I was just reading a very interesting article in the Church Times entitled What's the point of a website (subscription required), which talks about the shocking state of many church websites. It says that in England last year, although two thirds of all churches had a website, the majority of them were out of date – and many lacked even basic details such as a contact phone number or service times.
I remember maintaining several different versions of the Old Saint Paul's website (June 2000, March 2005, May 2007) before the site was handed over to Lucent Web Design a few years ago to design the current version, which still think is one of the best church web sites around. Check it out at: osp.org.uk
The parish has had a web site of sorts for around 17 years. Indeed, we registered our domain name back in 1998, when almost no churches had a web presence. And over the years, along with all the crazy page designs, one thing has remained constant: an emphasis on audience and freshness.
There's nothing worse than visiting a web site that doesn't contain the information you need, or that information is out of day. And so, for a long time time, the various maintainers of the OSP website have been mindful of what information people are looking for. In the case of Old Saint Paul's, we were serving a number of distinct audiences:
- Regular Congregation Members – who are looking for parish news, information on upcoming services, rotas, music lists, and so on. They want to rely upon the website giving them fresh and accurate information about what's coming up, which helps them integrate into the community of the church.
- Visiting Worshippers – the church attracts a lot of visitors, and we want to make it easy for them to find out where we are, what to expect when they come, and what dates/times the services are on. If someone is making a special trip to visit us, we don't want them to be disappointed.
- Curious Researchers – people who may even have no intention of visiting the church, but want to find out a little more about the architecture, history or its liturgy.
In every version of the web site, we've tried to address the needs of these different groups, and provide the information required. This requires diligence and commitment from those involved, and a buy-in from the top people in the parish – and it requires constant maintenance.
Too often other churches view the creation of a web site as a one-off project; such that it gets built and then forgotten about. In contrast they should view their web site as akin to their weekly service sheet or parish magazine – a resource that everyone in the parish wants to use, in order to get their message out.