is a site rich with aggregated content from around the United Methodist connection that provides quick access to the materials UMC leaders need to make effective disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We strive to make the work of
UMC leaders simpler.
Being a Leader Can Be Complicated.
So Many Tools,
In So Many Places
The general agencies of the church produce an abundance of resources for United Methodist leaders. Unfortunately, tracking down a specific tool, data set, news item, or training course often requires a
time-consuming, fractured journey across several websites.
Research & Findings
Church leaders acknowledge the quality and quantity of resources at their disposal. However, a lack of alignment and centralization of website resources makes access difficult. Here are a few consistent points of feedback we have heard:
"UMC sites [are generally] written by–and for—people who already know the answer to the question; too many clicks to find, then go to it. I don't find it intuitive and I've been in the church 40 years."
"I'm not sure a lay person who does not understand church structure would be able to get around from site to site, looking for the right agency or board."
"We owe it to the church to create something easy to use."
"[With so many resources from so many sources], it's like taking a sip from a fire hose."
Cleaner, clearer navigation is a key need.
Content should be simple for anyone to navigate–regardless of their leadership role.
A simple-to-use, robust search function that allows access to specific content is a key need.
The fantastic tools available to UMC leaders need to be easy to find and logically organized.
Sites and their content should reflect the user perspective and most common needs.
A Specialized Hub
UMC leaders desire a single location focused on delivering what they need most.
What is the New Communications Strategy?
UMCom is working toward improving the communication infrastructure within the UMC. We are investing in new customer relationship management (CRM) and new web content management (CMS) systems that will enable us to build out separate but complementary communications channels for members, leaders, and seekers.
The current focus is on building out our own communications channels. We hope in the future there will be opportunities to move toward shared CRM and CMS services to better coordinate communications. Our goal is an infrastructure for communications messaging.
Progress to Date
Recent meetings with agency communicators are a follow-up to what was shared with general secretaries. We are working to share the same vision with communicators throughout the connection and invite them, as the experts in their work, to process and refine it further.
As we consider a coordinated approach to communication, we want to take everyone's input on key requirements and design direction should you someday desire to have a commonly hosted website and centralized constituent data sharing.
In addition to sharing our vision with general secretaries, we shared it at the Council of Bishops in May 2017 and with UMAC in March 2017. Our goal is to share where we are headed and invite others to come along in whatever capacity they feel comfortable. We do not expect full agreement or commitment at this point in the process.
Strategic Channel Alignment
Our communication vision is informed by research that states the communication within the UMC is fragmented and at times ineffective. We envision bringing clarity to members and leaders in churches with centralized communications that complement individual agency and conference messages.
UMCom is building channels for these unique audiences that will be gateways into your communications resources and will aggregate content coming from all agencies.
Some agencies may maintain their own communication structures, while others may choose to have websites and data hosted in the common CMS/CRM infrastructure; there is no decision needed now, but we want to include everyone as we scope potential needs that could arise in the future.
UMCom's focus is to connect the church with the resources of the program agencies. UMPH, Wespath and UMW may or may not benefit from a shared site and data. However, we've included them in our discussions so they will understand our goals and consider other opportunities for partnership.
Will This Dilute Our Agency's "Brand" and Website Audience?
In a word: No.
Raising the profile or brand of the separate agencies is not at the forefront of the strategy. In fact, UMCom will be relinquishing its agency website in lieu of occupying the "communications" section of the leader website (ex: UMCLeaders.org/communications).
Key to our approach is focusing on our audiences—the members and leaders who constitute the church, and the seekers we hope to welcome into the church. That means a holistic communications strategy with a keen focus on building the denominational brand by empowering leaders, nurturing members, and welcoming seekers.
Users will still be able to directly access your agency website through its existing URL, so there is no threat of audience dilution. In fact, the additional exposure, marketing and cross-promotional opportunities offered by a centralized site serve only to increase the reach of your messaging and awareness of your agency's website.
Development of the CMS platform and websites will move forward as a component of the overall communications plan for the denomination. It is our hope that as we move forward collaboratively with the family of general agencies to incorporate the perspectives and expertise of agency communicators. We also want to work closely with annual conference communicators and local church leaders to ultimately develop the most relevant and effective digital communications channels to reach our audiences.
Website Platform Efficacy, Budget and Sustainability
The selected CMS platform provides the increased functionality and capabilities necessary to align UMC communications efforts and create the next generation of church communications. Costs for its development, launch and maintenance have been factored into our long-term budget. In no way are we relying on the participation of other agencies to justify the costs of the platform.
We consider this a prudent investment in the church's digital communications infrastructure and a critical step in the evolution of our communications ministry as we seek to maintain a relevant presence into the future.
