I’d like to see this in action

June 8, 2007

I was scoping out some Unitarian Universalist churches in cities we might consider moving (years from now) and I found this statement on the website

No matter what beliefs you hold, you will feel right at home with us.

Hmm. That must be a pretty amazing church.  I don’t want to make fun of this or read more into it, since I think it is probably a well-intentioned effort by a volunteer making the webpage, but one could speculate that this is often one of the challenges with UU churches – this idea that is is possible to be all things to all people.  And, may I just note that all the churches I am scoping out DO NOT INDICATE HOW BIG THEY ARE. It is such a difference if you have 25, 75, 100, or 200 on a Sunday morning. But usually the “about us” section is the history of the church.  Not actual current information. Again, that could be over-interpreted to say something about how too many UU churches (or UU institutions in general) focus a bit too much on the past and all our wonderful accomplishments in history. But, really I think people just don’t think enough about webpages and that is all the interpretation necessary.

A few more thoughts on developing a decent website

May 23, 2007

I’m doing some research which requires me to get basic information about 23 non-profit organizations. There are lots of them that either don’t say or hide the most basic information – what do you do? basic background info? director? other staff? address? phone number? The bigger organizations seem to think that people will already know what it is they do.

I just went to little ole Norris Square Neighborhood Project site www.nsnp.com and they brilliantly described themselves on the first page, and included address, phone number, and email. One click and you get to “staff.”* Wow! I feel like I am probably not the only one that is often looking for this info. I won’t name names on the less than great sites, but a lot of non-profits use very fluffy language to describe themselves (I bet some churches do this too….) and you really have no idea what they mean. For instance, I went to place that describes themselves as “committed to developing a sustainable, bioregionally appropriate way of life that reflects and honors the interconnectedness of all things.” Which is lovely, except that it is sort of hard to figure out what they actually do. You can figure it out with a few clicks, but why not be clear upfront? Clarity, regular language, and intuitive navigation are so key.

*Note that the links to the individual staff members are dead on this particular website, so everything about it is not great, obviously.  Good side note: It is never, ever a good idea to have bad links on your website. I understand the challenges of how many non-profits hire their cousin to do the website, or something along those lines.  It is hard to find funds and time and people for that sort of thing.  Perhaps just take the links down until you can make them work.  Simple is good.  So much better than dead links, confusing layouts, and unclear navigation.  I think this is also a generational thing.  To my dad, a dead link isn’t a big deal. To my generation, the website is very closely linked with the organization – if you can’t keep your website up, how are you going to keep other things going?  I think this reflects how a web presence is considered an integral part of an organization to my generation (and younger, of course). I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but if public perception of your organization matters (sometimes it doesn’t) then it seems like this should be a priority…

Just some thoughts.  So glad it is finally sunny outside.  More soon…

Things a Church Website Should Make Very Easy To Find

April 10, 2007

We are going to be looking for a home congregation when my internship is over in May. We’ve been at First Parish Cambridge since we moved here, and feel like there is great transition going on there, and we are ready to find maybe something a little smaller or somehow a better fit. We’ve also looked at churches in cities we’ve thought of moving to or visiting. Here are some things I’ve noticed scanning websites of potential churches. Not that I am somehow a good website designer – I just know what I like when I am looking so maybe this will help folks make websites more user-friendly.

  • Somehow congregations do not make it clear what size they are. I want to know how many people usually attend on a Sunday morning. 70? 100? 600? If congregations put this on the website, it is usually buried somewhere non-obvious.
  • Also, I want to know a little something about the minister – not just his or her email. Where did they study? Work before this? Interests? Religious orientation? A picture is nice too just to put a name with the face.
  • And many churches have “What to Expect on Sunday Morning” which is very helpful. Do you go in the side door? Do children stay up with parents, or do they go to classes right away?
  • What programing goes on at church – at a glance. A six paragraph explanation is not “at-a-glance.” There is often indication of this program or that, but the websites often seem to be made for people already familiar with the church. What is the range of committee and projects that take place and that a potential person might get involved with? A list would be helpful, with a link to a more detailed description. This www.firstparish.org/cms/content/view/96/69/ at the First Parish Concord website is a good example.
  • Links to pictures are nice to see what things look like going on at the church. No need to upload 4000 pictures, but a selection of different key events.
  • What is the flavor of the church? Mission statements really don’t seem to be very helpful in this. Is it a very liturgy-based sort of service? What is the singing like? When you call your church diverse, what exactly do you mean by that?
  • Explain things that visitors might not know, and make the explanations easy to find. For instance, if there is a “Forum” on Sunday morning, what might this be? Some sort of Sunday School for grownups? A discussion of the sermon? What is “coffee hour”? Will people talk to me there or will I stand there feeling awkward and out of place?
  • Less is more. I want to be able to see where the main menu is and use that to navigate the site. Lots of links and flashing things all over the page are confusing.
  • It is hard to know how to get involved in a new church. Making this clear and easy to find on the website is really nice.
  • The website should be updated and accurate. If you say, “Our ____ group meets every Tuesday at 7 and all are welcome,” and then there is no one there, that is kind of frustrating.

Just some thoughts I have as I procrastinate on doing the work I should actually be working on.