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March 2, 2009 - 3:14 PM

The Purpose Driven Website

This weekend, I made the trip down to Ministry 2.0 in Austin, TX. In addition to spending some great time with some smart and passionate people down there, I enjoyed the sessions by Nathan Smith, Stephen Anderson, and Jason Reynolds. One of the main themes I saw woven throughout the conference was related to building your church website based on a strong sense of purpose.

With so many exciting and quickly changing technologies happening on the web right now, it can be tempting to just pick out the things that appeal to you and make them part of your website. A beautiful photo slide show for the home page... a little online video... a blog for the pastor to write on... a facebook group for everyone to join... a twitter account to post updates to... and you've got yourself a modern and relevant website - or so it might seem.

The important thing to remember is that many of these great example uses of web media you are seeing out there have a whole story behind them that goes well beyond just the technology itself. The medium itself is not what makes a website great, it is the implementation and use of the medium to accomplish a defined goal that makes a church website extraordinary.

In my experience building church websites over the years, I have normally started out every church web project by asking the client to define a few things:

  • "Who is your audience?"
  • "What is the purpose of the website?"
  • "What action do we hope visitors to the website will ultimately be lead to?"

Answering these questions usually takes us most of the way towards determining the information architecture of the site (or what will be on the site and how will it be organized). Usually, we're just trying to answer these questions off the top of our heads. Stephen Anderson shared one concept in his sessions that I think can help us better answer these questions and gets more the heart of the matter and it is simply:

"What needs do you have in your church?"

Note that this question is not, "What needs do you have in your church that your website can help you meet?". The question focuses the discussion just on the needs of the church and not yet on how those needs will be met. We really get to the core of what the church is about and this will later lead into making the website into a vehicle to help accomplish the purposes of the church. Every feature, function, and organizational element of the website needs to flow out of the purpose of meeting the needs that are identified here.

One example we discussed in my group was someone's stated need of helping the elderly members of the church to speak more wisdom into the lives of the younger members. I remembered a story a while back when YouTube was just starting to become very popular. An elderly british man (I wish I could remember his name) started sharing his life stories on YouTube and his popularity amoung younger viewers exploded. I think this was because of his authentic content and the fact that his stories came from another time in our history that is so foreign to the younger generation. There was wisdom in his videos and because it was through a medium that was relevant to the younger generation, a need was met for many who participated.

In light of this example, one way you could meet this need on a church website would be to use video to allow elderly members to share testimonies or other wisdom in a medium that is welcomed and acceptible by people who might not otherwise be exposed to this wealth of life insight. There would be benefit to both sides and people who may not otherwise interact could do so using web technologies.

There are numerous other ways you can apply this thinking and I think we need to go through this excercise extensively when planning and building our church websites.

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