Category Archives: UX

Change is good for churches

I’ve seen a lot of blog posts and videos lately on how to do streaming and what to use. All good stuff, and I don’t disagree with the vast majority of what people are saying. The problem is, whilst a lot of churches need hand holding in this current climate, it isn’t going to solve a longer term problem. That problem is making your digital outreach a core part of church life.

Yes, most churches have websites. A big part of my job is church website design. I’m an advocate for churches using digital platforms as an extension of church life and outreach. But the mindset, at the moment, seems to be what can we as a church do to get through this? They are looking for temporary digital measures to replicate the regular church events.

The issue here, is two-fold. Firstly, social media platforms weren’t built for this and users’ online mental model differs vastly from someone walking through the door of a church building.

Secondly as soon as normal life resumes a lot of good work from churches online will be undone as they stop their digital outreach. The mindset is temporary; the mindset is to do what we’ve always done once the lockdown has passed.

Let me say at the outset, I truly believe in the physical gathering of God’s people, this should be central to church life and nothing should replace that. I do, however, want to urge those that have the power, to think these things through carefully. We are in a unique situation right now, we as God’s people have a chance to adapt, innovate and grow.

In thinking through these things I want to make some quick points about why it’s worth reviewing our mindset about the way we do church.

 

Reaching new people

Have you ever despaired that the church isn’t making an impact? People don’t want to listen and certainly won’t walk into a church building. If only we had the opportunity to reach those that don’t know Jesus? If only people were willing to listen?

Well guess what? This is that moment, an opportunity to form new relationships, for the church to be central to their community. Sure not physically but online is a great place to start. There are a load of people, with a lot of time on their hands, skimming through their facebook feed looking for some entertainment, some distraction, some hope.

Where are you? Where is the content that your church members can share to their friends online? The church has a great chance to be central to online discussions on the situation we are in. People are questioning the very things that they thought would provide safety and comfort, health, jobs, money, friends, family, it’s all been stripped away and where are we? What is our message? How are we enabling our church members to have these discussions?

I have been amazed how many churches are using closed facilities for their online messages. Messages of hope and challenge are being preached and who is hearing it? Church members! You’ll have to excuse my annoyance but these are the very messages that should be pumped out on social media platforms, that people can pick up on and hear. That Christians all over can share with their nearest and dearest. What an opportunity, don’t waste it! If you are using a closed platform that only invited guests can access, stop it now.

I know it’s easy right now to only think of church members in this time, and yes they should be a priority. However, my personal belief is your focus with digital platforms should be everyone else. The lost, the scared, the worried, the angry, the grieving. These people who do not know Jesus need to be reached, make them a priority.

 

Church isn’t Sunday

If we accept the premise that first and foremost the churches social media channels are for those that don’t love Jesus, the shape of the content we produce should change accordingly.

For instance, I’ve been amazed how many churches are trying to just replicate a Sunday service online. Why? Because if it isn’t exactly like we do it on a Sunday that somehow the church body will fall apart?

Sure, praying, singing, God’s word, all vital. But they don’t need to be stitched together for online consumption. Are you expecting people to sit through a whole service online? People aren’t used to that, you know who are used to it? Christians.

Social Media was not meant for such things. The mental model of the majority of social media users is quick digestible content with memorable moments that resonate with the end user.

We have the ability to break the mould of church. Instead of playing into the stereotype that church is Sundays, we can share church all week. Smaller bite-sized content throughout the week. Youth talks, kids songs, daily messages from pastors, maybe even take some parts of the Sunday sermon and published as smaller sound-bytes? Instead of spending hours putting together a well designed Sunday service during the week, spend that time on your social media channels producing content that your members can share and the end user can easily digest. Get church members involved, make it natural, make it interesting – that is the point of social media.

 

Church isn’t a building

There has been the often argued stance, that the minute a church starts streaming their service people will stay at home to watch instead of meeting with their brothers and sisters. I have spent some time talking with churches who stream their services about this and there is absolutely no evidence that this is happening.

We need to stop thinking that church is the building. That everything the church does has to be through the building. I know we say we know that, but honestly, when churches organise things, it’s always in the building, always in the same format.

This is a time to learn that Gospel outreach can and should happen outside of the building. I’m sure church members are encouraged to do so but how about the church as an entity? Could you do your Christianity Explored somewhere other than the church building?

