia to see that today: “everyone is an author, everyone is a publisher and everyone is an expert.” (Sweet in Careaga 2001, 8). Wikipedia’s online encyclopaedia pools knowledge in over twelve million articles, written collaboratively by volunteers around the world. Almost all of its articles can be edited by anyone in the world. There is no publishing process as there is in print. “This equal access to information leads to a diffusion of power and authority. We begin to believe there is no centre (authority) or margin (follower) in the electronic world—everyone is a leader and everyone is a follower” (Hipps 2006, 129). This is a huge new concept for ‘immigrants’ to take on board. With this in mind we can begin to appreciate why young
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people are so wary of any type of hierarchical order or institution, dismissing absolute truth. The Internet has become a place for searching for answers, particularly amongst the younger people of society who have grown up in this post-modern word where authority figures are no longer trusted as holders of the truth. When young people have a question, instead of asking someone like a parent or teacher as was the ‘modern’ custom, they will often go online to look it up in Wikipedia or “Google it” to find an answer, or join an online forum which discusses the topic they are concerned about. Thus “Natives need bibliographic and hermeneutic skills in grade school that immigrants did not need until college and graduate school.” (Sweet in Careaga 2001, 8). Any meta-narrative that explains the existence of humanity is no longer trusted by most digital natives, the world is instead as they experience it. Everybody is entitled to have their own ‘truths’. This death of acceptance of absolute truth is a tough reality for the church to be faced with. As Hipps (2006, 33) says, Nothing could be more inconsistent with scripture than to suggest that there is no such thing as a meta-narrative. The Bible clearly proclaims a meta-narrative, the grand story of God reconciling himself through Christ. This challenge makes understanding the role of media [including the Internet] in bringing on the death of the meta-narrative more than an intellectual exercise. It is a crucial calling of the church in the postmodern age. How can we then as churches, use our websites to even begin to present absolute truth if contemporary society believes there is no such thing? Finney (1992, 32) identifies two approaches to introducing people to Jesus. One is the confrontational approach where the Christian tells the non-Christian they need to repent. The other approach is to see evangelism in terms of “two people walking side by side and talking together”. The former approach will seldom work today; few people
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will take on our words as absolute truth due to widespread suspicion of anything claiming to be a meta-narrative. The latter, the dialogue approach is much more likely to work and lends itself very well to the Internet culture, which focuses on networking and interactivity. “Interactivity is critically important to the young, who have little experience with passive media. From Nintendo to cable channels to zapper controlled TVs and computers the young are accustomed to varying degrees of choice within their media.” (Katz in Careaga 2001, 37). The Internet, then, provides us with a new opportunity to engage with non-Christians. 2.6 The Digital Age is shaping the way we form relationships – the new opportunity “Cyberspace is quickly becoming the hangout of choice for young people.” (Careaga 2001, 33) The Internet has become a place for creating community and cultivating friendships. Most young people in Western culture today have never really known a world without the Internet and place huge importance on online community. “Internet users aged 12 to 28 years old have embraced the online applications that enable communicative, creative, and social uses.” (Pew, 2009) “Relationship and connection are at the heart of the Internet and relationships are, of course, a key to evangelism... effective online evangelism needs to be relational.” (Whittaker, 2009) Virtual community is instant community, sometimes accused of having too much breadth and not enough depth. For example, instead of having people over to flick through your wedding album over a cup of coffee, you post the photos in their digital form onto your Facebook web-page for people to browse through alone and add comments if they wish. “Social networking sites such as MySpace [and Facebook] are
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among the most visited sites on the planet. They are a virtual meeting place at a whole range of levels. Thus we can meet people online in a variety of ways, and as we build relationships, we can share our hearts with them.” (Whittaker, 2009). In his book The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture, Hipps (2006, 11) makes a distinction between a virtual community and a physical community by calling the former a “cotton candy community” and the latter an “authentic community”. He cautions against the virtual community saying that by participating, we have the illusion of being intimate with people while remaining totally anonymous if we desire because there is no need to offer real vulnerability. Community that promotes freedom from rejection and makes emotional investment optional can be extremely appealing, remarkably efficient and a bit more convenient. He calls it cotton candy because he believes it functions like that – a quick fix to hunger “spoiling our appetite for the authentic community Christ calls us to.” (Hipps 2006, 11). I do not perceive the virtual and authentic communities as separate entities. They can be to some people, and Hipps is right to caution us about cutting ourselves off from the real world, because we need to be in authentic, physical community and yes it will hurt but at least we have someone to put an arm around our shoulder when it happens. If churches began to constrain their mission and ministry to just the online world and used it as a means to an end, this would be unbiblical not to mention unhealthy. “If one of you says to him [(brother in need)], ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:16). I believe even digital natives are searching for something more real, in the physical realm. “Online chatters or e-mail pen pals ‘cannot hug you’ wrote a nineteen year-old student at the University of Wisconsin.” Careaga (2001, 31). However, I do see a virtual community as a fantastic opportunity and tool to encourage initial contact. Connections may be made
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initially online completely anonymously by the seeker, providing the safe environment to ask questions and be ministered to. Virtual community can be a place for beginnings of great relationships and building trust. Forums, discussions boards and chatrooms, if handled well by churches, can give people a taste of the loving community a church should be. Instead of spoiling one’s appetite for authentic community, I would argue, if handled wisely, they can instead be an appetiser. Kristi, who became a Christian online, testifies to how God can use virtual community in a powerful way: I don’t know that I would have explored matters and issues as deeply if I hadn’t had that safe place to go, where I didn’t feel silly asking questions and seeking out answers. It guided me to Christ and presented it in such a real way. I continued to visit EveryStudent.com and dialogued with a few people through the website. I was so excited to get their responses – I wanted these questions answered. The people who responded were so kind and just so joyful and they told me they would be praying for me. I was so amazed that they just loved me so much through these emails and encouraged me. (Kristi in Whittaker, 2009). By utilising Facebook and creating a group for our church we are ‘going out’ where people are. You have instant interactivity. All leadership would be wise to get on Facebook, if only to see how it works and gain a better understanding of how people are interacting. I endeavour to use Facebook in such a way that I can keep in easy contact with friends who live far away but also as a tool for increasing face-to-face contact with those who live in my physical locality. Facebook also has a fantastic facility for creating ‘events’. The other day my friend set up an event for a jewellery party, another for an evening to eat pizza and watch the ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ final. My cousin recently arranged his 30th birthday party by setting up an event and inviting all his friends. Online community can be used to initiate and enrich authentic community. Use Facebook as an extension to face-to-face relationships and to enhance time with people. Get to know people and love and care for them better when you’re with them because, through Facebook, you know more about who they
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are and what’s going on in their lives... Use Facebook to quickly announce and facilitate great face-to-face gatherings. Instead of taking 45 minutes to call 10 people to come over for a spontaneous evening, use Facebook. (Buzzard, 2009). Not only are people creating and joining virtual groups that have a common interest, but also groups who share the same geographic place of residence, such as an estate or suburb. I believe this is an excellent example of how a church can use the Internet to connect with people in its surrounding area and at least invite them to check out the church’s website. “The church has the ability to provide a fresh, creative and original expression of what community, culture and society can be like.” (Miller, 2004, 122) The unity we as Christians share in Christ Jesus is a wonderful thing and when others see the love we have for each other it acts as proof that we follow Jesus (John 13:35). The church‘s message is heard by non-Christians when it is lived out as a community that “is a radiant manifestation of the Christian faith and exhibits an attractive lifestyle.” (Bosch 1991, 414).
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2.7 Conclusion As the local church becomes more accessible to those online within its neighbourhood, I believe we will have the opportunity to introduce them to the grand-narrative that deep down they are longing to find, that Jesus himself told us of when he said "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Jesus promised that as we go out to share the Good News he would be with us always, “to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20), including the digital age. Having trained our eyes a little to see the huge power of Internet culture, examined its values and begun to appreciate the importance of immersing ourselves in it in order to understand it, we can now turn our attention to explore some of the practical issues of how a local church can have an effective missiological presence within it.
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CHAPTER 3 Design, Usability and Readability 3.1 Introduction Before looking at communicating the actual content accurately and effectively in digital culture, we need to be aware of how important it is to get the web design, usability and readability right. If we pay little attention to these details it can be likened to expecting people to come to a church event on a cold winter’s evening where they find there is no lighting, no heating and they are given soggy biscuits. People are unlikely to stay and, if they do, they will understandably not return! The I.E.D. church website assessment tool (Whittaker, 2009) asks questions about these three subject areas: design, usability and readability under separate sections. These cannot, however, function in isolation. I shall therefore explain how they interrelate. Web design focuses on aesthetics. It is the art of creating a website that is pleasing to the eye. Rightly or wrongly, good design wins credibility and respect, whereas sites which have been designed poorly will have the opposite effect. “The design of a website defines both its overall appearance and the way it operates.” (Stephenson 2006, 74). Good design, therefore, must incorporate good web usability, meaning the website should be intuitive to use. The users should not be expected to think too much to get the information they want, otherwise we are in danger of losing them. “As far as humanly possible,” advises Krug (2005, 11), “when I look at a web
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page it should be self evident...I should be able to ‘get it’ – what it is and how to use it – without expending any effort thinking about it.” When the information sought is found, the material needs to be readable. Readable, in such a way that it is suited to both the medium of the internet (for example, ensuring there is not too much text on one page) and also suited to the targeted reader, i.e., the average non-Christian in the community who will not be acquainted with ‘churchy’ jargon. Having briefly defined each aspect and explained the relationship between them, I will investigate each of these in turn in more depth. 3.2 Design Web Design is such a huge subject that it could be the subject of a full length book as well as being the title of taught courses including Bachelor degrees. It includes the overall presentation of the website: the layout, colours, use of graphics, choice of text fonts and sizing and also the way it is structured. My research of sources advising on church websites led me to key areas in design which will follow. My concerns focus on the homepage, the page that every church website will have and the most important one because it is usually the first consulted and the one providing the basis on which the user will make the decision whether or not to pursue other aspects of the website: ”The Most Important Page on Your Church Website is The Home Page.” (Miller, 2009). Hence it is worth taking the time to get it looking right, remembering another website is only a mouse click away. Stephenson (2006, 74) suggests learning from other church sites and successful commercial sites (such as Amazon).
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3.2.1 The Design should be welcoming “Why do churches use welcoming teams at their doors? Is it not to spot newcomers and make them feel at home? In the same way, the church’s homepage needs to earn its name and feel like home for those unsure of what they are looking for and uncertain of the welcome they will receive.” (Blackmore 2001, 12) The first priority should be to formulate a bold heading (along with your unique church logo if there is one) saying “Welcome to *your church’s name*” so the user is immediately clear where they are. Photos of real people in the congregation will help to put life into your welcome.”Why do most book covers and publicity leaflets feature real people? Because we identify with people, not things.” (Whittaker 2009) Many churches put a large photo of their building on the homepage. 50% of church websites I studied had homepages where the building was much more prominent than the people. Many had no photos of people on display!. I agree with Whittaker, people should always be the focus. If you have a really nice church building to show off, then I believe there is call for a small outside photo. This will especially appeal to people searching for a church to get married in.13 It should however never dominate the homepage. Colours choice is important, most church websites I studied were very easy on the eye. Getting it wrong however, can evoke strong emotions.
