Posts tagged ‘Open Source’
Over the recent year Church Websites have changed dramatically and embraced new technology such as vodcasts and social media sites.
I came across this great article by Darren Hoyt, who interviewed a number of church website designers from big churches in America such as Mars Hill.
I’ve tried to sum up the best questions & responses,I think Nathan Smith a lot of the time is on the ball with very detailed responses. I recommend you read the full article here and hear other responses and questions as well.
I think Nathan Smith a lot of the time is on the ball with very detailed responses.
Design is often considered a form of problem-solving mixed with storytelling. How is this applied to church design?
Chris Merritt: Your definition is accurate, in my opinion. The problem churches face when it comes to their website is effectively and authentically communicating who they are to users. There’s a “story” to tell there, and I’m not talking about when the church was founded and who their senior pastor is. The story that needs to be told is how God is moving in their community. People want to know that God is active and that a congregation is earnestly engaging in the mission of God. Secondly, churches have to make their website useful to it’s members, rather than just a brochure. Sadly, this is a step many churches overlook. The web has made communication so much easier now, so it would be a huge mistake for a community to not take advantage of the usefulness of the web.
Excluding the examples above, what’s most often lacking in church design?
Nathan Smith: I think what’s most lacking, even in some more exemplary design, is a focus on the gospel. Not to single out any particular preacher, but many of them focus on a self-help approach to religion, rather than the personhood of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the triune Living God. I think of it like this: If we are truly seeking the Lord, he will find us. For, it is not he that is lost, and we kid ourselves if we think that our post-modern approach of moral relativism is somehow more evolved than he who is the same: yesterday, today, forever. God is the very definition of a supreme constant, the very embodiment of infinity who once walked amongst us. That is the real, potent, unapologetic news that we need to hear and be reminded of: The Creator of all humbled himself before creation, to redeem it. I think good church design would focus not so much on programs and events, or social media, as if they have intrinsic value. These types of things are all frivolity, if not to serve the Master.
Chris Merritt: Following up on my last answer, I think many churches fail to take advantage of the powerful utility of the web. Connecting people, organizing, and simply making information available can be of huge benefit to those who use it. On the actual design side, I think churches are too often satisfied copying the look and feel of other popular designs, rather than creating something original.
Are design choices made by internal church teams, external design firms, or is there collaboration between the two?
Nathan Smith: The best answer to that question is: It depends.
Some churches have the budget to keep a full-time design and web development staff working on-site. Others use outside firms or a team of distributed contractors on a per-project basis. Still others lack the wherewithal to create something custom, and opt to go with a template based approach. Along this spectrum are varying degrees of input and creative control.
If a church has a strong vision for outreach, then a lot of that kinetic energy comes from within, iron sharpening iron, so to speak. Whereas, outside design firms or contractors are sometimes brought in to help a church focus its energies into a unified approach, often adding guidance to ministries that perhaps have not traversed that project path before, or may be undergoing a site redesign to better fit a renewed ministerial direction.
I think that the level of collaboration can vary, and in the case of ministries such as LifeChurch.tv, can blur the lines between core team, contractors, and outside volunteers. Having visited LC recently, I have to say that I am quite impressed and inspired by their “open source” approach to ministry, building web apps that are free for anyone to use, and an eventual plan to include local and remote volunteers in the process. Part of that vision includes open.lifechurch.tv, making available many of their materials, for those churches who cannot afford agencies, or a dedicated creative staff.
Dustin Stearman: There is definitely collaboration. Most of our clients are just getting started with their branding. The initial decision on design preference always comes from the church planter. They have to evaluate the design style that best depicts who they are and speaks effectively to their community. Once they have this decision made, they seek the design firms expertise on how to best communicate that style. I often hear ‘you’re the expert; I know you will come up with something great’ on a regular basis. Our clients are great, as they have so many other things to focus on, so they are quite willing to give us freedom to do what they do best.
If you’re designing for a church you’ve never seen or visited, and which has no existing branding, how do you create something representative of the spirit of the church?
Nathan Smith: For me, it is often about talking through with church staff who have been there for awhile, or who are newly hired and fired up about the approach the church is taking towards outreach. Both types of people can offer valuable input and help you as the designer gain a better understanding of the congregation. This includes factors such as: demographics, overall spiritual maturity, community concerns, and theological nuances. Some churches are known for being “seeker friendly” while others take more of an educational approach to their congregants.
I have done church design for congregations who believe in predestination, as well as those who believe that man inherently can either choose or reject God. It has been my experience that the former tend to focus on shepherding the home flock, first and foremost, through Bible studies, seminars, retreats, etc. So, a design for a church like that would want to feel cozy, giving established members a place to keep up on the latest happenings. The latter tend to be more evangelistic in nature, and can often be seen as more edgy, attempting to reach those who might not have a Christian background.
I am not saying either approach is better, simply that as a designer, you need to know who is the primary recipient of your design. I also invite the church I’m working with to pray through the process, especially if the work is remote, and I won’t be able to get an on-site feel for the atmosphere of their congregation. At the end of the day, it’s God who either breathes life into our endeavors, or not. Through it all, we need to be seeking to glorify him.
