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Politics & Your Website

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Are you ready to talk about something controversial? This week we talk about church politics and your site. Church politics are apart of virtually every church project and it's something many people dread. Church politics are often unavoidable. This week we talk this dirty little world, how it can affect your site, and what you can do about it.

Take Church Outside

I would take the "go outside" idea one step further... the church outside! I know of a lutheran church in Macomb, MI that does a 9:30am outdoor service during the summer... weather permitting obviously. If you are a church in an urban area, with a good enough area and technical ability to host an outdoor serve, do it!

Getting out more

5

Guys,

Thanks for an outside-the-box topic podcast. I know all three of you speak from solid experience and that really makes me think harder about many things you bring up.

It is humorous that you should mention taking things outside because I only listen to your podcast when I am walking. (Don't worry about going over. That just makes me walk more.)

Thanks for helping with the exercise routine!
-Andrew

Adding content

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Hey Guys,

Great episode again. There was one thing that you have talked about at least twice in recent episodes that I kind of disagree with, and I thought I'd see what your thoughts were...
You guys have asked this question several times, and seem to conclude that the answer is church politics--

If you trust "Joe" volunteer to take your kids to camp, etc.; why don't you trust him to update the website?

You've even gone so far as to basically say content approval work-flow is bad.

I think there are dozens of good reasons for not letting Joe directly update the site and while it can be an issue of politics, it's not quite as exclusive as you guys seem to think. It's not a matter of distrust--thinking your volunteers are going to put up raunchy stuff, it's about quality control. As a church, we want to put out a website that communicates the excellence of Christ. While Joe may be gifted in the area of teaching and working with kids, he isn't necessarily gifted in writing. I know--what's one youth worker going to do to screw up your site--right?? But it can very easily get out of hand when anyone and everyone can update the site. There's also the issue of accuracy of information. Volunteers may not have the most up-to-date details about an event, whereas a member of staff who has the responsibility of editing the site is going to have better access to that information.

Wow, I went way too long, but basically I just wanted to say that you guys constantly drive home the importance of image and putting your best foot forward on your church site, yet you're cool with anyone putting live content on the site. To me, those seem to go against each other.

Keep up the great work, can't get enough of the podcast.

Micah

What is a church?

This is a tough question to answer and will give you some insight on why I disagree. For many people a church is an organization, like a non-profit. To others it's a club. Still to others it's a place they go on Sunday mornings. If you church is a place like this than setups like non-profits and business will matter. But, this isn't what church is supposed to be like.

A church is supposed to be the body of Christ. That is his people living in community, serving him by serving others, using the talents and gifts he has given in the ways he has built them. While I hear about this I don't see it very often in practice. In something like this the church website is a communications hub for the people of the church doing the work of the church. Sure, there is an outreach section designed for a web face of the local church to people outside it. But, you have a team that handles that and respect in the community to go to the point people for it.

This may seem like a pipe dream. It does to me in my church. The level of community for most churches is about the same as the people who shop at the local grocery store. If they see the same people all the time they might say high. But, besides spending about an hour a week there they don't think or do much surrounding it.

Maybe we need to start exploring how to bring vibrant community to more of the church.

When it comes to image there's a lot that goes along. Putting on a slick face is not what it's about. Your outreach section of your site needs to be responsive to the needs of the people. But, a church site should be more than that.

Hope this starts to give you some insight into what's going on in my head.

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host
www.mattfarina.com

I see your point.

I share the same understanding of what a church is, but to me the answer to this question depends not on what you think a church is--but on what kind of church website you have. The church and the church website are not the same thing, so to say that if a site isn't community-based--the church isn't either is not entirely accurate. There are more ways to communicate than the web (though I must say it's probably the easiest we have at present).

Our site is currently more about "who we are" rather than "what we have", and we don't have a community site (we're considering Arena for that). Based on that frame of reference I see our site as something that needs to be carefully watched. As soon as we develop a community based type of site--no problem letting people have-at-it.

Thanks for the response, gives me a better idea of where you've been coming from when talking about this. I'd like to hear from you guys about how a church can create a "community culture" through it's website.

Micah

A tool

The web is a great tool for communicating. It's a shame that more churches don't learn to use it well. Even most small churches can use it for a communication tool. But, how often do you find a church as a go to example for comminication or a church leader as a go to example of a great communicator? Not often for the number of churches out there. We are a work in progress.

A church website isn't a church. But, it is a tool for the church to use and it does show others about them. Many times not in the way they intend.

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host
www.mattfarina.com

Good points all around here,

Good points all around here, but mostly, I agree with Micah.

Providing good content for the website requires a certain level of skill and training.
You would not want just anyone running the audio system, or lighting system, or video system, or playing the piano. Nor could just anyone be the pastor. They all need at least some training. Even then, sometimes certain people just don't have the right gifts.

Now, I DO think people should be encouraged to contribute. Just because someone does not have the skills, does not mean they can't or should not try (Remember the Parable of The Talents, one of my favorites!). I am a HUGE believer that involvement and responsibility leads to a better sense of belonging and helps find your purpose.

