Monthly Archives: September 2008

Guest Blog -Top 10 Church Website Design Mistakes of 2007

I recently discovered Dean Peters excellent website and blog called Heal Your Church. A great church website can be a friendly conduit for visitors and members alike. Poorly designed, it can ensure your church will not be seen as friendly and inviting resulting in wasted resources and perplexed website viewers. Dean has graciously agreed to allow me to share this information with you in it’s entirety. This is great information for church seekers & members and church website creators.

Top 10 Church Website Design Mistakes of 2007
It is the last day of 2007, so like every great media outlet I figured why not go through the archives and come up with a list of those topics that produced the deepest and most memorable mental scars. Below is my list of the top ten mistakes I’ve seen on church websites over the past year.

Mistakes I would hope that as a body we would resolve to remedy, though I suspect like most new year’s resolutions are destined for abandonment by about the 14th of February.

So with limited commercial interruption, I offer Mean Dean’s Top 10 Church Website Design Mistakes of 2007:

1. Believing you are your user:
Unless you’re writing a church website for a bunch of blogging pastors, frustrated graphic artists and/or “… burned out computer geeks, your user isn’t you. … This is very hard to get through somebody’s head; it’s very hard to get rid of this notion that what you like your user is going to like… Again, your user is not you.”

For the most part, people aren’t seeking the church experience online – rather they are shopping online for a real-world church experience. Those church webmasters that fail to realize this, fail to realize the full potential of their church website.

2. Flashination:
Flashination is a term I give to (church) websites that seem to be overly fascinated with Macromedia/Adobe Flash. What many church web servants fail to realize is that “.. fancy media on websites typically fails user testing …” at least according to Jakob Nielsen’s recent AlertBox entitled “Low-End Media for User Empowerment.”

Where I see Flashination most often is on banners, headers, and home pages of church websites – usually in the form of scrolling images from the Church. A visual effect that is cool precisely ONCE and from then on becomes a bandwidth consuming annoyance.

In response, allow me to quote some sage advice from Dr. Nielsen who wrote in his 1996 ‘Original Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design:’

Never include page elements that move incessantly. Moving images have an overpowering effect on the human peripheral vision. A web page should not emulate Times Square in New York City in its constant attack on the human senses: give your user some peace and quiet to actually read the text!

3. Church-speak:
Without getting into a raging debate over speaking in tongues, those in charge of getting out their church’s message need to understand that, at least in the U.S., 1 in 3 adults is unchurched. Meaning 1 in 3 adults don’t understand the church-speak that ‘bables-up‘ scribed in expensive color brochures, sermon videos and web sites.

Fact is, the church website isn’t about offering online brochureware nor a meas to show how cool a computer geek you are. The purpose of your church web page design is to convey the Christ that is in your congregation to the World by addressing the needs of seekers and members … AND by disciplining the same with the solid food of the Gospel.

If you do both these things then I can guarantee that you will not have to spend $5k on a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) expert, nor will you have to worry about justifying your church’s online marketing expenditures.

4. Turning your Homepage into a Splash Page:
What does it profit your church or charity’s website to have the most beautiful web pages ever designed if it doesn’t convince people to visit your church, engage in your ministries, or at least inquire for more information? Yet more and more often I review a graphically and technically impressive church website that is more an art project than effective ministry tool.

In the worse cases, the home page has become such as testament to the web designers Flash and CSS skills that the home page loses its effectiveness as an introductory and central point of navigation – degrading into a sometimes technically adept and entertaining splash page.

And if you don’t know what’s wrong with having a splash page – regardless of the webmaster’s displayed technical prowess – then we need to have a long email correspondence.

5. Thinking you’re Spurgeon:
There is something to be said about Shakespeare’s oft-quoted assertion from Hamlet:

‘… brevity is the soul of wit …‘

Or as usability expert Jakob Nielsen writes his 1997 post entitled “how people read the web:”

People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. In research on how people read websites we found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.

Or as I say in my post “George Orwell: 12 blogging tips:”

If all else fails, just remember this tried and true adage: “You’re not Spurgeon, quit trying to write like him.”

