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Church website

FailTrue story. [I know, I know, every good story is true – and some of them happened. This one, incredible though it might seem, happened].

I was going to be arriving somewhere on Christmas Eve and I simply wanted to know the time and place of Christmas services there at the Anglican Church. Search online. Nothing shows up. No website. Ask others. No idea. “Why don’t you look on the website for the diocese of the area?”

I follow that seemingly good advice.

Not a single parish is mentioned on the (flash looking) diocesan website! There is a search box. Try that – put in the name of the town. Result: 30 “Statutes”! All PDFs – really exciting stuff people who want to go to church at Christmas really want to read (not!): finance statutes and clergy housing statutes… [And I was lucky with the search result. Put in the cathedral parish and up comes, “There are no results for…”!]

Click on every tab provided. Nothing.

Then I spot, right at the bottom of the page, the small word “Sitemap”. I click on that. Believe it or not, amongst the list of dozens and dozens of things and subthings: “Parish Contact List”. I click on that.

Up comes a page with links to a number of “Archdeaconries”. Now I’ve met people working in diocesan offices who do not know what the difference between a deacon and an archdeacon is! So we are, sitemap> Parish Contact List > Archdeaconries deep into churchy language now. But wait – there’s more! The Archdeaconries are given titles that possibly those living in the area would not realise that’s a name that refers to their area!

Each archdeaconry link downloads a PDF [anyone with a little website know-how realises that you use PDFs on websites as an exception, for very particular purposes, certainly not for providing contact information]. So now I search through all these pages of parishes I’ve downloaded. Yes, I finally found the place where I was going. It had a phone number (hooray for the church and nineteenth century technology!!!).

Yes. I did get to church this Christmas.

ps. On the PDFs each parish and other type of ministry unit had a space headed, “website”. Only one in five provided (have?) a website!

pps. I am going to bet this diocesan website was professionally produced, and paid for. Clearly no one responsible for the website has tried using it from the perspective of “an ordinary person”. The professionals who produced the pretty site possibly/probably have no church connection, no real idea what a church site should function like.

Many in the church continue to wonder why the church struggles to make connections in a third millennium world when our real agility is in functioning in nineteenth century ways.

ppps. For this town the Baptists have a good website, a facebook page, and even google reviews; Catholics have a good website and are on google+; the Salvation Army has a national website, the town is easily found there, and all needed information is present; the Presbyterians have an excellent contemporary website.

pppps. There is absolutely no excuse for not having a website. Here are instructions for making a FREE website. In about an hour. If you seriously cannot be bothered (the only honest reason!), give some teenagers pizza and coke and get them to do it for your laziness. That’s win-win-win. The teenagers get pizza and feel useful. There is a contemporary website for your church. You can pretend you are doing great youth ministry, and boast about the youth you are involving in the life of your church…

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27 thoughts on “Church website”

  1. A web visitor, on arriving at your site, should not have to make any further clicks to see the Sunday service schedule. And if it can’t be fully visible because things change every week, maybe that pattern needs to be rethought.

    1. Even if things change every week (and I agree that would be worth rethinking), Scott, that information can be put up as soon as the day is ending. Thanks and blessings.

  2. Your right. There is no excuse for not having a web site these days. Its absolutely essential for churches. Its also important for the website to be responsive for mobile devices. People are more likely to be searching for information on a church from their car or a restaurant than on their PC.

  3. I look after our Diocesan website (for even less pay than pizza!). We tried to get service times for Christmas on our site, but out of 30 parishes, got only three replies to our request for information, made 1 month beforehand. Follow up phone calls got 2 more information from 2 more parishes and an earache from the complaints about unwarranted demands for information.

    In the end, we abandoned it as a bad joke. We do have a non-PDF parish contact page, though.

    1. Yes, Colin. I can see that’s not going to work. What might:
      A diocesan requirement that each parish and ministry unit has an attractive, up to date, easy-to-navigate site that is accessible from mobile devices. The diocesan site is also at that standard and has a link to each of those websites.
      If people are exceptionally dense in your diocese – the diocese provides a template for the parish sites.
      An alternative is to provide a page for each parish & ministry unit on the diocesan website, with their own access password and the expectation that they keep their own page up to date.

      1. What we’ve done is create a WordPress infrastructure with a parent theme, and child themes (all mobile device friendly). When a parish or ministry unit wants a site, they get a prepopulated ‘fill in the gaps’ one with an initial consistent set of pages, training, a subdomain name, hosting and so on. All at no cost.

        We’ve had 4 takers.

        It isn’t for want of having a website in my experience, it is people on the ground in parishes to look after it.

          1. Yep, we host them at no cost to the parishes, and look after the backing up and so on.

            Some parishes have sites that are outside this system. We’ve offered them the opportunity to participate, but they either choose not to, or choose not to make a choice!

  4. I’m glad there is another voice or two in the wilderness on this.

    I could count on the fingers of one hand sites in our Diocese that are quality sites.

    Change is only going to come with a recognition that the internet is THE most important communication/marketing/engagement/evangelisation medium the church has.

    Too many clergy – and senior Diocesan people – quietly hope the internet will go away. They have no involvement and end up paying through the nose to professionals or have the local geek managing things. And then he leaves and the website looks – and is – abandoned.

    I’d like to see media and communications as a 100 level paper for theological college students. They can learn about writing for the web, social media, ministry opportunities, and be required to devise and keep a blog for the duration of the paper.

