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Rethinking Mission & Ministry in an Internet Age

Digital Jesus

Should we abandon websites and blogs?

I recently put an image with one of my blog posts on the Liturgy facebook page. It received 187,000 views.

Furthermore, when I put a link to a blog post on the Liturgy facebook page it can receive twice, thrice, or more times the views than the actual blog post does.

So you need to think what goes on your website, your blog site, and what is actually better on a facebook page. Some people may decide to essentially blog on a facebook page.

I still think the “old” wisdom of owning your own domain name has much to commend it. Free sites can change at their whim, and you may lose a lot of work. But, having said that, many great sites are on free domains.

I notice that the Liturgy facebook page currently does not appear in a search for “liturgy”. That demonstrates one problem. I will work on this.

The web is mobile

Jesus on a desktop
Jesus doesn’t surf like this anymore – he uses a mobile
Often a half or more of visits to this site are accessing it using a mobile device. If your site isn’t mobile friendly you are limiting access, actually being uninclusive. And my bet is that it is more younger people who are affected.

Observant regulars here may have noticed – drop-down menus here have gone. They are not mobile friendly.

WordPress has plugins to make your site mobile friendly. I use WPtouch, and so on a mobile device this site looks significantly different.

Getting the message out

Recently I drove past one parish location – the buildings have long-ago been demolished after the quakes. But the original sign is still there. No indication where they now meet, what time, or how to get in touch with them. A little later I drove past another parish – the buildings still stand, but they are not used. They meet somewhere else. Again, no sign of that. Both are in densely-populated, residential areas.

Signs are nineteenth-century technology.

I checked these parish’s websites. The latter has not been updated since March – according to the website, they still meet in those deserted buildings.

About half of parishes do not yet have a web presence.

Friend and fellow blogging priest, Peter Carrell, yesterday put out his research on (South Island NZ) Anglican parishes for which you can find their Christmas service times online. For three-quarters of Anglican parishes you cannot find their Christmas service times online! For some of the sites where the times are are online – they are difficult to locate (sometimes you have to download the latest newsletter). Sometimes the diocesan website directs you to a different long-out-of-date website. And a diocesan site may provide a contact box to a parish. Here’s an experiment I have tried more than once, now you try it: send them a message in a contact box to find out service times. I have never once been able to get a response.

The inward-facing-club-membership approach to church services affects not only travelling regular church-goers but local people who may want to attend a service at Christmas – for any number of reasons.

There is absolutely NO excuse for a parish not to have a website. A page with an attractive photo, a map, some contact information and the upcoming service times does not take much energy. It can be set up in less than an hour, and can be maintained by a few minutes a week or less. I have regularly provided information how to set up a website simply and free (more here)– go count the number of parishes that have taken up that offer. If people cannot accept my advice, then get some teenagers, give them pizza and coke, and leave them to create a parish site.

Central to one diocesan site is the request to parishes to send in Christmas service times. Is that what a diocesan website is for? A visitor looking there for Christmas service times sees an organisation’s head office that doesn’t even know how to find them!

Other sites are a clutter of uninspiring information. And then there are the photos: a few dour old men in very strange outfits. That is the face of the church to today’s world where people, especially young people, live on the internet. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sharing good news

A regular here pointed to a a beautiful and welcoming church website to look at, Mackenzie Cooperating Church.

I am always thrilled by the website of St Andrews Anglican Church, Cambridge. Andrew Hedge (now Bishop of Waiapu) followed my suggestions on how to make a website simply and free. It is crystal clear, still free (runs on wordpress.com), and because it is WordPress it is so simple to keep up to date. Service times are there, with a map, on the front page. And the Christmas service times are clearly there for all who want them.

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17 Responses to Rethinking Mission & Ministry in an Internet Age

  1. Thanks Bosco. I would love to know who did the MacKenzie site – or which platform they;re using. Really like that and am very tempted to steal the concept!!

    • I see absolutely no reason, Brian, why you couldn’t use WordPress, and do it yourself using the Headway theme as I do (see bottom of this page). I don’t see anything particularly difficult. And I think borrowing good ideas from each other is exactly the way forward. If you do find out more – do let us know here. Or if you try my suggestion – let us know also, to add to future Websites of Note. Advent blessings.

      • I’m not a great fan of WordPress – just a matter of personal preference – and don’t really like the blog look of St Andrew’s for example. I have for some time in my ‘spare time’ (ha ha) been working on a rebuild of the St Peter’s site (which is pretty dire) using the Wix platform. I am wondering if that is what Mackenzie is using – there are similarities.
        Borrowing sounds so much better than stealing!!

        • I have never tried wix, Brian, so cannot comment on it. WordPress is very easy to use, very powerful, and used by major companies for their websites. I am totally “self-taught”, and have rebuilt this site 3 times from the ground up (Dreamweaver, RapidWeaver, WordPress). I am still rebuilding my RapidWeaver bits “in my ‘spare time’ (ha ha)”.

          I suggest those thinking about it to try Wix and WordPress and experiment making small (free) sites. My understanding is that there is an issue with Wix if you have more than one user (as a parish might). This is absolutely no issue for WordPress.

