Church growth strategies are the death rattle of a church that has lost its way.
Whilst social media is one of the quick and easy ways of getting your church, projects and/or special events noticed where you are (and even further afield), the pinnacle of being 'IT savvy' has to be found in websites. There are a number of ways of getting a 'web presence' (good to learn the language innit?) - but we'll look at three:
A 'traditional' website
Using Wordpress to create a website
A 'content management' website
The traditional model has pages that live on a computer somewhere and can be accessed by anyone who wishes to view them. Generally the site is managed by a 'web master' (who says us techies don't crave power?) and access to change things is very limited.
The Wordpress website is a cost effective and simple way of creating a website, it can have as many pages as you like and authority can be distributed so that people can edit and add information like news and images without having access to the whole (so limiting the ability to burn the thing down when they make a mistake).
A content management site looks like a normal site to those who visit but once the format is done then sections can be owned and edited by others. Some like to keep the main sections controlled by the web master whilst allowing church groups, wardens and others to change their content as and when the need arises. This is an extremely powerful way of doing stuff when there are many who have sections that need keeping up to date as it pushes the work to those who have the local knowledge. One of the best products for this is Joomla.
So, all you need to do is find the URL (uniform resource locator - the www.name.whatever) you want to use, and you're sorted (the web hosting company will usually be more than happy to sort one for you once you know what you want).
GETTING YOURSELF A ''TRADITIONAL' WEBSITE
There are a number of ways of doing this and regardless of which you choose, here are some things you need to consider:
MANAGED PACKAGES - The easiest option because you find a layout that you like and have it tailored for so it becomes yours and then the same company 'host' it (this means that they keep all the techie bits on one of their computers (we call them servers) for you. This means that they do the backup (very important) and will forward mail to you (equally important because websites have to have ears to listen as well as mouths to proclaim). All you need to do is keep the content up to date.
This is the most expensive route but it is quick and simple and avoids some of the pitfalls that doing it yourself or finding an enthusiast in the church can sometimes present (more about that later).
WEB HOSTING - Here you have someone who designs the web site and then you upload it (put it onto the host company's server) so that it can be published on the internet.
This is a simple method of getting in to the web business but because it splits design and hosting into two separate element, you will need to get involved with:
WEB DESIGN - A wonderful world of joy and fun when it works and a trip into the darkest places of existence when it all starts to unravel (makes sheol look like a holiday destination in fact). There are three options when it comes to web design:
i. Bring in an expert - someone who might cost you some money but will take the brief and produce something with a 'look and feel' that does what you want and makes you feel you have something to be proud of.
ii. Find an enthusiast in the church and get them to do the design with you. Now I have to say that this works well when it works well BUT there is often the problem with using someone 'in house' that they might take the brief but will often try to impose their own views or preferences and the like and so what if often found is an agreed design rather than a desired design. The second problem is that some of the sites I have had to go and rescue have been left locked when the member leaves or them and the dog collar, council or someone else in the church fall out with them!
TOP TIP 1: Always get the username, password and any other relevant information that let's you access and control the site and store it behind a 'break glass in case of fire' panel.
iii. Do it yourself - This is, for me, the most enjoyable bit of the whole thing but that's because I'm a techie type and enjoy 'hacking'* code but there's great pleasure to be found in getting a template and modifying it yourself using one of the proprietary software products out there and then uploading the finished item to your host. The problem here is that if you're the person who issues the brief, fulfils the brief and manages the site it can be something beautiful in your eyes and an abomination to those who come across it!
TOP TIP 2: Always get the opinion of others when it comes to the look and feel of a site, the content and the pages - you only need a few opinions (go for people you can trust) but you do need them!
So there you are, you have a web presence! But what are you going to put on it?
Deciding what you want to have will have an impact on the sort of hosting you require.
Sermons, audio files and other downloads
If you would like people to be able to access and listen too sermons then you will need to ensure that you have sufficient space on the server. If you have other download (like videos, docent and other stuff) this will take up space too. When contracting for a web hosting service it's always a great idea to go a little bigger than you need rather than to go for the smallest and find that you end up crashing because you've run out of space.
If you think of the connection from the server to the people who want it as being like a road, the larger the road the more traffic can flow along it. If you're going to be a small site then a single track will accommodate those who travel along it, but as you get more visitors and the cars turn into lorries taking sermons and videos away with them, then you'll need more lanes until you need a motorway to allow people to travel at a decent speed/
TOP TIP 3: One of the surveys I read recently told me that people wait no more than three seconds before 'binning' a site. If your site runs on a dirt track then much of the traffic will look elsewhere for an A road or, better still, a motorway! Bandwidth is important.
If you have poor quality images then people will soon tire of your site and you'll find yourself reaching no one and paying (in time and money) for the privilege of not doing so! Try to use your own images wherever possible and where you can't then make sure you use images that are really 'royalty free' because otherwise you can find yourself with a big bill for breaching someone's copyright!
I went to a diocesan website this morning and found the article I'd been pointed to spoke of an event in 2011. So I snorted and closed the page (probably never to return). If you have a website and you want to put calendars and events on it - make sure someone keeps them current. It's a killer for those who come and a pain for those who maintain the site. Be warned!
There's much more I could write about here, but there is enough to get you thinking about church sites here and so I'll draw stumps and let you think a bit.
I'm happy to answer questions and point you in the right direction with this because it's important that we are out there and more important that we are out there with good sites (and in a cost and time efficient manner).