Churches on the Web

We Southern Baptists don't, as a rule, subscribe to the concept of "Seven Deadly Sins" (which, if you've read your Chaucer lately, you know includes pride, lust, gluttony, sloth, anger, envy and...umm...intentionally watching more than one episode of "The Bachelor"), at least not as being a foundational doctrine. However, we do tend to hedge our bets by prefacing a reference to (some of) these traits with a positive spiritual adjective, like "righteous." Thus, while it's not OK to be angry at the jerk who just cut you off in traffic, it is perfectly acceptable to be "righteously angry" at his obvious contempt for the God-ordained Law of the Land. (Admittedly, this practice falls apart quickly when applied to some of the other "Sins." I'll leave you to your own devices to figure out how "righteously lustful" or "righteously gluttonous" might work.)

So, with that context, I admit to being righteously proud when my church's website was featured in last Saturday's Religion section of the Reporter-Telegram (the letters of which can be rearranged to spell "Ample Error Getter"). The short article, entitled "Churches on the Net," focused on three local churches which are using websites as part of their overall communications strategy.

More righteous pride ensued upon reading a quote that included this phrase: "We're not First Baptist, but..." My natural inclination is to interpret any comparison that begins with this phrase in a positive light. I use it a lot myself: "As far as my guitar-playing goes, I'm not Eric Clapton, but..." or "As far as my net worth is concerned, I'm not Bill Gates, but..." [Well, actually, with respect to the second example, I'm not even Bill's gardener's housekeeper's dogwalker, but that's not really relevant at this point. And I'm even less noteworthy as a guitar player.]

Anyhow, I am somewhat proud of the First Baptist website, since I designed it and maintain it. In fact, it was my search for a website for the church that led me into the design field. We actually went online in 1996, a year earlier than Dr. Dyer states in the article (but, hey...who's counting?), and at that time, web designers were about as rare in West Texas as bull riders wearing tutus. Being the forward-looking thinker I am (a trait also commonly described as "geekiness") I believed our church needed a website, and if nobody else could do it, then by golly (can I say "golly" in the same sentence as "our church"?) I'd figure it out myself. <cliche>The rest is history.</cliche>

FBC remains my largest pro bono client. According to the last crawl by the Atomz spider, the site contains 240 pages (and 397,996 words). It's been redesigned three times, the latest coming about a year ago when I introduced Cascading Style Sheets and dropped some of the less-visited features. The site gets 350-400 page requests each day, which isn't Amazon.com, but... (see how that works?!) probably isn't too bad for a local community site.

One of the features all three pastors are interested in having on their respective sites is the availability of sermon downloads, in audio and/or video format. We already provide a running last-four-sermon inventory in MP3 format, but it's a giant leap to video, and I'm not sure we're ready for the technical challenges (a.k.a. outrageously expensive and aesthetically disappointing solutions) that go along with it. As it stands, according to the FBC site's referer log, a large majority of people who begin listening to the online audio sermons (and they number in the hundreds each month) stop the download before getting all the way through it. This is consistent with the studies I've seen about Internet usage in general. Attention spans are just too short nowadays. (Gary, if you're reading this...it has nothing to do with your sermon length! The phenomenon appears to apply to anything over about five or ten minutes.) And audio quality is superb compared to what video is going to look like. But that's a technology issue that will eventually be overcome. I'm not so sure about the attention-span issue.

I suspect the solution - for us, anyway - will prove to be a third-party who converts the regular weekly videotapes of our Sunday morning services to a web-deliverable format AND who provides the on-demand delivery via its own server. But the cost will be high, and given the current budget for the site (that would be zero), I wouldn't hold my breath. Unless, of course, any of you dear readers might become righteously envious of other churches with that feature and wish to fund it for us!

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on December 17, 2002 6:47 AM.

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