A Web Presence
The internet has an immense potential for the proclamation of truth throughout the world. As this column is presented from month to month, we will be addressing some of the ways an individual Christian or a congregation can utilize the internet for the purpose of preaching the gospel. But, first things first. Many know nothing about more about the internet than, "When the arrow turns into a hand, you can click your mouse and it will take you somewhere else!" For many, the idea of establishing a web site for the purpose of preaching the gospel is so far-fetched as to be unworthy of serious thought. This is unfortunate, because it is a rather simple and inexpensive process. Following is a list of FAQ's (internet lingo for "Frequently Asked Questions") which will help guide you through the process. If anything remains unclear, or you want more information, please feel free to write and ask.
Q: What are the costs involved in setting up a web site?
depends! (Don't worry, it gets better). At present, I maintain two web sites that most probably represent opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to cost. Of course, corporate sites cost millions of dollars to maintain, but the cutting edge technology that is found on those sites are completely unnecessary in developing an effective and pleasing site for a congregation or individual interested in spreading the gospel. The Watchman Magazine site is rather extensive, including things such as a domain name, multiple email addresses, list-serves, domain hosting, etc. Such "extras" can make the cost of maintaining the site run into hundreds of dollars a year. But, the site of the West Side congregation where I preach, members.aol.com/TXchurch, is found on AOL. I have the least expensive monthly "plan", which allows me 3 hours per month of access. This plan costs $4.95 per month, gives me plenty of access time to keep the web site updated and check the mail the site generates, and gives me plenty of "space" (2 megabytes per user name) to put all of the articles, sermons and class material I could possibly want. There are no costs beyond the $4.95 per month and the labor involved in maintaining the site. You can even have a web presence for no cost at all if you are willing to put up with advertising from the company which hosts the site.
Q: Is it hard to build a Web Page?
it depends! Web sites range from the incredibly complex to the very simple. While this article is not designed to give tips on web site design, I would state that for the purposes of preaching, simple and straightforward may be the best approach. It is also the easiest type of site to build. The most effective sites are simple to navigate, pleasing to the eye, and quick loading. In future articles we will spend time giving suggestions as to how to accomplish these things, but for now know that if you can use a word processor, you can design and maintain a presence on the Web.
To build a Web site, you complete the following process:
- Create the Web Site on your computer. There are many WYSIWYG Web Publishers to choose from. In using these, you do not need to know HTML code. The program does the work for you. The learning curve for these programs is relatively mild as they follow a Word Processor model. If you have been able to learn to use your Word Processor, you should be able to use a Web Publisher with little effort. The Publisher I use is a shareware program called Web Express. (Go to the bottom of the front page of Watchman to link to the Web Express site). The program costs less than $100.
One thing that really can set your site apart is a proficient use of graphics. Too often you see web pages with too much animation, jagged text, gif files in white boxes, and slow loading pages due to large graphic files. If you take the time to learn how graphic files work on the web, and invest in a good graphics program, you can really have a site that is a pleasure to visit. Personally, I use Paint Shop Pro, a shareware program that can also be purchased in many computer and electronic stores. It costs about $70, and is well worth the price. All of the graphics, text and animations (banners) you find on the Watchman site were either created by, or manipulated by the Paint Shop Pro program. For example, the graphic at the top of this page was taken from a clip art program, resized, and saved as a gif file (with a transparent background). The file is small, loads rapidly, and because it uses the gif format, can sit on the page without being inside the white "box" you see from some graphics. (The box is there, it is just invisible).
- Upload the files which make up the site to the internet server. To do this you will need some technical help from your Web host. You need to find out what the protocol is for transferring files to your host. The process is referred to as FTP. (File Transfer Protocol). You will need to know the location, the password, and any special requirements that your server may have. There are programs that are designed to simplify this process. I use a freeware program (do you see a trend developing here?) that works great. It is called WS-FTP, and can be downloaded from Tucows (www.tucows.com). Once the files are uploaded, go to your browser, and visit your site. It is instantly up! You will need to visit the site to look for mistakes, (graphics that don't show up, links that don't work, etc.), before letting the public know you are online.
Q: Why should I want an Internet Presence?
are several reasons. First, it is potentially a most effective way to spread the gospel. You have very little cost associated with the spread of truth, and literally anyone in the world can access your site and learn the gospel of Christ. Second, the world is becoming ever more "connected" by the internet. As more and more people get online the potential audience for your preaching increases. Third, a positive presence is needed on the internet. False teachers are literally everywhere, and the potential for the destruction of souls is great. Also, there are many sites that are dedicated to filth and sin. For those who are looking to escape such sinful things there is a need for a righteous presence on the web.
Depending on the extent and complexity of the site, there are many items of interest that you can offer to visitors. Following are a few suggestions:
Others may have other suggestions. (Feel free to share them with me). But these are sufficient to show that a Web presence can be effective in the spread of the gospel of Christ. It is within the means of any congregation or individual, and with little effort can potentially reach a soul for Christ.
- Articles dealing with the church, the plan of salvation, and other first principle lessons.
Articles dealing with religious error.
Information about the congregation, including times of services, a map to the building, and descriptions of belief.
A page of links to other sites which contain good teaching or Bible study helps.
A "News" page dedicated to the members of the congregation. This is a good way to "instantly" update people with news of those sick, or congregational affairs.
Offers of audio or video tapes through the regular mail.
Actual audio of sermons or classes (Note: this takes a great deal of "space", and also can be tedious to the visitor if they do not have high speed web access. There is also technology which allows for "streaming audio." While not too prevalent now, it is indeed the "future" of the web).
Bible Correspondence Courses (either online, or through regular mail).
Sermon outlines and class material
Q: What do I do now that I have a Web site up?
Some think of a web site as advertising. It isn't. A web site should be informational. It can tell about the congregation, and give information that is characteristic of advertising. But, just because you have a web site up does not mean that you will receive any visitors to your site. You have to let people know you have a web presence. To do this, I have a few suggestions:
- Put the URL (address) of your Web site on everything you print. Business cards, bulletins, meeting announcements, stationery, etc. You may want to have postcards or business cards advertising your site printed up for members to pass out.
Register your site with search engines such as Yahoo and Excite. This is not as effective as you might think because of the number of web sites on the internet. But, there are techniques we will discuss in a later column that will make this more effective.
Visit other sites. When you find others who are teaching truth (and there are many sites out there), email them and ask them to look at and link to your site. Reciprocate by providing a link on your site to theirs.
Establish a mailing list. That way each time your site is updated you can send notices to those who are signed up to your list. This is an effective way to increase the traffic to your site.
Update your site often. A static site does not bring repeat visitors. Adding material each week, or month, is a sure way to get people coming back. They want to know what is new!
The preceding is sufficient to give readers a general idea of what is necessary to establish a Web presence. In future articles we will give suggestions and advice regarding specific aspects of the utilization and design of Web pages. The internet is a wonderful thing, and the potential for good is great. Congregations should consider taking advantage of such an efficient and exciting opportunity to preach the word!
e-mail this author at email@example.com
Return to Watchman Front Page