Category Archives: Church Comms

Brand New

More than a century ago, cattle ranchers used branding irons to indicate which animals were theirs. As the cattle moved across the plains on their way to slaughter houses, it was easy to determine which ranches they were from because each head of cattle was “branded”. (Jerry McLaughlin, Forbes)

Your “brand” is what someone thinks of, both factually and emotionally, when he or she hears your name. /brand/ noun

  1. an identifying mark burned on livestock

When we talk about brand in the context of the local church, we’re talking about identification, not commercialisation.

5 things to ask yourself when redesigning your church website

apple-iphone-ipad-monitor-mI have been involved with the website at my church almost since websites began. I created the first website for LBC back in 1999 using the free webspace provided by Compuserve – one of the early internet service providers.

Since then, the website has been through various designs and used various delivery mechanisms – frame-based HTML, Flash-based design and static HTML. Things really got much easier and collaborative when we moved to a WordPress based system which meant we could have multiple people contributing and could easily change themes when necessary.

However, nothing stands still in this area and we were aware of the need to support the growing number of devices that were accessing our site – mobile phones, iPads, other small-screen tablets and now Smart TVs. We knew that we would have to do some radical maintenance to bring our site up to date.

So, at the start of 2013, those of us who work in the media and web sphere met together to discuss how we could design a new responsive site that would adapt to any sized display or orientation without changing the experience for the user. These 5 steps should help you if you’re thinking of doing something similar for your church web site.

1. Who is the website for?

We met to review why we had a website. Was it for those who meet regularly each Sunday? Was it to be a resource for people moving into the area and looking for a church? Should it be evangelistic? Unless you know who your site is really targeting your going to have trouble knowing how to design its menus and style. This is key to getting things right.

2. What works and what doesn’t?

Check through your website stats and see which pages most people use. Is it the weekly news/what’s on section? What about your podcast download page? How many people read your Sunday School section? What you’re hoping to find here are the areas which most people find useful when visiting your site. You don’t want to take away something that is widely used and appreciated when you do your new design.

Conversely, if there are pages that are visited less often, think about whether they’re really necessary to take forward into the new design – are there alternative outlets for that information which may be more effective instead of burying them somewhere on the website?

3. Are you going to “go responsive”?

This is a big question to ask yourself. Responsive designs adapt to the screen size used by the visitor so that the same, or similar, experience is provided whether they’re using their iPhone or a Smart TV. However, many devices have alternative methods of displaying sites on their smaller screen-estate, so you may think that investing lots of time into making your site responsive is better spent elsewhere (on content perhaps)?

There certainly are benefits to going responsive if you can – using a Content Management System such as WordPress means you can switch to a responsive theme fairly easily. There are many available. Some are free and others are quite reasonably priced so it is worth looking into. This site you’re reading now uses a free WordPress responsive theme.

At LBC we are really blessed to have volunteers within our congregation who are experts in WordPress theme design, graphics design and general technical wizardry to be able to create a theme that would be tailor made. This meant we could have a custom responsive design and still keep the simple content maintenance that WordPress provides.

4. What is your style?

Each church has its own unique style, look and feel whether it’s intentional or not! Your website should reflect who you are, not someone else. You don’t want your website to misrepresent you – visitors who come to your church as a result of seeing your website will feel they’ve been mislead.

You want your site to be a reflection of who you really are. So this may also be a time to meet with the leadership of your church and discuss the style and look/feel the website should provide. Without knowing this, it will make your job much harder. What sort of images should be used? Colour scheme – tone of language (e.g. hip and trendy or conversational)?

Personally, I like to see a church website that contains good photos of real people who actually attend the church, not shiny stock photos. Imagine first time visitors recognising people because they’d seen them first on the website! Remember, a church is people not a building, so that’s what visitors to your site should see first.

Please, please, please don’t use clip-art! Never! Just stop it. Now!

5. Who will maintain the content?

Be aware that maintaining your site should be a frequent activity. In order to have people use your site regularly there has to be something worth coming back for. Otherwise, you could simply print it all out and do a mail drop.

There are all sorts of areas on a church website that can be updated regularly:

  • What’s on this week/coming up soon/events
  • Photos and report from a recent event (youth camp; praise evening; conference)
  • Details of the current or next teaching series
  • Pastor’s blog
  • Audio/Video of talks/sermons

While this makes for an interesting, fresh site – it also imposes a time commitment from yourself and volunteers. Think about spreading this load by asking each ministry within your church to either contribute directly (give them ‘author’ access to WordPress for example) or to email you a document of their recent activities with photos.

One of the advantages of having an in-house web theme developer at LBC was that we were able to integrate Google Calendars into our What’s On page but keep the look, feel and responsiveness of the rest of the site. This makes adding events and weekly meeting information a simple task of adding it to centrally available calendars.

