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Make your web ministry user-centered

When developing a Web ministry for your church, district or conference organization, it is very important from the start to understand who you hope to reach and what these groups of people want from your Web presence. If you fail to plan for their needs and expectations than you will not only miss important ministry opportunities but you will also be wasting a lot of time and money. To avoid the common RFA or "Ready-Fire-Aim" approach, we suggest you follow the user-centered design process.

For purpses of Web ministry, we have adapted Jesse James Garrett's foundational principles for the user-centered design into a seven-phase process:

  • Discovery
  • Strategy
  • Design
  • Build
  • Launch
  • Maintain
  • Evaluate

This process is cyclical so that you are continuously working to keep your online presence relevant and up-to-date to meet the needs, interests and expectations of those you want to reach through your Web ministry. Learn more about the User-Centered Design Process for Web ministry by selecting the tabs above.

Discovery
During the discovery phase, you form a Web ministry team, secure buy-in from key people and groups within your church, browse other church websites to determine what you like (and don't like) in a Web experience, develop a purpose and goals for your Web ministry that are aligned with your church's overall ministry and mission, identify and learn as much as you can about the target audience groups you want to reach through your Web ministry, determine the type of Web presence you will have (static, responsive or dynamic) and make use of the free Web presence your church already has through Find-A-Church.org.

Strategy
With the foundational work of discovery complete, you move to the strategy phase of user-centered design to acquire basic technology tools (computer hardware and software, email and Internet access, etc.), register a domain name (Web address), choose website design and hosting services, assess the human resources available and determine a budget for your Web ministry efforts.

Design
After completing the discovery and strategy phases, it's time to design the website in ways that will make it visually appealing to your target audience groups and make use of various multimedia elements for optimum interaction. During this phase you will create a unique image and design using color, layout and font styles; develop a welcoming homepage and determine main section pages as well as identify subsection pages and overall site navigation menus.

Build
Now it's time to put all the pieces together from discovery, strategy, and design to build your website by gathering and populating it with engaging content, graphics, photographs and multimedia elements. During this phase you also want to address issues of protecting users and members privacy, developing content protocols and being certain to abide by copyright laws and securing permissions.

Launch
In the launch phase, you will want to test-drive your site before making it public. It's a good idea to ask people from the various audience groups to review the site and use their feedback to make final revisions. Next you will develop and implement a marketing plan to get the word out about your new site. Then it's time to launch the site and celebrate with your congregation.

Maintain
Even though you've worked hard through the first five phases of user-centered design, now is not the time to sit back and relax. Now is the time to work even harder to make sure your site continues to meet the needs, interests and expectations of your audience groups and to maintain a dynamic Web ministry for your church. During this phase, you will develop and implement a schedule for conducting regular updates to content and make use of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) tools so there is something new every time someone visits your site.

Evaluate
The final phase of user-centered design, which in turn begins the process all over again, is to evaluate your site for its effectiveness and make changes accordingly. To accomplish this, you will want to make use of Web analytics or traffic reports as well as informal and formal feedback from your target audience groups through polls and surveys.

Resources

To learn more about the User-Centered Design Process and to implement a dynamic Web ministry for your local church, district or conference organization, consider these print resources:

THE ELEMENTS OF USER EXPERIENCE
by Jesse James Garrett. New Riders Press, October 2002

WEB REDESIGN 2.0: WORKFLOW THAT WORKS
by Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler. Peachpit Press (2nd Edition), December 2004

DON'T MAKE ME THINK: A COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO WEB USABILITY
by Steve Krug. New Riders Press (2nd Edition), August 2005

WEB STYLE GUIDE
by Patrick J. Lynch and Sarah Horton. Yale University Press (3rd Edition), January 2009

THE USER IS ALWAYS RIGHT
by Steve Mulder and Ziv Yaar. New Riders Press, August 2006

THE NON-DESIGNER'S WEB BOOK
by Robin Williams and John Tollett. Peachpit Press (3rd Edition), September 2005

THE BLOGGING CHURCH
by Brian Bailey and Terry Storch. Jossey-Bass, January 2007

WEB-EMPOWER YOUR CHURCH
by Mark M. Stephenson. Abingdon Press, December 2006