Too many times, ministries (both churches and para-church organizations) treat the internet as a necessary pain and an afterthought to their work, not as a tool that can simplify and magnify their effectiveness. Done correctly, the internet can add visibility to their good works that results in increased donor support, magnified outreach, partnerships with other organizations that would have never known you existed before. In this age of niche marketing, it is harder and harder to appeal to the mass public. Imaging if your website was findable by people who search for any combination of keywords on a well thought out website.
A well thought out and effectively executed plan to maximize the use of this media allows the ministry to:
- Ability to reach broad audiences cheaply;
- Ability to disseminate information effectively;
- Conveys credibility and a professionalism that is otherwise expensive to achieve;
The New Way to Internet
The internet has fundamentally changed. Gone are the days of a static HTML website where changes are painful and expensive. Dynamic (constantly changing) websites are database driven and powered by open source (free) applications can deliver search engine friendly and compelling content to your audiences with a minimum of effort.
Key tasks to your ministry using the internet effectively are:
- Plan what you want your website to achieve and who your audience is;
- Research the appropriate (free) platform that will allow you to achieve your goals;
- Design your site around the search engines;
- Constantly add quality content;
While the internet should not necessarily be the main effort, it should be part of the effort. The ministries who have gotten this right have realized the gains that all of the rest are missing.
How do you determine what you want out of the internet?
The first step is to ask yourself “what do I want to be able to do with my site?” That answer will be significantly different by organization and by audience. As an example, a church’s answer might be:
- Disseminate information to the members about upcoming events;
- Allow for online donations from members;
- Allow for easy communication with members (e-mail);
- Facilitate the interaction of small groups and ministries ;
- Invite new members to attend or join;
- Allow for a means of contacting the church for more information;
- Give helpful information for potential visitors (parking, where things are, etc);
A ministry with a focus on helping the homeless might look significantly different. Knowing their clients (homeless) don’t necessarily have access to the internet, their donors and volunteers do. They would need a website that allows for:
- The ability to communicate with their donors and volunteers;
- The ability to take online donations;
- The ability for interested parties to find them about volunteering or donating;
- Listing the merits of their programs and the results they have achieved;
How do you get started?
There are a multitude of free options available for ministries to use. While they do not take a programmer to set up, it does take someone web savvy to manipulate the programs to do what you want them to do. Programs like WordPress offer content management systems (CMS) which allow for a non-tech person to add content to the website. There are free systems that allow for e-commerce, bulletin boards (forum), and photo sharing.
There are free calendaring systems (Google Calendar) and photo sharing (Flickr) and RSS syndication (Feedburner) systems that add a dynamic nature to your sites that attract visitors and add to your searchability.
If that web savvy person does not work in your organization, insist on your hired web programmer using open source. This save many programming hours and allows for a system where you can add content when you are “handed the keys”.
I have built it, now what?
Add content! A well-built open source site that has regular information added to it increases search engine traffic and drives people to your site. A pastor that has a weblog will receive visitors searching for all kinds of phrases.
The internet user is extremely fickle. If a visitor comes to your website for a second time and nothing has changed, he will rarely visit a third. If there is different, and compelling, content, he will likely visit a third.
The Bottom Line
Too often this is an afterthought in an organization. The organization wants a website because it sounds like something they should have but put no effort or thought into how the internet can add another dimension to their organization or facilitate their mission. The result is often a poor attempt at a web presence that does more harm than good.
The only thing worse than no content out on the web is stale content. The typical church or ministry website (built in the late 90’s in MS Frontpage by a volunteer, rarely updated, with old information on it) is a turnoff and sends the wrong message. This is low hanging fruit and is an opportunity missed by ministries scratching for credibility and “market share” of donated dollars and volunteer hours.
The internet is a tool. That is all. But it is a tool that can achieve measurable results for your organization with less effort than other tools.