Church Websites Suck

I know a lot of people have been wondering: what’s been going on with you and church, Paul?

Well, here’s the skinny: we had been attending Nortonville Chapel. The Lord had led us to the church about a year and a half ago. It didn’t really seem like a good fit at first, but it did seem to be where God had directed and wanted us to stay. God reveals His Will to us in prayer, circumstance and by his Word. All three seemed to be lining up at the time to indicate that this was, indeed, where he wanted us to attend.

…so we jumped in with both feet. We plugged in wherever there seemed to be a need that we felt the Lord was directing us to serve and it was a great experience.

The fit never really felt right, though and over time, we prayed for direction as to whether we should stay or go. In recent months, it felt as though the Lord was beginning to close doors and prepare our hearts to find another church. Once again, through prayer, circumstance and scripture, his Will was revealed that it was time to move on and go on the search.
The first church that we decided we’d visit is called New Life Community Church and is located about a mile away. Now, being the avid technology person that I am, when I begin a venture like church-shopping, the first place I start is not likely going to be the phone book. It’s usually much easier and faster for me to find information online… so my fingers danced and danced on the keyboard as I Googled the web (when did that become a verb?) for more information.

Twenty minutes into my search, I was still coming up empty-handed. In the course of my research, I discovered several other churches in the area, each website looking seemingly worse than the one before. I have to believe that at some point, the pastor or a board member says, “the Inner-nest is the wave of the future. My grandson tells me they’re making it for computers now! We need a website.” At that point, they assign the task of building a website to either a high-school student or some poor goon who wasn’t paying attention during the meeting.

From this we get truly awful results. We’ve all seen it: Church websites with nearly every other word spelled correctly, a picture of a cross and/or dove, complete with awful colors, pictures of people sitting at a picnic or on a canoe trip and an events calendar that’s out of season and two years old, along with a list of prayer requests for 9-11 victims. Usually the images are all shifted out of proportion, nothing lines up, the type-treatment is bright red, in as many fonts as Windows comes with, flashing and so large that you’re not certain as to whether you’ve found a church website or a monster truck rally advertisement… in either case, the words, “Sunday Sunday Sunday” both seem appropriate.

I did manage to find a church’s website that had clean lines, was up-to-date and looked like their beliefs lined up with my own. Trying to find out WHERE they were and WHAT TIME to show up was another matter and apparently a huge secret.

More than once, these words escaped my lips: “church websites suck.”

Now why is that?

1.) lack of funding

2.) lack of competency within the local church’s body

3.) lack of anyone taking the initiative to do something about it

Let’s look at this strictly from a business perspective. If you were running a business, the cardinal rule of business is, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” I think that can also be said of churches. If you were a small business and you wanted to encourage people to come through your door, there are a number of initiatives you would launch to advertise and increase customer awareness: Radio spots, TV commercials, fliers, billboards, etc. Eventually, word of mouth becomes the small business’s best friend, but they have to do a lot of work up front before that becomes a reality.

Again, the reasons we don’t see a lot of these same kinds of initiatives from the church is lack of funding and knowledgeable personnel. Generally, when a church writes out their budget at the beginning of the fiscal year, the advertising department gets a pretty slim cut… but a business would never do that.

The reason the web has had the explosive impact that it has is because it’s cheap and easy to create a presence and pump out relevant information to your target audience… you just need someone with know-how and ability to make it happen.

I decided I could do something about this dilemma. I called up a few friends I have who share my love for the Internet industry and www.churchwebsitessuck.com was born.

More or less, it works like this: we will give local churches in our area then benefit of our design and development skills free of charge, as long as they are willing to host their website with me for at least one year.

They’ll get the same treatment any paying client would get and the same quality of work, but they don’t pay a dime for it.

Problem solved. It’s like pushing the big red un-suck button.

We’re just doing our part.

Ever have one of those days?

Yesterday… no, wait… let’s rewind to two days ago when the trouble REALLY started.

Two days ago, I was finishing up at work and had just finished installing the new Windows update on my laptop and shut down. As it usually happens, as soon as I shut down, I remembered one more thing I needed to do, so when it was completely off, I pushed the power button again to boot back up so I could call up my files and run some prints before I left for the day.

When the computer came up, it froze on the boot… not something that happens often, but it happens occasionally. Generally, I shrug, hold down the power button, let the computer turn off, wait a few seconds and reboot.

After following those steps, I noticed that Windows was taking an extraordinary long time to boot up.

I decided the best course of action would be to try to use my laptop in the condition that it was in until the weekend, back-up my data and refresh the computer back to factory standards over the weekend so that it’d be fresh for Monday.

That’s where the problems started. Now let me set the stage:

1.) Thursdays are typically my telecommute days from work, so I work from home.

2.) Thursday mornings at 7:00am, I go to a business networking meeting with local business-owners to generate local freelance work.

3.) Matthew had requested to stay home from camp one day this week so he could hang out at the house with me. We had decided that Thursday would be that day and made arrangements, accordingly.

