Walking in Your Shoes as a Web Design Client

There’s an old saying that goes, “You don’t know a man unless you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.”  Well, recently I had the opportunity to try on a pair of shoes I don’t normally wear: your shoes – that is the shoes of an OurChurch.Com client.

I am leading the effort to have the website of my own church, Cypress Meadows Community Church in Clearwater, FL, redesigned.  After almost 11 year years of helping churches to create and maintain websites, I hope my insight and experience will help us develop an exceptional website to help advance the ministries of my church.  Plus, I thought it would be a great opportunity to see things from a new perspective, that of an OCC client.  So, I’ve asked the OCC staff to treat me like any other client (probably easier said than done since I’m also their boss).  Not only will I be able to provide valuable feedback to our sales and design staff, but I’m also going to blog about the experience for the month or more so you get an idea of the design process from start to finish – working with the OCC staff, working with staff at my church, design decisions, and so forth.

I’m really excited about sharing this experience with you and I hope you find it interesting and insightful.

A Little About My Church
First, I want tell you a bit about Cypress Meadows.  It’s a suburban church with an average Sunday attendance of around 400 in 2 services.  We are very focused on reaching our community with the Gospel, and so our Sunday services are “seeker focused” with modern worship music, usually a drama or video, and a teaching that is applicable to every day life and designed to help spiritual seekers take steps towards faith in Christ.  Having an excellent website is very important to our church, because we want people who are seeking God to find out about Cypress online and feel comfortable about visiting for a Sunday service.

Background on the Current Website
A year ago, Chris, our director of worship redesigned the church’s website.  I advised him somewhat on the development.  One of the first issues we faced was whether to develop a conventional website using Dreamweaver or develop the site with a content management system (CMS).  Developing the site with a CMS would have enabled multiple people to manage the content of the site more easily and would have enabled the inclusion of functionality like a calendar, newsletter, and blogs.  On the other hand, developing the site with Dreamweaver would enable the site to be completed more quickly and with more control over the design.  In the end the decision was made to use Dreamweaver.

The new website looked excellent.  However, all the website updates had to be done by Chris.  As director of worship he’s a very busy guy and after a while the backlog of changes and additions that needed to be made to the website grew out of control.  Information on the site was several months old, we weren’t getting information out to effectively inform people about upcoming events, and visits to the website began to decline.  Not Chris’s fault – between music, helping an understaffed student ministry, and other responsibilities, he’s got more to do than hours in a day - but, it became a point of frustration for everyone involved.

Time for Change
Several weeks ago, Tim, the executive pastor (think COO) of the church called me concerning a solicitation he received from another Christian website services company.  Tim and I are good friends and so we talked about the church website over lunch one day.  He explained that everyone really loves the look of the site and they don’t want to change that, but something needed to be done to ensure that the information on the website could be kept current.

I explained the concept of a content management system (CMS) and how it would enable each ministry team leader to update their own pages on the website from the church or from home.  I also explained how it would enable the church to integrate the newsletter, calendar, blogs, and more into the site.  We even talked about the possibility of doing all registration for classes, events, and trips online through the CMS.

We also talked about the possibility of my leading the redevelopment of the website, and OurChurch.Com doing that redevelopment.  We agreed to keep talking about the issue.

Shortly after that lunch, I started working on a “Vision for the Cypress Meadows Website” document.  Not that I was going to dictate to the church how our website should look and function.  But if I could be leading the redevelopment of the church’s website, I wanted to be able to clearly present to everyone involved what I had in mind so other could understand it and contribute towards a shared vision for the website.

Learning Points

  • The appearance of a website is important, but having current, accurate information is even more important.
  • No matter how awesome and faithful your site’s administrator is, if he/she is the only one who can update the site there will be times when your website is not up-to-date because he/she is busy, sick, or on vacation.
  • A content management system (CMS) can make it easier to update a site and enable several people to update it, making it more likely the information on the site will be current and accurate.

Next post I’ll talk about the vision document and my meeting with the staff as I try to catch you up to where we are in the development process.

If you found this article interesting or helpful, please vote for it on Blogs4God so others will see it.

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

5 Responses to “Walking in Your Shoes as a Web Design Client”

  1. Paul, it’s probably too late for this, but wouldn’t it have been cool if you had set up your “walking in your shoes experience” as if you were a “secret shopper”? You could have started out with an anonymous email and a generic name for the Church (not giving away the local location) which would have thrown off your staff and they would have treated you like any other client. With the scenario the way it is, one would think that there’s really no way that your experience will exactly mirror ours because like you say, you’re the boss.

    However, having said that, the customer service that OCC provides is amazing, so maybe there will be no difference. I’ve always felt treated like an owner/boss ever since I established my site almost ten years ago…you were always responsive and now that you’ve added support staff, they are exactly the same. So thanks to all you guys at the OC.com for providing an affordable way to post what God gives us to say! This is one client that has felt extremely satisfied with your service right from the beginning.

    Doug Andrew
    withoutspot.com

  2. Hi Doug, thanks for your comment. You’re probably right that there’s no way that my experience will exactly mirror our other clients’ experiences. However, since every client and every website is unique, there really is no typical experience anyway. I think there will be enough similaries though that readers will get a good feel for what the process is like.

    There is also a lot that the leader of a project like this has to do within his church in order to make it work – finding out what functionality the church wants, getting “buy in” from the people who will have to update their sections of the site, training those people, and getting the congregation on board to use the site, just to name a few. If not addressed well, those are things that can cause the downfall of a church website, but those are things our staff doesn’t see or deal with. I think it would be of tremendous value to be able to advise the church’s lead web administrator about those things after going doing them myself.

    - Paul

    P.S. The “secret shopper” idea would be a cool idea except that the first thing Mark, our president and director of sales, does after someone fills out the consultation request form is call the prospective client. I have a feeling he would have recognized my voice. ;)

  3. Interesting – I look forward to reading this part of the blog if nothing else :)

    I am currently blogging about just this myself but unlike yourself I am not the boss of a web design company. I also have an uphill battle in that every step of the way I need to drag the Church I attend into the modern world – fortunately my pastor has seen the need for the site to exist.

    My blog – well it’s a private thing at present as a cathartic outlet and when I’ve finished it I may publish it but then again …. !

  4. Stuart, I can definitely sympathize with you. Getting various groups and leaders within the church to buy in, support, and use the website is one of the greatest challenges to the effectiveness of any church website. I’m sure I’ll be blogging a lot of about that. If you have any wisdom on that issue, I hope you’ll share it. :)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. » Church Web Design Part 2: The Vision for a New Website - Aug 24, 2007

    [...] The exciting prospect of possibly leading the redevelopment of my church’s website put me in an interesting position.  On the one hand, after 11 years of helping churches develop websites I had some very strong ideas about what our church website could be, how it could help people connect, and what functionality it should have.  On the other hand, I had not been given the authority to lead the redevelopment and in fact it had not been decided if the church wanted to redesign the site. [...]