Webministry for Everyone: What to do and how to do it

A presentation by Angelique Moses for the religious education seminar at Harding University March 3-4, 2000

  1. Every church should have a webministry.

    1. Reasons (modified from www.inspiredtechnology.com/Subpages/Top10_Reasons.htm)
      1. People visiting or moving to your town will know where you are and something about you.
      2. The members of the local community will know more about you than what your building looks like.
      3. The possibilities for evangelism are limitless. In 1997 www.westarkchurchofchrist.org received 200,000 hits. In 1999 the number was 1,900,000! How can any congregation ignore this opportunity?!
      4. There are many sites out there which presume to inform others about the church- here's your opportunity to present the other side!
      5. Better communication among the congregation's members.
      6. Provide study resources (or links to good ones) for people who are preparing lessons.
      7. Encourage other Christians with a devotional section of the website.
      8. Publicize your mission efforts-some visitor may be inspired and ask to help out.
      9. Some members of your congregation have a talent for creating websites (though they might not know it), and this can be one of their ways of serving the church.
      10. Meet new people! You'll be surprised how an online friend can easily become just as dear as a "real-life" friend.
      11. The internet is not the media of the future-it is the media of the present. There are already 850+ congregations in our brotherhood online.www.cocn.org/congreg.html
    2. Costs
      1. Money
        1. Actual computer (hardware): $800+
        2. Graphics software: $100+
        3. Internet connection: $20 a month
        4. Some member of your congregation already possesses these things and is prepared to use them for the glory of God. Don't pay $ unless it's necessary!
      2. Resources
        1. Where are you going to get the information included on your site?
      3. Manpower
        1. Time, time, time! A good webministry takes an enormous amount of time, which can be reduced by utilizing more people.
    3. Options for church websites
      1. Information about your local congregation: where it is located, when services begin, etc. (This isn't really optional, it's a must.)
      2. Evangelism! Even if you don't create your own evangelistic pages, link to some others. The web may be the only place where people don't hesitate to look for answers about God, because it's a private thing. We need to take advantage of this opportunity!
        1. Begin with one focus before trying to tackle them all. Determine who you are trying to reach: faithful Christians/nominal Christians/agnostics/atheists/etc.
      3. Tons and tons of links. These can include sites of all types, but especially consider study resources for members, evangelistic resources for visitors, and devotional material.
      4. The pulpit minister at your congregation may be willing to spend an extra 10 minutes writing out the basic points of his sermons, thus enabling these to be uploaded for anyone's edification and admonition.
        1. Check out the church in El Dorado, AR which uses RealAudio to broadcast sermons. www.cacoc.org
      5. Provide activities information to members. Your whole church bulletin can be uploaded easily (and can be password-protected in case some members are paranoid). This also has the added benefit of encouraging use of the website.
      6. Give information and details about the various ministries going on. Some member might not know that there is an orphans' home ministry, or that the jail ministry needs more help.
      7. Have a forum for prayer requests! Anyone who's kept a prayer journal will agree that this can testify to the power of God.
      8. Have a discussion forum in which members and visitors can debate/talk about various things. This is a great outlet for both the scholarly type and those who are just curious about different sides of issues.
      9. Offer something similar to a magazine, created by the congregation's members. Can include:
        1. Answers to submitted questions (doctrinal or situational or whatever) that are given by a respected member (or members with different views!) such as an elder.
        2. Informative short articles which may come as a result of a member's Bible study or class preparation.
        3. Devotional thoughts written by any member of the congregation.
        4. A section by teens and a section for teens!!
        5. Think of journals you subscribe to now and consider how an open atmosphere and small scale will encourage members to get involved in the website.

