Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Apostolic web ministries

My quest to improve my church's web presence began after a discussion with Wendy Scoggins (who is just a little bit odd). She challenged 'net using Christians with the question: Why are we so ineffective on the web? Changes (still in process) and this blog are partially a response to that challenge.

The 90&9 Webzine's answer to this challenge is the e-panel discussion "Where are the Apostolics? On the Dearth of Apostolic Web Ministries". The panelists have good websites from a design standpoint, and most of them are good from an usability and accessibility standpoint. I've enjoyed Bro Moehlenpah's material for several years. Endtime has a first class website from any perspective. Endtime is probably doing more for outreach than any other group (and I write as one who's not a big fan of endtime discussion). 90&9 is wonderful. And I've always admired Paul Polvoni's design work.

I think some of the panelists "get it" -- the interactivity of the web, the communication and relationship building that can occur. 90&9 is the best example of this. The technology they use is simple, but the communication goes both directions. When you write to the editors or writers, chances are fair that you'll actually hear back from them. Endtime is another good example. They're not quite as good at responding to your inquiries, but they present a lot of good, up-to-date information and analysis that is frequently updated. They make good use of presentation technology to enhance the Endtime website, but extra plugins are not absolutely required to view the information on the site.

The panelists who create online church brochures, on the other hand, probably need to read and think a little more. Nobody is interested in an online brochure, no matter how attractive the brochure looks. Kent d Curry hit the nail on the head in his commentary about church websites as a placeholder. Kent writes, "I’ve hit my own church site about thrice in five years and it’s well done, but why would I visit it — I’m a member who can get that information at church. (And why would an outsider visit if they’re not a member?)"

I browsed the portfolios of the professional designers on the panels. They all have very attractive designs but most were difficult to find via search engines. Whether you are focused on inreach or outreach, what's the point of the website if nobody can find you?

Read the articles in the sidebar. There are several things you can control to improve your website and increase traffic. Make the changes that you can. Participate in conversations online. If you are interested in outreach, don't cloister yourself off and stay in Apostolic circles. If inreach is what you're doing, participate in the Apostolic forums. Make yourself known. Answer the questions -- even the hard ones. If you don't have time to answer, be honest and say so.

To be effective in person or online, you must connect, communicate, and participate. Building an attractive online brochure for the world to see is exactly as effective as printing a glossy four-color handout and sticking it on the windshields at the shopping mall. If you develop relationship -- whether face-to-face or online -- that's when you win the right to minister to people .


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