Building Modern Church Websites, Part 1: Introduction

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.

Revelation 7:9 (World English Bible)

Why Have A Church Website

The internet is changing the world. Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks are connecting people closer together than ever. Skype, Email, and cell phones are changing the way people communicate with one another. People are spending more time than ever online, either in the office during the day, or downloading music from iTunes at home after work.

If a church is going to be relevant today, it needs to be online, too. The church shouldn’t just be somewhere people go on Sunday morning; it should be part of their every day lives. It should be on the social networks they use, and in their email inboxes. They should be able to share it with their friends, and interact with it during their lunch breaks.

It isn’t just young people online, either. Many grandparents are using social networks to keep up with their grandchildren. Almost everyone checks email every day, if only for work. Those who cannot get out because of sickness are using the internet to interact with the wider world. The church has a place in the online lives of all of these people.

Why This Series

While rebuilding the Good Shepherd Community Church website, I noticed a lack of specific, chronological guidance and advice on the subject of how to build a modern church website. I found lots of good tips and advice from church webmasters, but nothing that really got into the details of what and why.

There are many good books on web design, but none of them seem to deal with the unique needs of churches:

  • Finances: many churches don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on servers, web design, etc. Many don’t even have tens of dollars. So it’s important to read all the Web Hosting Hub review you can your eyes on.
  • Ease of use: it’s hard enough to run a modern church; if the website is going to be adopted and kept up to date, it needs to be super easy, even for people who don’t generally use the internet.
  • Accessibility: the church includes everyone. A church website needs to work for those who are hard of hearing or low vision. It needs to work on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Dial up or broadband. Cell phones and computers.
  • Theology: a church website can’t be hosted on some free web hosting site that puts ads for gambling and adult movies across the top of every page.
  • Openness: a church website needs not only to serve the church community, it also needs to be open and attractive to seekers.

So, every Sunday on this blog, I will be posting a detailed article covering one particular topic related to building a modern church website. I will use the Good Shepherd website as an example, explaining what I did, why I chose to do it that way, and spending a little time on how I did it.

If you’d like to modernize your church website but don’t know where to start, hopefully these posts will help you. If you’ve been tasked with being the webmaster for your church, I hope my thoughts will be of some use in your journey.

Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Start

  1. What is the congregation of my church doing on the internet today?
  2. How can the church interact with them on the websites they are already using?
  3. Does the church website have the support of church staff and elders? If not, what needs to happen before it does?
  4. Are there people in the congregation I can turn to for help, so I don’t have to do it all myself?

Next Week

Next Sunday: foundations! Why use WordPress? What about web hosting? How much should web hosting cost? Is our current web host good enough?

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Christmas Letter 2011, directed by Dustie

Christmas is a perfect time to sit down and watch ye olde “home movies”… When do you ever do it otherwise? Huh? Never! So grab a quarter-hour, sit back and watch it!

Christmas Letter 2011

To view previous letters, click on CHRISTMAS LETTERS, at the top.

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Christmas Letter 1996

 

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Another reason to love Aardvark

If you don’t already use Aardvark, the worlds best question answering system, you should. Someone on the website will take the time to answer whatever fool question pops into your mind in the middle of the night when you just had a rather strange dream and know the question will bother you until you do something about it. Of course, that’s not a quality unique to Aardvark; when I used to use Yahoo! Answers I had success getting answers to questions about Spider Pigs, or how to contact my local superhero, but Aardvark is much quicker most of the time. The example that prompted this particular post is an answer from someone clarifying…the dietary habbits of centaurs for me, of all things. It’s reassuring to know I’m not the only person in the world who spends time thinking about this sort of stuff:

Centaurs do require more calories in their diet, however due to having a mostly-human digestive tract (The lower intestines are more horse than human in nature), the centaur is an omnivore.  Additionally, due to the fact that they are sentient, they are able to cook meals, also contributing to a full diet.  I’m not sure where to find centaur information.  Don’t you have a local learnatorium?