4.) Natalie was leaving for Chicago Wednesday night for a conference, not to return until Sunday.

5.) Thursday morning at 9:00, my car was scheduled to be taken in to the dealersihp so they could replace the handbrake handle because when I got the car, it didn’t have a button cover on it. It was a relatively easy job that would take 30 minutes. In addition, they have wireless Internet in their coffee bar/waiting room, which means that I can work from there.

The stage is set.

Wednesday night, I decided to skip my networking meeting and send someone in my place, which meant I had to meet with him that night to prep him for the next morning. Before I left, I started my laptop on some diagnostics and system repair routines to try to get it to run a little smoother to get me through the next couple of days. I went to bed around 3am.

Thursday morning, I slept through my alarm and woke up at 8:30. The computer had been running diagnostics from the night before and was still running the same routine when I woke up… it had now been trying to repair itself for 12 hours… not a good sign, but it was almost done. I got Matthew up, took a quick shower, grabbed some breakfast bars for us and scooted us out the door to get us to the 9:00 appointment for my car.

45 minutes after being in the lobby, burning time because I was without my computer, one of the people from the service department came up to me and said that they had hit a complication with trying to replace the handbrake and it was now going to take several hours to get it done because they had to rip out the entire center console to get to it. They said they’d shuttle Matthew and me wherever we wanted to go. All this, just to put a button on the lever because I’d asked for one when I bought the car.

I decided to have them shuttle me back home so I could at least try to get a little work done, since all my most recent work was on the laptop at home.

Halfway home, I decided I’d better start anticipating my strategy as to how to manage the rest of the day… part of that strategy included how we would get back into the house, since Natalie was out of town and I had just given my keys to the service department so they could work on my car.

40 minutes later, after they shuttled me back to the shop to get my keys and then back home, we finally got in and I noticed my laptop had managed to finish its diagnostics, tests and repairs and had successfully booted into Windows.

I was ready to work.

Turns out, all network capabilities, firewall and USB ports had been deactivated and could not be reactivated. This meant I could not go online to get support and I could not hook up an external drive to dump off my data. Without boring you to death with technical jargon and a multitude of symptoms, let’s just say that it was FUBAR.

I jumped online on our desktop computer and began a chat with Dell Support. After about an hour into our conversation, going through all the typical technical support idiot-hoops they make you jump through (verifying that indeed my computer is plugged in, the lid is open so I can see my keyboard, I have tried rebooting and washing the screen with a damp cloth, thereby removing all smudges that might look like error-messages), the support person revealed to me the great and mystical secret of refreshing my laptop back to factory standards. I wouldn’t have to ask for help from support, except that the new Dell machines don’t ship with disks anymore. They partition the hard drive with all that data right on the local drive so you can restore your machine to factory standards IF you know the secret key combination, when to press it and what color socks to wear while doing it. In order to receive this information, you must tell their support staff no less than six times that you understand and are willing to wipe all data from your hard drive in order to do this procedure and fully intend not to hold Dell liable for any data lost.

As I balanced my laptop on my lap precariously while chatting with Support, answering inane questions and describing in detail each memory address for each error message I was receiving, our cat, Lenny was in the window sill and began wheezing and coughing, thrashing around until he knocked over my computer speakers, pulling every wired device off the desk with it and scaring Lenny right out of his fur.

At the same time, Matthew, who had been playing video games for about 10 minutes, turned off the game and walked over to me to complain about how hungry, thirsty and bored he was.

As the words, “what ELSE could happen,” and a sigh of exasperation exited my mouth, the telephone rang, which, incidentally, is also set up to simultaneously ring to my mobile phone, which set on vibrate in my pocket.

My brain began to shut down from the overload of stimulus and stress before I finally snapped into “take care of all this crap” mode.

I had Matthew answer the phone, pulled off the collar that was wrapped around Lenny’s neck and lower jaw, popped my laptop into safe mode in attempts to make the USB ports work so I could dump the data to my external drive which was still at work, wrapped up my conversation with Dell and accepted a lunch invitation for Matthew and me over IM from from my buddy, Warren.

After lunch, we stopped at work to pick up the drive, went home, the dealership picked me up to get my car and then we all went to the beach to relax.

…unfortunately, the story doesn’t quite end there. While we were at the beach, Warren and I were throwing around a fairly expensive little frisby-like toy I had bought a few weeks ago. This was the first time I was actually playing with it. I threw it to Warren, the wind caught it and took it right into the water, about 200 feet out. It sunk to the bottom and I never found it.

As for today, I’ve been dumping the data back to my computer, reinstalling software, installing updates and restoring settings all day. I have my laptop back up and running pretty much at about 95%. It’s almost 5:00 and my work day is about to begin on a Friday night. I know my boss would probably tell me to call it a wash and just go enjoy my weekend, but I’ve completely lost the past two days and I want to have SOMETHING productive to show for it.

I dunno.

Maybe I should go drown my sorrows in chocolate chp cookies again.