Many respondents gave ‘weddings’ as a reason for visiting a church website. One said he visited one “recently as I am getting married in an unfamiliar church”.
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“Colour has as much influence on how your church website is perceived as the rest of the design elements that define your church website. Whether they know it or not your customers will have a psychological and emotional response to the colours in your website design.” (Minster, 2009). One of my usability study respondents14 felt strongly about the colours of one church website he was asked to study stating, “I hate the bright green background - it’s really hard on the eyes! It would deter me from browsing. … [The website]’s not very welcoming in general, and ...I say again... colour!” Note he used the word ‘welcoming’. Thus we need to choose our colours carefully. If the website is similar in design to popular mainstream websites (such as Amazon) then the user is more likely to feel comfortable using it. Your welcome will also be authenticated by encouraging your user to make contact. “It is easy to provide contact details for your church minister and church office (if you have one). Let people know their phone number and email addresses.” (Church123, 2009). The homepage should link to a contact page. Unfortunately many of the church websites I studied did not have a contact link on the homepage, often it was tagged in the section with the directions. I believe a contact link on the homepage is essential to an effective church website. It makes a very important statement that the church is accessible and encourages dialogue and questions. The responsibility of replying to incoming queries should be taken very seriously.
See section 1.2.
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A link to a visitors’ page15 from the homepage can also help extend a welcome. “We strongly recommend that all church websites have a page called ‘Visitors'” (Church123, 2009). 3.2.2 The Design should be Authentic Getting serious about church web design and wanting to attract non-Christians should never involve making a church look better than it really is, or something it is not. As a church, we must try very hard not to compromise our authenticity. We have a responsibility not to sell the church by making false promises but rather to present an accurate portrayal of the church’s community life and beliefs. Respected church web designer Nathan Smith urges us to "steer clear of saying ‘our church is *the* best church,’ implicitly stating ‘Better than other churches,’ because that type of phrasing is not needed.” (Hoyt, 2009) Churches should never use their website to try to compete against other churches, neither should they use their website as a fancy façade which people will see through. Building trust is of paramount importance: “You want to market who you are, not who you’re not. Build on your strengths and your ministry and your website. If you overpromise with your graphics and art and things that you’re not people are going to distrust you later”, advises Chris Forbes (in Henrich 76, 2007).
More on this in section 4.4
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3.2.3 The Design should be Concise Whitaker describes the homepage as ”a roadmap to the rest of your website. It should be enticing and summarize what your site – and your church fellowship – is all about. But it should not carry much information itself.” (Whittaker, 2009). The more detailed content should be kept for other pages on the website. We would be wise to take the advice of Krug (2005, 99). He says that the homepage of any website needs to answer the following four questions a user will have in their head when entering a website for the first time: What is this? What do they have here? What can I do here? Why should I be here and not somewhere else?
The big picture of what church community is all about needs to be conveyed in as few words as possible. The most important links and the majority of the home page information should be visible without scrolling. “A homepage should not extend much ‘below the fold’ (i.e. one computer screen (Whittaker, 2009) Of the church websites I analysed 35% of the sample had homepages which needed to be scrolled, and a much larger percentage had very busy pages. Web design experts strongly advise against this. Krug (2005, 38) calls such busyness visual noise, “When everything on the page is clamouring for my attention the effect can be overwhelming! ... A lot of shouting going on!”
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I included a website with a very cluttered homepage in my usability test. The following comments were made: “The site is very 'busy' almost with too much information. The homepage in particular was a bit of a mess with no clear idea of the message being conveyed.” and “The front page had too many different things on. I was not sure where to begin.” Yet, the feedback from all users in response to later questions referring to examination of further areas of this particular site was encouraging and very positive. When invited to give ‘any other comments’ one respondent was very expressive. She wrote: “It is a lovely website, everything is easy to understand, and the people look friendly. There is even a frequently asked questions section!” This person even emailed me to say that this particular site was her favourite…”it even tempts the non-practising like me to go back to have a look!” This is the reaction we want to evoke! So the respondents’ overall opinion was that they clearly liked this website. However from the comments given regarding the homepage, the whole site might not have been pursued because a user was put off by the clutter. “For some visitors, the homepage will be the only chance you get to create a good impression.” (Krug 2005, 97). 3.3 Usability “Overall, with respect to users, the goal of a design should be to create ‘successful and satisfying experiences’ (a formulation proposed by California-based designer Lauralee Alben). Successful in that the user can complete their task efficiently.” (MacDonald 2003, 34).To attract and keep visitors on a website, it must be easy to use. If the site is difficult to use, many hours of getting the content right will be wasted.
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“Usability refers to how intuitive [(easy)] a website is to use. For any website to be successful, people need to be able to use it. Design and appearance will never replace the need for usability.” (7 Factors, 2009). 3.3.1 Navigation “It’s a fact: People won’t use your website if they can’t find their way around it.” (Krug 2005, 51) Navigation is a major part of usability. If you cannot find the information you want easily, it is not usable and much of the time invested in making the site’s design attractive and eye-catching will be wasted. The conventional way of finding your way around a site is by using menus which in larger sites drop down into submenus. Most users are happy with this intuitive menu system. There are three major areas of navigation that require attention: orientation, link distinctiveness, and link wording. 126.96.36.199 Orientation By orientation I mean giving the user the ability to know instinctively the answers to these three questions, at every point within the site: “Where am I? Where can I go? Where have I been?” (Whittaker, 2009). This is necessary because a website is not structured in a linear way like a book, you do not read it from beginning to end but instead each user will choose their own route by clicking on the links that interest them. Assisting the user by making it clear where they are is something only 40% of the church websites in my study had paid any attention to. Much of the confusion created was due to menus that displayed and responded differently from page to page.
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“Your navigation menu should appear identically on all pages. Do not make users return to the homepage in order to find a new page, and do not vary the position of the menu and other parts of page design on different parts of the site.” (Whittaker, 2009). Splitting the website into logical sections will help the user get orientated. Marking each section and subsection with clear headings will help answer the question “Where am I?” To answer the question “Where can I go?”, a search box is helpful, so a user can type in a keyword. For browsing, dropdown menus are very helpful as the user can roll over the main sections quickly to find out what the subsection headings are. It is of some, but less, use for the user to answer the question “Where have I been?” The way sites normally do this is once you have clicked on a menu link it will remain a different colour to the links yet to be explored. I personally think this is unnecessary extra meddling with colour coding. If the previous questions are answered well, this question should answer itself with no extra work on the design required. The user should be able to remember where he has been and, if not, find it again very easily. As we have discussed, a homepage will have a menu comprising a number of options of where users may go on the site. They will usually choose the links they are interested in rather than going down them like a list. Thus: ”Too many links are confusing. Reduce the number of main navigation menu links to about 10... Always try to follow accepted web protocol for menus – people find it easier to use a familiar system.” (Whittaker, 2009). 188.8.131.52 Link distinctiveness “Since a large part of what people do on the Web is looking for the next thing to click, it’s important to make it obvious what is clickable and what is not.” (Krug 2005, 37).
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A link needs to be made obvious, i.e., it should stand out as being ‘clickable’, something that will lead you elsewhere within the website. Common practice is for links to be blue and, more importantly, underlined. Any text that is not a link should not be underlined because this adds confusion to navigation. 184.108.40.206 Link wording “Ensure that the wording for each link is meaningful and enticing... Menu text should avoid using words that outsiders may not understand. For example, many churches use the term ‘Ministries’ in their menus. Consider replacing this with neutral words such as ‘activities’ or ‘what we do’.” (Whittaker, 2009). How you describe each link is also important. The church needs to pay particular attention to this if it is to be sensitive and relevant to non-Christians: Many of the church websites I studied had menu links simply labelled “Alpha”, which, unless you know what the Alpha course is, and many non-Christians may not, is meaningless. So, instead of labelling a link “Alpha”, I would argue something more generic like “Have questions about Christianity?” would be more likely to get a mouseclick from a non-Christian. 3.3.2 Accessibility The website must be usable by people with disabilities. “Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web.” (WAI, 2009). Some of the issues that need to be considered are providing alternative text based descriptions for images. This is necessary for visitors to the church website who are visually impaired. A text-to-speech system can access these descriptions from the
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hidden computer code and read them audibly so the user will get an idea of what images are being displayed on a website. Visitors with dyslexia also need to be accommodated for, so colour contrast should be considered. This is an area many web developers overlook. Only 35% of church websites in my study had made provision for visitors with visual impairments. “Firstly, it would be incredibly thoughtless and rude to not care enough to enable visitors with impairments to find out about your church. Secondly, from October 2004 under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) it happens to be a legal requirement (in the UK) that websites should be accessible.” (Church123, 2009).The World Wide Web Consortium (http://www.w3.org/WAI/quicktips/#tips) gives helpful guidelines on this issue. 3.4 Readability 3.4.1 Not too much text As I explored in the previous chapter, digital culture has moved on from print to multimedia. Yet many people are trying to hold on to the print tradition by simply transferring it onto websites and this does not work well. Miller’s research of church websites revealed that there was a glaring difference in design amongst the various church traditions. He (2004, 150) states “The Reformation sites, such as the Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran and Baptist…get straight to the point—no frills…not surprisingly for a print tradition, there’s a lot of text to read.” In contrast he reports that the Celebration churches (including Willow Creek) “immediately reflect their broadcast nature, visually appealing, they are easy to navigate.” Miller’s (2004, 152) findings on sites of Emerging churches reveal that they contain more topics on social awareness, and that many offer ‘virtual’ communities.
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Reflecting on Miller’s conclusions, I fear that the websites of the more Reformed/traditional churches, in their attempt to design websites that are true to their left-brained print tradition, may be significantly disadvantaged in any desire they may have winning the attention of digital natives. The reality is that very few people are going to read through a full-length document of a church’s statement of faith on the web, or other long text-based pages. Casual, everyday web-browsing just doesn’t lend itself to such activity. “People tend to spend very little time reading…much of web use is motivated by our desire to save time. We don’t have the time to read any more than necessary.” (Krug 2006, 23). 3.4.2 The text must be understood “This is the challenge before the church: to have our presence there and available in a ubiquitous way to those who are using the ’Net today.” (Henrich 2007, 4). It is vital not to use Christian jargon on a church website. We become so used to using and hearing certain words in Christian circles (such as ‘justification’ and ‘sanctification’,) that it is easy to forget they are totally meaningless to the majority of society. To many, we may as well be writing in a foreign language! To illustrate, in data revealed in a Mori poll from August 2003, only 55% of the English population could name one of the four Christian gospels. (Vexan, 2009). We need to be sensitive to this and not make assumptions. Some words need to be carefully rephrased in neutral language. This is in no way compromising Biblical truth, but rather introducing it. Children who do not come from churchgoing homes - as I did not - now grow up largely ignorant of Christian ideas in a way unimaginable half a century ago. The comments about religion by journalists in the press and on television suggest that even the basic Christian ideas are no longer understood by universityeducated people, still less by others. (Furlong 2002, 3). Bearing in mind then that words that were commonly understood twenty or thirty years ago are now ambiguous, how do we communicate the Gospel to digital natives?