Pastor John MacArthur published a popular article (”Grunge Christianity?“) condemning modern churches that trade sanctity and tradition for “cultural relevancy”. MacArthur and his supporters disagree with so-called pragmatists who seek bigger, younger, more worldly congregations.
Q: Does this running battle within the church ever affect web projects? Does the “pop culture” success of pastors like Mark Driscoll and magazines like Relevant influence the design approach?
Nathan Smith: I think that pop culture plays a large part in web projects. We are naive if we try to take an isolationist approach. God has called us as believers to be a city on a hill, not obscured from view in some cavern. Billy Graham has been quoted as saying that a good preacher reads two things daily: The Bible and the newspaper. We need to keep abreast of what is going on in the world around us, because we are all symbiotic citizens of the same planet.
It is funny you mention Mark Driscoll, because Mars Hill is probably one of the few edgy churches that adheres to the doctrine of predestination. They are edgy, which is perhaps a result of the environment in which they minister, urban Seattle. I believe such an approach is both valid and necessary, as is also the case with Relevant magazine, reaching people through multimedia and design.
It’s been said that God has no grandchildren. He wants a direct relationship with each person, so we as facilitators of that calling have to meet people through what they know, and if that is pop culture, then so be it.
That being said, there are of course situations in which a pop culture approach would be entirely inappropriate. Dealing with a more conservative and traditional mainline denominational church, for instance. You have to be cognizant of the local congregation, but also stay “on-brand” with the larger denomination, not coloring too far outside the lines.
I think of it like this: the Apostle Paul said he wanted to be adaptive, becoming “all things” to “all people” – and being a good designer is knowing how to do that, depending on audience.
Dustin Stearman: This is definitely a touchy subject. While all Christian churches make up the overall Church (the unified body of believers in Christ), there are many ways of doing church. In every denomination or church style, there are churches that lead the pack and all other local churches look to for things they do that are successful in growing the church. Many of our clients come to us with specific churches in mind that they love how they do things or wish to have a style similar to theirs as they know it works and relates to their people.
Some churches cited have dark, edgy, asymmetrical designs, often with rough edges and scratchy textures. What is that signifying about the church? Does the church staff request that kind of imagery specifically? If so, what is the strategy?
Matt Adams: The rough edged, torn paper, scratchy lines look started with bands. This look usually represented the feeling, passions, and rawness of that band. I believe churches want to show their heart, their community, their culture as much as they can. An inner city church, with a very “rough” audience, generally does not connect well with a clean, glossy, shiny site.
This is the highest requested look we have, and probably our specialty right now. I really enjoy the work we put into these projects. Sometimes we will age our own paper in the sun (Arizona is great for this), or tear up some cardboard, rust some nails / staples / paperclips, all to scan in for use on these projects. We will hand draw sketchy lines for the perfect ink pen consistency, crumple photos, and really have a good time on these projects. The hard part is when the church is just looking for the trend, and not looking to show their true culture. it really shows when it comes down to the final product and their input.
The Church as a Business
Forbes online has its own news category called “Christian Capitalism”, featuring stories like “Megachurches, Megabusinesses” and “Holy Real Estate“. Business Week also reports on the growth of church consulting:
Once established, some ambitious churches are making a big business out of spreading their expertise. Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., formed a consulting arm called Willow Creek Assn. It earned $17 million last year, partly by selling marketing and management advice to 10,500 member churches from 90 denominations.
“Our entrepreneurial impulse comes from the Biblical mandate to get the message out,” says Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels, who hired Stanford MBA Greg Hawkins, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant, to handle the church’s day-to-day management. Willow Creek’s methods have even been lauded in a Harvard Business School case study.
Church Marketing Sucks says:
Marketing is the process of promoting, selling and distributing goods or services. It’s a business concept, but something very similar happens in the church. As much as we bristle at comparing evangelism to a sales pitch, there are certain similarities.
When designing church websites, do you encounter any conflicts with putting a public “business and marketing” face on a place of worship? Is this ever part of the discussion when collaborating with church staff?
Nathan Smith: Thankfully, I haven’t run into this sort of problem with any of the church sites I’ve worked on. My experience has been that of back-and-forth on how to balance the information architecture of a site, not over-emphasizing the many ministries available, at the expense of conveying the basic fundamentals. I think that when you’re working with a church that really has the best intentions for spreading the gospel at heart, these sort of details can often be discussed without skewing the underlying message.
Unrelated to that, I did once have a recruiter contact me from Joel Osteen Ministries. Having heard how Mr. Osteen tends not to take a stance for the name of Christ when in public interviews such as on Larry King Live, I knew this was not a man I wanted to work with. I respectfully declined the job offer. To me, it would be silly to go to work under false pretenses, using my God-given talents and abilities for someone else’s personal gain. As an example, at the time of this writing (10/24/08), the word “Jesus” is nowhere to be found on the home page of JoelOsteen.com (not visibly, nor in the code). I think a ministry that waters down (or embellishes upon) the gospel is not a ministry at all.
