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Your First Two Questions

Starting the website planning process

A guide to evaluating your potential web audience, by an experienced web-evangelist and communicator, who administers several outreach sites. This is an essential first step, before you do anything else!

People sometimes ask me, “I’m a novice. How do I start to design a website for our church or Internet ministry.” I think most are expecting a crash course in HTML or web-page design. And those can be important considerations. But the most important are nothing to do with technology. I tell people, “The first thing to do is answer two questions:

  1. Who’s your target audience?
  2. And what’s your purpose?

When you answer those questions, you will discover that questions of site design and navigation, even content begin to answer themselves. But if you do not answer those questions, then no matter how stunning your graphics, how perfect your code, or how compelling your design, you will not minister effectively.

Before starting any sort of web ministry, it is also vital to first understand the nature of the Web as a medium. If you perceive it as a one-way, ‘print on a screen’ means of communication, you are missing the heart of what the Internet really is – two-way, relationship-building, interactive, conversational. We need a complete jump of mindset from methods of print or broadcast communication, if we are to communicate effectively online.

Who’s your target audience?

When I ask would-be webmasters that question, I often get an answer like, “Well, I guess I’m trying to reach everyone. I don’t want to exclude anyone. The Gospel is for everyone, right?” OK, the Gospel is for everyone, but even Paul adapted his presentation of it to different populations. He did it one way to the Greeks, another way to the Romans, and yet another way to the Hebrews. It is essential to understand your audience.

The duty of a writer is to think of the reader first, last and always. The same is true of the website designer. You must have a clear idea of whom you are attempting to reach in order to be effective. A website of interest to teenagers will not interest adults. Women and men respond to different approaches and topic areas. Individuals of different occupations, educational backgrounds, ethnic and cultural heritages need to be approached differently.

How?

So the question is: how do you go about doing this? The first step is to imagine a typical visitor to your website. This does two things. First, it makes the concept of audience analysis more concrete if you think about it in terms of a single person. Secondly, it reminds you that no matter how many visitors come to your site, they all come one at a time. All communication in the end is one-on-one.

What’s Your Purpose?

Once you have a clear idea of your visitor, answering the next question becomes easier: Why does this website exist? What are you giving to this typical visitor when they arrive? Christian websites seem to encompass three general purposes: In-reach, Outreach and Advertising. Now, one website might touch on more than one of these, but each section of that site probably should be devoted to one or the other, and usually the site taken as a whole falls into one of these general categories. Let's look at each of these purposes.

In-reach

A website or page may have as it main purpose to serve the needs of the members of the church or Christian organization. One of the strengths of the Internet is its ability to build community connections. When the last prayer is said on Sunday morning, church members go their way and may not see each other again until the next service time. It’s not that we don’t care about each other. We just find ourselves scattered all over town and don’t have the opportunity for fellowship. Regional, national and international Christian organizations find this situation magnified many times.

The Internet’s ability to provide cost-effective communication 24 hours a day provides people with ways to stay in touch throughout the week and across the miles. A church website can update members about upcoming events, profile church members, stream the Sunday sermon for shut-ins and post pictures from the Christmas party or church picnic. Web forums and email discussion lists can help church members stay in touch with each other and strengthen those relationships formed at church. Within national and international organizations, members can form relationships which would have been impossible before the advent of the Internet.

This mix of ability to build relationships and to share information quickly and economically is creating outstanding opportunities for churches and Christian organization to build 24/7 spiritual communities.

Outreach

Many of us in internet ministry find that our vision extends beyond the local church to our cities, regions, countries or the entire world. My own church website welcomes visitors from over 70 countries a year! Even a small church can have a missions outreach in cyberspace. Internet ministries engage in three basic types of outreach: Equipping, Evangelizing and Encouraging:

The worksheet below may help you answer the two key questions.

Prayer

Prayer and a vision from the Lord are essential. Pray before, and during, your planning process. Read Doug Reese’s story of starting an evangelistic site. Also the Internet is a dangerous place, and you may be under spiritual attack in many ways. Build a group of prayer partners. This is one of several topics covered by John Edmiston in his audio 60-minute seminar given at the Internet Ministry Conference, about starting a web ministry:
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Planning Worksheet

Demographics

Gender:
Age range:
Ethnicity:
Language (consider both the actual language and the level of language proficiency):
Geographic location:
Job:
Income range:

Education

Level:
Training:
Political leanings:

Religious background

Christian or non-Christian:
If non-Christian, which religion if any:
If non-religious, where in the process of spiritual seeking is the visitor:
Atheist or agnostic:
Antagonistic to Christianity:
Personal antagonism based on bad personal experience:
Philosophical antagonism because of other religious beliefs:
Believes in God in the abstract, but not interested in a relationship with Him:
Had some church background, but nothing current:
Has little or no church background:
Is interested in ‘spirituality’ but not Christianity:
Feels something lacking in life, but not actively seeking:
Seeking for spiritual fulfillment, but not necessarily interested in Christianity:
Curious about Christian beliefs but has some questions of faith:
Very interested in Christianity and seeking information about salvation:

Special Interests:

(e.g. hobbies, sports, professional, academic)

Other factors

From where does the visitor access the Internet:
When does the visitor access the Internet:
What is their social environment when accessing the Internet:
How much time does this person spend online:
How much time does this person spend online:
How do they begin to search:
How do they begin to search:
Why do they generally access the Internet:
What keywords is this person likely to use to try and find a site like yours:
What is this person’s attitude toward your topic:

Motivation

In 25 words or less describe what motivates this person to take action on the issues raised on your website:

Purpose

Taken as a whole, what is your Internet ministry’s primary purpose?
Discipleship of Christians:
Advocacy of a Christian cause, organization, event or product:
Outreach:
If outreach, can you define where your target readers are located on the Gray Matrix, in terms of their knowledge and attitude:
In about 25 words, write below how you expect that the typical visitor you profiled will benefit from this ministry:
How is this ministry the same and different from other similar ministries or secular websites on the same topic:
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Read more Firefox iconrelated pages within the Websites that work menu links
book graphicrecommended books on web design, including free downloads
WMPlayer iconvaluable online videos about web ministry
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