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Saddington (2009) suggests some helpful alternatives to words and phrases he considers confusing to the unchurched: he argues that ‘born again’ or ‘converted’ is better expressed as ‘changed’, ‘transformed’, and instead of ‘Christian’ a ‘follower of Christ ‘ is used. He counsels saying that somebody ‘has made a decision to follow Christ’ is clearer than using ‘found the Lord’ or ‘got saved’. Stephenson (2006,44) also has simulating views proposing that words such as ‘holy’, ‘justification’, ‘sanctification’ can be intimidating, so it is best to avoid using these words or just keep them for sections intended for church attendees such as Bible study notes. Stephenson suggests even the word ‘sermon’ may seem foreign and suggests using ‘pastor’s message’ instead. The whole area of language is a challenge as everybody reads things differently. It is impossible to make everything crystal clear for everyone. Including testimonies from a diverse selection of people will help overcome this. Different readers will be able to empathise with different stories. Also making the website interactive by providing forums and chatrooms you can enter a dialogue with someone, and you begin to appreciate where that person is coming from, clearing up misunderstandings. 3.5 Conclusion I have explored many of the important things that need attending to with regards to the shell of the site. To some extent measuring success can be done by asking nonChristians within the local community (the group that is being targeted) to evaluate a church website, and give feedback. In doing this we begin to learn how to improve things and better ensure our time is not wasted.
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CHAPTER 4 Content 4.1 Introduction One of the seminars given at the Internet Evangelism Conference 2007 was presented by the two leaders of the web team of the Southside Church in Chilliwack, USA. They put forward the main ways they have reached non-Christians through their church website over the seven years of its existence (Purves & Hall, 2009a). When it comes to content their main concern is drawing non-Christians into their site and these are some of the things they focus on to do this: Life Stories (testimonies) Community Links – providing easy access to popular community info like movie times, job opportunities, weather, etc. Pastor’s Thoughts – a weekly article that provides a window into the everyday lives of Southside’s pastors. Gospel Presentation – an opportunity to learn and read about Jesus and his claims and actions. Prayer Team – a group of volunteers who pray for, and respond to, prayer requests submitted through the website. Questions of Life – Answers to questions commonly asked by unbelievers. Discussion Forum – gives people the opportunity to read each other’s comments, and post their own thoughts, questions and ideas. Online Tour of Southside Church (Purves and Hall, 2009b).
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This list is rich in good ideas, but is by no means exhaustive of actions churches can take for providing content for a church website targeted at non-Christians. In this chapter I explore three fundamental areas for content: The message of Christ. Addressing the quest for community Information for potential visitors to church services. 4.2 The Message of Christ “Every church website should include the message of Salvation” (Stephenson 2006, 163). Whittaker reports research which gives a discouraging picture of how churches are missing out by not using the opportunity to explain the Good News on their website: “Either they do not provide any hint about the life-changing Gospel; or else they present it in heavy-handed terms which may be ‘too much, too soon’, a counter-productive ‘Bible-bashing’.” (Whittaker, 2009). My field research also indicated that this needs addressing. For each site in my usability study I asked the question: Did you learn anything new about Christianity through this website? All respondents replied ‘no’ regarding each of the websites. I propose priority consideration should be given to conveying the Good News in a way that is appropriate for digital culture: “As Christians we are called to offer Christ to those who do not know him. The web provides ways to creatively and effectively communicate the message through words, graphics, animation, sound and video.” (Stephenson 2006, 163).
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This need not take too much effort. Many gifted people have already spent much time creating active visual presentations explaining the gospel which can be embedded into the site or linked to it. The I.E.D website has a large section with a list of links leading to such resources, and also instructions on how to create your own presentation. I was particularly impressed by a fantastic site, rejesus.co.uk, which is attractive and userfriendly. The content was interactive as well as interesting and informative. It explains the history of Jesus and his teachings. The site also includes excellent items on contemporary issues such as how Jesus might have reacted to climate change. Alternatively, or in addition to using external resources, a short video or audio message from the pastor explaining the Gospel can also be effective. “A single 'cut and run' exposure to the Gospel is not usually effective.’ (Whittaker, 2009). After every presentation an email address should be offered to encourage questions. In promoting discussion we can better ensure the message we are conveying is being heard and understood. The Ethiopian Eunuch needed help: “‘Do you understand what you are reading?' Philip asked. 'How can I,' he said, 'unless someone explains to me?’” (Acts 8:30-31) 4.3 Addressing the Quest for Community “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) Johnston (2001, 26) listed the “quest for community” as being a key hallmark of today’s people of postmodern thinking. We see this very clearly online with the popularity of social networking sites. It is a sign they are desperately looking for something that is lost, community, a sense of belonging.
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It is clear Bosch could see the way things were going. “Perhaps,” wrote Bosch, “...the search for community will turn out to be a major missiological theme during the 1990s.” (Bosch 1991, 137). He boldly stated he believed it is “the community that is the primary bearer of mission.” (1991, 472). The local church is equipped to offer a loving community to belong to if it is following the example of the early church: "they continued to meet together...with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people" (Acts 2:46, 47). How then can we convey by using the website, the oneness we have as a Church through Jesus Christ? Non-Christians need to be assured that people in the church are accessible, and that they are people they can relate to and connect with. I propose three ways of doing this, through use of photographs, online communication and written testimonies. 4.3.1 Seeing Church Community Life Visually “Words are nice but graphics, animation, sound and video can make a website dance.” (Stephenson 2006, 97). A unified church that truly cares for each other is a powerful magnet to attract nonChristians. This can be reflected in the website, that folk love each other and would like to get to know and love others too. Photos of people are great for doing this, bringing a website alive. The importance of having photos of a diversity of church members engaged in a wide spectrum of activities is two-fold. Firstly it gives a positive taste of church, how people who follow Christ have a special bond. Secondly it is helpful for communication purposes for the user to see faces as well as have a general idea of what the church leaders are like.
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“Churches must absolutely sell a lifestyle…Great photography can go a long way, and I think a solid balance between happy people, and normal relaxed faces.” (Matt Adams cited in Hoyt, 2009). Photos taken within the church can be helpful if they are taken outside church services, such as coffee time. Photos of worship time or preachers are not so effective because they may make non-Christians feel excluded. One of the church websites I chose for the usability study had such photographs and somebody commented: “Though it [the church website] is friendly and welcoming, most of the pictures are of worship or from within the church itself. To me this gives the impression that it is all a bit 'churchy' rather than being for the whole community”. Digital cameras have made photography much easier and more accessible. It is good to make use of people in the congregation who enjoy taking photographs, encouraging them to bring their cameras on church outings and events. There are some important things to bear in mind when using photos on a public church website which include: Ensuring that all identifiable people in a photo are happy to have their photo on the church website. Asking the permission of parents or guardians before posting any photos of children. Avoiding putting the specific details of children on the church website such as full name, age and contact information. Not giving a photo filename the same name as the children in it16.
Further information on children and photography is available from: http://www.childnet-int.org/downloads/factsheet_photos.pdf
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Reflecting the diversity of the church in photos will help make various people feel they would be welcome, demonstrating the unity we have in Christ which crosses age, ethnicity and background. In my study of church webmasters, one reported that a lady had started coming to their church primarily because there was somebody from her ethnic background represented in the photos on the homepage of the church website. 4.3.2 Online Community Communication “Online community happens when online visitors connect in discussion and relationship.” (Stephenson 2001, 35). As explained in chapter two, interactivity is a key part of digital culture. Yet most of the church websites I studied. were quick to post static information (such as service times, mission statements) but very few were dynamic by nature, providing opportunities and facilities for feedback and online community and discussions. This is disappointing as the results of my usability study showed the facility to discuss and engage with a church via a website was much wanted. Forums17 were put forward as a favourite18. Also most people surveyed (70%) indicated that they would be interested in discussing God/faith/spirituality on a church website if the opportunity was there.
A forum is a tool that promotes discussion. It functions in a similar way to a bulletin board; users submit comments and opinions for all other members of the forum to read.
When asked which (if any) pages of the website they found interesting 4 out of 6 respondents praised the presence of a forum: “The ‘my area’ [forum] part of the site seemed a good idea.” “The meet-us section was very good, and I love the fact that there is a forum, that is very upto-date.” “Good idea to have downloads and forum.” “Most of it! The forum looked interesting. “
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There are many different tools the church can use for creating interactive opportunities and promoting community within their websites: forums, blogs, polls, instant messenger and chatrooms. Stephenson (2006, 135) warns there is a risk in allowing visitors to set the agenda in a discussion, but he testifies, “We included forums on our website since 1997, and we have added many other community features as well. Since then, we have had a few minor incidents, but these are miniscule to the incredible ministry we have seen...I encourage you to incorporate some form of online community into your internet ministry.” Forums then are a good thing, but are high maintenance, requiring committed people from the church to moderate them. It is worth doing the research to avoid the pitfalls by liaising with churches who already use them. Stephenson (2006, 151), drawing on his experience concludes “Community based web tools [creating interactive opportunities] are valuable additions to a church website and a major component for future internet ministry”. 4.3.3 Sharing Personal Stories “Research suggests people begin to take an interest in the message of Jesus Christ when they are attracted by the life of a Christian.” (Kirk 199, 73). As explained in chapter two, people rarely accept anything claiming to be absolute truth and this is a huge challenge for the church in communicating that Jesus is the only way to God. “An indirect, but effective, approach in tackling metanarrative criticism is to use the ‘petite narrative’ meaning each person’s own story. This is largely because of the postmodern mentality of legitimising each person’s view of reality...” (Johnston 2002, 110). People then are very open to hearing about others’ experience, and when
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personal stories are told that focus on God’s faithfulness and love in a life this is very powerful. “Being fulfilled, rooted in acceptance and love is the need of all people, but nobody understands the power of grace until they have experienced it.” (Simpson 2003, 41). Grace cannot be understood through intellectual reasoning or even theologically, “The telling of your story is the first step to learning theirs [the non-Christian’s]” (Simpson 2003, 42): Make a link to ‘meet the webmaster’ or ‘my story’. Here is a chance to share your testimony. (But don’t call it ‘testimony’ – that’s a Christian jargon word.) Introduce yourself first, where you live, what you like, etc. Then go on to explain how something happened to you which changed your whole view of life. “People are interested in people.” They always turn to the human-interest stories in newspapers first. Short audio or video clips of the person can also add interest to a testimony page. (Whittaker, 2009). Southside Church19 claim the life stories (testimonies) of people in their congregation featured on their website have prompted much feedback and questions from nonChristian visitors to their site. (Purves & Hall, 2009a). Each story is short which is good as people often do not read long articles as they surf20, and with a testimony it is important that folk read to the end. They have catchy titles rather like secular magazines that make people want to read more, one such example is: “I just couldn’t deal with the troubles in my life anymore.” (Terri, 2009) These life stories alternate with one another, featuring on every page. At the end of each story an opportunity is given to find out more about Christ. A personal story is unique to the person telling it and has the capacity to establish empathy and identity with the reader. The reader will find a personal testimony of how Jesus has touched someone’s life difficult to refute because that person is simply expressing their experience.
See section 4.1 See section 3.4.1
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Although on the surface testimonies may seem subjective, they should ultimately reflect the Glory and Power of God to change lives and give room for the Holy Spirit to convict the reader that they too need Jesus: For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:5-7).
