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Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Holy Web: Making The Most of Your Church Website

The Connected Church eBook
The internet and devices do two primary things for most people today . . . share information and social uses.  These are also two vital functions within Church communities as well.  Unfortunately, many Churches do not use technology effectively or at all to open new avenues to maximize communications.  When you look at most church websites, they are often used similar to a Yellow Pages ad.  Basically they exist to say, "Hey we're here."  The approach is wrong.

Unlike businesses, the ad/marketing component really isn't necessary for a church website.  Search engine exposure has very little significance, because the church website should be heavily focused on conveying information and automating administrative tasks.  The church website should function as extension of your church office providing all of the same services with enhancements.  When done correctly, the website can also serve to dramatically reduce costs as well.  For example, if your church is printing quite a bit of forms from your office.  You can provide those same forms for download accessible via your website allowing members to download and print the forms themselves reducing your printing and/or mailing costs and providing more convenience to your members.  Lets take a look at the primary components for a Church website:

Communication of Information

Members of church communities primarily meet only a few times each week.  Getting information to them can be a real challenge and in most cases is primarily done through flyers, bulletins, bulletin boards, and other various print.  By adding your communications onto the website, you can open up powerful new avenues to your community.  Schedules can be posted via online calendars accessible 24/7 to the community at large and can also be created to be ministry specific.  Announcements can be added to your front page keeping members informed of important items occurring or coming up.

Directory of Contacts

The directory page for administrative contacts and ministry leader contacts keeps your community better informed as to who to contact.  This should also include email addresses.  Email is a common form of communication for most people today.  It is also a powerful means to reduce mailing and/or faxing costs.  If you are faxing quite a bit . . . stop it and start attaching documents via email.

Online Forms

Moving your forms online allows access by your community 24/7 and also provides an easy access point for administrators to print on demand rather than printing many copies to have on-hand.  Some forms such as a registration form may be able to be automated that is filled out online and ties in with your database software via a simple approval process.  For example, the new member fills in all of the information online and an approval email is sent to a designated administrative person.  Once approved, the information is dropped directly into your database. Check with your database provider in regards to this.

Online Calendars and Schedules

Most churches have a lot of things going on.  Events, ministry schedules, so forth and so on.  Many of these are volunteers with full-time jobs and busy personal lives.  So using multiple online calendars for specific groups allows you to create hub for participants to go to and get the information they need.  Services like Google Calendars allows you to attach documents within an event allowing you to get a great deal of information for the participant all in one spot.  For example, if your choir is provided with sheet music you can attach that to the practice schedule for them to print when accessing the event on your choir calendar.  If a event is offsite, you can add in the address which provides the viewer with a means to easily get directions and mapping.  Likewise, you reduce your workload dramatically from an administrative standpoint by creating an enter-once-use-everywhere type of scenario.  Once you enter he item, you can print from there if you want or simply direct others to consult the online calendar for information.

Making the website easily updated

I'm a big fan of online template-based websites for churches as opposed to creation via software on a computer and uploading.  The template-based online systems such as Google Sites or allow you a very inexpensive option and an easy means for multiple people to assist in updates from any internet connected computer.  This also allows for changes in volunteers over time if volunteers move or are unable to assist any longer.  Embedded calendars also allow for having volunteers or administrators update schedules which in turn update your website and they need to know nothing about websites at all.

If you are not maximizing your website for your Church, give it a second look.  If members aren't utilizing the services you placed there . . . give them a nudge.  Online calendars and scheduling is a great way to motivate your members to go to your website.  Refer to it often for various information they need.  Within a short period of time, they'll be going there first.
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