Step By Step Redesign for Congregations

Assemble Your Web Redesign Team

October 26, 2011 |

Having wrapped up initial redesign planning, it’s time to gather your redesign team. For many of you, this will be where the rubber hits the road. Intertwined with creating a team are two key pieces: your budget and your content management system.

So how do you go about assembling this august group? Really it’s just another set of small steps.

Website Roles

Let’s start by breaking down the roles that all congregational websites need and where to find people to fill them. (A full explanation of each of these roles and how they work together can be found in The Nine Roles and Skills that Make or Break Your Church Website.)

Role Likely Source Part of Team?
“Management” (leadership) Given Probably not
Content creators: text Given (especially staff) Probably not
Content creators: photos Volunteers Maybe
Content creators: other, e.g. video and audio Volunteers Probably not
Project manager You Yes
Usability / Information Architect / Analyst Volunteer or outsource Yes
Editor Volunteer or staff Yes
Developer Volunteer or outsource Yes
Designer Volunteer or outsource Yes
PR / Marketing Staff or volunteer Yes
System Administrator / Site Hosting Outsource No

Your first order of business will be identifying which of these roles you actually need. Chances are it will be most, though members of the team often fill more than one role.

Then you’ll need to find people that are a good match for each position. If you’re a web professional, others may assume you can and will do everything. Even if you’re that rare person who has most of the necessary skills, please, please, please, don’t let others pressure you into this (unless you’re a congregation of about two people).

For me, it’s relatively easy to find good people. I’ve been one of my church’s webmasters for many years, and as such often hear about members who might be a fit. Even so, I check periodically with our staff — the Membership Coordinator and the Director of Religious Education in particular — to learn about possibilities. And I work closely with our Communications Committee, which tends to attract people with the right skills.

That said, be careful about the warm body syndrome congregations seem to suffer from. Some random volunteer may be worse than no one. You have to find people with the right talents and interests. (See below for some job qualifications.)

I never do cold-calls for a redesign team. Rather, first I find out about people; then I approach them and check them out to see if and how they might work out. One of the most rewarding parts of this job is that many of the people I ask truly enjoy this type of work and like to give back to the congregation. So they are delighted to be asked.

Take your time. You don’t have to be exhaustive about finding possible candidates, but it’s still going to take a few weeks. And you can be working on some of the next planning steps at the same time. Also, some jobs (PR in particular) can wait until later.

When you can’t come up with good people for the team, that’s the time to consider outsourcing and setting up a budget.

Qualifications For the More Unusual Jobs

I’m going to assume you know how to find people such as photographers, but there are a few jobs which can be intimidatingly unfamiliar to those who aren’t web professionals.

The qualifications for core webby jobs usually relate directly to what content management system (CMS) you’re going to use for your site. I’ll be going into this in more detail in a few weeks, so if you want, you can hold off on this piece until then. But for those ready to move ahead, here’s a short version of selecting a CMS.

For a redesign it’s no longer a question of if you should have a CMS, but rather which one. If you already have someone in your congregation who is a good developer for a particular CMS, they want to be part of the team, and they aren’t likely to disappear soon, that CMS is almost certainly the best choice for you. WordPress, Drupal and Joomla! are all good. If you don’t have someone experienced in developing for a well-known CMS, then chances are WordPress is your best choice. It’s by far the most popular CMS and it’s easy to learn.

Then here’s how the geekier roles work.

  • Web developers are a hybrid between a designer and programmer and typically are good at developing for at least one CMS. They will be very familiar with HTML, CSS, PHP and JavaScript. If you can get such a person, they often can cover both the developer and designer role.
  • Programmers typically develop software, not websites. However, you may need their skills in specialized areas. My church has an awesome programmer who has developed tools such as an inventory system for our church auction.
  • Usability / Information Architect / Analysts transform chunks of content into good websites. They need to be familiar with things such as paper prototyping, search engine optimization (SEO), Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. This role can often be combined with project management or, second best, web development.
  • Designers. Traditionally graphic artists are trained to design for print, which is surprisingly different from web design. If you have a good graphic artist who wants to be on the team, by all means, add him or her, but don’t rely on one untrained as a web developer to do the site look-and-feel. Instead such a person can help with logos, photos and arrangements of individual pages, and can serve in an advisory capacity for the look-and-feel.
  • PR / Marketing. More and more this role is synonymous with social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). If you have someone who does this professionally and is willing to do it for your church, absolutely add him or her to the team.
  • System Administrator / Site Hosting. While it’s true this is a fundamental role, it’s a virtual (so to speak) certainty that you will outsource this. In a few weeks, we’ll have a post on how to choose a good web host, so there’s no need to worry about this now.