4.3.4 Content that uses the “Bridge Strategy” If we write pages on secular subjects or felt needs we can target any group of people. We can call this the ‘Bridge Strategy’... This does not mean that we make trick pages that are not really about the subject they claim to be. If we write a page about restoring VW cars, or breeding mice, or a favourite musician, the page must truly be ‘about’ that subject. (Whittaker, 2009) The Bridge Strategy encourages making room for content to be what people are searching for. There are two reasons why it is important to include such information. One reason is practical. It is the only way we will get many non-Christians visiting a church website due to the nature of the web. On the web, the internet user is in complete control of what pages, if any, he or she looks at on a church website. “Only rarely do people find sites by accident about topics which do not interest them. (If you have no interest in chess, when did you last accidentally find a chess website?)” (Whittaker, 2009). This strategy contrasts with conventional public evangelistic strategies such as Bible verses on billboards at train stations, or Alpha adverts posted in prominent places on the high street, where people would have to go out of their way not to read them. The Internet has been described as a ‘pull’ medium. “It draws people in – but only within the channels on which they wish to be drawn... There is no automatic audience for a website.” (Whittaker, 2009). The other reason for using the bridge strategy is that it is in keeping with the way Jesus carried out his ministry.
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Our primary guideline is the ministry of Jesus. If we look at the different encounters that Jesus had with people, in almost every case he first addressed a felt need. In many situations, the overwhelming need of sickness was met by healing, often followed by 'spiritual' advice (even though that was not always apparently taken). And, incidentally, his starting point in spoken evangelism was never scriptural exposition except for one situation – in the synagogue. (Whittaker, 2009). We therefore need to be conscious of whether or not the content we spend so much time preparing will in fact ‘pull’ and be read by our targeted audience of non-Christians. “In this postmodern age, when most of the unchurched are totally unfamiliar with true Christianity or the Bible, the Church needs a new approach to reaching these people. Otherwise, we will be attempting to give answers to questions they are not asking.” (Simpson 2003, 3). “Very seldom do lost people go to their computers and type in ‘what must I do to be saved?’” (Fish 2007, 16). However somebody from townX who is feeling depressed may tap the keywords “TownX depression” into a search engine, or if they are bereaved they may tap in “TownX bereavement support”. As an experiment I typed in such a phrase using a large city. I was led to one Christian organisation but sadly no churches came up in my Google search. If church websites are not addressing the contemporary interests, hurts and obsessions of today then people will stay with the secular sites or those which represent other religions and mystical new age thinking that do not point to the hope found in Jesus. By building an effective website the church is just a Google search away from someone looking for help. Granted, as I have indicated previously21, we cannot feed or clothe22 using the Internet but we can invite people to make their needs known, build up
Section 2.6 Matthew 25:35-37
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relationships and trust so that we get to a place where we can meet up physically and help practically. The church website can also assist by “including care related resources such as online teaching, contact information for support organisations and dates. Use your website to list meeting information for local support groups.” (Stephenson 2006, 165). Also ensure non-religious activities are given a high profile, such as outings, and toddler groups. One of my church webmaster respondents gave a telling story: “Our toddler group section has a play dough recipe, which seems to bring the most visitors [to the website]. Some of those who live in the area bring their toddlers, and one or two have become church attenders.” Christians can forget how non-Christians think. Reading magazines and the tabloids, and watching TV Soaps, taking notice of what issues are being covered can help. Getting interest from our website visitors and connecting with them involves addressing needs from the minor, like where is a good place to go for a walk in the area, to the more serious, such as overcoming addiction. One of our greatest needs in today's church is a sensitive awareness of the world around us. If we are true servants of Jesus Christ, we will keep our eyes open (as he did) to human need, and our ears cocked to pick up cries of anguish. And we will respond compassionately and constructively (as he did) to people's pain…. unless we listen attentively to the voices of secular society, struggle to understand them, and feel with people in their frustrations, bewilderment and despair, weeping with those who weep, we will lack authenticity as the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, we will risk (as has often been said) answering questions nobody is asking, scratching where nobody is itching, supplying goods for which there is no demand, in other words, being totally irrelevant. (Stott 1995, 521). The church preaches out of a genuine longing to see people reconciled with their creator. However, how are people going to believe we are genuinely concerned for their souls if we are ignoring their physical, emotional and social needs? We have a visible
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opportunity to demonstrate our love and God’s love for people. As we do this, people may respond, believing that what we preach about Jesus’ love for them is true. 4.4 Putting potential visitors at ease “Just as it is important to understand the culture at large, today’s Christians must also understand the culture that exists inside the church’s door.” (Bolger & Gibbs 2006, 19). For many Christians, going to church is a routine thing, it’s easy, they know the people, they know the building, they know the songs, they know what to expect. Care should be taken, then, to appreciate what a huge step we are expecting non-Christians to take in coming along to a traditional church service. To many on the outside it seems that it is an institution fascinated and consumed by its own life and activities, walled up and enclosed. The language, ritual and practice all make sense (supposedly) within the church but don’t mean much to the casual outsider. … Such an institution becomes difficult to penetrate from the outside – hence the bemusement of some observers. (Tomlin 2005, 123). Many churches are trying to close the culture gap, but the majority of churches today still do things that are foreign to contemporary culture, for example, corporate singing and listening to a long monologue. The debate as to whether we keep, dispose of, or adjust such things is beyond the scope of this dissertation. What I am arguing though is that there is a definite cultural gap between ‘inside’ the church walls and ‘outside’ and this needs addressing. The church website is a great opportunity to inform prospective unchurched visitors of what to expect ‘inside’ the church walls before they come23.
When asked if they look at the website before visiting a new place, only 7.5% respondents to my short survey (all of whom were aged 40-65) of answered ‘never’. The majority (57.5%) answered ‘mostly’ or ‘always’.
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My field research revealed that many churches are not taking advantage of this opportunity. Only 5% of the church websites I analysed had any information giving prospective newcomers any ideas of what to expect during a service. Yet, given the feedback from non-Christians, such information would be a most welcome help for the non-Christian enquirer considering visiting a church. One site in my usability study had a visitors page and this was picked out as ‘of interest’ by one of my respondents who remarked, “The visitors page said everything someone would want to know if they had never been there or was unsure of that church.” I listed eight aspects of a church service in a question in my survey. I asked the participants, should they decide to visit a church, to rate how important it would be to be pre-informed about each aspect from the church website beforehand. Ratings were from 1 to 8 (1 meaning most important): “A Map with travel information”24 was rated as the most important information required. “Your church website needs to help visitors work out exactly where you meet!” (Church123, 2009). High ratings were also given for information about “what to expect during the service”25. One of my respondents, when asked if there was anything else they would like to know, expressed concern about the singing. He would want to know if he would recognise the songs, and if not how he would know the words. It is reassuring to know what to expect. If people come to church and feel silly they may not come again.
72.5% gave a rating of 1 to 3 72.5% gave a rating of 1 to 3
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To know the “length of the service” was also given a high rating26. Churches always give the starting time of a service on their websites (as well as other literature) but seldom do they give a finishing time. Knowing a finishing time can help somebody who is not used to going to church feel more relaxed. “Make sure you remain consistent with start and stop times” (Simpson 172, 2003). A desire to know if “anything would be expected of them”27 was prevalent. One respondent had concerns about the offering. Most of the many churches I have visited have been good at putting people at ease about the offering at the service. However the website is a great opportunity to alleviate such worries before people arrive, for example, by stating explicitly that no money is expected from visitors. There are other things you could mention on the website that there isn’t time for during the service, such as “don’t feel you have to sing – just relax and listen if you prefer” (if this is the church ethos of course). “Communion”28 was an issue. The majority who were concerned about this were people under the age of 40. They indicated they would want to be informed when communion would take place and who could take it. “Being shown to a seat”29 was the thing that concerned people least. However 15% still marked it with a 1. I think it is fair to surmise that whilst many people would want the freedom to sit where they want, it would still be worth including something like “There are always people at the door to welcome you and help in any way we can. Please feel free to ask us anything”.
70% gave a rating of 1 to 3 62% gave a rating of 1 to 3 28 60% gave a rating of 1 to 3 29 45.5% gave a rating of 1 to 3
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The response given to wanting to know the “dress code”30 was varied, but over half gave it a high rating, so it is definitely worth making use of the website to put minds at rest about that. Most people gave “pictures of the inside of the building”31 a medium rating. I would argue that whilst helpful, need not be an urgent priority. I asked the participants for their additions of what they’d like to know about. Their responses included: Service times Crèche and children’s facilities Photos of leaders, with names so one knows who to talk to What happens after the service, are there refreshments? What the music is like Will there be a collection? Language options Disabled access and facilities Denomination, background and history of the church A website of a church I went to in Gloucester had a very helpful page written specifically for new-comers. It is an excellent example covering almost all the issues mentioned above. It is written very empathetically and extends the offer to meet you: “If you are still nervous after reading this, why not e-mail us (we can arrange for someone to come with you for your first visit) or contact our church.” (Kendal Road, 2009). What I think may have made it even more helpful is having a photo of both a male and female
54.5% gave a rating of 1 to 3 35% gave a rating of 1 to 3 whilst 72.5 % gave a medium rating of 3 to 6
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representative along with a contact email. If somebody is going to be met, it will be good for them to know what the person meeting them is going to look like. We should not confuse Christianity with ‘churchianity’. The only thing that needs to make a non-Christian feel uncomfortable in church is the Holy Spirit convicting them of their sin which is separating them from God. It is the church’s duty therefore to tell them the Good News, that there is forgiveness and reconciliation on offer, through the work of Jesus on the cross. 4.6 Conclusion Providing content which is accessible to non-Christians is still an area many churches need to work on. 8% of church webmasters gave content geared to non-Christians a higher priority than that for Christians. The average proportion of a website which webmasters claimed was geared towards non-Christians was under a fifth. Also a disappointing 45% of the church websites I analyzed failed to demonstrate evidence that they had given any consideration at all to non-Christian users of their site. This chapter has explored many ideas of how churches can change this for the better. As with design, usability and readability outlined in the previous chapter, there is no blueprint. Churches are best sticking to what they are manned and gifted to do well. Most website services provide facilities for looking at statistics of how many times each page gets looked at. These should be studied regularly as they can be a gauge as to which pages aimed at non-Christians are successful and which are not or need a different approach.
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People may not come straight to church to find answers to deep questions but they will anonymously go to search engines with a myriad of questions. If church websites can be at the top search engine results, we may have the opportunity to minister and lead them to the world’s ultimate answer, Jesus Christ.
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CHAPTER 5 Implementing and Maintaining the Church website 5.1 Introduction Having established the work that needs to be done, this chapter investigates many of the practicalities of maintaining an effective church website. I will begin by explaining why a church website should not be run by one person alone and why web evangelists advocate that a team based web ministry with full support of the church is important to its success. I will then outline some of the recognised frustrations of the struggle to encourage a church to take interest in and responsibility for its own website. I follow this by suggesting possible ways of overcoming these common problems. An exploration of what tasks are needed is then outlined together with a proposed model of a website team to undertake these tasks, highlighting the importance of ensuring the church website is fully integrated into the church ministry as a whole, rather than just an ‘addon’. I will conclude this chapter briefly describing web development systems available today which make it feasible for a number of people in the church to maintain the website together. 5.2 Not a task to be done solo “Wherever possible, creating a church website should be a team affair” (Blackmore 2001, 14) 70% of the church web developers whom I surveyed reported they did not have enough people involved in the maintaining of their website. All those who did feel enough people were involved had three or more people in their website team.
