Category Archives: Technical

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.

Using a Sound Board at your events

Sometimes at church the young people host quiz evenings or we have a drama spot and there is the need to provide sounds effects or ‘theme music’ at various points.

There are a couple of ways to do this – via different tracks on a CD or iPod or using a WAV or MP3 player on a PC. I have found an alternative which seems to be a perfect fit and is simple to use.

I came across an Android app called Custom Soundboard which presents an interface which is simply 28 large buttons, each of which may be configured to contain a sound of your choice.


By long-pressing a button, you can assign a sound file to it, a button title and choose whether the sound is a continuous loop (plays until you press the button a second time – shown as blue above).

Connect your tablet/phone to the sound desk (turn off all notification sounds and key-press sounds before you start) and now providing sound effects and music is a simple one-press affair. Custom Soundboard will let you play one-press (grey) sounds while a loop (blue) sound is still playing. If a one-press sound is, for example, 20 seconds long it can be interrupted by pressing another one-press sound or will be silenced if you press an unallocated button (one with no sound assigned).

It makes adding sound effects and music a much less stressful affair and lets you concentrate on getting the sound on cue.

You can create multiple sound boards and swipe between them – so there’s practically no limit to what you can set up. My only gripe with this app is that it doesn’t rotate into landscape mode. However, the benefits far exceed this minor issue. A free app with ads which don’t really get in the way. Much recommended.

What about you? How could you use an app like this? Can you think of anything I may have missed? Make a comment below.

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.

Media room mash-up

Last Sunday, I was in the media room on webcast duty and decided to record Joe who was directing the live feed.

I have crudely mashed-up the media room footage (taken on my point-and-shoot) with the live output so you can get some idea of what goes on during the singing at Lansdowne Baptist Church.

Some day I hope we’ll have the time to present this a little more professionally! Until then, enjoy:

A couple of great free Android apps I’ve started using

I have recently stared using a couple of very useful android apps. Specifically, BubbleUPnP and HP ePrint.

Bubble enables me to stream media from my Windows 7 computer to my Nexus 7 and visa versa. I can, for example, find a photo in my Nexus gallery and ‘send’ it to my PC monitor screen. Conversely, I can browse the library of files on my PC and view/play them on the Nexus. This is handy for listening to music from the files stored on the PC.

HP ePrint provides a way to connect to HP printers from your Android device. I wondered how I would have to configure the software to find my wireless printer, but I didn’t have to… no sooner had I installed it then it automatically located the printer and now I can send documents to it directly.

Two apps, both installed today and both providing exactly what I wanted – and both free. Love it!

NextGEN Gallery Border

If you use the NextGEN plugin and want to have a border (or frame) around it, I have found that the following code seems to work well:

<div style=”border: 12px solid black; width: 600px; height: 450px;”>[ slideshow id=2 ]</div>

(Note: In the example above I have put an extra space after the opening and before the closing square brackets to stop NextGEN from actually showing the slideshow in this post)

To get this to work for me, I also have the Slideshow settings in NextGEN set to 600 x 450 and ‘Stretch Image’ set to False.