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I have just come across a discussion started by Michael Boyink suggesting that web designers should not work for free when it comes to creating sites for churches because that inherently means that the organisations that the work is done for do not value it.

Because when a church gets a website for free, it evidently has no value. Things with no value get replaced or reimplemented on a moment’s notice, on staff whim, or as soon as the person leading the effort is called away.

The comments on this piece numbered 85 when he closed commenting, and on Church Marketing Sucks comments are still coming in, so it is obviously a topic that people have strong opinions on.

The criticism around this says that the website creation should be a gift without reservation to the church and what they do with it is their business, but this misses the point of the article. Churches that invest nothing in the original design and building of a website are not likely to invest the relevant resources ongoing to develop compelling and relevant content for the site.

And when someone else offers to take over the site, the old design is too easily abandoned (as it costs nothing) and replaced, when in fact the time spent on the redesign could have been better used on content. Michael Boyink suggests that churches that pay for the site in the first place are more likely to commit the relevant resources to get the most out of their investment.

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One purpose of a church website is to allow people to easily contact the church with queries, especially if they have had no previous contact.

We might prefer potential guests to use the phone, but people find email useful simple queries that they can submit anytime. And as churches, we want to encourage a connection every way we can.

When you list the email address on the church website though, there is a problem. This is because, spammers can then see it and add it to their databases. They can do this either manually or more likely in an automated fashion. When a church contact email receives many spam, it becomes harder to deal with and busy staff can mean that false positives are not checked on a regular basis.

A List Apart has an article called Graceful E-Mail Obfuscation, which looks at the history of techniques to fox spammers and what can be done now.

The article particularly looks at the issue of user-friendliness, because adding ‘REMOVE-ME’ to an email address is at best inconvenient for a user. And as churches, we do want to encourage people to contact us as much as possible.

Previously I looked at how to add simple maps to your church website, but for a wordpress site this was complicated, because of the artificiall nature of the directory structure if the site is using re-written URLs. Basically a plugin was required.

Now Google has provided another mechanism for including maps that can be inserted simply by embedding them in pages. All that is needed is to copy some HTML code and paste into your church’s webpage.

You need to login to your account on Google and click on ‘Maps’, then ‘My Maps’ to get started. When you are happy with the map, you can click the ‘emded this in a webpage link’ on the right hand side. If your map is of a church in the UK, then I recommend signing into Google from Google UK, as I had problems otherwise.

You can add other features easily to the map, such as other important points nearby to the church. For example, car parks and travel facilities (trains, buses etc.). This become clickable, and can contain other helpful information.

You can see it in action on my church’s website.

Over the last few months I have been somewhat distracted by Facebook, and unlike almost all the other social networking sites I have tried, I have found non-techie friends are using it.

Facebook difference

Many people are raving about it, and I can understand why as I have caught up with people I haven’t spoken to for many years. Unlike email, there is a instantness of communication with people and no spam. Which means that short conversations can happen quickly, but without the intensity of instant messaging.

Also, unlike other social community websites, the privacy settings allow for close control of profile and information.

I had been using on-line photo sharing websites, but these don’t come close to Facebook in the social aspect of being able to tag friends and share photos with restricted groups of people.

But what about the church?

I have tried, unsuccessfully to coax church members onto mychurch.org (one member plus me to date).

I thought the reason for this failure was because people didn’t want to sign up for another on-line service that they might not use, and they couldn’t see a use for it.

However, after setting up a church group on Facebook, we already have 10 members. This is because church members were already users of Facebook, so joining a group was easy.

Using Facebook for your church

The other benefit is that non-Christian friends on Facebook can see what groups you join and so can see easily your affiliations. So rather than a closed Christian networking site, Facebook is a social networking site that better reflects your friendships and not just your Christian clique. It is obviously no substitute for sharing your faith in person, but allows you to create a profile that reflects your faith and to share this with your other friends.

With group events pages, we can better manage what is happening rather than a storm of emails and phone calls trying to arrange event.

How are other churches using Facebook?

Let me know in the comments how your church is using Facebook or other social networking sites.

Last week we acquired a Nintendo Wii and connected to our wireless home network (it was surprisingly easy to do). And since then we have been using to the Internet Channel (powered by Opera) for ‘incidental surfing’. Such as checking the cricket score, tv-guide etc. rather than booting up the PC. It works fantastically (here is a press release and more info from Opera).

Then we looked at the church website to see if that worked and it looked fine. However there were two problems;

  • PDF files: PDF files cannot be viewed at present, so the weekly bulletins can only be viewed as HTML (if available). This follows the suggestion in the comments to a previous post that having an HTML version is essential, not optional.
  • eBible plugin: this plugin does not work, the ‘pop-up’ is permanently open, making other text unreadable. (The comments to the plugin post on eBible.com are closed however, so I’ll have to find another way to report the problem).

It might be hard to imagine someone sitting on their settee on a Saturday afternoon looking for a church, but just in case, it is worth checking that your church’s website is accessible and readable on a Wii.


Previously: Changing your web viewing glasses

A WordPress plugin has been released to bring bible verses in blog posts to life, by linking them to eBible.com and also showing the verse as a ‘tooltip’ via the title tag.

There is a demo blog which shows the plugin in action.

Like other plugins, you drop it into the wordpress plugin folder, but before it works you need to complete the options screen. Most importantly is the eBible.com API key that you need. You can get a free one here.

Read the rest of this entry »

The WordPress.com state package is now available for all wordpress blogs as a plugin. And the stats that are collected are displayed in the same place as the WordPress.com blog(s) that you have. You can get the plugin from WordPress.org

WordPress.com statistics are certainly not as sophisticated as some packages (such as Google Analytics), but they are easy and quick to understand. Also, it will not interfere with other statistics packages, such as Mint, Google Analytics, and Statcounter.

And for people like me with a church website on WordPress.org and another blog (this blog) on WordPress.com, it is very convenient to have the statistics in the same place.

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