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Here, then, are three reasons why I propose that one person might struggle alone and why most web evangelists advocate teamwork: 5.2.1 The work is too varied to do alone Stephenson recounts that it wasn’t until he set up a website for the Ginghamsburg church that he fully began to appreciate the implications of what is involved. “There are so many things to do; the technical stuff to figure out, the graphic design (not my gift for sure), the navigation/organisation, the photos, and content writing. This requires diverse skills and knowledge. I don’t have all the skills and knowledge, nor do I have the time to do all of this.” (Stephenson 2006, 27). It is very rare that we come across one person willing to do the church website who is: technically minded, artistically gifted, a photographer, good at writing, aware of everything going on both in the church and the community, theologically read, and doctrinally sound. In order, then, for a church website to attract its local community there needs to be a committed number of people behind it, each doing what they do best. “The computer enthusiast who knows how to publish web pages may not be the best person to write content. The minister—long trained in writing essays and delivering sermons-may not be the best to submit magazine style articles.” (Blackmore 2001, 14). 5.2.2 The work is too heavy to do alone Creating and maintaining an attractive church website, which is going to be an effective interface to the local community, is going to require much work and dedication. It is very unfair, therefore, to allow one person to carry all the burden and responsibility. “Church websites are often a one person task and there is no-one to help when that one person becomes overworked.” (Fish 2007, 7). “I'm 87 and am the web master of two church websites. I do not have a committee or a team to work with at either church although I
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have asked for help and would truly welcome it”, wrote somebody on a church website forum I belong to. The Bible, of course, says nothing about maintaining a church website, but it does say a lot about working together as a team in doing the Lord’s work and the need for support32. For example, we can learn a lesson from Moses in Exodus 18. Jethro noticed that Moses was wearing himself out by taking it upon himself to do all the judging, (this was a critical time in history, the beginning of Israel’s legal system): "What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” (Exodus 18:17-18). Jethro pointed out the problem and suggested a solution - to appoint men to judge the smaller matters and for them only to go to Moses with the ones they could not deal with. 5.2.3 The work is too important to do alone “Today we live in one of those life-altering historic events that is being orchestrated by God. This is the Internet moment in history. From now on nothing will be the same. What we do with the Internet is as important as what we do in the pulpit.” (Careaga 2001, 22). When a church is happy to leave the work to one person it is a big indication that the church is not taking its website seriously enough and is underestimating the impact it can make on the community. Church website work should be taken seriously because Internet users will regard a website as a reflection of the organisation it is presenting33. It is wise therefore for a church website to not ‘go live’ without the church leaders seeing it first. “The church website is a window into your church, so it is important to ensure that the website
Ecclesiastes 4:9 10. See Section 3.2.2.
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properly represents your church.” (Stephenson 2006, 31). Leggett (2001, 49) shares this concern by illustrating the dangers when church leaders dismiss the impact a church website can make: Churches where the computer expert in the congregation is putting up the church website, whether for evangelism or not, and the leadership team are saying, “great!”, without giving it their serious input need to think about whether they would take the same attitude if someone was producing thousands of posters about the church, and hanging them on every lamp-post and advertising hoarding. Prayer support is imperative. In my experience many churches would never consider going out leafleting without making it a matter of prayer for the church, praying that the leaflets will be used by God to prompt people in the community to start thinking about Christianity and consider coming along to church to hear more. The church website has the potential to reach many needy people and provide them with a contact to someone who can point them to Christ and find them help. We should treat the work of the website with the same attention to prayer as we treat any other mission or ministry praying not just for the effectiveness of the website itself but also for the people involved. The I.E.D. Website cautions us on this very point: It is very easy to think that online evangelism, done in the safety of your own home or office, is not ‘real’ evangelism, and does not merit the sort of prayer cover that someone should receive when working in a front-line ministry, whether in their home country or overseas. This is totally not true! Anyone sharing the Gospel online is in the dangerous zone, and needs consistent, ongoing prayer support. If you are involved in online evangelism (whether spare-time or full-time), make it your business to find a support base of friends in your church and beyond, who will pray regularly for you. Design a prayer card. Send regular email or printed prayer letters. Encourage your prayer team to feel very much part of your ministry. The Enemy will seek to drag down any effective evangelist in numerous ways: attacking weak areas in their personal or family life, health, their appropriate use of time and priorities, temptation to view inappropriate online material, and sowing doubts and depression – the usual stuff. I know a number of web evangelists who have suffered considerably, and are certainly in need of ongoing prayer. (Whittaker 2009).
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5.3 Enthusing the Local Church Jewell (2004, 80) states, “When everyone is onboard or at least informed of the plans for technology, implementation will go smoothly”. Whilst I would not go as far as to say the congregation’s support will guarantee a smooth development of a church’s website, I would certainly agree there will be an immense struggle without it. The careful establishment of a team will only pay off if accompanied by the active support of the whole church and their various gifts. Enabling a church to capture the vision of online ministry is usually an uphill struggle and can be discouraging at first. It requires persistence and good communication. It is often necessary to persuade them it is needed in the first place. Stephenson (2006, 15) shares his experience of the type of response he had when initiating the Ginghamsburg church website, “Although they [the congregation] did not come out and say it, the attitude was ‘Why do we need one now?’ To me, the future possibilities for web ministry seemed endless. To them, at best, a website was a nice little novelty to the church.” The church leadership also can be hard to convince. “Most people in church leadership know very little about Internet ministry or cyber-ministry as we call it. As one pastor told me, ‘they don’t teach this stuff in seminary’.” (Stephenson 2006, 16). Although I do see evidence of the beginnings of change, it is incredibly slow, particularly in the UK. Tony Whittaker, editor of the I.E.D. website, has recently sent out letters to all Bible Colleges in the UK encouraging them to teach “this stuff” -- as Stephenson puts it. I do believe this will happen in time as the up and coming generation, brought up using the Internet; take up their positions as pastors, teachers and missionaries. An excerpt from the letter reads:
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Its purpose [(The I.E.D. website)] is to encourage the worldwide church to understand and use this powerful new tool. This site explains the nature of the Web… including: church websites that reach outsiders in their community. We do believe that these are insights which any Christian in full-time ministry needs to understand, whether as pastor, evangelist or missionary. May we respectfully suggest that you might consider the possibility of a web ministry module within your curriculum, if you do not already do so. (Whittaker, 2009). I commend the I.E.D. website (www.internetevangelismday.com) to anyone struggling to get their church enthusiastic about the evangelistic potential of their website. This website essentially works at two levels. It highlights that this present time onwards is the ‘day’ of Internet outreach, as well as encouraging churches to hold an annual web evangelism awareness ‘focus day’. There is a wealth of well-prepared free resources and presentations available to be used and shown within the church including drama sketches, discussion questions, posters and flyers, all designed with the intention of getting people in the church inspired and thinking about web evangelism. I would also suggest (as the website ourchurch.com does) that somebody gives a live demonstration of what a church website site can do. Ourchurch.com has a very helpful article entitled “Getting your congregation to buy into your website” (Steinbrueck, 2009). Steinbrueck suggests the idea of having an open house with a live demonstration of the website. He advises this be done immediately after a service so people are already right there and don’t have to make an extra trip to the church or even leave their seats! The only problem I foresee with using Steinbruek’s idea is that it assumes that a workable, professional-looking site has already gone live. An alternative suggestion for churches, which are currently not in this position, would be to demonstrate a good example of a neighbouring church website. If you are stuck for inspiring examples the website goodchurchwebsites.org.uk lists examples of good UK based church websites, helpfully critiquing each one. This would enable people to see what can be done, thus
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encouraging the congregation to think about further ideas for their own church website. Most churches today own an LCD projector to make this possible, or at least know someone who would gladly lend a projector. Seeing something together as a church like this is likely to help promote the church’s website as a corporate ministry and to help it to be accepted as such. There will be fear and there will be resistance and so it is important to be prepared for this. Unfortunately the Internet does have a bad press - viruses, pornography, and child grooming in chatrooms, to name just a few of its horror stories. These are indeed very real and frightening issues and it is important to bear in mind that many people in the congregation will need reassurance that the Internet can be used for good, and indeed for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom. “Resistance can be overcome by careful explanation, a focus on the good things that can happen with this new medium, patience, and then more patience.” (Jewell 2004, 81). “The key is to paint a vivid picture that helps people visualize two things: how the website furthers the mission of the church and how the website will help them.” (Steinbrueck, 2009). If the majority of the congregation do not understand how the church’s website can be used as a tool for mission then it may only enthuse those who get excited by anything technical (the ‘techies’!). But, if it is related to mission, the whole congregation (including digital foreigners) should at least show support. Thinking missiologically is imperative. However in cases when there is too much enthusiasm in the church about the Internet, the scale maybe tipped too much the other way and we can forget its missiological purpose. “Whether it is a new pastor with great promise or new technology with great possibilities, nothing spiritually significant will happen until the people of God are enabled to think theologically about who they are, what they are called to do, and how each one is important to the task,” warns Jewell (2004, 46). A
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Church website team always needs to go back to the basic question - how might the website be used by God to advance His Kingdom? 5.4 Making a Team Work 5.4.1 Building a team is costly I have explained why a church website cannot be effective and remain fresh and updated if only one person is involved. It needs teamwork and building a team is hard work. However, anything worth doing for the sake of advancing the Kingdom of God will indeed be costly. As Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matt 13:45-46). Costly but worth it: “I believe that the success we’ve seen with our church website has been little to do with technology and everything to do with team based ministry.” (Stephenson 2006, 15). It will cost free time, energy and patience to motivate and encourage people to work together. It will also cost in terms of training those who are not technically minded. It may cost money to pay an outside company to develop the website if there are not enough people within the church who are willing and able. 5.4.2 Integration - the Input of the wider congregation ”There are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don't need you!’ and the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don't need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” (1 Corinthians 12:20-22). When I talk about my interest in Internet evangelism, the usual response I get is “I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin, I can write emails and can look up a website but that is about it.” My reaction to such a response is “Even a basic appreciation of the Internet, if mixed with a passion for reaching people with the Good News of Jesus,
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would be a fantastic start!” If somebody in church has already set up a church website, most, if not all, believing members have something important and refreshing to offer! For example, I may have the technical skills to set up a website but not have any skills or training in photography, and, as I explained in the previous chapter, a church website without photos of real people does not often grab much attention at all. So it may be then that there is a really good photographer in the church who may be ‘weak’ in technological understanding and yet ‘indispensable’ to the church website team through his/her gift of taking good photographs. “There is more to building an Internet ministry than gathering up all the computer-savvy people in your church. In fact, you will probably find that the majority of your team does not need to be computer savvy.” (Stephenson 2006, 15). Bob Gordon, in his book on Christian team leadership, explains, “There are basically only two valid approaches to introducing new team members into a team. The first is to discover a need and then find a person to fill it. The second is to discover a person and then create a job for them within the team.” (Gordon 1990, 222). The first thing to do when establishing a church web site team is to identify the core roles. After these roles have been established and filled we can look to the wider congregation and the gifts they can offer. There is plenty of scope for doing this. Even a person who has never operated a computer in their life can have input into the website, for example, sharing a poem they have written (if they like writing poetry), submitting their favourite recipes (if cooking is their gift), or maybe a keen gardener can have someone take photos of their garden and write their tips for a successful cabbage patch! With a little creative thinking, the opportunities are endless! -“matching people to tasks works best when the match is based on individual gifts or passion. Look for what excites folks about the ministry, and then put them there.” (Gordon 1990, 222)
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There is no reason why a church website should be filled with only ‘religious’ information. By getting rid of the sacred/secular divide people come over as being more ‘real’, ordinary folk, approachable and maybe easy to relate to. After all, if Jesus truly is Lord over their life to the people who belong to the church then it is important to demonstrate this. 5.4.3 Keeping it going! A website, unlike a book, is never finished. It needs constant attention to be kept up to date. If visitors to your website find details of your Christmas services when they visit in July they are unlikely to trust any of the other information on the site and may never return. Likewise, if emails go unanswered, or discussion forums fail to be efficient and new topics are not introduced, the website will just shrivel up and die, and your reputation may be harmed as a result! If, however, websites are updated regularly then visitors are more likely to visit again. The web ministry team needs to be able to give the time to keep the church website running like a well-oiled machine. Gordon (1990, 222) presents a team in terms of an organism rather than an organisation: “A team should be an organism rather than an organisation. An organism is a living, active body in which life takes precedence over structure. The organism needs structure to support its life, but it is secondary to it. Structure is necessary but structure without life equals a skeleton.” This is so true of an effective church’s website. “A website is a living, changing, and evolving thing, and it takes a team to keep it alive” (Stephenson, 2006, 28). 5.5 Team Structure Authors suggest many different structures to a church web ministry team. Stephenson (2006, 15) suggests nine roles. However, we must remember Stephenson ministers in a
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mega church in Ohio where thousands worship and fifty people are needed on their Web ministry team. I would propose that most UK churches need only start off with the minimum three or four key roles. Fish (2007, 9) proposes that these roles are: a ministry leader, a webmaster and an artistic director. I would agree except I would slightly modify the latter to a graphics and media advisor. The increase in broadband users and decrease in the cost of PCs with multimedia features means that the web is now a dynamic, multimedia place. I would also like to propose a fourth role, as suggested by Blackmore (2001, 14). He covers these areas but makes one important addition. He suggests appointing “someone to communicate the aims—and progress of the site to the wider church and to encourage prayer for its effectiveness.” This is a very important task because, as I have stressed earlier, it is really hard to communicate the importance of online ministry to a church. “A church webmaster or team needs a clear job description.” (Whittaker, 2009). This may sound rather official, particularly for people who are offering to volunteer just a couple of hours a week of their time. Nevertheless, I do believe the church should not shy away from putting down tasks on paper in black and white because it clarifies what the team leader understands they have agreed to do. “Sometimes when we have volunteers, we think we need to do them a favour by giving them a grey box. That’s not a favour. They want to know what you’re expecting of them, what you want them to do, how often you want them to do it, because otherwise they feel like they’re wasting their time.” (Karen Schenk in Henrich 2007, 46). “These [church workers] want to be fruitful. They have often given up much in order to serve the Lord. Team leaders need to recognise this and help the people to fit in. The best thing to do is to sit down with the person and work out what they feel called to do.” (Gordon 1990, 230).
