Techno-Rant by a Techno-Snob

With my husband looking for work, and precious little of it to be found in our fair town, there is a strong possibility that our family will end up relocating at some point in the next 6-12 months. With relocation, comes starting over with schools, church, doctors, hairdressers, vets, the whole of living.

Here is something I have realized: if you are a church or school in 2010 and your website doesn't reflect that it's 2010, do not expect my family to give you an opportunity to meet our needs otherwise.

And, being a further snob, I'll tell you (as a church) you NEED our family in your midst, oh, yes, you do. Okay, a school does, too, but school families who will be involved are a dime a dozen. Church families who will be involved... not so much. Evidently, they are all too busy being involved at school. Troy is a great administrator in things he gets involved in at church, gorgeous voice for singing, I take my turn teaching Sunday school, and my kids will make your youth ministry look good. They are leaders among their peers and sweet kids, befriending kids of all shapes and sizes. And... yeah, you want to know... of course we give on a regular basis. We are your model church family.

But if I move to my new (undetermined) town and am scouting out churches and pull up your website and it has (only) an article by the preacher, pictures of the staff, and service times and location... pass. That is a 2003 website.

I started thinking about this when a Facebook friend also recently relocated and mentioned that she had placed membership at The Happy Sunshine Church (*not actual name of congregation). Since my friend had relocated in North America, and we will probably relocate somewhere in North America, I thought I would scope out The Happy Sunshine Church. One can never be too prepared.

Um... yeah. Won't be going there. Pulled up the 'youth' page: a gray box with the word: 'testing' in the middle of it. Pulled up the youth calendar: same gray 'testing box'. They did have a super-secret, password-only member-only section, but I wasn't invited into that... My part was gray and 'testing'... And I was becoming 'testy'... Their WORDS said, "We would LOVE to have you visit us and you can find us at this location." Their website said, "You aren't worth the effort."

Yes, I do Facebook and Twitter, too, but I'm not being adamant about that. By the year 2000, once we all figured out that the lights were going to stay on after the Y2K scare, your church should have figured out, "Hey! I think this internet thing is going to stick around. We may need us a world wide internet address for our church."

Granted, MOST churches have seen the need for a website... but that is all. It's time to move past the year 2000, and let your website be an active place of outreach for your congregation, as well as a place to communicate with your members. If you'll notice, people now have the internet on their phone, at their kitchen table, at McDonald's and Starbuck's... they may be wondering where they are going to church on Sunday, and if the children's ministry is any more than coloring pages and 'testing'. What is your church communicating?

I think the church where I worship does a fairly good job of this (and in about 2 more weeks we will be unveiling a new, improved site that will be even better -- SO EXCITED!) I was blessed to work with the team that helped create the new site, and spent some time scouting out other church sites. I saw entirely too many church calendars set at October, 2006, or some other such random date when the website was created. If it isn't current, it's useless.

I think another local church has an awesome website as well.

If you are reading this and nodding and wishing your church had something like this, let me direct you to The Marketing Twins, Randy and Donny Vaughn. Troy and I were in school with Randy and Donny and they could totally hook you up with a website.

I mentioned schools, but I will say that since we are currently a public school family, most school districts do a GREAT job of communicating online, keeping calendars current, having a place to check grades, etc. If we move to a place where I feel that private schools are our best option, the website will be a key indicator as to the academic and technological capability of the school.

So... that is my techno-rant for today. Do you have website peeves? Would love to hear them.


Scott F said...

Am hoping you find work in Abilene. But if you must move, another touch of Abilene in the Austin area would be nice! ;) And I know a church that would put you two to work before you unpacked. :)

mindy said...

Sarah, I always enjoy your thoughts and humorous insight on life, family, faith, and community. But, today, you've hit a nerve, so I must speak up for all of the churches like ours with crummy websites. Small churches like ours with limited people and resources cannot possibly have websites that even come close to those of the super-sized churches you linked. With only one paid minister and a small number of volunteers, updating our website keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the list. Things like hospital visits, developing Sunday school curriculum, and organizing service projects always take priority, as they should. In addition, most of our members don't make time to check their email because of all of their school activities, much less browse the church website for upcoming events. If they're committed enough to browse the website, they're probably the same ones who helped organized the upcoming events. As for using it as a tool for outreach, our little town, and towns like ours, don't have much turnover, especially among people with internet access. For that matter, I think it is sad that churches spend so much time and money on advertising and marketing that could be spent on loving their neighbors. Speaking of a rant....I'm really sorry, it just gets frustrating when every conversation about church seems to be geared towards large, urban and suburban churches. I hope that if your family relocates, you'll look for a church that needs your gifts and commitment, rather than one than the one that sells the best product.

