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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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Facebook have introduced ‘pages’ for organisations, so rather than multiple groups or closed networks any organisation can set up a page including churches that they can use to promote themselves.

Having set up a Facebook group for our church, and managing to recruit some church members to join up (13 members at the last count), I thought it would be good to have something a little more official. On the face of it, pages look quite similar to groups but with some small differences, such as fans instead of members.

Another more frustrating difference was that there was no mechanism for me to invite people to join. I had to go back to the Facebook group and message all members to let them know about the page. I think Facebook want you to run an advertising campaign to gain ‘fans’.

One advantage over groups is the ability to have applications, but at present it seems that most applications are not compatible yet for pages, application developers need to revise their work.

It seems likely that these pages will be indexed by search engines, looking at the church’s page without logging in gives quite a but of info (but not who the fans are).

You can create a Facebook page for your church by going to the business section of Facebook.

Help via: Dave Walker gives his take on ‘Facebook pages’.

After I heard the announcement of pages, I couldn’t work out how to add one, so dismissed it as something launched for North Americans. Seeing Dave become a fan of his church in my Facebook mini-feed encouraged me to look harder.

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.

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.

Cartoonchurch book at Wesley Owen Last week we were at Spring Harvest in Minehead and as I was wandering around the ‘mobile’ Wesley Owen Bookshop that they set up at these conferences, I noticed ‘The Dave Walker Guide to the Church’ and I suddenly felt convicted because I had not reviewed or even made comment on this excellent book.

If you have not read it, then I suggest you get a copy pronto, as the cartoons are insightful and extremely funny. One cartoon that particularly sticks out in my mind is of Dave’s analysis of saying the ‘grace’ (2 Corinthians 13:14), when he examines the two schools of thought on this ritual.

Aside: as you can see from the photo, it was on the ‘fiction’ stand, maybe not the most appropriate category, but at least it was on a central table. I was brave enough to prop the book up, so that others could see it more easily, but I did not have enough courage to move it to the ‘speaker recommendation table’.

A guest post on Church Marketing Sucks briefly discusses using RSS or other feeds to provide information to church members. For instance different types of news and announcements. If your church runs their church website on wordpress then this makes it easy to do as each category has its own feed, so that as long as you post different types of news to different categories subscribers can follow them independently.

For instance on this website we have the category ‘church humour’, which is located here:

churchblogger.wordpress.com/tag/christian-humour/

And the RSS feed is located here;

churchblogger.wordpress.com/tag/christian-humour/feed/

It is found simply by adding /feed/ to the end of the URL. Fancy an atom feed? Just append /feed/atom/ to the end. If you do this to a post rather that to a category post list (as above) you will have the RSS feed (or atom feed) for the comments to that post. (And by default these comment feeds come prefixed with ‘Comments on:’, in the feed title so that in a feed reader it is clear it is a comment feed. For example:

churchblogger.wordpress.com/2007/02/11/fitting-in-at-church/

Becomes:

churchblogger.wordpress.com/2007/02/11/fitting-in-at-church/feed/

But there is a problem, and it is to do with privacy. The CMS post suggests prayer requests, but many of these with be of a confidential nature. They cannot just be posted on a public website for all to see. Even if you do not tell ‘outsiders’ what the feed URL is, you cannot keep it private for ever, as your church members will use bloglines or another feed reader to subscribe or google will find it.

One solution is to use the wordpress password-protected post feature, setting a password. These posts appear in the feed, but without the content. Church members can then go to the website and type in an agreed password.

The only thing to consider is that it makes the church look uninviting and closed to outsiders if when they visit the church website to see many password protected posts. The best option here would be to stop entries in this category appearing on the front page loop.

Feeds are very powerful and with wordpress as your content management system for the church website, management of them is made easy.

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