I think the main content and design of a website should be handled by a select few.
BUT, there should be an area where everyone can contribute (forum, gallery) or even submit content for review.

How do you use your tools?

A few months ago we talked about our fears with tech use in the church. The church at large has an earned reputation for not effectively using tech. This is a far cry from Marrin Luther jumping on the invention of the printing press to put the bible in the hands of the people.

I've been apart of numerous churches, small groups, and ministeies. Some common weak areas are communication, resourcing people, collaboration, empowering people, and building excitement for good things. We need to ask ourselves how we can use the tools around us (like websites) to help with these. And, how can we get outside our box to connect with outhers?

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host
www.mattfarina.com

RE: Politics & Your Website - Localizing landing pages

During the intro you guys talked about localizing your landing/content pages based on the referrer or IP address - I'd think carefully about how to implement this. The goal of localization is to present a context-sensitive page for users that reach your site (page or URI, really) from another source, be it a search engine result or a link from another site. You also have to consider visitors who use anonymous proxies or don't provide local information in their request.

Consider this - Google, MSN or Yahoo! have crawled and indexed your page and now present a link to your content in search results for whatever terms. Even if this was context-sensitive for the search crawler, the context now changes based on the user visiting you. If what existed for the search engine doesn't exist for the human visitor, the quality of the search results just went down, along with your credibility.

If you follow the practice of progressive enhancement (give those visitors something extra) and not graceful degradation (take away what they haven't earned), this would be a benefit instead of a detractor for your site.

This could be an entire topic of its own - great discussion starters!

If I follow you....

If I follow what you're saying here, I agree and I think maybe we were misunderstood. It sounds like you're saying that we shouldn't have full pages of referral links from search engines...and I totally agree. The bulk of the content SHOULD stay the same no matter where people are coming from.

However, there's a big difference between content staying the same and acknowleding who that person might be with progressive enhancement (which is what we were meaning) or presenting the data in a different way (ie. what's 'visually featured' on the page might be different even though it's there for everyone in slightly different ways.

Great point here and I think we're on the same page.

-Rob Feature
Geeks and God Co-Host
www.mustardseedmedia.com

More on localization

After your explanation, I think we're in agreement - adding something to the page or emphasizing something different on the page based on the referrer is definitely the way to go. It sounded a bit different to me than this on the podcast.

What kind of Lutherans are you?

If you have a Facebook account, you can find out by answering a series of questions, but this is really about the politics.

I have been a life-long Lutheran, my father was a Lutheran school teacher and administrator, as well as the church organist. I attended Lutheran schools all they way through high school, so, you can see I have a well-founded heritage in Lutheran upbringing, guilt and lore. (and if you really want to know more - I was born in Hamtramck, lived in Northfield and my mother's family grew up on 7 Mile Road and went to ODF - Outer Drive Faith)

As you were talking about the 'squeaky wheel' effect on the political turnings of a congregation, I couldn't help but smile and think about my (LCMS) Lutheran heritage. When trying to make a group decision, the responses of 'I dunno, what do you think?' and 'What would you like to do?' would volley back and forth endlessly until the decision became no decision. As I have participated in a few church councils and even more focused groups in the church, the 'loudest' person was the one that said anything definitive.

Some Checks and Balances...

And I agree, a completely open website is ideal, and that should be a goal of everyone (it IS a goal of mine).
But, reality is, SOME checks and balances are needed to keep the website from exploding out of control.

While Joe volunteer can take kids to camp, and Sunday School teachers are volunteers, there is usually some sort of leadership providing direction, providing support, selecting a curriculum, etc.

I am not worried about inappropriate content. Rather, we need to ensure website content is presented in a "good" (for lack of a better term) way. We often discuss making a website flow well, look professional, not scare people away (from the website). Not everyone knows how to write in a clear and concise way (including me ;-). If anyone could submit front-page content, the site would be a mess. SOMEONE or SOME GROUP needs to make those sort of decisions.

The checks and balances can be built into the site workflow. For instance, PRIMARY content like 'homepage stuff' and 'about us' stuff should be fairly restrictive. But I think user submitted news, announcements, events, prayer requests, group activities, forums, etc. are GREAT!

There are two extremes here:
One is a wiki style website where 100% of everything is open and anyone can do almost anything.
The other is a completely locked down site where only a few persons can modify the website.

A balance between those two extremes is required for today's interactive web community. I agree that that balance should lean towards the wiki side.

I think we are on the same side here. It just sounds like you are advocating the 100% wiki extreme.

Phewww... that turned out longer than I expected!

Home Page Example

Saw this and thought of the conversation about the home page of a site: FWIW:
http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/cliff-kuang/design...

Great stuff - Challenge the sacred cows...

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Thanks Geeks...

We should challenge the sacred cows and not be legalistic, and be open to the word and voice of God...

Russ