Best websites among . . .

Since I made the point with very small churches, I won’t rehearse why I think having a good website is important. Indeed, with my new spare time, I’ll be going back and cleaning up my own backyard(s).

But I’ll also be reporting on other discrete groups of websites, namely those in Canada (overall underwhelming), the United Kingdom (some great improvements very recently), and UUA related and affiliated organizations to start. More next week.

The fact is that [Unitarians | Universalists] have, per capita, probably the best web presence in the world, and there are whole large denominations that don’t seem to even try. It is nice to have the lead on something, and I’d like to see us maintain it.

A quick look at the Valdosta website

Responding to Anna’s comment: Given that I went to the University of Georgia you might not think I would have anything nice to say about Ultima Thule Valdosta, but the state university there is quite good, and (as we all know in the Peach State) that’s where they grow the football players.

In fact, Unitarian Universalist Church of Valdosta‘s site does what it ought, and that’s what makes it good.

A quick bit of terminology: above the fold. Imagine a webpage is like a newspaper. It comes to you folded so that you see the top half of the front page when you get it. More important stuff belongs at the top, less important stuff at the bottom. Indeed, one of the winning things about the Clifton Unitarian site is that there was no below-the-fold.

The Valdosta site keeps 90% of the visitor-vital information above the fold. Pull up the phone number and email address, and convert the text in the banner image into real text, and that’s done. I’d move everything historical on the front page to a designated page (and since there’s already a nice one, it wouldn’t be hard.)

Plus, I’d want to see the text sizes and fonts harmonized and perhaps one or two very low bandwidth pictures of church activities, but it is a good website and I would hate to see it spoiled by becoming too “clever.” Lastly, it was on the list of those church website that knows how to handle a Geocities account.

Good going to your web designer, and best wishes to y’all below the gnat line.

The best welcome to a small church?

Yesterday, in a fit of enthusiasm, I reviewed each website for United States Unitarian Universalist Association membership congregations thirty-five members and fewer, and those which are aspiring for membership, known as “emerging congregations.” (I excluded federated churches on the grounds that the total parish was, in each case, larger than thirty-five.)

Why did I review these? And what did I find? And who did best? Read further and see.
Continue reading “The best welcome to a small church?”

Does your church website flash a breast?

I know: poor little rich Janet Jackson. And what all her family has been through. And then there’s Justin. We know he just can’t help it.

But at there’s another lesson to be learned from the antics at the Superbowl, and it might affect your church. Like media companies who look within their great conglomerations for content: “subcontract” out a part of your website’s voice, and you’ll automatically be off-message.

Using freebie hosting that inserts popup ads (annoying in their own right) is one obvious example, and unnecessary now that hosting has gotten so cheap. But what if you’re encouraged to import unvetted, “one size fits all” content from the UUA itself?

I’m speaking of the automatic banners the UUA offers, and plainly, most are a stylistic nightmare. Worse: most church webmanagers seem to use them with the same forethought as a billboard on a piece of wilderness Interstate. Worse still: because they are linked back to, very often the most obvious and visible design element of a church website is a banner encouaging a visitor to surf away from the church website he or she has come to visit.

It seems very odd, and while I can’t tell the UUA to stop offering a service that is in its interest, I can certainly encourage church webdesigners (inside the UUA and out) to use good outreach-oriented style.

So, a good starting place is a cautionary word from (which you should bookmark!). Just read “chalice” for “cross”.

[C]ontrivances and gimmicks such as spinning animated crosses, cursor trailers and moving marquees may be fun and easy to deploy, but they usually convey a lack of content to your visitors.

In other words, figure out what your church or charitys message is, and remove anything from your website that distracts, detracts or degrades this message.

NY Times Reports on Lifestyle Evangelism via Internet

Lifestyle evangelism, or, as Channing might put it, “evangelism by character”, isn’t new. But applying it subtly via the Internet is gaining currency: enough to attract the Other Newspaper, that is, the New York Times.

Click here to see “Tucked Behind the Home Page, a Call to Worship” by John Leland, in today’s print and online issues.

Remember, subtle.

Some programs for church work

Now that I’m getting used to Linux, and particular the Mandrake 9.1 distro, I’m learning to compile software – software most useful for church work.

In particular, I have found software for printing sheet music, advanced desktop publishing, and databases, plus the server-side church administration software I mentioned earlier. Just a few notes for what to expect – once I get them figured out.

Stay posted.

Live from Linux

It took me a while – a learning curve, you know – but I am making this entry while dialed-up from within the Linux Mandrake 9.1 division on my home computer.

Some people make a religion out of Linux, but I’m just cheap and want to keep fresh without spending (too much) money. This machine has to last for a while, and I want to squeeze as much out of it as I can. I also like learning just enough of my computer “under the hood” to not be a passive end-user. Or perhaps a better analogy is to learn to drive a manual transmission car after years of being dragged around with an automatic transmission one.

But it begs a question, what does it mean to enjoy the fruits of a open source/GNU general licence community, and realize that the various worlds of worship in which I dwell have neither the conceptual or institutional parallel.

Put another way, what can Christians learn from the open-sourcers, at least as it applies to worship?

More on this later.

A goodie for poor churches and broke seminarians

I rarely talk up commercial products, but a piece of open source software doesn’t count, does it?

I’m talking about the new release of — both the address of the webpage and the name of the software — which I use at home and which we use at the church to produce the newsletter and order of worship. There are five things I like about it:

(1) It is free; (2) it is easy to use; (3) in its 1.1 release, you can export to PDF, thus saving you a minimum of $65 in other software costs; (4) it makes folded-leaf booklets (including an order of worship) with all the pages in order; and (5) did I mention it was free.

I first learned about it — back when it was StarOffice, which is going commercial — from Labarum, a British military chaplaincy site that has ready-to-print service booklets.

But going from the 1.0 release to 1.1, it has ballooned in size, so unless you have a very fast connection, do as I do and find a DC-ROM distributor, and get the software mailed to you for a nominal fee. (I paid $5.95 from a vendor on Ebay, and was quite pleased. And you can share the CD-ROM.)