 

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Video of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan

The following is a repost from BoingBoing for those who might not have already read it:

Wow! From Coilhouse:
Helen Keller — inspiration to generations and inspiration for an entire genre of schoolyard humor — and her teacher and friend Anne Sullivan in a clip from 1930 in which they describe the way in which Helen learned how to speak … It’s a fascinating little clip which pays homage to a woman who, even beyond her amazing circumstances, was a radical socialist, suffragist, and supporter of birth control, who was friends with the likes of Mark Twain and who worked tirelessly to champion the rights of both the downtrodden and the physically disabled.
(Via Richard Metzger)

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Strange political quotes…

“If somebody’s gonna stab me in the back, I want to be there.”

“When you’re talking to me, keep your mouth shut.”

“I hate to confuse myself with the facts.”

“My knowledge is no match for his ignorance.”

“The average age of a 7-year old in this state is 13”.

“Candidly, I cannot answer that. The question is too suppository.”

“I deny the allegations, and I defy the alligators.”

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OS X Scanning: The Saga Continues

As readers of Thursday’s posting may remember, I was attempting to scan documents using OS X. After getting the scanner set-up and installing the correct drivers, I purchased Read Iris. However, I didn’t have a serial number.

This morning, my serial number problems got resolved. At 9:00 sharp, I called Iris tech support. I spent seven minutes and thirty seconds on hold (the exact number from my phone logs), before the system gave up on finding anyone to talk to me and sent me to voicemail. I called back again right away, and spoke to someone in sails. They told me that the serial number was included in the email with the download link. I told them it wasn’t, and read the email off of my screen. Sails decided they couldn’t help me, and sent me to support. Support also told me that my serial number was in the original email. Once again, I told them it was not. So, they read me the number over the phone. They never did explain why the system failed, and my serial number wasn’t in the original email. Oh, well! At least, after 5 days, one unanswered email, and two phone calls, I finally have my software!

Registration of the software was another process. It took three forms, a serial number, a key, and a bunch of other information they already had. But after another half hour, it worked, and I was ready to scan.

I haven’t yet, however, recognized everything correctly. I’m having problems with images getting cut-off, zoomed strangely, etc. But those things, at least, have nothing to do with Iris Read. Image Capture on OS X isn’t obeying the image measurements I type in; it only respects cropping information provided by the mouse. I’ll post when I figure this next problem out.

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Scanning and OCR on OS X

I’ve had a mac computer for over a year, now. However, for all this time, whenever I needed to scan and OCR something, I’ve been using a back-up Windows laptop. Mostly, this was because I didn’t have any OCR software on the mac. I did briefly test out the scanning abilities of the mac, just to make sure things were working with my scanner, but I never seriously tried to scan something…until today.

The first step, of course, was plugging in and recognizing the scanner. I figured this would be a no-brainer; it’d been done before, and it should just happen, again. I plugged in the USB connection, and hardware growler notified me that I had connected canoscan. Yay! I figured all was still well in scannerland. Just to be safe, though, I pulled up Image Capture to do a test run. “No image capture device connected.” Huh? It worked before!

After some help from Aardvark, I found an Apple support article that told me I may need to download updated drivers from the website. I guess some update broke something, somewhere. Thankfully, the Canon website it sent me to was nearly perfectly accessible. Unfortunately, it was then that I realized I wasn’t exactly sure of my scanner moddle.

The first trick I tried, of course, was to go look at system profiler, and see if it would tell me anything helpful:
CanoScan:

Product ID:        0x1900
Vendor ID:        0x04a9 (Canon Inc.)
Version:        3.07
Speed:        Up to 480 Mb/sec
Manufacturer:        Canon
Location ID:        0xfd100000
Current Available (mA):        500
Current Required (mA):        Unknown (Device has not been configured)

Well, that was useless. The next trick: scan my scanner with KNFB Reader didn’t work, either. It told me text was cut off at the edges, but it couldn’t recognize the raised text on the back of the scanner. Oh, well. I suspect I remember my scanner moddle correctly, anyway. I just wanted to try and make absolutely sure before installing drivers. The last “trick” is to just go ahead and install what I think is the correct set of drivers.