Hopefully in this time we can learn that church activities don’t need to include the building, they can happen whenever, wherever. They should happen where people can be met.

 

Innovation can be good

A few weeks ago our midweek bible study group met for the first time using Zoom. It made my heart soar, it lifted my spirits and I couldn’t wait for the next one. It wasn’t because I got to watch something other then Peppa Pig (honestly this lockdown has me hating on that pig family). It was mainly because for the first time in probably ever that all 18 of us were together. We have a number of young families in our group and obviously only one partner can come. But not now! Everyone can join in and although it’s not the same as being in the same room it was great to share that time with those who have felt sidelined because of having a young family.

Churches who innovate are able to draw in those on the fringes, that can’t engage as often. It is an incredible moment to ask, how can we do church differently? Think differently, approach it differently, deliver it differently.

I know several churches using a dial-in phone service to hear the live sermon preached, which is great for those without internet access or find the whole thing too confusing. Those churches have also said they plan to keep it once normal life resumes.

Churches often shy away from creativity and innovation because it moves away from the tried and tested models of yesteryear. Which of course have their place, but we must always look forward. Who can we engage with that we aren’t currently? Who are sidelined that we can draw in? How do we do it?

Answer those questions and you will find ways of doing things that you weren’t previously.

It’s certainly my hope that we keep something of our online midweek group so those that aren’t able can still share that precious time.

Once this is all over ask members what they liked and what they want to keep, what was helpful, what worked. Don’t throw it all away, move forward armed with extra tools, not replacements.

 

A new mindset

My hope is churches through this will gain a new vision for how church is done. That their digital offering isn’t just to promote the Sunday gathering or the midweek youth group, but actually to support the work of the people with content made specifically for digital platforms.

This is a new horizon for gospel work, finally churches are being made to use the very things they have avoided, they are using digital platforms in a way they never have done before.

My prayer is churches, passed the current horrific situation, grab the opportunity to learn how to best utilise digital platforms, to serve their members and to reach out to their communities.

God’s work is not restricted to a Sunday, it is not restricted to a building. We have the ability to reach people in new and different ways, take what you are learning in this temporary situation and decide what things could be made a permanent function for God’s glory.

Streaming for the church

So here we are… Crisis point for the world and it’s up to the internet to keep sane (that’s something I never thought I’d say). I’ve already seen many taking to social media to offer classes and groups for interaction and well being.

It’s brilliant to see so many churches now embracing social media as an extension of their fellowship and outreach. It has intrigued me to see how churches are handling their digital offering, so much so that I thought it might be worth giving some advice on such things.

There are lots of great posts already out there about what services there are and what can be achieved, this isn’t one of those posts. This is directed at church leaders and those that are making decisions about streaming .

In my years of church website design my approach is to stick to the KISS principal. KISS stands for Keep It Simple Stupid.

I have seen a lot of church streaming setups over the last week, cameras, computers, all kinds. Setup in churches, very fancy, very cool.

The problem with that is, at some point we will move to a time of not being able to get to our churches to use our fancy setup. My advice to the decision makers is to follow a KISS principal.

Don’t overthink it
Yes, there are loads of great tools out there, and it’s tempting to use the latest and greatest technology. The problem with this is at some point you will have to downscale your setup to accommodate the situation. The better thing to do, is to start small and build out from there. If you are streaming on premises at a church with all the gear, don’t. You’ll have to downscale that when the inevitable lockdown happens. Start small, start simple, and as you grow with confidence you can add things.

Enable your pastors
Your choice for streaming should be based around those who will be preaching. What is their level of technological understanding. At some point we will not be allowed into a church building and they will be in their house streaming the service themselves. Help them, come up with a setup they can use and continue to use for the next few months. The more people and steps you can take out of the process the more KISS it becomes. At this moment in time, simple trumps fancy. If you do it now and slowly upscale you won’t need to downsize the incredible setup you had before. Do it now!

Enable your church
This time is a great opportunity not only for the church leaders to have a voice on social media but also for the church as a whole. What things can you encourage them to be involved in the churches online voice? User generated content will serve you well during this time. In a future post I’ll suggest some ideas of things you could encourage the church to do during this time.

But mainly, follow the KISS principal

Security certificates – Google cares, so should you

Site security and online privacy has, in recent years, become more of a concern. With websites needing to gain the trust of its visitors and to ensure a users every move is not being monitored without them being made aware is all part of a users experience. Without this experience your website and your brand could be deeply impacted.

