Monday, June 11, 2007

The Virtual Congregation

Over at our place we're talking about setting up a congregational website, or even a blog, where our geographically scattered parishoners and supporters can keep in touch with what's going on.

I think this is a great idea, and one that has potential for reaching out to far more people than those connected to our congregation.

Here's a question for you, readers: If you could design an online presence for your congregation, what are some things you'd like that presence to do? Do you envision it primarily as a meeting place for members of your church, or something with a broader outreach and appeal? Discuss amongst yourselves.


Chris (The Lutheran Zephyr) said...

This is not meant to discourage your efforts, but . . . as someone who has looked at a lot of congregational websites (back in my Augsburg Fortress sales days), I'm not sure that most church websites are anything more than online versions of their church newsletter. And of course, most church newsletters are not terribly engaging . . .

Using a blog format - even the free Blogger platform, for starters - would offer some chance for interaction, customization, etc.. But I really wonder, in the end, how useful a church website is. With the gazillions of web destinations out there, how does a congregational website remain relevant and compelling? Why would I return to that website daily, weekly, monthly? (I do not visit my congregational website ever, really)

I know that some churches have made good use of Yahoo! Groups and other email lists for keeping in touch. Not interactive, but it is a simple way to share information from the church to its members . . .

Widening Circles said...

We have a website, and I'm the webmaster. We have several goals for it, though I'm not sure if people actually use it in those ways. Some of the older, set-in-their ways folks seem more ready to embrace it than some younger folks.

We use it to introduce ourselves to people who are checking us out, providing both the times of services and a little of the flavor of the place. We use it to post all the weekly announcements that people might have missed if they were sick or out of town. We put up last-minute announcements and reminders on the home page, and we have an event calendar for ready reference. We have pictures from past events.

We also have suggested readings, links to other sites that might be of interest, and we're working on an e-meditation using art from the church.

Tom in Ontario said...

1. A kind of on-line brochure about your congregation but with a lot more information for people than an 8 1/2 x 11 tri-fold piece of paper can give.

2. Congregational calendar and newsletter included to keep your own members informed.

3. If the pastor preaches from a manuscript it can be posted, or maybe even a podcast of the sermon.

4. Some discussion forums. People can discuss Sunday's sermon further, ask each other questions about biblical and theological stuff, share news ("my son got engaged," "I'm a grandfather again")

5. Links to other valuable and worthy websites.

We don't have a website. I've often thought it might be a valuable thing. I've seen some decent congregational sites and some pitiful ones. Often people are gung-ho to get one up but then it's never updated or it just looks really lame.

Susie said...

Audio sermons, for sure - create a discussion forum around sermons and the lectionary. That'd probably be both for the members and the broader outreach. We keep talking about putting music up on our website, choir anthems and such - music is super important here. Clearly, I like the multimedia stuff :)

David said...

I agree with several of the notions stated here. We put information for visitors on the website, along with announcements for the congregation and the calendar. But by and large, the website goes unnoticed by many and is not updated often enough.

A friend of mine is pastor of a church in Tennessee and they put audio files of his sermons on their site. I like to listen because I like his sermons. Not sure how much traffic it gets other than that though.

John Petty said...

We have a podcast thingy on our church website. It doesn't get used all that much, but it does get used in some special instances, such as a woman in the military in Germany, and other former members who still want to maintain some tie to our congregation.

toujoursdan said...

Tom said:

Often people are gung-ho to get one up but then it's never updated or it just looks really lame.

This is the biggest problem with a lot of church websites. It not only looks lame, but it make someone wonder if any of it is still true and whether the parish is keeping up on other things.

I think it's important to evaluate what kind of commitment a church community wants to make to their website and create a website that matches that level of commitment. If one person is doing it in their spare time, just put the basics on so it doesn't need to be updated very often.

Widening Circles said...

I agree with some of the critical comments above, but with a few additional comments. Yes, a church website must be kept up to date. I update ours several times a week to add events and announcements as they come up. I spend a lot of time online at work and at home and I don't find this difficult.

I would not say that we are a typical church community, either. We are very small, and we are growing very quickly. If we tell people to check the website for announcements, there's only a small group to get that message out to. We also have a lot of potential new members who are checking us out, and the website is one way they can do that. (I left my own church three years ago, tried a few others, and settled on this one, and I always looked at their websites to get a feel for the place.)

JSanchez said...

Hey, wanna meme?

Deb said...

We have a yahoogroup set up for our congregation called Church Chat. It's a moderated group and you must be "invited" in but any one in the congregation or who is a regular "friend of the church" is invited. We use the chat group to post prayer concerns, make announcements, discuss a few issues occasionally, and share important news of our individual families. It's a great communication tool. We have had a website but without some who keeps it updated regularly, it's not particularly useful except as an intro to who we are and general information. As a congregation we are not particularly computer literatem, and our present interim pastor barely uses email.

hamletta said...

I think you can (and should) do both: reach out to others, and provide a space for the congregation.

We have a site that's kinda bloggish, with a calendar of events and a sermon podcast.

Susie, I'd be leery of posting music; there are copyright restrictions on almost everything. I'm currently fighting my congregation because they want me to license and post the whole service, which I think is stupid.

Our content management system has some neat features, like organic groups that people can set up themselves, but getting people to use them is another matter entirely. If you build it, they won't necessarily come.

The one thing we're missing is pictures: I think pictures of the church, and of people doing stuff at the church, are important and help people to get a feel for what the congregation is like.

Anonymous said...

Absolute minimum content: location, contact information, service times, special activities/programs. UPDATED EVERY WEEK. If the two services are being combined this Sunday, it better be on the website. I once turned up at a service half an hour late because I believed what was written on the website, and let me tell you I was not impressed.

Think about all the other stuff after you're sure you can do the basics and keep them up to date.

I also like to see: a picture of the church building (so I can recognize it when I see it), a brief history of the church, brief idea of their mission and beliefs, some info about the denomination, descriptions and photos and contact info for all the "important people" (clergy, music director, etc.), links to other sites (denominational, biblical, etc.), photos of recent special events, copies of the recent church bulletins, texts of sermons, etc. I also really like to know something about their worship style. I am Anglican and I want to be know what book is being used (BAS or BCP) or if you are not using the liturgy and/or lectionary (so I can stay away!), and I appreciate knowing the musical style (because I prefer to avoid all that praise-and-worship contemporary stuff).