Top 5 Web Sites in Holston Conference...And Why They're the Best...
by Donna Hankins
December 21, 2005 Did you know that there are more than 250 web sites for Holston Conference churches and agencies? Approximately 220 of those web sites are for Holston churches and that number is increasing each week. Churches of all sizes in Holston are reaching out with web ministries.
A study of all of the known web sites in Holston has uncovered 5 excellent examples of thoughtful and committed web ministries. In order to provide a wide representation, the final list consists of a small church, a medium-sized church, 2 medium-to-large churches, and one institutional site. Web sites aren’t perfect and a commitment to a site means that it continues to grow and evolve, so wherever appropriate I have pointed out the very minor flaws evident in these best of the best web sites in Holston.
A set of general criteria that was met by each of these web sites follows in order of importance:
1. Content is up-to-date and relevant.
2. Site is organizationally and graphically effective.
3. Some representation of interactivity is present.
4. Site presents well in different browsers and operating systems.
5. Web address is short and easy to remember.
For institutional web sites in Holston, Emory & Henry College (www.ehc.edu) stands out above the rest. The home page content is directing visitors to events happening today and out into January 2006. The navigation and organization of the home page helps every type of visitor to connect with the college through easily visible links such as, “For Parents”, “For Visitors”, “For Current Students”, “For Faculty and Staff”. The photo images on the home page change with every reload and the structure is simple, attractive, and colorful. The interactivity on the site is perfectly suited to the audience with the video introduction and tour links front and center. In that same location, prominent links for online application, scholarship calculations, donations, and information requests further enhance the interactive nature of the site.
The small church in Holston with a big web presence is Green Meadow UMC (www.themeadow.org) in the Maryville District. Yes, it’s true that the part-time pastor of Green Meadow works in journalism, but he will happily share with you how he has been self-taught in the area of online media. There are several features of this site that demonstrate examples of relevant content. First of all, “The Pastor’s Buzz” provides one of the best pastor’s blogs you’ll find on a church web site. Rev. Trexler posts regularly with subjects that strike high on the inspiration meter! Seriously, you will want to check it out. Another relevant piece of the Green Meadow home page is that at the time of this writing, no visitor would miss the fact that this church knows Christmas is coming. For potential visitors during the holiday season, this content is critically important. The site is graphically appealing although the black background is an out-dated style and may not be the best choice for most church web pages meant to attract older as well as younger visitors. Interactivity is invited through comments to the pastor’s blog and online prayer requests. Making a map and directions to the church easily available adds interactive value as well.
The medium-sized church with a well-rounded web presence is Hartman’s Chapel (www.hartmanschapel.org) in the Morristown District. For the first criteria of content, this site provides an up-to-date calendar for visitors to see what’s happening this month. The site’s news links provide information about recent events at the church. This church has invested in a helpful content management system from ThisChurch.org which provides well-structured navigation and an attractive interface. The web site also provides interactivity through an online poll complete with results, a Bible verse search, and online prayer requests. Members can also add to the online photo gallery for the church further enhancing the interactivity. This type of feature tends to keep members interested in contributing to a church web site.
One of the medium-to-large church web sites in Holston that is most impressive is St. Luke UMC (www.stlukeumc.info) in the Chattanooga District. Once again we find relevance in this site due to a pastor’s blog being provided with a recent entry relating to Advent. Likewise, the site provides prominent display for “Current Happenings” and “Upcoming Holiday Events”. Visitors can easily find links to directions to the church. The site even provides instructions on how to get there from all directions. It appears that St. Luke UMC has found a very talented volunteer in the church to develop this site. The site is colorful, the graphics are effective, and the structure is easy to navigate. The developer might consider a different font for the address and phone number graphic as it may be difficult to read for some. I would have liked to have seen more interactivity on this site. What makes up for this to some extent is the way that the site consistenly welcomes new comers. St. Luke UMC has also done a good job of notifying their visitors of relevant activities and conference related youth information. A hyperlink to the Resurrection web page would have been a nice extra touch.
The final impressive church web site in Holston belongs to Middlebrook Pike UMC (www.middlebrookpike.com) in the Knoxville District. Visitors to this site are told right up front that the pages are updated at least weekly. Advent activities information and a Katrina relief mission trip presentation provide further relevance to the content. The navigation of the site is easy to follow and graphics are simple, attractive, and probably understated. The site provides a modest amount of interactivity mostly in the form of providing an online discussion forum. Middlebrook Pike UMC has done a fine job of displaying their community organization ties which help visitors and members alike know how to plug right in to various ministries. Lastly, this site squeaked into the top 5 for one very special reason. This was the only site I found with a very prominent invitation to people who are brand new to the site or church. This is indisputably relevant content as one of the best ways churches can connect with new potential members is through the church web site. In fact, if churches surveyed users of their site they would likely find that more new people visit than current members. According to a study by Pew Internet & American Life Project, on a typical day more than 2 million people go online to search for religious/spiritual information and search engine use remains the most frequent online activity.
It was difficult to narrow this list to 5. There was a handful of large church web sites which were very impressive and might have made it into this list but for a few reasons of which all churches should take note:
Donna Hankins manages online media, video production, and audio-visual technology for Holston Conference.
Some Holston Conference web site stats:
Average monthly page views: 77,000
Average number of unique visitors per month: 7,200
This article appears in a different format in the December 30, 2005 edition of The Call. Available soon.