However, recent changes to Google Chrome web browser, changes to the law and the introduction of GDPR data regulations now means this area of concern takes on greater importance.

Whats changed?
The latest version of Google’s Chrome web browser alerts users when they visit a web page that collect personal data. The warning states that the website is ‘not secure’ and makes it look like there is a problem with the security of a website. This could damage credibility and trust for many website visitors if they think their information can be stolen and misused.

As well as this the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will apply from May 2018. The GDPR is a legal framework which websites must adhere to. This includes security of personal data.

What is a security certificate (SSL)?
SSL, which stands for Secure Socket Layer, is an encryption technology used to create a secure connection between a web server and a user’s web browser.

When a website has an SSL certificate installed on the server, a small padlock icon is displayed to the left of a website URL in the browser and https will appear as well before the url. SSL certificates are used to secure data transfers, credit card transactions, logins and other personal information. They provide security to customers and make visitors more likely to stay on a website for longer periods of time.

So why bother?

It’s safer site visitors
HTTPS keeps the information sent between the browser and the user secured. The SSL encryption layer prevents data attacks by stopping unwanted users from intercepting data that is passing between the two. This is especially crucial to prevent for e-commerce websites where credit card details are entered, or for websites that allow account creation and store sensitive information.

Website visitors want to know that the information they are sending is secured. Any issues with data security can impact your brand negatively.

Improves search rankings
Google has, for many years, encouraged site owners to improve a users experience especially in regards to data. Since 2015, Google will search for and index HTTPS URLs before HTTP URLs. By June 2016 Moz found that over 32% of page 1 Google results are using the HTTPS protocol which is a big increase since being first announced by Google. It is clear that Google now place weight behind websites that have a security certificate and in terms of competetition, every little helps.

No more nasty warnings
Since Google are now reacting to sites without an SSL, it’s hard not to miss the warnings non-secure websites are throwing up. Any site visitor that sees a site marked as ‘insecure’ will quickly run away. For reputation, trust and user experience alone it’s enough of a reason to implement one.

Is User Experience an ‘added extra’?

I remember a boss of mind telling me, “I know you’re in to the whole UX Design thing, but it’s just not what we do as company, we aren’t geared up for it”.

If you are any kind of web development-aware person, you are probably think, really? Hard to believe, that in this day and age, people believe UX Design is some kind of luxury, some sort of add on, like DAB Radio for a car. That success can be achieved without this new fancy fad.

Ah well that depends on your idea of success, doesn’t it? Bashing out a good looking site in as quick a time as possible is many peoples goals. sadly these people are misguided. You see the web has matured, as has it’s users. We are no longer a generation that is sucked in by cheap promises and sites which drama s much info as possible in front of the user.

A generation has grown up learning how to block off certain signals on websites and applications. They know the setup of the average site and use these common factors to navigate their way across the web. Old, cheap tricks no longer have an effect. The biggest indicator of this is how SEO has been forced to grow up and get smarter but the all knowing Google. Having switched on to the fact SEO specialists were finding holes in the search algorithm and exploiting them for search rankings, Google have stepped up its intelligence in finding and indexing pages with correct practice. Including proper syntax, context and content. The ‘field of dreams’ idea is over (if you build it they will come… You haven’t seen Field of Dreams? Loser).

Well… Not entirely, it would read something more like, if you build it intelligently, they will come. What I mean is, once upon a time, you would build a site and then consider SEO and usability as separate areas. Today they have to be seen as one and be thought of from the word go.

For instance, Google is now paying attention to how long a user is spending on your site. A well structured site, that is easy to use = attention and retention. A site that makes no sense and doesn’t have any targets or aims will fall flat.

User experience is in fact at the very heart of a Website.

Research the user, understand their needs, set some goals, set information priority and set a pathway that achieves this in the most painless way as possible. Better to have an aesthetically challenged site that was easy for the user to use then a good looking site that doesn’t hit its aims and objectives.

And you see thats normally where I find Designers and Web guys that care about UX differ. A designer thinks a good looking site is what matters, when in reality it goes:
1) Content
2) User Experience
3) Aesthetics

Design is last on the list! How a user interacts with your site is most important. I’ve lost count of the times a designer has wanted to add something to my wireframe because he “saw it on another site and it looks cool”.

For a website, user experience is everything. With the user a site useless. It is core to every site.