6. Image Bloat:
The tag in HTML should be treated with the same suspicion one glowers upon all those slickly packaged low-cal cookies we see in the diet food aisle of the grocer. Both promise to avoid a glutton’s guilt – but in both cases it smoke and mirrors, leaving you feeling bloated and sluggish.

One of the most perpetuated sins of church web design is image bloat – most often perpetrated in the form of thinking that somehow, the height and width argument of the tag somehow magically and physically shrinks an image file. It doesn’t – it only appears that way. Or in in the immortal words of usability and marketing guru, Vincent Flanders who wrote in his Father Flanders’ Sermon for Sunday, July 13, 2003:

Just because Jesus miraculously turned water into wine doesn’t mean he can miraculously turn your 1280- x 1024-pixel image whose file size is 1.8Mb into an image whose file size is only 74Kb just because you changed the WIDTH= and HEIGHT= attributes to WIDTH=”420″ and HEIGHT=”336″.

This mistake is so common that it’s beginning to be as annoying to me as the confessions of the students of the young men of my Jesuit high school were to Father Ambrose “For your penance say three Hail Mary’s” Forsthoefel.

In English, just because I write: does not magically or physically make my 920k image posted straight from my brand-spankin’ new digital camera load like a 20k image. Instead it means I make a page that should load in about 8 seconds take 188 seconds!

7. Using Religion is a ‘Chruch:’
We all know know at least one atheist, agnostic or skeptic who boldly (and often blindly) asserts religion is a crutch. Much in part due to the overbearing legalism and spiritual abuse that goes on in a minority of cases.
That said, I it is my prayer that the Church on the whole prove these individuals wrong, not only with Christian love and charity, but also with correctly spelled

Muldoon Assembly: Friendly, Programmed

I was told the Muldoon Community Assembly of God had an interesting congregation worth visiting. On August 24, I dropped in for a visit. Their campus offers plenty of parking although the church buildings seem to have expanded in an unruly way over the years.

[img_assist|nid=131684|title=Muldoon Community Assembly of God – Rear Entrance|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=151]
They’re Friendly
In contrast to many of my visits to other Anchorage area churches, I found this church to be decidedly friendly and welcoming. I was greeted 4 or 5 times before I made my way to a seat. I ended up in the “Live” service which seemed to be more of a “regular” church service. Pastor Kent Redfearn engaged me in conversation before the service explaining their many service options. Finding him to be helpful, explanatory and welcoming, I even asked him about his academic background. But more about Redfearn later.

Upstanding Music
The service started with the playing of music by a 4 person band: guitar, keyboard, drums, and bass. Many songs were unfamiliar to me but the good news was the words were projected on a screen. The bad news was they were extremely difficult to read as the LCD projector was dying a slow death, yellowing out portions of the screen, plus the slide backgrounds were animated and quite distracting to reading the song lyrics. I’m seeing this type of animation in many churches, but in each case, I find it more distracting than helpful. Some enterprising company must be selling these backgrounds to the churches, making a tidy sum. Another concern with the music was we were told to stand but left standing for well over 20 minutes of singing. Obviously the spotlight was on the band so it felt like we were standing in honor of the band. It is difficult for some of the elderly and folks with small children to stand for these lengthy periods. Congregants should not be left standing, without meaningful direction, for long periods like this. Personally I feel this is area this church could meaningfully address.

The auditorium felt like a performance set. For example, I counted 27 stage lights, more than in many much larger churches. Church consultants routinely promise to double congregation size. This done primarily by sound and lighting upgrades and amendments. Pastor Fay initially led out in front urging the congregation to sing, to pray, to pray as couples, and for congregation members to pray for you. To her credit she made it all the way back to my place toward the rear of the auditorium during the mandatory “meet n’ greet” session, which I felt disrupted the flow of their morning services. The visitor greeting and recognition was nice, putting visitors on the spot somewhat, but only to offer them a gift card for Starbucks or Coldstone.