  2. The basics of webministry

    1. Essential needs
      1. Computer, not necessarily at church office
      2. Online account, approximately $20 a month
      3. People: Typist, Graphics Designer, Site Developer (may be one and the same)
    2. Getting started
      1. Determine if your access provider (ISP) includes a website in its monthly cost. Example: My account with IPA includes 360 hours, 1 email address, and 5 MB webspace.
      2. If this is not the case, find a FREE webspace provider on the internet (there are hundreds). NEVER ever pay for webspace unless you have special needs.
        1. Highly recommended: http://free.prohosting.com
        2. Index of more free sites: www.freewebspace.net
        3. Consider whether or not you want an advertisement on your pages or lots of pop-up windows. (With most free sites, you're going to have to put up with advertisements. Most all servers don't allow porn or other objectionable ads.)
        4. Personally, I don't think you need to get a domain name until you already have a good site going and think it will be beneficial. (Domain names such as www.yourchurch.com are only $35 a year.) You can get URL forwards which provide the easy-to-remember names. Example: http://welcome.to/AngeliquesHomePage
      3. Find someone willing to be the "webminister," essentially in charge of the whole ongoing project. This should be someone who sees something on the computer and thinks, "I want to learn how to do that!" NEVER pay for a webmaster outside your congregation; HTML is so easy to learn that anyone who can type can create your webpages.
      4. Determine the initial focus of your site. This will probably later grow into other areas. Visit the sites of other churches to get ideas!
      5. Get a basic page online as soon as possible with at least the essential information of who and where you are.
      6. Make sure the elders of the church are involved somehow in the process. While it would be impractical to try and "get approval" before each update, encourage some of them to check the site often. Make it clear from the beginning that they have control over the site's content.
    3. Maintenance
      1. A site which is never or rarely updated will not be visited more than once. A webminister must be able and willing to put in time and effort towards making an effective site.
      2. Consider uploading your church bulletin each week. Or your preacher's latest sermon. Find something that will make a visitor think they haven't seen it all after just one visit.
      3. Have someone who likes to write curriculum for children or adults? Give them the challenge of teaching a virtual class! Interactive lessons have tons of possibilities on the internet! (Link-chasing activities, for example.)
      4. Uploading pictures of various fellowships and ministries conveys a sense of community to visitors and reinforces that community for members.
      5. When you run out of ideas, sit down and consider every person who might visit your website-what is their situation and what are they looking for? What can you provide that will be of use in each situation?

