In the interest of full and complete disclosure, this post is what some might call “shameless self promotion.” However I’d like to think that since I’m not promoting myself per se’ and rather the church I am a pastor of then it’s OK.
This past Sunday after worship, the Richmond Church of the Brethren (CoB) celebrated the launch of its new website! This site has been months in the making, as it was in progress for quite some time before I became pastor in June. You can check out the site to see all its exciting bells and whistles, including online calendars, a “conversations” blog, and online newsletter distribution. Since I did quite a bit of work getting the site finalized and ready for launch, I’ll talk about some of the more technical details of the site in the rest of this post.
The new site was set up and is hosted by Summersault database driven websites. There are several connections between Summersault and Richmond CoB, so they were a very logical choice. Summersault set up our server space, configured Drupal, an open-source content management system, and set up our preferred theme with some graphic-design tweaks. From that point the site was delivered to us to do any final design tweaks and to create the content.
(Working on getting this new site ready to launch has been another one of the reasons new content has been so sparse on my blog lately. Of course, buying a house may have something to do with my recent busyness as well.)
While Drupal has quite a bit of built-in event scheduling and calendaring functionality, both myself and the church’s office manager are committed Google Calendar junkies. While Drupal plays relatively nice with GCal, it isn’t quite as easy to use for recurring events, rescheduling things, and interfacing with other services and devices.
In the end we decided to use a combination of Drupal’s built in calendar and Google Calendar. Special events are scheduled using the Drupal site, while recurring events and more mundane things like when the church office is open, etc. are scheduled via GCal. Since Drupal exports an actively updated .ics file that GCal can subscribe to, I was able to set up a calendar display page that uses an embedded Google Calendar to display both sets of events at the same time. It sounds somewhat cumbersome, but at this point it’s the best compromise we were able to set up. For end users I think the experience will be relatively transparent.
In addition to figuring out the finer details of how we were going to use the calendar, we also ran across several aspects of our chosen template that we wanted to tweak or change. Since a number of people in our community use Linux, I wanted to do what I could to make sure the site looked good on both Windows and Linux browsers. Since many Linux installs don’t include the same fonts as Windows, some aspects of the layout needed to be adjusted to make sure things lined up correctly when non-standard fonts were in use.
As I tweaked the CSS I also found myself banging my head against the wall a few times as I learned some of Drupal’s eccentricities. While Drupal is an amazingly configurable, adaptable, extensible piece of software, that sometimes results in complexity and a steep learning curve once you start to try and fiddle around “under the hood.” I made a few changes to the actual PHP and HTML code that makes up the template we’re using, but most of the changes I made were just in the CSS files.
Now that the site has officially been launched there will be some additional upkeep needed right from the start. We’re going to try and have an up-to-date list of upcoming worship themes and preachers on the “Worship” page, the calendar will need to be kept a bit more updated, and the Conversations blog will need attention if we really want it to be a place where conversation is taking place.
Because of Drupal’s expandable nature we have a number of options we may look into in the future for expanding the site. One popular possibility is to do some sort of sermon podcast, possibly with sermon texts available too. Another idea would be to have an area that those who help in various kinds of church leadership can use for collaborative planning and resource sharing.
Overall I’m excited about having the new site up and active. It will mean that my online attention will be stretched a little bit thinner with regards to blogging, now that I have 2 different sites vying for my writing attention. However I think that it may also be a generative experience, where I’ll be coming up with ideas that might not work just right for the church blog, but would be appropriate for this site. Only time will tell.
So what are you waiting for? Check out the new site! Let me know what you think, and if you’ve got any suggestions I’d love to hear them.