Why Good Websites are Difficult

Many of you remember the days when one person ran an entire corporate website. Granted that may be true at your church right now. But most large companies now have many departments to govern their sites. How did this change happen? What can your church's web team do to keep up? This article will explore those questions and provide insight into how you can continue to thrive with a small team.

I want to start off by saying good websites take time and effort. There are a few quick tips for a better site on the surface. Yet long-term success requires much more work. Please see that creating an effective set of digital ministry tools is like training for a marathon. There are a few quick tips for shoes, training, and dieting. But in the end you still have a long race to run. So let us explore how that race became so long.

Growth of Expectations

In 1829, the Tremont Hotel was the first to feature indoor plumbing and eight water closets. Yet today you would be quite disappointed if a hotel (in the United States) had only eight toilets. Like the public's expectation of bathrooms, our standards for website quality has grown. What was acceptable just a few years ago, is not today. There is no desire to be "vintage" when it comes to web technologies. Everyone wants to have the latest and greatest. We know visitors judge a church based on its website. This growth of expectations drives us forward to have the best. As you know, the best is not easy to make.

There are two areas that will help your website meet expectations. The first is to utilize a content management system, such as WordPress. The pre-made themes, both free and paid, come with professionally designed graphics. Second is to conduct interviews with the next 10 people that join your church. This is to determine how well your content meets expectations.

Growth of Standards

When talking about the best, we have to mention standards. Gone are the days where it was OK to use proprietary code and plug-ins. Some of us remember the Browser Wars. It was quite frustrating to not see a website render properly because of the browser you were using. Thankfully the emergence of coding standards and cooperation among browser developers has lessened this. As standards continue to solidify and evolve, so does the need to follow them. This makes it more difficult to rely on shortcuts and tactics we used in the past.

The solution for this is to produce semantically correct content. Most content management systems strive for compliance. But if you hand code your sites, use tools like HTML and CSS validation services.

Growth of Devices

Gone are the days where we assume our visitors are viewing the site on a desktop computer. The big surge in mobile device usage started in 2007 with the release of the first iPhone. This product, and its many competitors made mobile web a real thing. People were no longer tethered to a network, or wi-fi. They are surfing from cars, restaurants, couches, and now churches. Thus we must create experiences that work well on a device regardless of screen size. This often creates the need for multiple designs and content strategies. Thus extending already tight deadlines and budgets.

A responsive website is the ideal solution. If that is not an option, determine what your least viable product is for a mobile experience. Put that information up front in an easy-to-read format for those users.

Growth of Specialists

Imagine asking a renowned heart surgeon to practice general medicine for a year or two. While they could do it, they would not want to. Similarly, web professionals are finding niches to specialize in. Many driven young people want that designation of being a specialist in an area. It is the easiest way to distinguish yourself early in your career. Often, small church web teams cannot offer this. This may mean it is more difficult to get a general "web person" to volunteer for your team.

Remind volunteers that specialists are not exclusive. That heart surgeon from my example can deliver a baby and set a bone. Their training started in the basics and moved on to a niche. Encourage members to have a "T" shaped level of experience. Know a little about everything, but allow them to specialize in at least one area they like.

Action Item

These are real and big problems in the web world, but I hope these problems and solutions can get you started. If you feel overwhelmed, remember to start breaking apart those projects into smaller pieces. Also, feel free to share this article with pastors and other leadership. Let them know that the web is evolving. You just might need more time, attention, and resources. This may be the help you need!

Photo courtesy of Asif Akbar

Author: Stephen Morrissey

I have been making websites since 1996, and using social media since 2006. My current profession is designing user experiences for corporate software, websites, and mobile applications. I started sharing my knowledge with the world in 2011, about a year after a revival in my faith.