Articulate Message-Well Presented
Kent, a casual dresser, has a easygoing and articulate speaking style. His message, Living Forever, based on Phillipians 1:1, was relevant and well-delivered. I particularly liked his verbal portrayal of Adam and Eve’s sin, and fall as the “ungoodness of aloneness”. His message was laced with many passages of scripture and appropriate illustrative stories. As Kent was finishing I knew an alter call was coming as the keyboardist slipped behind her keyboard and started playing softly, with the other musicians not far behind. Many, many churches use music as a soundtrack to make the alter call more effective, and yes, it is certainly effective. I believe in the biblical injunction to “be still and know that I am God.” I have a hard time believing Christ’s sermon on the mount was accompanied by harp, lyre, and tamborine played to a suggestive audience. Kent’s parting admonition was to “…get into the fabric. Relationships are made in the fabric of servanthood.”

There is much to recommend in this Muldoon neighborhood affiliate of the Assemblies of God. They offer flavors of worship for every taste. From jazz services, to internet cafe atmosphere, to multicultural ambiance, it’s all here for you. However, this Christian found the programming, internal and external, weighed too heavily on me to consider maintaining an ongoing connection.

[img_assist|nid=131685|title=Muldoon Community Assembly of God – Front Entrance|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=156]

Why I’ve Run From Churches – Guest Blog

One thing led to another, and I became aware of blogger Bob Lotich and his website through Chris Walker who will be leading an upcoming evangelism training at Victory Bible Camp in Palmer. More about Chris in a future blog. Chris recently featured Bob Lotich as guest blog on his site. Bob has generously allowed me to share it with you.

Why I’ve Run From Churches – Bob Lotich
(Excerpted with permission from Bob Lotich’s Website)
Let me start by saying that I have been planted in my current church for over 10 years. I deeply believe in the value of staying in the church that God plants you in rather than just leaving as soon as you get offended. That said, I have lived in a few different cities and have visited quite a few churches in each one when trying to find out where to land. I have seen some wonderful things and I have seen some things that made me want to run for the doors. These are the things that caused me to run for the door:

Everything was mediocre.
Mediocrity has been too prevalent in the church today. Be it marketing, music, teaching, evangelism or anything else, it should be excellent. Just a few hundred years ago the greatest music, paintings, literature, etc. were glorifying God. It offends me that the word “Christian” is used as an adjective that is synonymous with mediocre by some non-Christians. It should not be.

The place was full of strife.
The Bible has some very strong things to say about strife and it also says that they will know that we are Christians by the love that we have for one another (John 13:35).

Back-biting, selfish-ambition and gossip are things that I expect to see on a soap-opera, not in my church. I realize that people are not perfect and that everyone makes a mistake, but when I see strife as a defining characteristic of a church it makes me want to look elsewhere.

There was an unwillingness to adapt.
Paul became all things to all people in order that he could win them. I am reminded of a church near me that built a state-of-the-art skate park in order to give a young and notoriously rebellious generation a place to skate–all in order to win them to Jesus.

Another church I know of created a haunted house to compete with all the others during the Halloween season. The house shows the scariest thing–hell. It then shows the visitors Jesus and why he died. It is top-notch and thousands of people wait in line for hours each year to get in.

They tickled the ears of the congregation.
There are a lot of people who do not want to be challenged in their faith walk. They want what they believe preached to them, rather than having the truth preached to them. It is easy for churches to get caught up in just trying to keep the congregation happy rather than speaking the truth of the Bible.

The real truth is that churches like this are doing a tremendous disservice to the kingdom of God and to the congregants themselves. The congregants who refuse to grow end up hanging around, while the hungry Christians take off to some place where they can have the unfiltered truth spoken to them.

It is not led with passion.
I want to follow a leader who believes what he is saying. Someone who is not just speaking words that he read, but rather speaking with truths that have changed his life and the corresponding passion that follows.

It is impossible for someone to truly be passionate about something that they are not sure about. I want to follow a leader who has seen God work in his life and who has seen the Word change him in real and practical ways.