Randy Vaughn said...

Thanks Sarah for the mention. Your words are very kind and very unexpected. Love the spirit of the ACU family to encourage one another.

Sarah said...

Mindy, you bring up a great point and I will point out that all of the churches I have looked into were in larger metropolitan areas (b/c that's where the jobs seem to be, as well). Even The Happy Sunshine Church was in a large metropolitan area.

My rant was not to say, "I think small staff churches need to dump more on their preachers." However, I do think that small churches can still have effective websites -- but it will take a shift in thinking. Once an effective website is established, updating it on a regular basis takes no more time than creating a church bulletin.

Marketing is part of local outreach now... a lesser part, but it's definitely a part. It can also be part of family business, if used effectively. Again, it's just part of how people think.

Of course, if where your church is located and the demographics of the surrounding community doesn't include people with easy access to internet, (I simply cannot. imagine.) it is less important, but I still contend that a church should have an active and viable presence on the web, and I still contend that it shouldn't have to take 20 hours/ week to do it, if the website is well designed.

This church is an example of a small church with an active website, welcoming to visitors and communicating with its own members. It's possible... not easy, especially if it isn't where your church is geared, but it is possible.

Scott (and Mindy) one of the reasons we have found ourselves gravitating toward large churches when given the option... is so we don't feel obligated to do EVERYTHING, because we will in a smaller church.

Roxanne said...

"Um. . .why didn't you get a *RED* one, Sarah?"

Roxanne said...

Methinks you might want to be CAREFUL how loudly you ring this bell as God's impeccable and unpredictable Sense of Humor might just land you in a much smaller town than you had planned with only ONE congregation. One which, quite handily, happens to need a techno-snob to update their website whilst preparing communion, teaching a class, and taking a turn mowing the church yard. Though I'm sure any website you create would be EXCELLENT, and communion preparation is a great family activity. Hopefully you will end up in a large town with a buffet of places to worship--all with super snazzy websites. Or--better yet--you can stay put and continue to enjoy your congregation's up-and-running website. :)

So, I get your point. I do. It's just not that much of a factor for me/us. Of course, I have only attended a handful of congregations in my lifetime--my number is up to 7 (I'm counting the two in Abilene as 1.) We have a website. I hear it's actually pretty up-to-date and there is a youth forum. I can't tell you the last time I visited there, though Victoria is ready to jump on the youth forum page. Most of the church teens keep up via facebook and texting (Victoria has neither a facebook page nor a cell phone to call her own. . .I'm quite sure we are warping her in some way yet unknown to us, but we're gonna chance it), and if we need to remember the date or time of an event, we are much more likely to mark it on our calendar from the church bulletin/order of worship or call someone as plans tend to be a little fluid at times.

The internet is a tool that is very useful for many congregations--and we MOST CERTAINLY DID look FOR and then AT the website of the congregation we chose to attend when we moved, though it wasn't the final factor in our decision. In the end, there was only one congregation within 20 miles of where we live--and it's the one we chose, so I guess the magic bullet of "location, location, location" was the first factor. Even more important than that, however, was a basis in scripture and a loving family with shepherds we could trust—we’d have driven WAY MORE than 20 miles to find that. (It's actually 15 miles away, as is the nearest grocery store.) I cannot say we weren't a bit nervous about it--we were. But God has provided for this season of our lives as He has for all the seasons before. The last thing Tony and I said to each other before we got out of the car that first visit was, “As long as they teach God’s word, we’re good.” And they do, most certainly, do that—plus a whole lot of other stuff.

Again-- totally get your point. . .and that this is a build-up of steam that needed to be vented. I think, however, that saying I wouldn't attend a congregation based on their website is a little like saying I wouldn't be someone's friend because they don't own a car or because they wear the wrong clothes. . .or because their kid doesn’t have a cell phone. ;)

Roxanne said...

This just in. . .

I ACTUALLY WENT TO THE WEBSITE. It is VERY nice, though I tend to like the dragon pictures Thad draws on our order of worship.

And I even signed up to join the youth forum.
There's like a TICKER 'o scripture and everything on that youth page. :) DUDE!

Sarah said...

See, Roxanne? Isn't it lovely what one can find at one's very own church's website? So proud of you!

