Monday, January 06, 2014

What's on the front page?

One of our readings for the MAR Keynote course is from Heidi A. Campbell, titled Understanding the Relationship between Religion Online and Offline in a Networked Society. The article is quite long and covers a wide range of other literature (the references section is eight pages long!) but gives an interesting look at some of the differences and similarities between how religion is practiced both offline and online. Dr. Campbell lays out five central traits of what she terms "networked religion:" networked community, stored identity, shifting authority, convergent practice, and multisite reality.

The section that I found most interesting was on shifting authority and in particular there is one passage that I wanted to lift up for thought: "It is recognized that the structure of web sites and discussion forums offers a platform of influence often not available to users offline, as they become interpreters of religious belief and culture online." (page 11). This made me pause and consider how the structure our a church's website may relate to what that church is trying to say and to whom it is saying it. This topic is also discussed in the Click 2 Save book that I mentioned yesterday.

When my church first started to talk about setting up a website I encouraged that those involved with the design be very intentional about the entire thing. Unfortunately there was very little interest in being involved and I ended up putting together the site myself quickly. The result is a very basic site with quite limited functionality. My initial intention was to provide the information that I thought was most pertinent to people that are searching the web for churches to visit, so I included our address and when we worship. Since that first debut I have added a nicer cover photo and we now have archived recordings of sermons, so the audience may have widened to include parishioners that couldn't attend and want to listen to the message, but for the most part there really isn't much content there.

In light of this I'm now wondering what a fresh pair of eyes sees when they view our website. If the major thing we are presenting is where and when we meet, what does that say about our message? Does it say anything about us at all?


Kerri Clark said...

Chuck - how convenient that you have an entire class of fresh eyes! I think it's always a good idea to be asking this often - about websites,and also worship spaces and liturgy.

One thing I'm wondering is if the description provided (is it the mission statement?) uses a lot of "insider language" - it makes sense to me, but if the audience the website is meant to reach is a group not already attending the church, this may seem confusing, or inaccessible. It might be interesting to include photos or short quotes from folks in your congregation to describe/show how the congregation is living that out.

Also, do you have a pastor? Could his/her name or picture be included on the website?

Overall, I think it's helpful to have something available to folks, even if the information is basic, and with the link to Facebook, there is an opportunity for greater connection and more information.

Mary Hess said...

I think you're asking the right questions here! And I'll be curious how they unfold as you ask them with members of your congregation, and perhaps also with people in the area who might geographically be close to your congregation, but not familiar with it.

Nicole Roop said...

Like you, I struggle with how to best set up our web presence with limited resources. There is the monetary issue - which is why we use a free site - and personnel - I'm seen as the tech savvy adult on the Council, therefore, I was tapped to do it. As we are reading in Click2Save, a website is just the tip of the iceberg and we need to supplement it. In my eyes, your facebook presence is more important and the videos you've posted.