Posted by: mikebackup | October 19, 2012

Why your website may be the only ‘Bible’ someone reads

What is a church website for?

It’s important to reflect on why any church has a website. The answers given are normally nuts and bolts ones – what we do, where we are, what time is Sunday worship. These are important but there is a danger they miss the point of the communication in the first place – and that’s the Gospel. It’s very important to realise that in today’s technology driven world that many people will not simply turn up to a Sunday morning or event, they will research first. Therefore there is a real possibility a church website will be the only ‘Bible’ someone ever reads, or the only exposure to the Good News they get. If the experience is not a good one there is a real danger they will never engage with the Gospel. Reflecting in this way clearly shows the importance and impact our online offerings can make.

UX[1]
User Experience or UX as it is known in the web design and development industry considers very deeply the importance and impact a website has on a user. It offers some useful pointers and techniques that a church website can use.

Emotional connection

If you are able to create an emotional connection with someone they will remember it, bond with it and will likely share it. So travel sites like www.starthoney.com move away from complicated search forms and gets the user to imagine the type of holiday they would like to go on through the use of images and evocative words. They also ask personality based questions to work out what sort of traveller you are. Sites like www.mailchimp.com and www.photojojo.com  use their personality to win visitors over.

Keeping it effortless

When we lose something important like our phone we enter a state called ‘depth first processing’. We become anxious and stressed and our focus narrows. We become single minded and quickly ignore other options available to us. The same thing can quickly happen on a website. We may be looking for when an event is going to start and just can’t find it. The website experience then becomes stressful and negative. What we need to aim for is ‘breadth-first processing’ the state we are in when we are happy. That’s achieved by being effortlessly usable.

Bite sized chunks

If a particular process is quite long and complicated it works far more effectively when it is broken down into smaller chunks with strong feedback throughout. We like to complete tasks but not necessarily in one go.

Choice

Choice is seen as a good thing, but too much choice is not always a good thing, it can paralyse you. Ever been to a restaurant and been so overwhelmed with the choice that after ten minutes you just choose what you always have? It’s not necessary to have every option on display as that can quickly lead to frustration.

Reciprocity

If someone buys you a drink you feel compelled to buy one back. This idea is being used on websites where small gifts in the form of badges, achievements and rewards are given for completing an action. Some give a gift for sharing a site on Facebook or Twitter. There is subtlety in doing this; you don’t want to look desperate.

Not convinced?

If you think what has been outlined here seems a little over the top, a recent scientific experiment by Martin Lindstrom may help your thinking. A group of people who used iPhones had their brains monitored as they were shown either an image of their phone or audio of their phone ringing.  There was pronounced activity in the insular cortex of their brains, the part involved in forming consciousness and emotions like love and compassion. The people responded in the same way as if they had seen or heard a loved one. This begins to show that we a moving to a point with technology where we can be deeply connected to it. This means our websites have the real potential to change people and this is as much exciting as it is challenging.

Teresa of Avila famously said:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

In our time and place, this includes the digital as well as the real world.

This type of thinking helps get beyond those nuts and bolts answers and into deep prayerful reflection on what a church is presenting online  Once that reflection is in place a practical solution can be considered of which the following are possible options.


Cloud based options

This option is where the website is hosted by a cloud based Content Management System (CMS). This means any approved administrator with access to the internet can make changes to the site. It also means you are not responsible for the hosting element of the site. They are scalable, reliable and potentially free. They are also easy to develop with no specialist required, simply someone confident with a computer. The compromise is the ability to easily change the design aspects or add more complicated functionality.

www.wordpress.com

Choosing the WordPress option potentially means the website will be free. It is robust, easy to use and quick to develop in. Pricing is involved for certain design templates and add-ons.

www.squarespace.com

This at present costs $192 a year for the service, but has an increased capability and design flexibility over the WordPress option.

There is also a dedicated Christian offering in this category. The Baptist Times has linked up with www.church123.com and offers a free trial

http://www.webbuilder.baptisttimes.co.uk/welcome.htm

Hosted options

This is where a company is paid to host the website and CMS. For a church website this will be around £5 a month. This enables far more control over the inner workings and design of the website, but does require specialist knowledge to install, configure and maintain that. Examples of hosted CMS solutions that require hosting are:

www.joomla.com

www.drupal.com

WordPress also offer this solution too.

Design and build

This is likely to be the most expensive option but with the significant advantage that a bespoke, built for purpose website is designed and developed to your requirements. It is then either maintained by that company or handed over to you to maintain via a CMS.

There are many companies that offer this service; however one with specialist knowledge is

www.churchwebsitedesign.org.uk


These are the essential options available and have to be considered carefully against available resource, time, money and that online Gospel presence that you will project to the world.


[1] See .net magazine issue 234, p57-61 for a more in depth report on the UX techniques discussed here.


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