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Church of England wants your help

Church of England website

I was pleased to see that the people that run the Church of England website are looking for feedback. A survey has been made available to enable users of the site to give their thoughts and opinions… presumably as a first stage of an overhaul of the current offering.

The current site, I would guess, is around five or six years old which is ancient in Internet terms. Before I am too critical, I guess I have to remember too how bad it was in the days before the current site was created and published. Certainly, this current site represented a big step forward for the Church of England and since that time, the Communications unit of the National Church Institutions have continued to move things forward through a series of initiatives and sub-websites for particular things and the ongoing tweaking that comes when you run a big website like that.

I guess sub-websites for particular projects, like the recent Advent campaign, will always be needed and will always exist but it’s indicative that some of the material on those sites weren’t incorporated into the main CofE site. I think a lot of it should have been incorporated but navigationally the main site really isn’t very good so you can see why it was kept apart.

Of course, I have to be a bit careful as to what I say because I was involved at various stages of the process that led to the current Church of England website coming to birth (although it was never my responsibility or within my remit as such). I sat in various meetings that, maybe in another time and another place, I may be able to speak about. There are some stories that perhaps ought to be told… or then again, perhaps not.

However, I think the mere provision of one website for the entire Church of England reveals in and of itself what an extremely hard task it is. Is it a website for those who are interested in going to church, or those who are interested in finding out more about Jesus? Is it a website for those who want some spiritual input at a time of crisis – like the 7/7 bombings or the recent Credit Crunch? Is it a website for ordinary churchgoers in the thousands of parishes looking for some spiritual input during their working week or perhaps information on how to complain about their vicar? Is it for readers, clergy, church workers of various kinds, the church bureaucracy, General Synod to communicate with each other and provide important reference information?

Any potential official website for the entire Church of England, of course, has to try and please all those different audiences and, of course, everyone will feel that it’s ‘their’ website regardless of their role… just as they think their parish church is ‘their’ church, even if they never go along.

It’s a phenomenally difficult task for a website to try and please such diverse audiences so I have the greatest sympathy for those that are responsible for it. Hopefully, they’ll be able to do better than the current navigation system and focus which for me really seems to be indicative of that confusion over who the audience is supposed to be.

Other organisations in similar roles do cope. Government (sometimes) and some big businesses understand that they have different audiences who all need to be suitably catered for and they do a decent job of making it happen. Of course, they also tend to be working with budgets of seven figures or more, armies of people and seriously knowledgeable and well-paid professionals.

Very little of that is available to the Church of England website and more is the pity really. People might think that any such spend is hard to justify and that we should be focussing on provision for local communities, helping the homeless and all the rest. Of course, we should be doing those things and spending our money wisely – I’m not advocating that we throw money around like it’s going out of fashion. However, if our church is trying to be missional in outlook, Mission-shaped Church and all the rest, then in the 21st Century media soaked United Kingdom, we ought to have a role within our missional strategy for the national level communication as well as the local, the communication of our gospel message through the newspapers and TV, advertising, and of course online as well as in all the work that goes on in parishes.

Good websites don’t just happen. They are invested in, they are staffed, they are thought about and strategically set up with vision in order to go somewhere. Here’s hoping those with the power to do so give to the team responsible for this work the finances and tools to make it happen. I think it could be a really important, strategic website for our church and our nation if it’s done properly.

Anyway, rant over. If you have ten minutes, go and fill in the survey. Consider it your duty as an Anglican for today. Even if you never use the site, fill in the survey. Tell them why you don’t use it. It will be crucial data and information for the team running the site so that they can make good decisions and better position the site, the information it conveys and that central gospel message about Jesus Christ for our benefit and the benefit of those around us who we currently don’t see in our churches.

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