Listening to Webmasters Past

A reader recently posed the following:

“Thank you for your overview of the rolls and skills involved in developing a church web site. Could you explain further this sentence: ‘In particular, care needs to be taken with people who’ve worked hard on the site in the past.’?”

First of all, many thanks to you for inspiring me to dust off my site and do the e-equivalent of putting pen to paper. It’s been too long since I last posted. To answer your question….

When I wrote this, I was particularly thinking of two experiences.

The simpler of the two is from a few years ago when I was pulled in as a consultant. For many years the congregation in question had had a volunteer who had did not have my kind of skills. He was a techie, but far from a professional front end web developer. The church volunteers who reached out to me perceived him as having a stranglehold on the website — holding it back.

Both sides were very understandable, but my heart was with him — the person who had worked on it all these years. What a labor of love — especially from someone not deeply familiar with website maintenance. Fortunately the other volunteers, while frustrated with him, remained fond of him. And so we found a way to include him as we did a very thorough redesign of the site. He was part of the email conversations, and we listened to his feedback as we made decisions. The upshot? Not only a website everyone was happy with, but he still works actively on the site, while I am long gone.

The other experience is my own. For many, many years (15?) I was the primary webmaster for my congregation. I love my congregation more than I can say, but the bottom line was the leadership and staff took my hundreds of hours of work for granted. Year after year they would hand out awards to other people who had done less work than I. A few leaders would say thanks in passing, but it was the exception. And year after year I would have to cope with those entitled few who treated me like a servant — expecting me to do whatever they wanted and to only speak when spoken to. Spoiled as children? Rich? Used to being the boss? Who knows, but such behavior is not uncommon in our culture.

While it represented a small percent of the interactions (I’d estimate about 5%), I found it especially toxic in a climate of being taken for granted. For example, when I wrote to one committee chair asking her to update content that was her committee’s responsibility, she went to the senior minister complaining that she didn’t like my tone, that I was being pushy — and the senior minister sided with her. Eventually I sorted it out with the senior minister, but in the end there were too many similar incidents.

Two years ago I bowed out of doing the day-to-day web work for my congregation. As I withdrew, the congregation learned the importance of not taking their Web volunteers for granted — of not biting the hand that feeds. Our leadership and staff are now much more openly appreciative of my fellow webbies, and I’m free to do other things around the church. In the end it was a win/win. But if they ever did a redesign without talking to me, I’ve little doubt I would feel deeply hurt.

To me it seems an obvious matter of respect to listen closely to those who have done this work in the past. The work is a far cry from that of corporate America. It’s not about making money or having a competitive website. Community infused with respect and gratitude — in my experience, that’s the bedrock of a healthy congregation. And listening is so very simple.