We had a meeting at All Saints Church, Ilkley last night to discuss the website. These discussions are aways difficult to get started, mostly because there are many different staring points.
The most obvious questions is, what's it for? Why do we need a website? The answer is often that everyone else has one; not having a website somehow resigns you to the dark ages. In a way, the idea of having a website is more compelling that the reality of having a web site. It's a bit like having a gym membership – you like the idea of being healthy and part of the "forever young" club but having the membership is only symbolic – actually turning up and pumping iron is another matter. If you ask a church if they need a website they will agree, but the reality is that it perhaps won't be used.
Perhaps we should see the website as a something which is far more utilitarian? What do we want to use it for? What mission critical need do we have as a church?
There is a cliched media reference to the opening words of Howard's end – "Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer".
We are indeed living in fragments but even small fragments have gravity and will attract nearby particles. Eventually those fragments, by accident or design, will consolidate into new worlds. A web presence can be a tool for directing that gravity towards those with whom we wish to connect.
A mission critical need for the church is to connect with new people and put bums on pews – but for a greater purpose which is to bring people into a relationship with God.
For church members there are social groups, steering groups and prayer groups; some are musicians, tea makers or flower arrangers – endless activity. But the opportunities to connect are often quite restricted to existing and ever decreasing circles. The gravity which pulls people toward the church may include the need to belong, to serve, to make a difference, to find something greater than ourselves, to share ideas, to be creative. We somehow need to extend its range beyond our own universe.
A glossy marketing pitch (provided it is honest), may be a valid part of a communication strategy, but the challenge is to turn attention into connection. Once you have logged onto a website and seen the front page do you then have a reason to come back? Does the website change what you think, feel or believe about the church? Is there a call to action?
Poor websites are disconnected and lonely, they are more like museums full of fossils – and there are many of them. They are backward looking, historical, quiet. Better websites, I think, live in the present moment and are all about now. They're personal and relevant to me – and I should be able to see them at wherever and whenever – on my phone or in my office. The website should tell me when there's something new posted and send me an alert – it should talk to me. It should be connected to Facebook and Twitter. I should be able to talk back.
A test of a good website is whether it brings people together who wouldn't otherwise engage with each other. A good website will provide an opportunity to sign up to something in the real world that they wouldn't otherwise have done.
There is an obsession with the number of visitors to websites, but the real measurement should be whether people have been nudged in a different direction. Have the visitors made new friends, made a donation, turned up to an event because of the website? Has the website simulated word of mouth?
If you are one of the two people reading this, please feel free to leave a comment. I may just have to delete my account and pick up a book otherwise!