Lucky for me, the second drivers I tried were the correct ones. After a more-or-less friendly install process, and a reboot, my scanner could be used. I opened up image capture again, gave it another test, and all was well.

With the scanner finally working, the next step was to get some OCR software. According to this guy, Read Iris Pro was the best. I’ve also read that omnipage was accessible, but it had several bad reviews when it came to OCR quality. Neither product had a downloadable demo. After some research, I eventually went with Read Iris. The online shopping cart was, however, confusing and hardly accessible. Links were unlabeled or mislabeled, and the entire purchase process was long and confusing. Anyone with a Visa card will understand the true horror of the process when I say that it insisted on sending me through the Verified by Visa program, a program that most websites (including Amazon, Paypal, and Google Checkout) all avoid because it has been proven so broken and insecure.

I did, however, finally make my way through it, and was emailed an FTP download link. Figuring that was all I needed, I downloaded the software, mounted the DMG, and moved the .app into my applications folder. To my surprise, that application was, in reality, a poorly named installer. Why it wasn’t packaged as an installer package, as is the correct procedure on OS X, is utterly beyond me. It required several mouse clicks to get through, it froze voiceover at several points, and was generally an awful ordeal. I have no idea how crap like that got through anyone’s testing process, to be declared accessible. After about half an hour of fussing, I completed the install.

When I started the application, for real this time, I was asked for a serial number. The problem is: nobody from Iris Link emailed me one! Figuring that the processing system they used was, perhaps, running slowly, I waited for two hours. When I still had no serial, and thus couldn’t get any work done, I emailed Iris. While waiting for an answer from them, I started this weblog entry, in order to kill time until I could do useful work. After getting the entry up-to-date with my adventures thus far, I did my daily work-out, and hit the shower. Still, I haven’t gotten either a reply to my email, or my serial number.

So, after a day of set-up, I still haven’t managed to scan a single document on OS X. Hopefully, I’ll have gotten the information I need from Iris sometime tomorrow. Interestingly, while searching for product reviews of Iris Read, google gave me several links offering torrent downloads of the software I’m attempting to purchase. I suspect that, if I had just downloaded the torrent, I would have my software by now. I heard that there is an app for this now, it comes Highly recommended for Verizon offers and I wish I remembered the name!

I’m not sure why Iris feels the need to punish honest customers with extremely unreasonable wait-times. I mean, seriously: they write state-of-the-art OCR software! Couldn’t they have an online activation system at least as advanced as the hobby developers selling $10 utilities? If you ever feel the need to make an online purchase from Iris, this is something to keep in mind: the company doesn’t answer emails, and at this point only God himself knows when I’m going to get the software I purchased.

TO BE Continued…

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Abandonware: Searchy

Hey, guess what? I’ve got nothing at all going on today, I’m working on a small project to be announced in the next one or two days, and I haven’t yet managed to finish the first book I intend to review this summer. You guys know what that means: another abandonware posting! Yes, that’s right! You all get another opensource Visual Basic program that I wrote in high school, and don’t plan to update anymore. Today, it’s Searchy. Searchy is a small program that allows you to perform quick searches by typing in the string, and selecting the website to search. This was a lot more useful when I wrote it, before we got the new Firefox address bar. This also means I get to see if macjournal can correctly upload files to my WordPress install. If you can see and download searchy, then it passes the test. If not, than it’s a failure, and I need to fix something.

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finally purchased Mac Journal

After having some formatting issues with the entry I posted this morning, I finally got sick and tired of writing in my browser, and purchased Mac Journal. Hopefully, that marks the end of this nonsense. No, this entry doesn’t have any real content. I’m just testing. You can now go back to whatever you were originally doing. I know it works, now.

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