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5.5.1 The Webmaster “Because of the technical nature of the website development, the webmaster is usually the first person chosen. The webmaster does the majority of the work that is required to develop and maintain the website.“ (Fish 2007, 10). The webmaster needs to take responsibility for maintaining web content and ideally should be available to provide any technical support and training for others involved in the web ministry if needed. He or she needs to have a clear understanding of web usability and accessibility in order for the website to be WAI34 compliant. It is also helpful if this person can assist in the design and enhancement of the website to ensure the site functions well. The webmaster will need a technical mindset to understand the coding of the website, and be someone who has time to set it up. Fish (2007,10) points out, “The ideal person [webmaster] may be someone who is somewhat reluctant at first because he recognises just how much work is required to do a good job” . I would argue that, although it is time consuming to start a website, if s/he has carefully planned the site, and has a team to work with, the webmaster’s task needn’t be too demanding, especially with the support of the leaders. “There should be a clear line of responsibility to the church leaders. “(Whittaker, 2009). 5.5.2 Ministry leader A church website team, like any other type of team, requires a respected leader to be effective. “Every Christian team needs someone to bring guidance/direction/co-
Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is an initiative of The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)'s to provide standards to improve the accessibility of the Web for people using a wide range of devices, for example mobile phones. This is especially important for people with disabilities requiring specialised devices to access the web.
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ordination and keep things heading towards the vision God has created the team to achieve; to bring unity around a common purpose.” (Gordon, 1990, 250). The role of the Ministry leader is to assist, delegate and oversee the website’s creation and maintenance. Stephenson (2001, 29) suggests a leader “articulates vision, motivates the team, and establishes direction and priorities. The leader decides what is posted on the website.” “A young technical expert can be a great addition to the team but may not be the best choice for a leadership role” (Stephenson 2006, 31), at least not always anyway. “Technology tends to be the realm of the young” (Fish 2007, 9) who are more likely to be less experienced both in life and theology. It is important, therefore, that the web ministry leader is spiritually mature and has already won the respect of other members and leaders within the church. Ideally s/he should already be a church leader. They will need some technical knowledge, although this need not be extensive as they will have the webmaster to liaise with. I would suggest appointing someone who has been a member of the church for a sufficient amount of time to have an in-depth knowledge of both its doctrine and infrastructure. They should also have an appreciation and vision for the church’s website and its potential so that they can oversee both the team and the content of the website to ensure the church is represented accurately online. The Ministry leader should, however, take care not to dictate or take ownership of the website. The I.E.D. states, “Leaders who do not understand the Web should not try to impose on the webmaster their own ideas about web design.” (Whittaker, 2009). Such a leader will have to trust the webmaster or designer who has immersed him/herself in digital culture to take decisions on design. So long as there is still loyalty and accountability, and the Church’s doctrinal beliefs aren’t compromised, such freedom should be given, just as pastors and leaders will have to respect decisions that their
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missionaries make in other parts of the world. If the missionaries have been living there for some time and are acquainted with the culture, they will have expertise that the church leaders may not have. 5.5.3 Graphics and Media Advisor This person needs to have used the web significantly enough to be able to distinguish between a site that has been well designed, and one that has been poorly designed. They should have a good eye for colour and layout design, knowing what works and what doesn’t. This person need not be a professional designer, just someone with common sense for initiating ideas for the overall look of the website and checking that it is consistent and in tune with any other church publicity, pamphlets, etc. Consistency is important as it gives the church a visual signature which people can respond to immediately, associating it with a particular church. “Make your design scheme flow throughout your site. Every page should have the same look and feel. It's a good idea to have your logo or name on each page, too.” (Steinbrueck, 2009). 5.5.4 Communication and content worker I have put communication and content together because I believe the best content – the content which is going to pull in the community to browse a church website - will be produced by good liaison between the congregation and the hands-on web ministry team. Someone is needed with the gift of being able to know individuals within the church well, in order to encourage them to put input into the website, whether it is through writing their personal testimony, sharing their knowledge of the community, inputting ideas, etc. This person can also play a key role in enthusing the church about their own website.
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5.5.5 Extra roles The website also needs extra people to edit and proof read. Someone with a good visual eye for design to give a second opinion is also invaluable. Even when everything is live on the Internet, everyone in the church with access to the Internet should be encouraged to look out for mistakes and report any errors. “Mistakes also rob a site of credibility in the eyes of many people. “ (Whittaker, 2009). Someone is also needed to read (everyday if possible) and respond to incoming emails that come via the church website to the church. “Ensure that all incoming emails are responded to in a timely fashion... Suitably equipped/trained volunteers can give email/face-to-face counsel and friendship. It need not be all done by paid church staff.” (Whittaker, 2009). 5.6 The technological practicalities of more than one person keeping a site running We have discussed many different gifts and roles that can be used to create a church website that both reaches the community and ministers to it. I would like to give a little attention to how this might work practically. How can so many different people have input into one site and yet still maintain its structure and informality? The solution to this, I believe, is that every church website should be run by a Content Management System (CMS). A CMS is a system used to manage the content of a Website without needing to understand the computer code that goes on to create websites. Even in a small church this will provide a helpful foundation for website growth. People can be taken onboard to update and contribute to the website with minimal technical training. Steinbrueck of Ourchurch.com, a Christian company which
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aids many churches in setting up a website, is a great advocate of using a CMS: “A CMS makes updating the site easier than writing HTML or using web development software. That means updating the website isn’t limited to super techy people.” (Steinbrueck, 2009). I used to be a web developer as part of my job for a small Christian organisation. Before leaving the organisation I transferred the website over to a CMS solution, so that remaining non-technical staff could just log in and update the website without needing to get into the HTML code. They can now maintain the site without needing a web developer in the organisation, and call on a freelance contact when major changes to the website’s structure needs to be made. I think this is a great solution within any church where there are no technical people on hand. There are many Christian organisations who offer technical services to churches when required. If you’re like many churches out there, you might even have a volunteer responsible for your website, which tends to make keeping it current even trickier. Organizations usually find that the Webmaster model leads to a bottleneck in the update process. Due to the fact that content has to flow through the Webmaster for posting to the site, it’s relatively easy for this person’s workload to become unmanageable. (Grantham, 2008). With a CMS everyone can log in and update their assigned part of the site, and so everyone takes care of their own part. For example the Youth worker is the best person to update the Youth pages, the church administrator to update the calendar etc. This works much faster than going through the webmaster who may get overworked and stressed by having to chase some individuals for content. Here, responsibility for updating the website becomes shared. A CMS solution allows authorised users in the church to view, modify and place content items, from wherever they are, provided they have Internet connection. A CMS is the technical key to a successful church website.
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5. 7 Conclusion
Much work needs to go into creating and maintaining an effective church website. It is a serious long term commitment. Success depends on fitting the right people to the right task, getting the whole church to feel a sense of ownership of it, and having a usable system that works. Not forgetting that this work is mission and all mission needs the power of prayer behind it.