And... there is a REASON that I know that updating a website takes little more time than creating a church bulletin. I have done both. Don't care to do either, and now I have ... ooh.. refer back to the butterfly in cocoon story... created the muscles to say 'no, I don't think so, unless you create that job for me'. Been there, done that. Learning all the time.

This was just my own little techno-rant, and, yes, the Lord will probably use it to laugh hysterically at me. 'sokay.. It's all good.

mindy said...

I agree, a website is much more important in larger cities with tech-savvy people. I browsed lots of church websites while Keith was looking for a job, and you're absolutely right, in many settings an active and up-to-date church website can be an effective communication tool. Like you, my husband is also a bit of a techno-snob, and he would much rather spend time on the website than the paper bulletin, but it's just not a good use of his time in our setting. We do have some members on facebook, and it has been an effective way to communicate with some of them. Keith has spent some time here and there working to re-vamp our website; hopefully it will be up and running before too long, so that it better represents who we are on the world wide web, because I'm sure with time, internet will become more and more common in rural areas. We certainly never expected to move to a small town in middle Tennessee. I wish there were more job opportunities here so we could recruit your family to our town...we wouldn't make you do everything, promise;)

Tiffany said...

Sarah....hoping that you get to stay in Abilene, but praying that God sends you to me in Pearland....the way your family loves my little boy is something I cherish! So, while we house hunt tomorrow, I'll keep y'all in mind so we can be neighbors again! :)

On a different note, I grew up in Lubbock. Big town. Lots of churches. From the time I was about 2 months old until I was a junior in high school, my family attended a tiny, tiny church, Westmoreland Baptist. When I was younger I didn't realize what a youth group was, but once I hit 7th grade all I knew was that all my friends were participating in Disciple Now while I was part of a youth group that had 4 girls and 1 guy and we'd been in the same Sunday School class since birth - all 5 of us are only one year apart. I grew more and more unhappy as my tiny church couldn't provide for me the opportunities all my friends had at the bigger churches.

I grew even more unhappy when my parents announced once my sister hit 7th grade that we would be visiting one of the biggest churches in town. Wait?! What?! My sister was going to get to partake in all those things I begged for.

While those 4 girls are still friends of mine (one of them even married the boy in our youth group) all 4 of us go to BIG churches now. I can't help but think that there is stuff we know we missed out on as kids that we don't want our kids to miss out on.

Did the people at the small church love the Lord? Absolutely. Did we serve the Lord? Absolutely. I learned a lot from that church - we were there when the doors were opened and we were often the ones who closed the doors to leave. Dad was one of 2 deacons at that church. Those people have loved us in some of our darkest times and even though we weren't members of that church anymore, I remember seeing the whole congregation at dad's visitation and funeral five years ago.

Can the things exist at a small church as they do at a big church? Sure. But a big church can offer more - let's be real. And I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting more. And its a sign of the times - I mean come on, it's 2010.

I think you'd be a little put off if some of your childrens classrooms didn't have "smart" boards. It's a sign of the times. It's time to get with the program. Seriously.

And for those small mom was our small church secretary for several years when I was growing up. She worked one day a week - Wednesdays. She was in charge of the church bulletin and a few other things. Had there been such things as church websites in the late 80's and 90's, she would've been in charge of that too. My mom is sooooo not techno savvy, however, she would've done a website. They make them so easy - just enter your info and click publish! I mean, if they can get crotchedy old teachers to update them who are still stuck in the 80's, surely a church can do it too!

That's my rant, I guess. I'm all for the big church just because I know what I missed out on as a kid from going to the small church. And now that my mom is 50, she agrees too and sees my point.

So thats it....and I'll let you know the address to your new home tomorrow after I find it! ;)

Deana Nall said...

Great post. And Little Rock is lovely this time of year.

Trey Morgan said...

I agree 100%. And, I hope your hubby finds work in Childress. Like it or not, you don't have options of schools or CofC's here. :) You're stuck with us ... Yip Pee.

Henry Long said...

Sarah, I was referred to your blog by one of my clients, Memorial Church of Christ in Houston. I completely agree with your post. Most churches don't realize the importance their website holds! Even the best sites can change direction if the web admin doesn't "get it."

We build websites exclusively for churches, so if you know of one in need please have them check us out. Mustard Seed Studio and DIY Church Websites.

p.s. I will be praying for your husband's job situation.

Anonymous said...

Methinks you could use a little spiritual depth.

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