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This is permanent: change is here to stay

Heraclitus
“There is nothing permanent except change” Heraclitus 6th Century BC

I have been trying to encourage Christian individuals and communities to mission and ministry on and through the technological revolution we are in.

Church website” and “rate the church website” are a couple of recent posts of mine, for example.

I am not the only one. Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, is yet another who is seeing the writing on the wall.

Statistics vary, but they all trend similarly to the study that in the last three years the church’s website being important to people’s decision to go to a church has moved from a third to a half of those people! For more and more people, the web is the new front door. “If you build it, they will come” mission is dying. Now it is increasingly, “If a church cannot be Googled, it does not exist.”

Some people, wonderfully, have, even since my recent posts, set up admirable websites (often using my instructions).

But one recent conversation I was part of highlights an attitude that at first might appear to be in favour of mission and ministry in this new land, but actually misses one of the primary dynamics of the culture in this new land.

The conversation went something like this…

Person A: we are looking into software to build a church website.
Me: WordPress is free and excellent and simple to build a website…
Person A: So if WordPress is free, how do they make their money?
Me: If how WordPress makes money is really an issue for you (it has never been one for me) I see there’s lots of explanation if you put that question in your favourite (free!!!) search engine.
Person A: If WordPress doesn’t have a revenue stream I’d have concerns about sustainability.
etc…

Now it took me a while of mulling on this conversation to realise that many have an assumption about getting online (and I’m not saying that Person A has this assumption – the conversation just helped me to the insight). The assumption is: getting online is about “doing it once; doing it right; the end.”

Well it isn’t.

Communication is constantly and rapidly changing.

Example: Some of you will remember text language. dur? hw oldies wr worid dat younguns wudnt B abL 2 spel Ny mor or B abL 2 follw d rlz of gramA?* Well most young people wouldn’t have a clue now what that says! Do you remember the annoyance when young people just texted surreptitiously in their pockets, because they could touch-text on the dozen buttons on their phone. That’s meaningless to the current generation of touch-screen, smart-phone users.

My point is that technology is constantly changing. The way we communicate is constantly changing.

There are 5 billion phones now on the planet. Communications are increasingly by the small screens of the cell phone. If your website isn’t mobile friendly – it is so… last… year. [This site is. It's a simple free plugin with WordPress. Done. There really is no excuse except laziness and lack of interest in the new land.]

Yes, since 2006 I’ve rebuilt this site from the ground up three times. I think WordPress is pretty cool at the moment (I used two other systems) – but “sustainable”?!!! Here’s a snapshot of this site nearly 7 years ago (yes, they back up the internet ;-) ) It had no videos; no way to make a comment; no RSS; no facebook page; no twitter; no Pinterest;…

Seven years from now – I have no idea how communications will be. Emails appear to be dying. Texting appears to be dying. Some are doing mission and ministry via Pinterest; via Instagram;… WordPress 7 years from now? Who knows?!

Sorry, people. This new land isn’t a culture of put up your pretty website and you’ve done your mission and ministry in the third millennium – now would you like another cup of tea, Vicar…

The danger, of course, that comes with this realisation, is to to never start. But it takes little to imagine the alternative if we don’t. Many of us are seeing that accelerating around us already. It is true that we tend to overestimate what we can achieve in the short term. But it is similarly true that we tend to underestimate what we can achieve in the longer term.

*****

*That read: “Do you remember how old people were worried that young people wouldn’t be able to spell any more or be able to follow the rules of grammar?”

*****

If you appreciated this post, there are different ways to keep in touch with the community around this website: like the facebook page, follow twitter, use the RSS feed,…

ps. there’s no need to panic just yet about WordPress ;-). WordPress powers 16.6% of the web, from The New York Times to People Magazine.

paradigm shifts
© 2002 The New Yorker Collection from cartoonbank.com. All Rights Reserved.

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16 Responses to This is permanent: change is here to stay

  1. Dear Bosco,
    You are the only person I know that can make creating a website a humorous and non~tedious task. I suppose you try a little harder to make your site interesting and fun. Well, I guess you know where I stand so keep up the good work and make us laugh!

