Why Church Websites Fail

5 Jan

It’s epidemic. The majority of church websites are failing. I can sum up the reason in this wise Mister Nifty proverb: Developers are developers.

In the olden days, a website consisted of static HTML code. You had to be somewhat techie to produce web content. You had to insert your content into the code of the website manually, then publish those files onto the web via FTP. It was a tedious process that would took patience and knowledge. The token nerd dude (developer) of the congregation was typically the one holding the flaming sword of the church’s interweb presence. He had a copy of Microsoft Frontpage and was lethal. The problem with techie nerds that tend to church websites is they aren’t paid, they possibly don’t understand websites, and they definitely are not content editors. Static church sites usually had a shelf life of 1-3 months before they went completely stale or sour. A pastor had about a six month threshold before he blew his cork about the failing website.

These days, it is not necessary to process all of your content through the nerd dude. Free content management systems abound greatly (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc…). No longer are websites static, but now they are driven by databases which hold all of the content. Content is programmatically rendered in the page without nerd dude having to do his 1999 magic. Content management systems allow multiple users to login via the web without any special software and add content at will. This content once published is live in seconds. The only place for nerd dude these day is setting up the CMS and getting the site looking nice. Anyone who can use Microsoft Word can publish content on the web.

Websites today have many moving parts. It’s not just about the code and content, it’s also about the message. You can have fancy code that does neat things, but that doesn’t matter. People come to your church site to find a message about who you are, what you are doing right now, what you believe in, and how they can be a part. Nerd dude doesn’t get that, but a pastor or staff minister does.

Good content comes from someone who is intricately connected to the mission of the church. Precise content comes from someone who is skilled at taking good content and editing down to a targeted message. We call these people copy writers. Skilled copy writers are people who have good vocabulary, grammar and can communicate the mean of the subject matter without the fluff. Nerd dude can’t do this.

Content must has to be current. Gone are the days of “Under Construction” pages. Your site must be up-to-date or it will fail. If a potential guest visits your site and sees a six month old calendar event posting, they won’t be coming back to your site anytime soon, and possibly never to your church. Nerd dude is not familiar with ALL of the events and upcoming functions, but a church secretary is. To keep your site current, you have to have the right people in place to update it.

Finally, there’s a reason nerd dude is called nerd dude. He’s not a designer, he’s a techie. The two rarely mix. I am sometimes a graphic designer, and sometimes a developer, but never both at the same time. The mental processes operate in different hemispheres of the brain. One activity is structured, the other is abstract. Developers are left brain people, designers are right brainers. A code-loving nerd dude is not a designer. If you want your site to look nice, hire a web designer. Web designers and web developers are not the same. They have two totally different functions. One works with the guts and glory of the website innards (core code, databases, APIs, etc…), the other paints and polishes it (graphics, user interaction, etc…). Also, graphic designers are not always web designers. Print and screen (web) design are two different mediums. The guy who has a pirated copy of Photoshop and makes sermon graphics is not the best candidate for this job.

If you rely on nerd dude solely to create your interweb presence, your site will fail. That’s so 1995. If you want your site to succeed, you need to organize a team of people whether 2-3 or 5-6 to maintain your web presence. Here are the basic roles you need to keep up on today’s Internet. Some of these roles overlap when people are multi-talented.

  • Project Manager – Organizational person to keep all of the pieces cohesive and synchronized. Follows up with all team members on current tasks and plans new features, announcements, and content.
  • Developer – Nerd dude is important, you can’t do without him. He sets up servers, software, etc… Possibly outsource this role.
  • Designer – Web artist who understands user experience and interaction. Possibly outsource this role.
  • Content Editor – English major who loves to communicate via writing who can get the meat of the message from key stakeholders. Should also have an understanding of content hierarchy.
  • Web Calendar Coordinator – Church secretary who inputs all dates into an online calendar be it Google Calendar or another solution that then gets surfaced on the web
  • Social Media Coordinator – Hipster young adult who is reliable and will stay on message when posting upcoming events, photos, videos, etc… on social networks

Developers are developers. Designers are designers, and so on… Stop trying to make them fit into another role or your site will fail. Your website is too important to bank on one person who can’t fulfill the need by him/herself. Understand the need, get a team together, get a budget, and get a plan to make your site great. Get your message out there! Someone’s soul might hang in the balance.

Oh, and take nerd dude out for a soda and hamburger.

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