    For struggling parishes, form diocesan groups of technical and content experts who can help or advise. I’d recommend Blogger rather than WordPress for beginners.

    Outside the main cities technical literacy in the wider population is much lower.

    In one of the rural churches I support the website is a much-loved member of the congregation. They rush home after a big service to see if I’ve put a story and photos up; they hand me bits of paper with recipes for our recipe section. The website has had an unanticipated benefit: those elderly that once proudly announced they didn’t have a computer realised they were missing out on something. Many of them are now online. Links to children’s written efforts and photos are emailed all over the world and even onto Pintarest.

    Another serious deficiency I see regularly: parishes don’t see news opportunities, even if they are right under their noses. Or that a photo often tells a story by itself.

    I would like to see every Bishop require every one of their current clergy do Rachel McAlpine’s excellent contented.com web writing course. Building confidence and knowledge might be a good start.

    1. Thanks Caryl.

      Clergy training is a sore spot. There is no standard for clergy training in my church.

      We can arm-wrestle about WordPress vs Blogger. WordPress can be used on any site – either hosted free (wordpress.com) or on one’s own site URL. Can you use Blogger to run a website – or is it always a blog? I suspect the latter. In which case I win the arm wrestle, because not only is WordPress easy to use, free, not able to be shut down by Google, but it is also powerful enough to run a website of any size – not just a blog.

      I do not know what you mean by “Outside the main cities technical literacy in the wider population is much lower” – if you are suggesting teenagers aren’t using facebook or the internet, I’m going to struggle to believe you.

      Thanks again for our adding our voice together. Blessings.

  5. In the UK the Catholics are among the worst. A few years ago I spent a weekend in a city I hadn’t visited before as the guest of a lovely young woman who had a drug habit. On Saturday evening as I combed out her dreadlocks in preparation for an interview and she smoked heroin we talked about Jesus and she decided to go to church. The only snag was that although Catholic she had no idea where her nearest church was so we looked online. Not a clue to be found; so I got in the car and drove. We found a church five minutes before the service time. It was so run-down that it had no music and the paint was peeling off the walls but the service was perfect.
    Moral: if technology fails pray and go.

  6. Trevor Morrison

    I would emphasise the point that Bosco and Colin make, that the web site needs to be mobile friendly. I tried to find on my smartphone on Christmas Eve the times of Christmas Day services at Christ’s College chapel, via the diocesan web site. I eventually did, but it wasn’t easy!

    1. Thanks for your reinforcing my point, Trevor. Can I just clarify for people beyond our context, the services Trevor is talking about are run by the Christchurch Cathedral community, not the Christ’s College community [of which, many will realise, I serve as chaplain]. The cathedral community are guests in our chapel since the quakes. The school, being closed for summer holidays, has no services currently. I have no influence whatsoever over the websites Trevor mentions. Blessings.

      1. Trevor Morrison

        Apologies, Bosco. I was being wilfully mischievous. I knew that the Cathedral was responsible for the web site, not you, but loved the irony that it affected information re services that take place at your very own chapel 🙂

  7. Jonathan Streeter

    Okay, so I understand some parishes are devoid of the know-how to be online. At the very least they need to go to Google maps and put their contact information there. That would solve the mobile issue you so rightly raise. Then we could connect with their 19th century phone (doubtless with a physical answering machine attached!).

    1. Thanks for that suggestion, Jonathan. I am going to part from your understanding of the know-how to be online, however. I bet they can set up a facebook page; I bet any young person could set up the website and even teach an older person to use it – if the older person could be bothered. Let’s be honest: they cannot be bothered. Let’s start from that honesty and work forward. Blessings.

  8. Before I start, dear Bosco, I don’t have a website myself because old retired priests like me don’t really need one, so please absolve me. On the main issue, your story of the website search should be sent to every diocese in the Anglican Communion. Brilliant – and tragic. But I have one question: as a result of your dreadful experience, did you forward your comments to the diocese concerned? They’re the ones that need to read you. Perhaps you could ask the delightful Wizard of NZ to threaten a spell! Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement, David.

      I encouraged Fr Ron Smith to set up a website. Now his site, Kiwianglo, is one of the few priests blogging in this country. You can contact him yourself to see which of you is older 🙂 . For Fr Ron, ministry has not stopped at 65 – both in the virtual and in the nonvirtual world. I hope he himself might tell you how much this means to him – and to others. So, sorry, not sure about absolution…

      Yes – let’s hope that people send this story to every diocese in the Anglican Communion. I am going to reserve the right about answering your question specifically. I hope every diocese in New Zealand (and elsewhere) examines their own website (I am certain there have been readers from each of our own dioceses – I hope they went on to try their diocesan site – and made contact if it was not acceptable!) to see how it would serve to help the sort of thing I was looking for. Including seeing how it functions from a mobile device to seek such answers.

      Thanks again for the encouragement. Blessings.

    1. Mark Aitchison

      That website is a really good idea, with searches based on suitability in all sorts of ways. Even the phrase/advert
      “Thinking of marrying in church?
      We’d love to hear from you! Find out about Church weddings” is something I don’t see in local websites. I wonder if there are people already gathering some of this information (e.g. I know somebody did a little survey on wheelchair accessibility locally a while ago) that should be up on a website somewhere with a google maps link for each church.

      I presume this is a work-in-progress. I wonder how much effort it would take for other countries to get organised and join the scheme? I notice there are various European ones in there already.

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