Piece ‘o cake, really.
Yeah – I know. You wouldn’t think so, the way MeanDean carries on here. With all his ranting and raving and “healing” of church websites gone bad, you might think that building a “good” church website (or any website, for that matter) is next to impossible, achievable only by Slashdot reading PDA-carrying geek who keeps a Wi-Fi enabled laptop on the bed stand for those middle-of-the-night dream-blogging episodes.
Phooey, I say. Building a website that would pass even the “Mean” test is easy.
But, the minute you move past the technical challenges and begin to ask questions like “What should this website say?” or “What should this website *do* for the church?”, or “How will we know if the site is successful?” or “what will we put there for members vs. non members?” you are guaranteed to get blank stares, drooping jaws, and schedule delays.
Content. What is it about content? Mention the importance of having good content during the site construction process, and you’ll get immediate agreement, heads nodding, everyone knows “content is king” on the web. Bill Gates did, back in 1996. Gerry McGovern has made a career out of web content – writing articles and books, and speaking to conferences and corporate customers about web content. Your site-team will probably have content ideas galore – the possibilities are always endless and brainstorming is fun.
So why is it then, when it comes time to post some content to the freshly-developed church web site so often church web-builders are left to “bulletin-diving” or “repurposing” content from existing newsletters or brochures? Why is the website so often updated reactively (if at all)?
Gerry McGovern, in his article Websites: easy to start, hard to manage” says
“One of the biggest problems websites face is that they lack proper planning in the design and development phase. Generally, the design of the website tends to overreach, in that what is built requires more staff to professionally manage than are available.”
I’m not convinced it’s a planning problem. I’ve been involved on site projects where the planning was quite detailed, formulating content needs from audience research, then tweaking needs by factoring in the business or organizational goals and staff skill set and availability. But plans are just that – plans – and they’re rarely executed word for word. Sometimes both the plan and the site collect the same dust.
So where is the disconnect?
I think the main issue behind poor websites — church or business — is that the people responsible for the site don’t understand that the true power of the web is storytelling.
Eh? Storytelling you ask? Shall we gather our laptops around a campfire now? Hear me out…
“Is the web a global network of connected computers? No, that’s the Internet. Is the web hyper text transfer protocol? Well, technically. But if the web is to be understood as a communications medium (the only useful way to understand it), then it must be more than computers talking to each other. Otherwise, mere data exchange would succeed. But the web is not a global network of connected computers. The web is a global network of connected people. And story-telling is still the most effective way to emotionally impact people.”
“There are many ways to organize product information to communicate with an audience. Facts are typically grouped by such things as how a product is used, what it’s priced at, or what is known about a particular audience. However, corporate web sites have overlooked a technique that people have used for thousands of years to convey information: storytelling.”
He goes on to say:
“It’s a little surprising that most corporate web sites don’t take advantage of this technique to capture attention and lead prospects to make a purchase or inquiry. Most corporate web sites present product information as a snapshot – saying here are all the reasons why you’ll like our product. They don’t recognize that the decision to buy is a process: A prospect becomes a customer by recognizing a problem, learning about solutions, researching products, and, finally, making the decision to purchase product A instead of product B.”
So here’s the core frustration of what’s starting to become a personal rant (sorry Dean, you did ask for something I was “passionate about”..;)). In one corner, we have the church website. No, let’s not call it a website. Let’s call it a “Story Container”. A searchable, accessible, readable, always-available, hyperlinked, cross-referenced story container. In the other corner, the Church has the best story. Indeed – The Greatest Story Ever Told. And countless related personal stories – stories of great faith, triumph over addictions, persistence through illness, gain from loss, and undeserved grace.
But we go on… presenting our churches like products – telling people why they’ll like our church (Relevant! Great Music! Fresh Coffee!) but so rarely simply telling the stories of what our church, our faith, and our God has meant to us, and the true change seen in our lives because of it. What is it going to take to wake the modern church to the power of connecting the two, and filling our websites with our own stories? Sadly, all too often our church websites could be the topic of this Shoe comic.
It’s those stories that members need to tell and visitors need to hear. Those stories are going to move people closer to God. And if our church websites aren’t moving people closer to God then we’re wasting our time.
C’mon. Tell me a story of when God was good to you. Oh..before you start…I’ll bet there are other people that would like to hear it too. Can I put it somewhere where they will find it when they need to?