Albany Creek Uniting Church Website Review
By Michael Curd
Since moving into the digital age, many corporations use new media such as blogs, websites and podcasts as a powerful means of communication to sell their product or convey a message to a wider audience. It’s no surprise that religious organisations and communities have become one of the primary users of the new mediums. My church, Albany Creek Uniting Church, saw a need to construct a website in mid 2004, aiming to spread the message of our church’s beliefs and values to a wider community, and to be present amongst other churches as people search for a spiritual community in which to share their faith. I was appointed to run the website, and since then, have worked with the church’s minister, Reverend Yvonne Sutherland to maintain the website. In this essay, I will critically assess the website; reviewing the process and analysing its effectiveness in the following areas; usability, accessibility, as well as its contents.
The decision to move onto the internet was made by the church’s then-youth worker, Brian Kickbusch. By this time, many churches around the local area had constructed a website, and had received positive feedback. With a special website server being provided by the Uniting Church of Australia, both Brian and I attended a one day workshop courtesy of the Uniting Church in order to become acquainted with the website server software. In the following weeks, Brian and I met to discuss what content was to go up, and then began to assemble the website. We saw the many advantages of having an information outlet for our church community on the internet, realising that the “reality is that website technology is not a phase and is an essential part of…life.” (Kyllo, J. et al. (2003) (online)). In fact, according to Pew Internet and American Life Project, “The act of searching for spiritual material on-line has also been done by more Americans than have traded stocks or bonds or mutual funds on-line or done on-line banking, or participated in on-line auctions, or used Internet-based dating services, or placed phone calls on-line.” (Pew Internet and American Life Project, (2001) (online)). With this in mind, we set out to make a website that was easily accessible, simple and direct.
As mentioned before, one of the primary goals for the website was for straightforward web-browsing. Directions to each of the links within the website; More Info, News, Calendar, Map & Photo Gallery are all displayed just beneath the name of the church at the top of the screen. External links to supported organisations, such as World Vision, Easterfest and the local chaplain are all displayed clearly on the right hand side of the page in a toolbar-like format. The interlinking of these selected external organisations represents causes which our church believes in supporting. Albany Creek has had for many years a strong focus on youth ministry, and through the association of the local High School chaplain, and Easterfest (a Christian music festival aimed at families), viewers will hopefully recognise the church as youth-accommodating and family oriented.
An important reason Albany Creek Uniting Church moved to the World Wide Web was to make potential members aware of the existence of the church. As stated in The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, “web pages can be the first and only contact between the movement and public or prospective converts.” (Pace, S. (2004) (online)). Thus, it is imperative that seekers will be able to easily locate the website. After using online search engine Google, typing in ‘Albany Creek Uniting Church’, no immediate link to the church’s website was present within the first five pages of the Google search. However, many of the sites listed (the majority Uniting Church of Australia directory websites) had a link to the church’s website. While this is not ideal in regards to search engine positioning, the Albany Creek Uniting Church website, as of 15th August 2008, has had 8691 page views, possibly as a result from the mention of the website on the weekly newsletter given out ever Sunday at church. However, it is important to gain a healthy positioning on major search engines for people who are not yet members of the church.
The most significant aspect of any website is its content; informative, but not overbearing; direct, but effective. However, there is a need to establish a warm, welcoming environment on the website as a reflection of the actual church community, as people seek out emotional comfort. As stated by Stefano Pace in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, “once a cold medium, the internet has become a hot medium, in the sense that emotions and feelings can be experienced and communicated online.” (Pace, S. (2004) (online)). This sense of ‘warmness’ is present on the Home Page, with a photo of four friendly young adults from a Church Beach Camp trip in 2006. This welcoming atmosphere follows on when looking through the photo gallery, with many excitable, fun photographs. The website viewer should feel an emotional comfort through these images. Moreover, photos of the ministry team are displayed on the site. The Home Page contains simple direct information, including worship times, and church’s mission statement (consciously different to the one printed on the weekly newsletter), using empowering words such as “celebrate”, “worship”, “honour”, and “serve”. The news and events content is quite bare, giving the impression of inactivity in the church community. However, extensive information is given about various groups within the church, such as bible studies and youth groups, as well as contact information, successfully establishing a welcoming environment. What this section does lack is ‘warm’ stimuli such as photos of the groups to ignite a genial atmosphere. While some sections of the website, such as the photo gallery and home page, effectively develop an emotional experience for the viewer, other parts of the site feel bland and sterile.
After several meetings with Reverend Yvonne Sutherland, in order to utilize the website more effectively, an external blog site will be linked from the church website, containing the text from Yvonne’s weekly sermons, and possibly in the future, accompanying audio. At this stage, many people are still not aware of the church website, and as a result of lack of updating, many who do visit it don’t return. In order to resolve this and use our website as an effective tool in spreading the message of the church’s beliefs and drawing in potential church-goers, consistent updating of events happening within the church is required, and more visual stimuli to attract people to the church. Once this has been improved, the website will reflect the nature of the church, and ultimately the nature of the God in which we choose to follow.
- Kyllo, J. et al. 2003, Minnesota State University Moorhead Case Study Presentation [online]. Available: http://www.studentaffairs.com/vcs/2003entries/MinnesotaStateUniversityMoorhead/MinnesotaStateUniversityMoorhead.doc [16.08.08]
- Pace, S. 2004, The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture [online]. Available: http://www.usask.ca/relst/jrpc/art7-miraclesorlove.html [16.08.08]
- Pew Internet and American Life Project, Cyberfaith: How Americans Pursue Religion Online [online]. Available: http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/53/report_display.asp
Site Review Criteria based from:
- Clarity Media, Website Review Process [online]. Available: http://www.clarity-media.co.uk/websitereview.php