Can you think of any other questions you need to ask when redesigning a church website? How are church web sites different from secular sites and how does that change how we should approach changing them?

Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear what you think or what experiences you’ve had in this area.

Video Streaming talk from CNMAC13

I was one of the break-out speakers at the Christian New Media Awards and Conference this year. Here are the slides and notes from my talk on “Video Streaming – What you need to know”.

2013-11-11 17_54_44-CNMAC13-DNHEYS.pdf - Adobe Reader

PDF slideshow

The notes on the digital equipment slide (#20) have a link to a really useful YouTube video of how to set up and use the BMD ATEM system.

You can now also listen to my talk as it was recorded and has been made publicly available. Thank you to all who came to my talk – you were a great encouragement.

Holy Week?!

audio deskThis week has become one of the busiest so far this year in regard to audio requirements at church.

We have a wedding to support on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, so there’s a wedding band practice on Wednesday. They have unique requirements: four singers for the wedding songs (we have enough mic points for that) and the usual drums/keyboard/guitar/bass. However, they also need a duet – the opposite site of the stage on grand piano. The piano is easy to mic, but two mics from the band will have to be used (so some long leads needed). They’ll also need foldback – which is currently in short supply due to aging monitors and only half the AUX channels working.

Good Friday will be ‘normal’ church format so I’ll have to place back the kit temporarily for that.

Saturday will be the wedding for real – so moving the kit back into wedding configuration in time for the band to arrive and do some final sound checks and practice/warm up.

Then it’s all change again for Easter Sunday morning when we have a 16 piece children’s choir on centre stage – many of whom are a little shy of singing.

Did I mention that it’s my son’s 21st birthday on Saturday too? Oh, and the clocks go forward an hour on Sunday so we get one hour less in bed and some people will turn up to church late.

I hope that I’ll get a chance to reflect on the importance of this week in the Christian calendar and not have it get lost in all the crazy madness! I think I’ll be looking forward to a rest on Monday morning.

Welcome Kiosk

I am setting up a kiosk PC for the Lansdowne welcome team to use while helping our guests.
ubuntu logo
It will be a standard screen, mouse and keyboard connected to an old PC box running the Ubuntu operating system. I’ve not set up a kiosk style PC before so it should be an interesting exercise. I’ve chosen Ubuntu because it is free to use and keeps our costs to a minimum. This should be OK for the users, because we’ll restrict access to only the browser window.

I need the kiosk to have a login (to stop unauthorised start up) and to start up in a full-screen browser showing our standard website and a special “welcome desk” start page.

The kiosk can then be used to show guests what facilities we have to offer and allow them to load up a form for entering the guest’s contact details and interests/next step.

Each submitted form will automatically send an email to the church office with the guest contact information and also add a record to a Google Docs spreadsheet. The office can then immediately respond to new guests the next day.

Website redesign 2013

We’re redesigning the LBC website for 2013.

The existing site is now two years old and is starting to show it’s age. Also, as more people access the site via tablets and mobile phones, we need a responsive design template to make things consistent and simple to maintain.

Last week we had a kick-off meeting to discuss the process and time-scales and this week we met to consolidate the existing content. We needed to rationalise the site navigation which had grown organically over previous designs and had become a bit haphazard.

LBC Proposed vs. Current Site Map

The image above shows the current site map (on the right) and an initial proposal for the new site (on the left). One of the aims was to reduce the number of navigational options that are present on every page. The current site has many and we were looking at creating a pyramid style of navigation where more detail is held the further you travel down the navigation.

A cleaner ‘new-site’ proposal was the outcome of this week’s meeting:

Proposed Sitemap

Our web developer volunteer (Luke) is now working on wire-frame layouts for the major page types.

What about you?
What have you found works well for navigating your churches website?
Do you need to reconsider your site to make it responsive for the increasing number of mobile users?

Please leave your comments.

The run up to Christmas 2012

Not long now

The time between September and the new year can be one of the busiest periods in a churches calendar.

At Lansdowne, many new students have arrived in Bournemouth and the second and third year students have returned from summer break. Plans are under way for Christmas and two of our recent series have just come to an end.

We will have our women’s conference in just a few days time and all the final arrangements of badges, Power Point templates, slideshows for the refreshment rooms and background music are being made. I’ll be involved technically on the day – either with audio production and/or set up of the rooms before breaks (slideshow notices etc.).

There are quite a few things to get ready in a short space of time!

Following the conference, all concentration will be on the Christmas carol services and how we make guests feel welcome – especially those who are first-timers.

Things on my mind at the moment…

  • Christmas cards/Easter cards – Can we make these invitations?
  • Helper badges – For greeters and Info-point personel
  • Info point – We need to simplify registration/follow-up process
  • Media Ministry presentation in December at Explore Stream

I’m encouraged by Acts 20:27 – “for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.” (NLT)