Outsourcing and Redesign Budgets

Congregations tend to treat outsourcing for the Web as a blob, but this leads to mistakes such as hiring a programmer to do design and vice versa. Instead it should be based on what roles aren’t easily filled by staff or volunteers.

If you do have a gap to fill, it’s most likely what you need is a web developer for the CMS you’re going to use, which by process of elimination in this case would be WordPress. Speaking WordPress jargon, you’ll need to look for someone who can develop a WordPress theme for your congregation.

The good news is such people are relatively common. I’d advise looking locally. Just search Google or Bing. I know this too can be off-putting for those who aren’t techies, but usually it’s quite easy. To show you how straight-forward it is, let me walk you through an example.

When I searched “wordpress nashville,” the top three results were Ah So Designs, WordPress Nashville – Meetup and Mitch Canter is [studionashvegas]. The first has a lovely clean design and highlights “responsive design” (both promising), but images on two of the three case studies were broken and it didn’t appear to have been updated since last July. Were I serious, I would rule them out. The second is about a get-together for local WordPress developers. I might go to the next meet-up to observe and see if any of the people looked promising. The third (Mitch Canter) I’ve actually heard speak and know is first-rate. But if I didn’t know this and really needed someone, I’d contact him to see if he’s available and how much it would cost.

Were I really in the market, I’d review several more, but hopefully this gives you a sense of how to proceed. It’s mostly common sense. One other bit of common sense — don’t prepay.

Actual rates vary a great deal, plus they depend on what you require. My guess is the least you can get away with would be around $1,000. $1,500 is a number I hear mentioned frequently for redesigns. Of course it can be a great deal more than that, particularly if you need some fancy-shmantzy programming. But presumably if you need that, you can also afford it.

What if you can’t manage even $1,000? All’s not lost. While you won’t be able to customize as much, there are plenty of great, free WordPress themes. You could even use WordPress.com (not to be confused with WordPress.org), but then you will be more limited in what you can do. A better bet is using Dreamhost for free as a nonprofit and then doing a one-click WordPress install. Dreamhost is the company I use and they are first-rate.

For logos, there are some ridiculously inexpensive resources on the Web. I’ve never used any, but a couple of people I know highly recommend LogoNerds. Their price is negligible, even by church standards — around $50.

Team Assembled. Now What?

My particular denomination is famous (or is it infamous?) for its kudzu-like use of committees. At the denominational level, there’s even a Committee on Committees. Seriously. Fortunately I tend to like committee meetings. But even I don’t see the need to meet just for the sake of meeting. And redesigns don’t involve standard committee topics such as policies or programming. They are very task oriented. So if you do have any “meetings” for the whole team, I’d recommend they be primarily for social occasions — particularly as you get certain big jobs done. Have fun. It matters.

For core work, meet strategically. I got together last week with our designer. It was a beautiful day, so we sat in the playground where she could keep an eye on her granddaughter. In the next few weeks she and I plan to meet with the editor, most likely over coffee.

Actually, for the team the single most important thing is to express appreciation. It may be obvious, but this is church (or the equivalent) and it’s paramount not to take what people do for granted. That way lies burnout and loss of membership.

Exactly how you do this will vary according to your congregation’s culture, although I would think frequent thank yous are always a must. In my congregation, expressions of appreciation can sometimes be very public, but this does risk forgetting some quiet, dedicated soul. Other possibilities are writing thank you notes, mentioning your fabulous team by name in the bulletin, or giving little gifts like chocolate.

In Summary

  1. Figure out what web roles you need to fill.
  2. When possible fill these jobs with volunteers or staff, but be sure they are qualified
  3. Outsource the remainder.
    - Determine a budget based on this.
  4. Thank everyone — often.

Next time we’ll be gathering redesign resources. Actually it may be a couple of weeks. I do most Faith and Web writing on weekends, and next Sunday I’m giving a sermon. Oh my. Wish me luck. I’ve only done this once before. Chances are I’ll emerge from this a bit more appreciative of my church’s wonderful ministers. Even if they won’t help me build websites….

Posted in: Church Websites, Redesign

3 Responses

  1. Paul Martin says:

    You have mentioned WordPress.com and WordPress.org before, but I don’t recall any explanation of the difference between the two. Would you care to elaborate?

  2. Paul Martin says:

    Never mind. Found the explanation: http://en.support.wordpress.com/com-vs-org/

  3. Anna Belle says:

    Thanks, Paul! When I saw your first comment I was considering doing a post on this very thing, since several other people have asked the same question. Now I’ve added this link to my list of WordPress intros. And thanks again for using the comments instead of the contact form. This way it’s easier for me to share.

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