Creating Conference Websites
By Gerry Chudleigh
Understanding Conference Websites
Most local churches (that have websites) have one webmaster who creates and updates the church website. But keeping all the parts of a conference website up to date usually requires input from several--or many--people. Conferences have too many ministry leaders, and too many programs, to expect one webmaster to keep everything up to date. Distributed input is possible with both Adventist Church Connect and netAdventist software, but the way this is accomplished is dramatically different, and so are the results.
When a conference creates an Adventist Church Connect (or Simple Updates) site, they usually start with one or two pages. The conference webmaster then creates an additional page called "Ministries" or "Departments," and then creates pages for each ministry or department and links those pages to the Ministries page.
After the webmaster creates pages for all the ministries, he or she opens User Management and gives various users permission to edit specific pages. For example, the youth director can edit youth department pages and add new youth department pages, but cannot make any other changes to the website.
The process for creating a conference website in netAdventist is much different. The netAdventist staff starts the process by creating a completely separate website for each department or ministry and then linking them all together with a custom design. So instead of one website, the conference has about 15 to 30 websites -- that blend together into one website. As a result, there can be a separate webmaster for each department--in addition to the main webmaster. For an example, see www.puconline.org.
The Advantages to the netAdventist System are Profound:
- Every department or ministry can select all the links they want in their sidebars without affecting the rest of the conference website.
- Every department can post local news for their department. Then local churches and other conferences can have that department's news appear on their site, if they want it. For example, Hispanic churches may have news and announcements from the conference Hispanic Ministries department appear on their site.
- Every department can edit and control their own Contact Us function and will receive their own Feedback. When they create forms, the results will come to their own departments.
- Every department can choose to import news from churches and organizations that relate to that department. For example, regional ministries may pull news from all the regional churches in the conference.
- Each department, including treasury and administration, can easily post documents that can only be seen by members or leaders related to that department. For example, if you are a member of the Pacific Union Executive Committee you can go to the Administration page of the union site, log in, and see a menu that lists all the documents needed for the next meeting, plus minutes from the last one. Non-members cannot see that menu.
- Every department can add their own forms, public documents, photo galleries, etc., without effecting the rest of the conference site.
- And, best of all, the process is so easy that departmental secretaries and leaders love to add things and keep the site up to date.
Steps for Setting Up a netAdventist Conference Website
Note: Taken together, these steps may look overwhelming for people with no web building experience. But none of the steps is difficult, and netAdventist staff will provide whatever help is needed. Just start at the top, take your best shot at each one, and you will have no trouble completing them. Everything can be changed later, though your objective is to get as much stuff right in the beginning as you can.
And remember, these steps apply only to conference and union websites. Local church sites are about 20 times easier and faster.
Before netAdventist can create the subsites for a conference or union website, the conference or union must give netAdventist a list of the subsites needed. Then netAdventist creates a design that links all the subsites together, then the conference or union fills each subsite with content. That is all there is to it. Here is a closer looks at this process.
- Assign a webmaster (not a committee) to create the site. Each conference or union has selected a communication director who is responsible for managing that organization's public communication. The netAdventist program enables almost anyone to update the website from almost any location at any time. A committee cannot create or manage a modern conference website. Assign a webmaster, often the communication director or associate, and let them run with it. Later your organization may want a website steering committee to make general policies, but having a strong committee during the initial setup time will probably bring the process to a stop.
- Pick a URL (web address). In the 20th century it was generally agreed that the shorter the web address the better. Almost one one thinks that way today. Now people want website names that everyone can remember. Hence, www.pacificunionrecorder.com. Five years ago that would have been purecorder.com, or pucrecorder.com, or perhaps pucrec.com, or some other short address that almost no one could guess or remember. If puconline.org were not already on many business cards and letterheads, and if it were not already part of all employee email addresses, we probably would have named our website, PacificUnionConference.org.
- List your subsites. In most cases this is easy. Just list all the departments in your office: communication, trusts, youth, adult ministries, etc. Then you may want to add reception and maintenance, the conference summer camp or retreat center, etc. You may want a separate subsite for each administrator. On the Pacific Union site we added a subsite for News. That is a page where we can turn on many news feeds that we don't want to show on the front page.
- Choose the name of each subsite. Again, most are easy. For the Ministerial department the URL will be www.ministerial.puconline.org, and the name at the top of the page will be "Ministerial." The names do not have to be the same. For example, you might have a subsite URL of "www.plr.floridaconference.org" but a site name—that is the name that appears at the top of the page—of Pine Lake Retreat. So for each subsite, select the name you want in the URL and the name you want at the top of the page.
- Give all this information to netAdventist.
- Select a design. NetAdventist will send you a list of questions to help them know what design you like. Then they will create a design for your approval. It might be helpful for you to send them a short list of other websites you like. They can give you a similar design. How do you like the design at http://arzc.netadventist.org/? Go to www.netadventist.org and click on Client Samples for links to several netAdventist sites. But you can refer their designers to other sites. NetAdventist designers will send you one or more designs for your approval. If you like their design, give your OK. No matter what you choose, you will probably change it in a year, or two, or three, anyway.
- Specify layouts. Make sure you select at least two or three layout versions of the design you like. For example, at the puconline.org site you will see that some of the subsites have a sidebar down the left side only, while some have a sidebar down both sides. At all your subsites you will want the option of choosing one sidebar or two sidebars, so make sure the netAdventist designer gives you those options.
- Select the items for the drop down menus. You don't want 30 departments on one dropdown menu because it will run off the bottom of the page. It would be better to divide the links into two or three menus, like ministries, services and administration. On the Pacific Union site we have two categories; departments and education. But the department list is so long it does not all fit on some screens. We will redesign those menus soon.
- Assign an editor, maybe yourself and your secretary. To create uniformity and get the job done fast, one person should probably add all the initial content, though two or more people could agree on the style and divide the work.
- Choose a content style. For the Pacific Union site we created a page for the president, then tried to make all the other welcome pages match that style. Of course, you can change this style any time you want. Here is the Pacific Union content style:
- Photo in upper left corner, name of leader to right of photo. Use one exact photo size throughout the site. We use 120 pixels by 168.
- Job description. What that department or ministry does.
- Short bio. The kind of information ASI would put in their printed program if this person spoke there.
- Link to high resolution photo for printing in campmeeting bulletins, etc. Click here for instructions.
- Repeat this information for any associates.
- Support staff photo and info.
- Other contact information (But there is a link on every subsite called "Contact Us" where this info can be included.
- Customize automatic messages. Go through all the automatic messages and make sure they say what you want them to say. For example, when you add an employee or executive committee member as a member or leader in a subsite, they will receive a message telling them they are members and letting them know what their password is. By default, that message is signed something like, "Your Pastoral Staff." You will want to either delete the "signature" or change it to something appropriate to your office. And you will want to make sure the correct people receive messages people post online. Don't worry about how to do this now. You will figure it out or ask someone when you need to do it.
- Publicly announce the site.
- Show departmental people how to update their own subsites. Show them how to post news, add documents, modify the welcome page, etc.
- Add custom features. You will learn how to do each one as needed. For example:
- On one of the administrator's subsites, create a hidden menu for documents for the Executive Committee. Make it visible only to members of committee. Add documents for next meeting.
- Education department will upload policy documents and employee forms.
- Upload summer camp brochure.
- Create hidden photo album with photos and contact information for all office employees. Add it to the main site and make it visible only to MEMBERS of that site.
- Upload sermons, etc.