  3. Site creation for dummies
    1. Content and Design
      1. Content needs to be determined by a formal/informal committee of people who will most likely be involved in providing that content (preacher, secretary, ministry leaders, et al.)
      2. Design is the job of the webminister. How can this content be presented in a clear and navigable-but eye-catching-way? This is one of the most important aspects of creating a good site. If the visitor can't find anything, it's all worthless.
        1. Lots of webmasters see something new and decide to put it on their own website, even though it may be worthless and/or annoying. Focus needs to be on user-friendly navigation and pleasing graphics.
    2. HTML
      1. Where to learn HTML
        1. Online
          1. Observation of other sites! Pull up the source code and see how it's being done! This is the way I learned-it's just not difficult stuff!
          2. References. Something akin to a FAQ of HTML tags will teach the basics to those who can pick up on technology fairly easily.
            W3C, very technical but extremely thorough: www.w3.org/TR/html4
            My site: www.angelq.net/html.htm
          3. Tutorials are good for people who are somewhat comfortable with technology, but not intuitive about how it works. These take you step-by-step through creating pages.
            From HTML to CSS to JavaScript: www.htmlgoodies.com
          4. Classes are basically tutorials that also answer your questions, a big plus.
            Try mine at www.ipa.net/~gamoses/HTMLintro.htm
          5. Get on the discussion lists for church webmasters. Others are always willing to help.
            Start at www.olm.org
        2. Offline
          1. Books are mostly unhelpful and totally unfriendly (in my experience) and are never worth the outrageous prices charged. Get a recommendation from a trusted friend before you fork out $50.
          2. Classes have the same benefits as those listed above (online classes) but charge you. Don't do this unless you absolutely have to.
          3. Friends are fantastic resources! You probably know someone who's into website creation. Just call them up whenever you get stuck going through an online resource for immediate feedback.
      2. Advanced web stuff and where to get it for FREE (though this often means ads):
        1. CGI is necessary for forms and lots and lots of other stuff. Most free servers (and often commercial ones!) don't allow CGI scripts, so you have to use scripts provided by other servers. Yeah, it's a bit complicated.
          This site isn't highly reliable, but it's the best free one: whoishostingthis.com/compare/cgi-access/resources/
        2. Java Script is necessary for some things; too much tell, just go see.
          About.com's JavaScript info: http://javascript.miningco.com/compute/javascript
        3. Java is pretty complex stuff, requiring programming knowledge.
          Get free applets: www.freewarejava.com
        4. Forums (a.k.a. message boards) are hard to get exactly the way you want them, but these can be a great part of a website.
          A list is here: http://thinkofit.com/webconf/hostsites.htm#cheapbbs
        5. Guestbooks need to be moderated because there's always some bozo who writes something crude.
          Dreambook is fantastic: www.dreambook.com
        6. Have a computer check your HTML code for errors! This is a fantastic tool!
          Link Inspector: http://siteowner.bcentral.com/
        7. Submitting your site to all the search engines takes forever. Let someone else do the work.
          Search Engine Registration: http://selfpromotion.com
        8. Trackers figure out who comes to your site.
          Extreme Tracking: www.extreme-dm.com/tracking
        9. URL forwarding gives you an easy-to-remember address like http://go.to/mywebsite
          V3 Identity: http://come.to/
    3. Graphics
      1. Requires a bit more innate ability than coding. Must have a sense of aesthetics and color blending. If you think that orange words on an aqua-blue background look good, find someone else to create graphics!
      2. This is the part that can get expensive. A good program will set you back at least $100. Most likely, some member of your congregation already has such a program and will be happy to help with the website. Some recommended programs:

      3. (all of these have trial downloads, which I suggest you use before deciding which to buy; and upgrades are always cheaper than the initial buy.)
        1. Corel PhotoPaint is compatible with just about everything. In my opinion, this is the most user-friendly (but still very powerful) graphics program available, and at a reasonable price.
          $500 full, $700 suite www.corel.com/us/
        2. Adobe PhotoShop used the be the industry standard, but tends to be difficult to use for anyone but a trained designer. Also extremely overpriced, imho.
          $600 full, $95 limited, $1,000 suite www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/main.html
        3. Jasc PaintShopPro has gotten good reviews, though I have never used it. It's definitely the choice for those on a tight budget.
          $100 www.jasc.com/psp6dl.html
      4. SIZE, size, size! (Not physical size, but bandwidth size!) Graphics are usually the culprit when a site takes forever to download. No one wants to hang around for 4 minutes just to see your pretty border. Keep 'em small and simple.
        1. NEVER use an image map without also providing a text-only menu!
        2. Always compress images
          1. GIF files compress images by reducing the number of colors in a graphic. This works well for most images except photos and those with graduated fills. GIFs can also be assigned a transparent color, which will not show on a webpage.
          2. JPEG is a file format that compresses images, sacrificing some quality for a smaller size. Example: a 200x500 pixel, 300 dpi image initially takes up 151K in my graphics editor, but turned into a JPEG is 38K in size, and compressed 20% as a JPEG brings the total memory down to 10K.
        3. Use free graphics! It is entirely lawful and normal to "steal" graphics and backgrounds off of someone else's site unless it is expressly prohibited. If you still don't feel okay about it, email them and ask or put a small acknowledgment beside it in your page.
          Clip Art Review lists different free graphics sites: www.webplaces.com/html/clipart.htm
          Still more from About.com: http://webclipart.about.com/internet/webclipart

link to West-Ark Church of Christ
Link to West-Ark Church of Christ