          The “blog look” of St Andrew’s is due to their choice of theme. In one click they could give it a “magazine look”, and totally maintain the content. With the Headway theme for WordPress I have no restrictions whatsoever – I am just limited by my imagination and time – the rest is just drag-and-drop. So, certainly, I could replicate the Mackenzie site’s look relatively quickly using Headway totally retaining my WordPress content.

          Advent blessings.

  2. And yet, neither of the two websites approved highlights the times of the Christmas services. I agree that now is the time when non-regular churchgoers or people on holiday will be looking for the services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It would be good if that were the first thing seen when opening up the website.
    I do agree however that an attractive website does create a good impression.

    • I agree, Stephen. Both sites could be improved by having the Christmas service times as one of the first things encountered, without another click. Nonetheless, on both sites the Christmas times are very easy to find (not hidden obscurely as on some) and only one clear click away. Advent blessings.

  3. Signs are 19th century technology.

    They are incapable of spreading malicious software – unlike plugin-heavy tech like WordPress. Had you not noticed that about 100,000 WordPress sites got hacked last weekend? Mainly due to the sort of person who doesn’t keep their website’s security up to date, which is pretty well everyone…

    I’ll stick to paint on wood, thanks.

    • Thanks, James. Yes, that is about one in a thousand WorPress users.

      Here in NZ 19th-century technology signs are subject to graffiti and vandalism. Maybe that is not the case where you live? I would say the rate of such vandalism here is significantly higher than the hacking rate of WordPress sites.

      Yes, I recommend good online practice, including backing up your website. I would encourage, for a variety of reasons, a minimalist approach to plugins (I use 10), care in choice of plugins, and keeping them up to date. The issue you describe was because users had not kept their Slider Revolution plugin up to date.

      Advent blessings.

      • Presumably plugins etc. on WordPress.com are always kept up to date automatically?

        If you host your own WordPress installation on your own server, you have to keep things up to date yourself.

        For a small price you can use WordPress.com but with your own domain name.

        (WordPress might be overkill for a simple static site, but it’s an excellent option.)

  4. Thanks to this post, Bosco, I now have my first North Island Christmas services link at ADU, and have added the MacKensie parish link in …
    Peter

    • You are providing a very helpful service here, Peter. It would be great if you could get someone to run through the NIsland parishes in a similar manner (can you find someone in each diocese to do this quickly for you?) And then you could give a prize to the diocese with the greatest % of parishes with their Christmas service time online (or at least tell us who won!). You could run a poll to vote for the top parish website. And you could give a digital wooden spoon award for the diocese to display on their site (I can organise the html & the badge!) with the lowest % of parishes with Christmas service times online. Advent blessings.

  5. Hi Bosco

    Just checking the traffic on our website and saw some referrals from your site. Thanks for the kind comments and the referral.

    For those interested (Brian), it’s done on the WordPress platform with a commercial theme from themetrust.com. They’re very affordable and saves people like us for whom code is limited to putting in line breaks and boldface.

    I considered putting Christmas Services on the homepage but opted for a simplified Worship Times page which has priority at the top of our homepage thumbnails. It’s a pretty popular site due to interest in The Church of the Good Shepherd and the theme is chosen to represent the Mackenzie’s spaciousness. There are improvements I’d like to make, but that has mostly to do with content about Christian spirituality. Apart from blocking spam etc… and updating security, there’s not a lot of maintenance. Have a holy and peaceful Christmas.

    Andrew

    • Good to hear from you, Andrew. Well done with the site. And good to hear it is WordPress – the platform I recommend. As you say, it would not be hard to maintain. I find the Akismet plugin sufficient to keep most spam away. Advent blessings.

  6. I think lots of websites are problematic, not just churches. I often look at a concert listing ( assuming the link works ) and find there’s no price or information other than time or place…

    I used wordpress when I blogged, I did find it was like most things after a while someone wants you to buy upgrades for it to work properly also advertising gets everywhere. But it was generally easy enough to post, edit, comment etc.

    I haven’t done facebook in a long time, and no intention of twitter or anything else which comes along! I’ve had enough weird online interactions for one lifetime…

  7. Another deficiency in parish communications has just been brought to my notice, Bosco:

    I received a letter from my old Auckland parish, and used the published email address for an instant reply. However, it has been rejected as inadmissible.

    Just goes to show that contact info need to be up-to-date

  8. I enjoy your blog. It is always thought provoking and you have pointed me to some excellent resources and video clips. How you get the time to post as much as you do amazes me. I hope you will keep up the good work!

    I was amused when I followed the link you post about setting up a simple website to get an error message: ‘Sorry, the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist.’
    Don’t take this as a criticism but as an example – with which I am sure you will agree – that we cannot be too careful checking links to make sure they continue to work.

    Best wishes from an anglican in Ireland.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Nigel.
      LOL! for the error in the link & thanks for pointing it out. [I know exactly what happened and it connects to your point about time 🙂 ] I am sure that the principles of the post about how to set up a website free still apply, but I really probably need to make an updated version of that post with the developments in WordPress. Time again! Advent blessings.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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