    • I find the process of keeping the website up to date really valuable for getting a grip on what is happening and very satisfying. It is as much for me as the people who access it. As I fill in the diary I quickly find and correct the problems and clashes. I can copy and paste information from the site to the Pewsheet. I can send links to the Diocesan Magazine and local papers for publication. My hard copy filing is abismal but if I have it on the website I don’t need the hard copy. I can access it anywhere. It is a marvelous tool for ministry and administration.

      • Thank you, Jan! I wish the penny would drop for people as it clearly has for you. When I’m present with a great children’s activity at a church – where is the person taking the photo? Is it 30 seconds to upload it to the website?! Sermon uploaded (20 seconds?) The pewsheet, a link to next Sunday’s readings,… An e-friend has just started videoing Sunday sermons. No effort. Up they go onto YouTube. Embed onto the website (30 seconds?). Blessings.

  2. I have the challenge of explaining to my local parish that it’s not just getting a website, but keeping it fresh. And you’re right. WordPress is great for that, but you have to keep posting or people will go away and not come back.

    • Today, Ted, I received an email with a priest’s personal website URL. He had clearly paid good money for a flashy site. No one came. How would they even know it existed?!!! And it was the site that was flashy – not the content. He needs to get out into the new land of cyberspace and engage: on blogs, facebook, twitter, etc. A parish is slightly different. They at least need a site online that can be easily found through a search, be up-to-date, and easy to navigate. Blessings.

  3. I have one tip/word of advice/demand for anyone setting up a website for a church: put the church’s physical address in an easy-to-find spot that appears on every page!

    Same goes for any organization with a physical location that you would like people to come to, actually — restaurant, shop, concert hall, whatever. Don’t make me do a map search — if you want me to show up, make it easy for me.

    Many such sites will put their address at the bottom of the page, like an afterthought. I know we’re living in an increasingly visually-oriented world, but it wouldn’t kill ya to put your address in a small bar just below your fabulous header photo.

    The thing is, you have to think about how people will actually use your website. So many times, I’ll go on a site because I want basic information, and I want it NOW. Maybe at some point I will read your lovely paragraph describing your parish and all the wonderful ways I could get involved there, but at the moment I just want to know your service times. I shouldn’t have to click or scroll to find them — they should be in a sidebar near the top of the homepage.

    What do you think, Father Bosco, am I too high-maintenance?

    By the way, my site is missmusicnerd.com and I’ve been really bad about updating it regularly… that’s another story…

    • A great point, thanks, Linda. One could have, as you suggest, the address (and a map) on every page. I think an acceptable alternative is that it be a single click away from every page, with a clear tab, so that whichever page one lands on, the physical address and service times are only a click away. As an aside: I am forever surprised when I land on a parish site how difficult it is to find out which country the parish is in! Blessings.

  4. Could you please share the name of the free plug-in you use to make the WordPress website mobile-friendly?

    Thank you! Keep up the good work.

  5. Good stuff Bosco. I look after my Church’s site (http://www.minehead-baptist.com), I designed and created it as well as I make websites for a living – normally using WordPress!

    Sermons, events and news are added (normally) weekly and for events, I always now make a ‘slide’ for them and put that in the post – so it can also go on pinterest.

    One thing I’ve had to explain to people is about ‘leaving’ info about old news/events is a good thing! Yesterday there was a comment post on a new items showing a video of an adult baptism that happened several years ago – a school teacher was thanking the Church for having a video of an adult/believer’s baptism they could show their class!

    You also mentioned about people finding churches online. That’s epseically true for my church as we’re in a ‘sea-side/holiday’ town and I know many people are looking for a church to go to when they come on their holidays…

    • Thanks, James. A great site. And cool you share my enthusiasm for WordPress.

