I quipped on Twitter “Reviewing some websites for people and giving comment. My version of Community Service.”
See, every week people from mid-sized mega-churches ask me a) for referrals of web developers looking for work (I dunno if there are any) b) for general advice on getting a decent website off the ground, or c) how to improve what they have. Much of the time I save the requests and hit them all at once when I am in the mood. Last night though I couldn’t take it any more and went off a bit on one unsuspecting friend who really just wanted a). I kinda feel bad, but there are some big truths in my response that I thought I would share. You are just going to have to show me grace and look past the unprovoked, frustrated tone.
Here is what I said:
The Church Webmaster is Dead
I took a look at your current site and your job description for the position. What you seem to be asking for is the old concept of a webmaster. Listen to me very carefully my friend, as I am going to give you what churches normally pay me to tell them. Having launched two of the largest church websites out there, I am going to step out here and give it to you straight because if you guys don’t get focus in this area you are going to find yourself spinning your wheels and wasting time in the quantity of years. I have paid the price of this mistake already, but take it for what it is worth.
The Webmaster is Dead. Besides, web developers don’t function well in dark rooms by themselves; they need community of other uber-nerds and have a high need to be understood. The type that would take your job listing are temperamental, naive, and really just want to work for themselves on a desert island or for Apple/Google/Yahoo like all the other successful web developers.
What a Church Really Wants
Ultimately, what you really want as a church is someone that is willing to take the responsibility for all things web and own it so you don’t have to. You think you need a geek since you aren’t one and websites are technical. But don’t think a web dev can just get some instructions from the CFO or Dir of Comm and go run with it. This stuff is much more complicated than that because it involves messaging, community, design, technology, planning, staff politics, and people’s preferences. One person can not do all things needed for web in a decent sized church.
My Not Humble Enough Recommendation
I would recommend you reconsider hiring a single web developer who neither reports to the Dir of IT or Dir of Comm (unless your CFO really, really gets Web 2.0 and digital communities), and do these three things:
- Read this article by me: http://churchcio.com/small-church-website-building-tips
- Read this article by me: http://churchcio.com/to-build-a-church-web-site-plan-the-project
- Hire yourself a great web marketer who can do web writing and blogging for you, drive your digital community, focus on search engine optimization so you bring new visitors in your local area to church, build inbound links from other sites, as well as steer/manage a quality vendor partner in the right direction. If they sneak in some programming and system administration in also, fantastic!
- The site you have is 50% phenomenal and 50% unexecuted. The base design and artwork is brilliant and you should not abandon it. Rework the top navigation drop downs as they are old school, get over the fear of scrolling… cause your users are way past not knowing how to scroll, and have a better default on the left side column than blank.
- As solid as your design is, you need it implemented into a content management system (instead of custom scripts on a page by page basis that you can’t easily change) and it needs to be reworked such that you can expand the pages. Consider having http://www.busynoggin.com/my-approach/ implement the http://webempoweredchurch.com/ content management system like many other churches (including Stonebriar & Christ Fellowship) have done.
This will allow your communications people, other staff, and your web marketer to manage content in minutes rather than hours. To do that, you will need to get the original artwork from the designer, have the changes you want mocked up (wireframed), and have the site design spliced up and coded for the content management system. Turn-key, expect to spend 2-3k on the design work and 6-10k on the implementation. This is a much better (and faster) investment than hiring a web developer and praying he “gets it”.
- Ask and teach every Dir and Pastor to blog three times a week within a defined set of guidelines and strategy that isn’t restrictive but purposeful. It is like sitting down and writing three information focused emails… most anyone can do it.
- Consider integrating Unifyer with your website and ministry.
Wrapping it up
So this was so much more than you asked for, and even a bit presumptuous on my part, but it is my gift to you my friend. I offer this instead of recommending one of my web developer friends come have a bad experience at your church… but if you stay centered on your current direction of wanting a single web developer doing the heavy lifting on everything, the ones doing stuff for churches mainly hang out at http://godbit.com
Note that my comments on church web developers were focused on the type that would take the do-everything job that was being listed, and not a commentary on all web developers. I just have a prejudice that the best web developers work on a team, work at dev firms or large companies, or are hired guns who freelance and know how to rock it (these are my favorite). Sorry in advance to any of you web developers working solo for churches who are pouring your life into ministry. God may make a way for you that he hasn’t made for many before you. Best case is He brings you co-laborers who can help you at the church where you already are and bring you the relief and organizational alignment you need to be successful.