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Web-Empower Your Church Web-Empower Your Church
Unleashing the Power of Internet Ministry (with Windows CD-ROM)

Mark M Stephenson
ISBN 9780687642847 (0687642841)
Abingdon Press, 2006

Category: Internet and Technology

This is a book that's long overdue: a guide for churches finding their way online. Unfortunately it's also a book that, at first, seems to be longer on problems than solutions and, if I didn't know from personal experience how straightforward it can be to set up a church website, by the end of the second chapter — "I Almost Killed Our Newborn CyberMinistry" — I'd have been thoroughly scared off. Stephenson starts out by presenting a complex scenario with at least 10 different roles to fulfill which apparently requires a team of 15+ people, making the exercise sound like a project for a megachurch with almost infinite resources, not the sort of thing that a typical UK church could ever handle.

This certainly isn't the author's intention: on the contrary, he clearly wants to encourage churches to venture into cyberspace, but the picture painted in the opening chapters is, I fear, far more likely to put people off than encourage them to step out into this relatively new area of Christian ministry.

Battle through the first chapters, however, and you will find a huge amount that's helpful: Stephenson openly discusses various mistakes that he and his team have made along the way so that you won't have to make them. Chapters 6 - 8 are particularly valuable as they explain the acronyms, vocabulary and file formats that you'll need to become familiar with, and in the middle of chapter 8, pp.121 - 125, there's a list of 70 "CyberTips" that's worth a permanent bookmark. "Almost all these tips," Stephenson explains, "are the direct result of a not-so-nicely-learned lesson." The tips range from pastoral issues ("The people on your team are more important than the task of building your website") through the practical ("Don't make pages longer than three screens vertically") to the more technical ("To make large blocks of text more readable, narrow the columns to less than 500 pixels wide").

Moving beyond tips and mistakes to avoid, this book also serves to introduce us to the Web-Empowered Church (WEC) web services, and WEC aims "to minimize the technology challenges in order to maximize the ministry impact" by providing a free Content Management System (CMS) using TYPO3 (an open source website development package) customised for church users. It's a comprehensive service which, if you can get to grips with it, will allow you to create and develop a powerful and dynamic online presence for your church. There's a steep learning curve, however, and it's not for the faint-hearted.

Stephenson concludes, "Web-empowering your church is not easy, just as most significant ministry is not easy, but you are not alone." (p.184). He's right in what he affirms: no significant ministry is easy, and you are not alone; but in what he denies — the ease with which a church website can be created and maintained — I find myself having to differ. If your church is considering a venture into online ministry, do read this book: there's much to learn from it; but don't let the overly complex scenarios presented here frighten you away.

For a much less daunting introduction, see these Grove Booklets:
Using Your Church Web Site for Evangelism
Unweaving the Web.
For an excellent guide to basic web design principles, see Lynch & Horton's Web Style Guide (but be aware that web technology has moved on since it was published in 2001).

Full contents list and extra resources.

Phil Groom, May 2007

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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