      I’ve just been on holiday to two different places. I’ve described one already. The other is one of the most-visited, top tourist spots, in New Zealand. The Anglican church there does not have a website (well not one I can find!) The diocesan site, when you get to the parishes section, has a list of links, none of which work; it then comes up with the instructions “This web site needs a different Google Maps API key. A new key can be generated at http://code.google.com/apis/maps/documentation/javascript/v2/introduction.html#Obtaining_Key.” (I am not making any of this up!!!) Ah! There is an alternative to those non-functioning links: download a PDF, which I did. It tells me which archdeaconry this parish is in, but not so much as a phone number!!!

      Blessings

  6. The most important part of any Christian website has to be- who do I contact/turn to for help.

    And that’s the thing about putting out a limited/obscure website if your intention remains restricted- blocking the flood of the needy with a smoke-screen to prevent them becoming any more difficulty for your ( already troubled? ) parish by being intentionally obtuse.

    Not all churches are yet ready to serve the needy- so the most needy are they themselves first of all I would guess.

    Let’s start at the very beginning…

    • …a very good place to start, Tracy. Yes, how many Christians are more interested in in-drag than out-reach? That lovely vision of William Temple: church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members. Blessings.

  7. Maybe I’m romanticising through history-goggles again, but for all their flaws it’s hard to see Wesley and Luther and John Knox et al trying to come up with programmes and advertising to attract masses of the right sort of people…which is what a lot of it is about. Wanting big numbers- but afraid of who will come.

    The church I married in had a very active passionate minister who set up homeless shelters. Successfully for a time, very busy church. When a child was murdered by one of the shelter residents the projects faltered, no one knew how to move forward. I just looked at their website today and it’s basically a meeting place for community groups- no social projects, a little quiet backwater.

    Not all problems will be so extreme or difficult but ‘who are the needy’ can certainly put people into contact with people and experiences which will make them uncomfortable…

    And in many places suffering is a taboo: people shrink from it. It’s nice to preach and sing prettily, even visit people in safe settings or at a distance where they can’t become too much of a nuisance, but reaching people when they are most lost I think is beyond many churches.

    And that’s why we get this ‘only believe and be saved’ flavour, and circular preaching I suppose( how many have listened and been exhorted to believe or commit themselves who already did all that before the preacher was even born? )

    Matthew 25 is difficult: prisons, hungry, naked, sick, strangers…who wants to sit with them every Sunday?!

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with creating a church which meets the needs of its own community, so long as that is what it presents itself as. A community centre. A meeting place. A social club. An elite organisation. But it’s very damaging to appeal to a church for help and have the doors closed against you: not least for those who would be sheep not goats!

    So maybe it’s not such a mistake these websites which seem poorly designed: most of us can look straight away at a website and know if we could ‘fit in’ there or share the ethos…or if a particular desperate need might be met.

    A woman wrote to me a few years ago from overseas when her landlord was harrassing her and she had the choice to put up with him or be homeless. I did what I could from a distance which was very little- a few dollars and a care package and writing to her daily for a while- but she needed support, I urged her to go to one of the churches nearby but she was adamant her local Christians would not help her. So I wrote to the minister of the nearest large church to see if that was true. He never replied.

    The largest church in America http://ww2.lakewood.cc/pages/home.aspx has often been criticised for being little more than a giant business and they just put out posters taking on the horrible problem of human trafficking here in Texas. These are some of the most desperate people in the world so it will be interesting to see if they can genuinely impact the issue- and how it will affect their 40 000+ members.

    To me this is one of the best churches ( and church websites ) in the US today http://www.glide.org/

    • Such good points, thanks, Tracy. How comfortable we can be with our 50-100 congregants – if we had a good website who might we attract… I know a church where those who belonged had their names stitched onto the altar cloth. I asked one of them recently how many new people were coming since the devastating earthquakes here [guess as low as you like]. It is an area of much need and much vitality. In contrast, there is a coffee shop in the area focusing on justice and sharing and providing a great place to meet and relax. Most don’t realise it is run by Christians. Blessings.

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Rev. Bosco Peters 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.