Websites on mobile devices have changed drastically over the years since their first appearance. Much like the early web, they started as text on small monochromatic displays. With the advent of the iPhone and iPad, mobile computing has exploded and websites have become more and more like their desktop counterparts. However you have more than one way to deliver that content to your visitor's device. The approaches to mobile websites that best fits your church depends on a multitude of factors; some of which I intend on discussing now.
You may not have been aware that there are multiple ways to deliver your website content to mobile devices, yet one phrase may job your memory: "There's an app for that". From mobile friendly websites to full-on native applications, there are a spectrum of capabilities and associated costs for getting church information in front of your mobile device users.
Let us start with the most simplistic method, which is having a website that adequately renders on a mobile device. A typical desktop website is often too wide for a phone, and users will need to zoom in on content they wish to interact with. Yet this is acceptable as it displays the content you wish to present; just not in the most elegant manner.
Seperate Mobile Website
This was the first answer to the mobile device problem; develop a completely separate site that was optimized for mobile devices. For instance, you would have www.church.org as your primary site, and m.church.org as your mobile site. The problem comes in maintaining two separate sites. Often times content sits in a database and can be pulled into different templates. However those separate templates, graphics, and other website elements need to be developed in parallel. Plus you run the risk of having Google split your page rank over the two sites, or worse yet, flag you for duplicate content.
This is a compromise of the separate desktop and mobile sites, in that it is one site that depending upon the browser's width, adapts the content. Per its name, it responds to the device's capabilities. It does add some extra time and development cost to your website, however it provides one platform rather than multiple; making upkeep easier in the long run. As with a mobile optimized site, the largest hurdle is developing templates for mobile screens and determining how content is moved around per the different context it is viewed in.
Many churches I have talked with want a church application in the Google Play, Windows Phone, or iTunes storefront. Unfortunately few have justification to do this. Developing an application is a large endeavor that costs a lot of money, involves a lot of time (if done properly), and ultimately delivers few things a good responsive website cannot. This is primarily due to the fact that most native applications still pull in content from your website. Native applications provide access to certain device features such as the GPS and camera; yet there are few use cases where this is pertinent. However, I will concede that having an app in the respective adds your church to yet another search database.
Action Item: This was yet another article that is more informational based, passing on what the pros and cons of different approaches to mobile websites. The most popular approach today is a responsive website, which consolidates platforms, minimizes re-work, and forces you to prioritize content and templates from the start. Plus considering if something should be on a mobile version of your website makes you wonder if it belongs on that page at all. While your church should consider what approach is best, I would recommend responsive.
Photo courtesy of Thomas Pate