Building a digital platform (website) is essential to the network approach to faith formation. A digital platform provides the primary way to connect people to the network’s offerings and to connect people with each other. A faith formation website provides the platform for publishing and delivering the experiences, content, programs, activities, and resources of the network. A website provides the platform for seamless learning across a variety of experiences, resources, locations, times, or settings. The website, together with social media, provides continuity between faith formation in the congregation, at home, in daily life, and online. And it is available to people anytime, anywhere, and any device (computer, tablet, smart phone).
Here are several suggestions for web usability from Steve Krug’s excellent and easy-to-use book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, Third Edition (Berkeley: New Riders, 2014).
Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability - Revised
Steve Krug. (Berkeley: New Riders, 2014)
People won't use your web site if they can't find their way around it. Whether you call it usability, ease-of-use, or just good design, companies staking their fortunes and their futures on their Web sites are starting to recognize that it's a bottom-line issue. Steve Krug distills his years of experience and observation into clear, practical - and often amusing -common sense advice for the people in the trenches (the designers, programmers, writers, editors, and Webmasters), the people who tell them what to do (project managers, business planners, and marketing people), and even the people who sign the checks. Krug's clearly explained, easily absorbed principles will help you produce a website that people will actually want to use.
First, choose a domain name (URL) for the faith formation website. The congregation can either purchase a new domain name for the faith formation website from one of the companies that sell and register domain names or use a free domain name provided by the website builder, e.g., Weebly.com provides hosting and a free website URL with the weebly.com extension, such as http://holytrinityadults.weebly.com.
Second, select a website template that is mobile-responsive, which means that the website will automatically size-itself correctly on a computer, laptop, tablet, or phone. The template should do this automatically.
Third, create the primary navigation (main menus) for the website directly from the network content areas. Be sure to select a website template that allows enough room for all of the menu items to be seen. Today’s website design favors horizontal menus (running across the webpage), rather than vertical menus (running on the left side of the webpage). Select the template that provides enough room for the menus.
There may be a need to consolidate several content areas of the network to accommodate the website design template. This involves creating submenus (secondary navigation) under the main menu items. Here is an example of a Families with Children Faith Formation Network. The submenu items are listed after the main menu items. Each main menu title would need to be adjusted to fit on the webpage.
Here is an example using an Adult Faith Formation Network using short titles that will fit across a webpage.
A well-designed site with clear and easy to understand navigation will increase engagement and the time people spend on the website.
Fourth, build each webpage to incorporate all of the programs, activities, and resources for a particular network content area for the seasonal plan. A well-designed site with quality content will increase engagement and create a positive experience for the user—all of which encourages continuous learning.
Each webpage includes content that is uploaded to the website for people to use—audio podcasts, videos, articles, blog posts, interactive features—as well as descriptions and links to programs, activities, and resources that reside on other websites, such as online courses. Webpages can include stable content that is going to be available in every season and seasonal or calendar-specific content.
Each webpage is a “learning page” where people can learn online, download resources, and connect to activities and resources across the web. Here are two examples of webpage design—one for adults and one for parents. For more examples online go to http://holytrinityadults.weebly.com and http://holytrinityfamilies.weebly.com.
Fifth, design the website specifically for your target audiences and write the content for them in their language with titles and examples that connect to their lives; select images (photo or short video) that reflect their life situations. Engage the target audience and tell them what they need to know and do.
Be sure to pay careful attention to the titles and descriptions so that they capture people’s interests. Develop descriptions that are positive in tone, indicate clearly the content or focus of an activity. Describe how your offerings respond to something within the lives of people. Highlight the relationship between the content and the particular spiritual or religious needs, interests, passions, concerns, or life issues of people. Describe the 2-3 benefits of participating or engaging in faith formation.
Building a website is made much easier today by the availability of online website builders that provide predesigned website templates, drag-and-drop features to create webpages, and hosting for the website. Four popular website builders to explore are:
Weebly, Wix, and Squarespace have detailed tutorials on their websites to help you design a website. Go to their websites to view the tutorials.
If you are new to website design, Weebly.com offers the easiest path to developing a website with it's drag and drop design features and pre-designed website templates. Go to the video presentations to learn how to design a faith formation website on Weebly.com.