We reviewed several platforms, which included both open source and proprietary options, from vendors both small and large.
We had over 19 different initial platform/vendor combinations. The ones we vetted early on were: ExpressionEngine v3 (the upgrade of our existing platform), CraftCMS, Appiro, OneHippo, OpenText, Bridgleine, Acquia/Drupal, Adobe Experience Manager and Loomis.
We considered these platforms:
- The A Group/TAGTools
We had the four shortlist vendors come to Nashville to present and invited several of the larger agencies (based on web content traffic) to participate in the presentations. At the time, it was a matter of how quickly we could get folks together since UMCom has a goal for having the new United Methodist News Service site on line by June 2018 with UMCLeaders.org launching in October 2018 and UMC.org launching in Jan 2019.
After seeing the four proposals, we narrowed the platform choices to Episerver and Sitecore. One vendor, Arke, outshone most of the other presentations and demonstrated a good general understanding of the church and our audience.
Vendor and Platform Selection
Sitecore's ability to integrate with various other communications platforms (such as CRM and Marketing Automation) was a significant factor. After vetting vendors and platforms, we have selected Sitecore as our new CMS platform and ARKE as our implementation partner for these reasons:
- Sitecore has built-in analytics capability and ability to tie into behavioral analytics and site personalization.
- Sitecore seemed to have the best fit with our communications strategy along with the partner strategic process.
- Sitecore also seemed (during the demos) to be one of the easier systems to use. While WordPress is arguably easier to use, implementing behavioral analytics and site personalization functionality with WordPress or TAGTools would require more integration and management of multiple third-party plugins and tools.
- Sitecore's approach to globalization of content and its ability to separate human-translated vs. machine-translated content was also attractive. From a technology sustainability perspective, the ability to find .Net developers is much easier. With Sitecore being a larger CMS, finding a "replacement" vendor, should one be needed, is more likely.
- Finally, SiteCore also provided us with a managed hosting package, which will help alleviate worries about performance or server issues. Although this service could be provided by other partners, having the software vendor manage this is an attractive offering.
Agency Costs & Stewardship
There will be no new costs to anyone beyond UMCom if an agency chooses to remain with its existing communications platforms. Should any agencies desire to move within the common web infrastructure and data systems, UMCom is planning to assume all hosting charges from our budget, which may allow you to find ongoing savings in your operating budget to put toward other ministry needs, assuming any current duplicative systems would be no longer needed.
Our board has also marked a portion of our reserves to help with development and integration costs for those who may want to migrate platforms, so we welcome ongoing conversation. Further, if your agency were to participate in the unified platform, UMCom has earmarked additional funds to subsidize staffing and technology costs. Partnering and aligning our efforts would demonstrate good stewardship of church funds.
We do not have enough data at this point to quote specific budget allocations for site growth and maintenance. However, we will share that information within our annual report, which includes a full budget report in accordance with our policy of good stewardship and transparency in the usage of church funds.
Levels of Involvement
UMC "Family Sites"
UMCom covers the cost of the initial "Family Design" for the UMC Leaders site as well as the design cost for each of the other participating agencies. All partners will have a voice in the conversations to define the strategic look and feel for the UMC family of sites.
UMCom covers the cost for general leader and UMCom site needs such as any web apps (UMC Calendar, Directory) and website development.
UMCom will cover the upfront cost of the base system and monthly/annual subscription fees plus the cost of any additional UMCom-originated web apps or websites that are built on the platform.
Agency partners are welcome to utilize any "modules" UMCom develops, with the only cost incurred being implementation on your particular site. Each agency will bear its own costs for additional design elements, modules or page templates.
Partners will be responsible for the monthly/annual costs for their specific websites and web-apps; and also for CRM and Marketo (marketing automation platform) if these are used.
Technical Staffing and Support
UMCom staff is well versed in providing web platform technical support and will continue to do so (in partnership with vendors). UMCom is willing to continue to carry the bulk of the technical requirements for the platform, but hopes other partnering agencies will join in learning the necessary new processes. UMCom is happy to further discuss composition and sharing of support staff.
Although the platform has e-commerce capability, UMCom is not working toward e-commerce integration. In fact, UMCom and our board have recently decided to sunset the existing UMCom eStore and exit collateral product sales and distribution by the end of next year as we move any remaining products (Connectional Giving resources, etc.) to other outside solutions.
Outcomes and Evaluation
Like other components of our communications plan for this quadrennium, we have set goals and benchmarks for the agency. Defining success or desired outcomes–as it relates to agency partners—is a subject ripe for discussion during our upcoming meeting and as we move forward.