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CHAPTER 6 Conclusion
6.1 Concluding Summary
This dissertation set out to investigate how a church can use its website evangelistically to reach the local community. 6.1.1 Understand digital culture It was clear to me on assessing church websites (in accordance with most available sources that provide guidelines), that they had potential to reach non-Christians with the Christian message provided they were run by people who understood the digital world in terms of a culture, the digital culture. I therefore felt it necessary to dedicate a chapter to identify the values of digital culture (community and discussion), its communication preferences (images and multimedia) and its suspicions (anything claiming to be a meta-narrative). In explaining digital culture one begins to appreciate why a church website which simply portrays itself as a list of programmes and meetings and boasts long ‘statement of Faith’ documents, is not going to be as successful at drawing in non-Christian visitors as those that are filled with images, stories and invite discussion. Taking time to understand the inherent strengths of digital culture and how to work with the medium of the Internet is a prerequisite to the ability to utilise the outstanding opportunities it offers us to connect with people and win trust. We need to be like the men of Issachar “... who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (1 Chronicles 12:32). 6.1.2 Attract digital culture
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Adopting best practices in website design, usability and readability are essential in order for churches to be accessible and attractive. Key issues relating to church websites were identified. My field research demonstrated that those (minority) church websites which adopted these practices won the respect of users. 6.1.3 Address digital culture A primary inclusion for content should be to explain the Gospel. Seldom have I seen the Good News of Christ explained on a church website. In my usability study none of the non-Christians reported they had learned anything about the Christian faith on any of the church websites they were asked to study. This is a huge opportunity and it can be taken so easily by linking to good material on other websites. Success stories of large churches in the USA reaching their community and beyond via their websites were encouraging finds. Sadly, however, evidence proves many churches are not aiming at non-Christians, and this is a missed opportunity. I made a case for addressing secular subjects or felt needs in order to draw in people from the community who may not be actively searching for Christ but have many other needs a loving church should be willing to address in following the example of Christ. The widespread quest for community and dialogue was also emphasized and solutions were explored for the church to instigate meeting such needs online. 6.1.4 Go into digital culture supported I once took on sole responsibility for a church website. It was a hard and frustrating experience. Reflecting on how large and variable the task of creating an effective online church presence is, I devoted the penultimate chapter to emphasising how important it is for the whole church to get involved and for it not to be a sideline ministry done by one person. My research pointed to the fact that this was happening all too often. In response I explored the benefits of having a team, proposed how this could be
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achieved and explained how the technology of Content Management Systems facilitated teamwork.
6.2 Recommendations for further investigation
“One area on which there seems to be no online research is that of how to make church websites effectively reach out into the community.” (Whittaker, 2009). This dissertation is a contribution to the gap in research in this area but there is much more to be explored. Suggestions for further research would include investigating ways to get church website content into the mainstream Internet, such as looking into ways of integrating church websites with local community websites and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Also research into how people use search engines would be valuable so that churches can ensure they have content that speaks the Gospel directly to people’s circumstances,
6.3 Final reflections
I commenced this dissertation by expressing the emotions driving me to carry out this research, the first one being excitement, which is still with me. I have been enthused by the discovery that there are so many ways a church can reach its local community through its website, and that it is something that everyone can contribute to. The second emotion, curiosity as to how this can be done, although it will never be completely satisfied, has certainly been fed. As the Internet continues to develop, ways of reaching people will develop. The church must never be lulled into thinking it has arrived in learning how to communicate with digital culture, because it is the fastest changing culture in history! I conclude this dissertation being more convinced now than ever that God has given us the Internet as a wonderful gift to connect with people and a tool to advance His kingdom. It is my prayer that church leaders will grasp the vision, begin to read books
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and websites written by the experts in web evangelism, attend conferences and start to look around their own church, praying and considering who can take on responsible roles within a web ministry team. "For the church, the Internet is a truly global opportunity to share Christ, a mission field that is ripe for harvest.” (Careaga 2001, 76). It is time to seize the day!
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7 Factors 2009: Anon., 7 Factors that Separate Good Websites from Bad Websites URL:http://vandelaydesign.com/blog/web-development/success-factors/#more-301 [25th April 2009] Bewes 2009: Bewes, R., Press Releases URL:http://www.freepressreleases.co.uk/Press_Releases/Religion/Churches_to_Hold_ Web_Focus_Day_on_27_April_2008040316053 [25th April 2009] Blackmore 2001: Blackmore, V., Using Your Church Web Site for Evangelism. Cambridge: Grove Books Ltd, 2001. Bock 1994: Bock, D. L., Luke 1:1-9:50 (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1994. Bolger and Gibbs 2006: Bolger, R. and Gibbs, E. Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Communities in Postmodern Cultures. London: SPCK Publishing, 2006. Bosch 1991: Bosch, D. J., Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991. Buzzard 2009: Buzzard, J., Redeeming Social Life Online | The Gospel and Culture Project. URL:http://www.gospelandculture.org/2008/12/redeeming-social-life-online/ [25th April 2009] Careaga 2001: Careaga, A. eMinistry: Connecting with the Net Generation. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2001. Castells 2000: Castells, M., The Rise of the Network Society. Chicago: Blackwell Publishing Limited, 2000. Church123 2009: Anon., Church123 - Church Website Design. URL:http://www.church123.com/church_website_map.htm [25th April 2009] Crabtree 2009: Crabtree, V., Religion in the United Kingdom: Diversity, Trends and Decline. URL:http://www.vexen.co.uk/UK/religion.html [25th April 2009] Dixon 1997: Dixon, P., Cyberchurch. Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, 1997. Drane 2000: Drane, J., The McDonaldization of the Church. Macon: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2000. Finney 1992: Finney, J., Church on the Move. London: Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd, 1992. Fish 2007: Fish, T., Church Website Design: A step by step approach. New York: Book Surge Publishing, 2007. Furlong 2002: Furlong, M., C of E: The State It's in. London : Hodder & Stoughton, 2002.
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Gordon 2000: Gordon, B., The Leader's Motivation (Master Builders). Ventura: Renew, 2000. Grantham 2009: Grantham, S., Content Management Systems, Software and Church Office. URL:http://blog.ourchurch.com/2006/06 [25th April 2009] Henrich 2008: Henrich, D., Internet Evangelism in the 21st Century. New York: BookSurge Publishing, 2008. Hipps 2006: Hipps, S., The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006. Hoyt 2009: Hoyt , D., Interviews with Church Designers. URL:http://www.darrenhoyt.com/2009/01/08/interviews-with-church-designers [25th April 2009] Internet Usage 2009: Anon., Internet Usage Statistics News and World Population Stats. URL:http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm [25th April 2009] Jewell 2004: Jewell, J. P., Wired for Ministry: How the Internet, Visual Media, and Other New Technologies Can Serve Your Church. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004. Johnston 2004: Johnston, G., Preaching to a Postmodern World: A Guide to Reaching Twenty-first Century Listeners. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001. Kendal Road 2009: Anon., Kendal Road Baptist Church - help for first time visitors. URL:http://www.krbc.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/firstvisit.html [25th April 2009] Krug 2005: Krug, S., Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Berkeley: New Riders Press, 2005. Leggett 2001: Leggett, M., Cyberspace: a valid and effective evangelistic medium? BA Dissertation. Gloucester: Redcliffe College, 2001. Lundy 2005: Lundy, D., Borderless Church: Shaping the Church for the 21st Century. Wynesboro: Authentic, 2005. Macdonald 2003: Macdonald, N., What Is Web Design?. Hove: RotoVision, 2003. McFarlan & McWhirter 1990: McFarlan, D., & McWhirter, N. D.The Guinness Book of Records 1990. London: Guinness World Records Ltd 1990. Miglioratti 2009: Miglioratti, P. Lausanne World Pulse - Prayer, Evangelism and Human Methodology. URL:http://www.lausanneworldpulse.com/perspectives/328/05-2006 [25th April 2009] Miller 2009: Miller, C., The Most Important Page On Your Church Website: The Home Page, URL:http://www.churchcommunicationspro.com/2006/11/20/the-all-importantchurch-website-Home-page-part-1[25 April 2009] Miller 2004: Miller, M. R., The Millennium Matrix: Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church (J-B Leadership Network Series). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.
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Miller 2009: Miller, M. R. M. Rex Miller Interview URL: http://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/interviews/miller.asp [25th April 2009] Millennium Matrix 2009: Anon., Millennium Matrix. URL:http://www.millenniummatrix.com/about.asp [25th April 2009] Murray 2005: Murray, S. Church After Christendom. Orbis: Paternoster Pub, 2005. National Statistics 2009: Anon., National Statistics Online. URL:http://www.statistics.gov.uk/CCI/nugget.asp?ID=8 [18 June 2009] Newbigin 1989: Newbigin, L.. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989. Newbign 1978: Newbigin, L., The open secret: Sketches for a missionary theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978. Ogbonda 2005: Ogbonda, E., Cyber Evangelism. Dartford: Pneuma Springs Publishing, 2005. Pew 2009: Anon., Pew Internet & American Life Project. URL:http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Generations_Memo.pdf [25th April 2009] Purves & Hall 2009a: Purves, B., and Hall C., Reaching Your Community Through A Church Website. URL: http://ong9d.rmxpres.com/Accordent/data/Purves-Hall/msh.html [25th April 2009] Purves & Hall 2009b: Purves, B., and Hall C., A Case Study of SouthSideLife.com. URL:http://media.southsidelife.com/imc/handout.pdf [25th April 2009] Saddington 2009: Saddington, J., Using Christian Jargon Online Confuses People – ChurchCrunch. URL:http://churchcrunch.com/2009/03/31/using-christian-jargon-onlineconfuses-people [25th April 2009] Shiflett 2009: Shiflett, Jack. Tracking the Rise of Postmodernism. URL:http://message.abwe.org/vol52no02/tracking_the_rise_of_postmodernism.asp [25th April 2009] Simpson 2003: Simpson, M. L., Permission Evangelism: When to Talk, When to Walk. Philedelphia: Cook Communications Ministries (Co), 2003. Skårhøj 2009: Skårhøj, K.,. New to TYPO3? TYPO3 Content Management System – Developer Resource. URL: http://typo3.org/about/new-to-typo3/ . [25th April 2009] Spencer & Tomlin 2005: Spencer, N. and Tomlin G., The Responsive Church: Listening to Our World - Listening to God. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005. Steinbrueck 2009: Steinbrueck, P., Getting your congregation to buy into your website. URL:http://blog.ourchurch.com/2006/06/ [25th April 2009] Stephenson 2006: Stephenson, M., Web-Empower Your Church: Unleashing the Power of Internet Ministry. New York: Abingdon Press, 2006.
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Stott 1995: Stott, J. R. W., The Contemporary Christian: Applying God's Word to Today's World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995. Sweet 2000: Sweet, L. Post-Modern Pilgrims: First Century Passion for the 21st Century Church. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2000. Sweet 2002: Sweet, L., The Dawn Mistaken for Dusk. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. Terri 2009: Anon., Terri's Life Story, Southsiide Life. URL: http://southsidelife.com/terrim.html [25th April 2009] WAI 2009: Anon., Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). URL:http://www.w3.org/WAI [30 June 2009] Warner 1999: Warner, R., 21st Century Church. Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, 1999. Whittaker 2009: Whittaker, T. Internet Evangelism Day - A resource for churches, Bible Colleges, groups and individuals. URL:http://www.internetevangelismday.com/outreach.php [25 April, 2009] Whittaker 2008: Whittaker, T. Lausanne World Pulse - Themed Articles - Digital Ministry – Incredible Mission Opportunities. URL:http://www.lausanneworldpulse.com/themedarticles.php/1087 [25 August 2008] Wilson 2008: Wilson, F. Design and Usability. URL:http://www.wilsonweb.com/design [4 April 2008]. Wright 2006: Wright, C. J. H.. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative. Farnham: IVP, Academic, 2006.
