Internet Ministry Best Practices

November 8, 2008 by

For the past two years, I have been conducting research on Internet ministry. This has included one-on-one interviews with leaders in the field, case studies, the development of my own church’s web site and the implementation of a survey taken by over 300 different ministry organizations. This culminated last month in a presentation on Internet ministry “best practices” at the Internet Ministry Conference in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The Internet Ministry Framework
The Internet Ministry Framework embodies the three different aspects of implementing an Internet ministry: technology, people and process. This is an important definition because many, many organizations looking to start an online ministry immediately focus on the technology and completely ignore the more difficult decisions surrounding the people involved and the processes undertaken to implement and maintain the ministry. None of the three components are any important than the other: all three play an equal role in supporting a successful Internet ministry.

Best Practices
The “best practices” for Internet ministry were developed by looking at what the successful online ministries had in common based on their responses to the survey. This data was combined with follow-up case studies to reinforce these findings.


Technology

  • The specific software you use is not as important as content. While a nice looking site is important, it is the content that provides the value to the users.
  • Use interactive content such as blogs, podcasts and videos as much as possible.
  • Do not build new features yourself if you can integrate with existing sites that do the same thing. For example: put your videos on YouTube and integrate them into your site instead of hosting the videos yourself.
  • Install data collection code on your site and analyze it!

People

  • Recognize your limits—gets outside help if you need it!
  • Use volunteers wisely, sparingly.
  • Have a team responsible for setting direction.
  • Designate one person to be ultimately responsible for the site.

Process

  • Planning may be the most important step in the implementation of an Internet ministry.
  • Develop written goals and/or a mission statement to guide you. Refer to these as you make decisions about features and technologies for your ministry.
  • Have a centralized approval process for site updating.
  • Allow for distributed updating of information that belongs to different parts of your ministry.

I realize that not all of these best practices will make sense for every organization. These are meant as general guidelines that will assist ministries in developing the most successful Internet ministry possible. These best practices are skewed towards smaller organizations that have limited resources. As we saw when reviewing the success data, organizations that can spend money and devote a lot of time to their Internet ministries will be more successful.

View the entire 6-page Best Practices in Internet Ministry report.

Post By:

David Bourgeois


David is a professor at Biola University, a researcher and blogger. Dave lives with his wife, Marne, and their six children in Brea, Calif., where they have attended Evangelical Free Church of Diamond Bar for the past 15 years.
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5 Responses to “Internet Ministry Best Practices”

  • Scott Houchin
    November 8, 2008

    I must respectfully, but vehemently, disagree with the blanket comment on the use of volunteers. I do not doubt the findings of the data, but I would be willing to bet that the problem wasn’t the volunteers but rather the structure the church put in place to lead and manage the volunteer team. This would be true with any ministry, not just a technical or internet one.
    Were these volunteers just allowed to go off and do something, or was a volunteer team set up and managed just as if it was a team at a business? At a church of medium to large size, I would guess that you would have at least a few people with skills at a suitable level, so the challenge then is to get those people onto a ministry team and set up that team so that the team vision is in-line with the church vision. The team should have a known structure, known leadership, and known expectations. They should also know how their work contributes to the church’s overall goals and vision.
    I just left a church where both my wife and I begged to serve for almost two years. I had come to the area from out of state, where I had previously lead a successful communications team (including website), and we had built a site that was useful and fullfilled the desired purpose. Could it have been better? Certainly, but we did what we could do the best we could do it. When I left, I left a team with a known vision and known obligations, and I left a team will complete and usable documentation on what we had built, so that the new leader coming on board could continue to move forward.
    When I got to Virginia, we joined a church where I thought I would be joining an existing communications team, which exited me. Unfortunately, what I found in the end was church staff that micromanaged every project and very much treated volunteers as is suggested in this report; people who can to a task here and there, but would never be trusted to lead an ministry team without constant supervision and redirection from the staff. That church did have a few highly skilled people that were given tasks, but whenever I tried to build a team and to develop a vision for growth in the area of communications (even though I was explicitly clear that my team’s vision needed to be directly in line with the overall church vision, and even had an elder on my team to ensure we were doing that), I got stopped.
    A properly used volunteer, especially a leader, is nothing short of free staff. Use your volunteers to the extent God has blessed them and you. Shape them and your volunteer teams to be directly in line with your church vision, and provide course corrections as needed. But let your volunteers experience the joy God intends for them by serving.


  • James
    November 8, 2008

    My experience with volunteers? Don’t bother, they’re too much trouble. You’re better off hiring temps. When you’re paying somebody you have leverage to get the job done RIGHT. They’ll do a better job and not complain. Why do you think Sams Club brings in temps to do demos and hand out food/goodies, and NOT their existing staff??


  • Brit Windel
    November 8, 2008

    hey guys and gals of Church Marketing sucks
    wanted to let you know we started a podcast promoting you guys that some of you might enjoy with thoughts of youth ministry on marketing
    http://mattcleaver.com/2008/11/08/podcast-episode-0-church-marketing/


  • Scott Houchin
    November 9, 2008

    James: Did you just let your volunteers run free or did someone actually try to lead them and lead them effectively (e.g. Bill Hybels/Willow Creek Leadership Summit style leadership). Honestly, the tone of your reply infers that you can’t be bothered to define your vision, who you are, and what you actually want. But try hiring a design agency or other internet firm and “don’t be bothered” and see what you get.
    Sure, if you can’t spend the time to cast vision to your church members and get them behind you, you’re not going to get what you want. You’re also not going to have a particularly sticky nor effective church. Every member and regular attender at your church should know the vision of your church, how the church intends to fulfill that vision, and how they contribute to that effort. Not just your staff and elders, but everyone.
    If you make what you want and what you expect clear, as you would need to do to ensure that money to agencies actually results in what you want, it will also be clear from the start whether a prospective volunteer is going to deliver what you want. If you make it clear what you want and they push back for something else or something different (and you still think you’re right after the conversation), then that’s not going to be a productive volunteer. But if you clearly cast your vision and get the church behind it, people will be lining up to do your bidding.
    As I said before, in my experience the problem with volunteers isn’t with the volunteers, but with the leaders.


  • Carla Edwards
    November 14, 2008

    I have developed websites for churches for 10 years – On the volunteer issue, I have not seen projects handled as effectively by volunteers. Projects take longer and hit many more obstacles than with staff.

    To be effective, the website has to be a full extension of the church’s operations, and fully integrated into roles, communications, staff meetings, etc., all that and managing/interfacing with the vendors necessary, is a role most effective for a staff member.

    Duties WITHIN the website project and the ongoing web operations and updates can be filled by reliable volunteers with the heart and aptitude to serve – I’ve seen many scenarios be effective.



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