Presentation-wise, what’s the biggest difference between a corporate business site and a well-funded church website? What do business sites do that you, a church designer, would never do?
Nathan Smith: I would say the biggest difference is the approach taken to the content. With a corporate business site, it is all about the bottom-line. You seek to present the clients’ goods or services in the best possible light, helping convey why their particular brand can help solve some unique consumer or enterprise problem better than their competitors. It is all about subtle self-promotion, while also taking into account how the user will react to various visual and informational cues.
As a church designer, you should steer clear of this type of propoganda, not because it’s inherently bad, because effective marketing can be truthful. Rather, I would say steer clear of saying “Our church is *the* best church,” implicitly stating “Better than other churches,” because that type of phrasing is not needed. We’re all on the same team, so to speak, in over-arching sense of mainstream Christianity. The gospel sells itself. The responsibility of the designer is not to exhault anything to the point that it becomes a distraction to those whom Christ wants to draw unto him.
What sort of functionality (blogs, calendars, forums) has proven to be most useful to congregations?
Nathan Smith: I think that blogging is an amazing way for a pastor to share what is on his heart. While some churches, especially those run by denominational boards, often want to impose an editorial process, or some sort of oversight, as far as what is published. I would say that the pastor who is blogging should be one who is seasoned, and has an established rapport with his or her community.
It is also important to help the reader realize that the words spoken on the blog may or may not represent the stance of the congregation as a whole. With those disclaimers, I think it makes for an excellent window into the raw, unfiltered viewpoint of church leadership.
Likewise, forums are beneficial, for people to submit questions to the church staff, and also discuss amongst themselves. This can be in an intranet approach, where members of a church are granted access to the discussion, or an extranet approach, where anyone can join in. Either way, any worthwhile forum needs a few dedicated moderators, to help guide discussion, and keep spammers away.
Lastly, calendars are a great way for people to keep in touch with what’s going on at a church. I would suggest using a shared Google calendar amongst church staff, and then hooking it into your website via an API. Allowing people to subscribe to events in an RSS feed, or export it to a program like Outlook or iCal, is also very helpful.
Matt Adams: i have been a long time advocate of podcasting and online streaming media. Recently i haven been intrigued by the power of twitter, and its use as an SMS alert service. Im on the fence about blogs in the church. I see some pastors who use them effectively, and others that butcher them. Church calendars are only good if they are maintained well, and I feel they should also publish an RSS feed of events (for us younger tech geeks). I believe church forums should be deleted asap. In the past 4 years I have yet to see a healthy, well run church forum.
Despite powerful marketing, studies show that the “proportion of Americans who reported no religious preference doubled from 7% to 14% in the 1990s”. In England, between 1979 and 2005, “half of all Christians stopped going to church on a Sunday.”
Q: Does the rise of church marketing imply an urgency to attract or reclaim church members? Design-wise, what aspects of church life do you portray (ex: fun events, missions, worldliness) to attract members?
Nathan Smith: I think it implies urgency, but in my opinion, this is an urgency that shouldn’t have been lost in the first place. Too many churches still follow the old paradigm, of assuming the purpose of outreach is to get people’s rears into pews on Sunday, and keep the offering plates full.
While any church of course needs to be financially sound to be effective, marketing cannot just be about numbers, or we are totally missing the point. I think that our designs have to portray more than just “food folks and fun,” because we as a Church are more than just a drive-through. We need to advertise a lifestyle of radical change. Such growth is not without growing pains, as God continually turns up the heat on our lives.
Like a good metalurgist, God is most happy when he can see his own reflection clearly in that which he creates. I think as long as we’re conveying such transformative power, the rest is just icing on the cake.
I’ve heard it said that God would rather we be holy than happy, but I think that’s wrong. I think God wants us to be holy, striving to be like him, because only in that can we find true joy and fulfillment. Now, that is something worth marketing!
How often do churches reject the more commercial look, in favor of something visually quiet and modest?
Nathan Smith: I’m seeing less and less attempts at modesty in church web design as of late. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all vain self-flattery, but I think churches are realizing it’s okay to spread their wings a bit. A bird is not showing off when it flies, simply proving to onlookers that it is possible to soar with the help of the wind. Still, there is a lot to be said for modesty. Our Lord could have presented himself as a triumphant king, but he chose to initally come as the son of a carpenter. There is more to our message than just glitz, and it would behoove us to remember that.
Have you seen any church marketing out there that you think missed the point, went too far, or contradicted any core Christian values
Nathan Smith: Every time I see a t-shirt that misappropriates a popular brand name, I think to myself: “Ugh, they just don’t get it.” You’re not “redeeming” a marketing approach by re-hashing something you saw on a bill-board, by putting a Christian spin on it. The world doesn’t need a Christian version of product XYZ, like a Christians-only Facebook, or some social marketing whiz-bang tool. We need Christians who can be amongst their fellow man, there to lean on, rather than off in some self-congratulatory walled-garden. We need to get back to the basics of the golden rule: “Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
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