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Appendix 1 Internet Evangelism Day Church Website Assessment Survey (www. internetevangelismday.com)
1 Is most of the homepage ‘above the fold’ i.e. not much more than one screen in height at 1024 x 768 screen resolution, which the majority of people now use? And is it a jumping-off point to the rest of the site, rather than a page that tries to give too much information? Is the overall balance of colour, graphics, white-space and text, harmonious and gentle on the eye? (Ask someone with an eye for graphic design to give an honest answer.) Are there no more than about 10 different link options in the main menu? Does your website have an entry ‘splash page’, so that the menu options only start on a second page? Is your website quick to load, even on a dial-up connection? Do you help visitors visiting inner pages of your church website to get a clear sense of “Where am I, where have I been, where can I go?” by placing visual ‘you are here’ clues such as colour highlighting or arrow markers on the navigation menu? Have you tested the church website in different browsers, using varied font-size settings and screen resolutions, and resolved issues such as text disappearing or obscuring other content, etc? Have you carried out a testing program on site usability, using volunteers who are web users of only moderate experience – and then acted on the weaknesses this found? Was it a specific part of the planning brief that the church website be made outsider-friendly to non-Christians, and that their needs be prioritised over those of the members?
2 3 4 5
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Have you asked willing people with no church background to visit the website and explain their impressions? If you conduct such a site test with non-Christians, which overall ‘take away’ impression of the website do they report:
“This church is about people, and I already feel I am starting to know and like some of them. I feel they will welcome me in an unpressured way, just as I am, any time I am ready to visit.” “This church only seems to portray itself in terms of a formal program of weekly meetings. It does not tell me anything about the people there. So I am not sure I would be really welcome, and even if I did go, it might be very much on their terms. This site is only for the members, not for outsiders like me.” Somewhere between the two.
Does the website take care to rephrase ‘Christianese’ jargon words and 12 concepts with everyday language, so that non-Christian site visitors can feel at home? 13 Does the church website use recommended design principles for visually disabled people?
Is there a purpose statement displayed on the homepage which, while perhaps good at motivating your members, could be off-putting to some non-Christians because it is all about ‘reaching others for Christ’? Or do 14 other aspects of the site give the impression ‘We are out to convert you’, rather than ‘We are a family of flawed real people, please come and share the journey with us.’ Does all text added to your site go through: 15
a procedure of proof-reading for typos, spelling, grammar, and to impose a consistent house-style? a revision process to reduce word-count and improve clarity?
If the site has profiles of members of the leadership team, do these only 16 contain spiritual-sounding information, and lack details about their hobbies, families and other interests which make them seem ‘real’ people. Do you feature profiles (with photos) of a representative range of church 17 members – probably not full testimonies, but rather to demonstrate that the church is a family of normal real people who will welcome newcomers when they visit?
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newcomers when they visit? 18 Is there a photo of real people on the homepage, more prominent than any picture of the church building?
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19 Are there additional pictures of church members within the website? Are there photos of the interior of the church building (again with people 20 included), so that potential visitors feel that they ‘know’ the church premises before they visit? 21 Within the norms of your culture, does the writing style of the website demonstrate informality and self-deprecating humour?
Does the overall website offer a specific welcome to different categories of people, such as youth, marrieds with families, different ethnicities, 22 retired people, etc.; and clearly reflect this diversity of membership within the site content? Does the website specifically invite people to a range of activities within the church – not just the Sunday services, which can be a very big hurdle 23 for a non-Christian? And does it also give a specific contact person(s) relating to that activity? 24 Does the church website demonstrate an identification with, and interest in, the wider local community?
Are you using other types of innovative or changing content that will both 25 draw not-yet-Christians to the site, and then encourage them to visit again? 26 Is it easy to find news about upcoming events? 27 Is there outdated news on the church website which should have been removed?
Do you appeal prominently for money for general funds on your 32 homepage, or elsewhere in the site, without explaining that this is only for members? 33 Are you using a free-hosting service which places adverts on your pages? Or doing other things listed in the ‘Reason’ section?
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Is your street address, including state/county/district, postal code, country, and phone number, shown in the footer of the homepage?
Are your church name, town, and area, also clearly included in ‘title tag’ 35 coding on your home page, and does this title code use the full 70+ characters available for this purpose? 36 37 Do inner pages of your website also carry custom ‘title tag’ code that describes each individual page? Does each page also have a ‘meta description’ in the page head, giving additional enticing information about that page?
38 Does your site score well on an HTML and CSS validation test? 39 Do you encourage visitors to bookmark the website? Are most main pages no more than two levels deep within the site (i.e. 40 two clicks from the home-page), with all links as normal text hyperlinks, and is every main page listed on a sitemap? Have you submitted the church site address (URL) to the main international search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN/Live), secular national and local lists and directories, and Christian find-a-church directories? In 41 some countries, you can include your URL alongside your telephone book listing. It is also very important to get your site listed with Google ‘Local Search’. Your denomination is likely to have a church listing system too. 42 Do you analyze your website visitor statistics? 43 Is there a clear street map on your website, which prints well? 44 Do you give clear information about public transport links, road access, and parking?
45 Do you explain what facilities are available to people with disability? Do you provide some information to a first-time visitor, that will answer fears such as “Is there a dress code?”, “Will I have to do anything?”, 46 “Why do you sing songs? What if I don’t know the words?” “What about bringing children?” “How long does the service last?” Are ‘contact us’ options easy to find: phone (with office times), postal address, and email? Does someone normally reply to all incoming emails within one working day?
Can the church team respond adequately to email requests for counsel and 49 advice from outsiders – perhaps with a team of trained members able to respond to such inquiries? 50 Is the church website integrated into your overall church outreach strategy?
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strategy? 51 Do you involve your webmaster/design team in church outreach planning? 52 Is your website URL easy to remember? Is your website URL printed on your roadside noticeboard, all 53 publications and leaflets, letterheads, press adverts and news releases? Is it also included in email footers of official church emails?
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Appendix 2 Church Website Usability Study
Thank you for taking the time to complete this form. Please be assured this system is unable to retrieve any email addresses of respondents, thus all data is recorded anonymously. Please remember to click the 'submit' button on completion. * Sex: Male, Female * Experience of church / church background (if any) * Age: 15-25, 26-40, 41-64, 65+
Please review 4 church websites by clicking on the links and answering the following. * What impression do you get from the site of most of the people who go to the church? They come across as ordinary people I could relate to. Very different to myself? If so in what way. Can't really gauge anything about what the people are like. Other, Please state:
* On a scale of 1 to 5 how was the site to navigate? (1 easy- no problems, 5 too confusing, I got lost!) * Were there any words that sounded unfamiliar or confusing to you? If yes, please list examples * Were there any words/phrases that sounded preachy or even maybe pious to you? If yes, please list examples: What pages of the site, if any, particularly interested you? * For somebody who has never been to the church before do you think the website might: Help put them at ease about coming Put them off coming Have no affect either way. * Please give reasons for your answer * Would you be interested in revisiting the website, if it had articles and forums on real life issues. Other comments/ideas on issues:
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* Did you learn anything new about the Christianity?.
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Appendix 3 Short General Church Website Survey
Thank you for taking the time to complete this form. Please be assured this system is unable to retrieve any email addresses of respondents, thus all data is recorded anonymously. * Sex: Male, Female * Experience of church / church background (if any) * Age: 15-25, 26,40, 41-64, 65+ * Before visiting a place that you have never been to before, would you check out their website?: Everytime Mostly Sometimes Never * Would you ever consider submitting something anonymously that you would like a church to pray for on your behalf, via their website? A. Yes B. No C. Maybe
* Have you ever visited a church website? A. Yes B. No
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* Would you feel comfortable discussing God/faith/spirituality on a church website. Yes No Maybe
* Imagine you have decided to visit a church, What information might you like to find from the web site before hand - please rate the following in order of importance. (1 being most important). 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 A. Map and Instructions of how to get there/ to park/public transport B. What the dress code is, (if there is one). C. Pictures of inside of building D. Knowledge of how long the service will be E. Details of what to expect to happen during the service. F. Will there be communion and who can take it? G. Will I be shown where to sit? H. Will anything be expected from me?
Is there any other information which would be helpful to know to before visiting a church? What might prompt you, if anything at all to visit a church website?
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Appendix 4 Survey of Church Webmasters
Thank you for taking the time to complete this form. Please be assured this system is unable to retrieve any email addresses of respondents, thus all data is recorded anonymously. * What is the size of the membership of your church? * How many people have regular input into creating and maintaining your church website? * Do you feel enough people are involved in the church website? * Please outline briefly the different roles people involved in the website have. * How often, on average, is the website updated? * Do you use a Content Management System? Yes No Would like to but not sure how to * Very roughly, what percentage of your church's website is geared at? Ranking The congregation Christians looking for a church. Non-Christians in the community
* Is there a link to your church on any secular community websites? * Have you ever asked a non-Christian to review your church website? Do you have any stories of ways your church website has reached non-Christians within the wider community? Please feel free to leave blank. However, if you are happy to be contacted by myself, for further information, please enter email address. Any other comments
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Appendix 5 Glossary of Technical Terms
Bandwidth: Indicates the speed at which data are transferred. Blogging: A blog is an online journal. Updating a blog is "blogging" and someone who keeps a blog is a "blogger." Little technical background is needed to update and maintain the blog. Browser: A piece of computer software used to search and display information on the World Wide Web. Examples of such software include Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Chatrooms: Websites that allow you to communicate with others online via text. Computer Code: A collection of statements or declarations written in some humanreadable computer programming language that instructs the computer to carry out tasks. Content Management System (CMS): A computer application used to manage website content that needs to be created, edited and updated collaboratively. Cyber-culture: The culture of and in cyber-space. Cyber-space: A world of pure Internet information and interaction freed from the physical realm. Digital: The electronic technology that generates, stores, and processes data. Double-Click: The act of pressing a computer mouse button twice quickly without moving the mouse. Downloading: The transfer of data from one computer to another, or to a disk or storage device. Facebook: A widely used free social networking website. Facebook Group: enables a number of people who have joined Facebook to come together online to discuss and share information on a common subject. Forum: A discussion group accessible through a website. Emailing: A messaging system that allows text-based messages to be exchanged electronically. Gigabyte: A unit of computer space equivalent to 1,024 megabytes.
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Googling: Making use of the Google search engine. Homepage: The opening page of an Internet website. HTML: An acronym for HyperText Markup Language, HTML is the code behind a Webpage, so browsing software will know how to display that document's links, text, graphics and attached media. Hyperlink: A link to another webpage. It is usually indicated to the user by text highlighted by underlining and/or a different colour. Hyperlinks can also be achieved by clicking on a graphic image that is linked to another webpage. Instant Messaging: Communication in real-time by typing between two or more people. Internet: A network that links computer networks all over the world by satellite and telephone, connecting users with services such as e-mail and World Wide Web. Menu: A list of options of other webpages within a website, from which a user can make a selection. Online: Connected to the Internet. Search engine: A website that collects content from all over the Internet. It is used by those wishing to locate something by entering words related to what they'd like to find information about. The engine provides links to content that matches what they want. Google is a famous search engine. Social Networking Site: A website on the internet which allows people to come together online around shared interests, hobbies or causes. Spam: An unsolicited, often commercial, message transmitted through the Internet as a mass mailing to a large number of recipients. Twitter: A social networking/micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users' updates (known as tweets). Uploading: To transfer data or programs usually from a peripheral computer to a central, often remote, computer. URL: Uniform Resource Locator (A website address) World Wide Web: The huge computer network consisting of the collection of all Internet sites that offer text and graphics and sound and animation resources. Webmaster: Somebody who creates, organizes, or updates information on a website. Website: A collection of pages on the World Wide Web that are accessible from the same URL.
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Wi-Fi: A wireless network connection, allowing computers to communicate via a wireless link (i.e. no cables).
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