Church Web Design Part 2: The Vision for a New Website
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.
So, the next step was to develop and cast the initial vision for a new website.
I started by describing the current reality. I think this is critical in developing a vision for anything, not just a website. Before you know where you need to go, you first have to understand where you are. Here are some of the observations about the current situation:
- The website looks great. I would not want to change the appearance of the website much at all.
- My understanding is that the website is not being updated as we would like because only one person can do the updates and he is very busy. As a result, information is not being communicated effectively and the site is out of date.
- While everyone is frustrated with the current situation, some people are concerned that if we move to a CMS we will lose the aesthetic excellence of the site.
- Seeing churches utilize technology to communicate effectively is a passion of mine. I would like the opportunity to put my experience to work for my own church, but I don’t want to force my ideas on anyone. I only want to do this if we have a shared vision for what the church website can be.
Second, I defined 4 broad goals I would hope to accomplish with the church website:
- Reach the community
- Inform regular attenders of the church
- Provide resources for spiritual growth
- Improve Ministry Team Communications
Website as the Hub of Church Communications
The next aspect of the vision I have for the church website is that it become the center of our church’s communication strategy. All other modes of communication – verbal announcements, the Sunday program/bulletin, mailed newsletters, personal phone calls, etc – have limitations to the amount of information which they can convey and/or the cost. A website is the ideal hub of communications for a church because it’s:
- Universally accessible
- Cost-effective – no printing or postage costs
- Labor-efficient – once information is published no staff or volunteer time is required to convey it to the person who needs the information
- Not limited by time or pages space
I really wanted to cast vision for the website becoming more than a secondary source for supplemental information or even just another option for where people can get information but rather the primary source of all information related to the church. This would be a huge paradigm change for our church.
Concept and Design
The fourth part of the vision addressed the concept of design of the site. As I mentioned earlier, everyone is very happy with the appearance of the current site, so I wanted to emphasize that I didn’t envision the design of the site changing substantially. But there are some areas where the design of the site could be improved such as making it easier to find your way around the site, having information about the current Sunday series on the homepage, and getting the headlines of major announcements/events on the homepage.
- Clean, focused homepage
- Keep the flash images
- Improve the navigation with drop-down or slide-out menus
- Emphasize the “New to Cypress” (About) section of site
- Emphasize current Sunday series (graphic, link to more info, links to sermon blog)
- Upcoming events area or link to newsletter or news page
- Attractive design of internal pages – Keep the design as close to the current design as possible
- Intuitive internal navigation – “Drop-down” or “slide-out” menus that give users the ability to see all the options in a sub-menu without having to click to a page in it.
- Graphic/Logo for every ministry, sermon series, event
Next the vision document addressed functionality. This actually required quite a bit of thought. Some of the church staff and I looked around at what other churches are doing on their websites, and the temptation is to try to do what everyone else is doing, not because we want to keep up with the Joneses but because there really is value in what they’re doing. The issue, though, is what do we have the time and the resources to do. And what is really most important.
For the initial vision, I thought the best approach would be to include the functionality that is essential to meeting the first two goals (connecting with the community, informing regular attenders). That meant including:
- Up-to-date calendar
- Up-to-date news section
- Up-to-date ministry pages
- Regular e-newsletters - At least Church-wide and possibly for children, students, family ministries, men, women, extension, small groups.
I also thought it was important to continue our sermon blog. Then I couldn’t resist throwing in a few simple, useful things that would not require much money or maintenance:
- Photo gallery
- Document manager (for printable documents, permission slips, etc)
- Additional blogs (for our pastor or for daily devotionals)
Possible Future Functionality
Everything else I put into the “possible additional functionality” list. There are some great ideas on this list, but they would all require staff or volunteers to maintain them on at least a weekly basis. They would also take a lot of work to get the congregation to use them. Rather than implement these right off the bat, I thought a better approach would be to get the essentials going. Then down the road if someone else feels passionate about one of them and wants to take responsibility for it we can add it at that time. These include:
- Event registration
- Sunday video archive
- Wednesday sermon blog (notes, audio podcast)
- Need sharing board
- Ministry team calendars (volunteer scheduling)
Building a Web Team
The last part of the vision for the new church website involves building a team of volunteers to maintain the website and continue to move it forward. Another reason for not putting a lot of new functionality into the new website is because I want the web team to be a part of the development of the vision for the site rather than have it thrust upon them. With this approach I can go into our first web team meeting and say, “The new website will be functionally pretty much like the current one. Now where do we want to take it from here?”
With the rough outline of an initial vision in place, I was ready to talk to our senior pastor and the rest of the church staff about possibly leading the redevelopment of the church website.
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