Final thoughts
There is a new breed that is rebelling against the self-satisfying lifestyles they see all around them. They are eager to be challenged and are willing to lay down their lives for the call. This provides a great opportunity for churches to step up and create a church they want to go to.

Christian Church of Anchorage…An Invitation, Refusal, and Later Visit

[img_assist|nid=130833|title=Christian Church of Anchorage Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=212]In July I received a warm invitation to attend a special service from Madelynn Robitson, a member of Christian Church of Anchorage. They were inviting me to attend a recognition and celebration honoring our troops. While, I don’t receive many invitations to visit from area churches, I told Madelynn I’d rather attend a regular service with their normal pastor speaking, and add them to my visit list. (I don’t normally pre-announce my visits but told her I’d meet her after the service I would finally attend.)

Warm Greeting
I visited this church on August 17, 2008 and was greeted warmly by a young woman who also gave me the bulletin for the service. I was further greeted by several gentlemen stand at the doors of the sanctuary. This church has a fairly small congregation but there was quite a buzz of eager conversation in the sanctuary when I arrived. With one other exception, I’ve tend to avoid visiting small churches but am glad I visited this one.

Music OK…Half Hour Standing Not!
This church has a musical group with a unique sound, three people playing guitar, drums, and piano, and singing some familiar tunes. No self-aggrandizement here, just simple music done in a contemporary and traditional Christian style. As the service started we were asked to stand to sing and we were left standing for almost HALF AN HOUR! As a regular church goer, I consider this practice to be bordering on cruel and unusual and recommend this church consider limiting this practice to a few songs. Maybe this is something peculiar to smaller churches because I’ve only experienced it so far in very small churches. Hmmmm….maybe there is an idea for church growth here. The projector for the song words was going bad and the words were hard to read. This is becoming a fairly common issue in area churches. Technology is great, but if it’s not in good working order, it’s better to dispense with it.

Would Churches Collapse Without Meet n’ Greets?
During the typical meet n’ greet I engaged a person behind me in longer than normal conversation. This is becoming my survival strategy during this dreaded phase (to me) of the service. Every church seems to do the meet n’ greet but frankly, congregations should be already be friendly and welcoming on their own without being coerced to do so.

Speedy Communion
Communion (Lord’s Supper) was served very early in the service, even before the sermon. While not annoying it was very unusual, in fact, I’ve never experienced communion so early in the service in all my years of church going. It also set records for being served faster than I’ve ever seen. There was a brief statement or two regarding church/personal finances and reminder that offering boxes were in the back. Yes!!! That’s the idea. The Lord does love a cheerful giver and one who is not coerced.

Pastor Darryl Titus presented a meaningful sermon drawn from the scripture regarding Philip and the Eunuch. He is an effective speaker, easy to follow, bible-based, drawing his illustrations meaningfully from scripture. As I was leaving he made note of my name and invited me back to a Wednesday evening fellowship which I understand it is a more casual environment.

Why One Member Chose This Church
Early on in our e-mail exchanges, Madelynn shared why she liked this church. The following is a lightly edited extract of those exchanges.
[img_assist|nid=130826|title=Madelynn Robitson|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=298]
“When I moved to Anchorage this was the 2nd church I visited and knew when I walked in the door that it was the place for me. I came from a small church of about 20 people in Massachusetts, the regular attendance for this church varies from 80-100 depending on the week. I have learned so much from working here about myself, others and my walk.

Of course there are things that I would like changed, but I think all churches could make improvements. Sometimes I think a church can lose sight of things when there are too many things going on, when outside of worship things are busy.

I love to hear other peoples stories about their walk. I struggled with the Christian belief because I grew up going to Catholic schools and they told you how to think and what to believe. I am blessed by this because I was able to learn things for myself and I think it has made me a stronger Christian.”

Yes, I Liked My Visit
I enjoyed my visit to this church and from it got a sense of the community they shared in Christ. Small churches can offer wonderful experiences. They can also work people to death unless everyone takes their fair share of the load. This church is worth a visit if you are seeking a way to get to know a great group of Christians.
[img_assist|nid=130830|title=Christian Church of Anchorage|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=140]