Districts redesign their Web sites with Information Services

Redesigning their Web site and making virtually all district information available online has “opened up a whole new world” for webmaster Pam Krog and members of the Synod’s Iowa District East.
Pastors comment “all the time” about how the new site is more “user-friendly,” according to Krog, who posts district and national news, professional resources, project updates, convention information, a calendar of events, call vacancies, youth events — everything the district used to mail to its pastors and congregations a few years ago.
“It’s our own Reporter,” laughs Krog.  She says the district has saved money on paper, envelopes, printing, and postage by reducing its monthly mailings from almost 300 pieces to just 20 or so.
With everything posted on the district Web site, Krog sends out regular e-mails with links to specific items, such as the “IDE Professional Packet,” and pastors and other church workers simply download and “print what they want.”
The process has “freed me up to do other things” and improved her contact with each of the district’s 119 congregations, she says.
Iowa East was the first of four LCMS districts that have teamed up with Information Services, a division of the Synod’s General Services department, to redesign their Web sites using the content-management software system developed for the LCMS Web site.  The Synod Web site also “hosts” the district sites, which are managed by staff at the district offices.
“They continue to update their Web sites without any intervention by us, unless they have a problem,” said David Berner, director of Information Services.
Krog, who also serves as receptionist and secretary at the district office in Marion, Iowa, learned how to post items to the Web site in a few hours and “picked it right up.”

“Before we started hosting the district Web site through St. Louis, we had a part-time webmaster,” said Krog.  Now that she’s become webmaster, that’s an “in-house job” and “we post things in a more timely fashion,” she said.  “This was very important during the height of the hurricane-relief efforts when we were making up-to-date information available to our congregations.”

That aspect also appealed to staff in the Synod’s Southern District after Hurricane Katrina closed their office in New Orleans in late August, leaving them “without the means to get any information out to their people via a Web site,” said Berner.  Working together, Berner’s and the district’s staffs launched a new Southern District Web site within six days with information about hurricane damages and aid, plus links to LCMS World Relief and other resources.

Rev. Michael Musick, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Luzerne, Iowa, and chairman of Iowa East’s Student Aid Committee, says his district’s redesigned Web site has been a “wonderful resource” for the committee, which awards financial grants to students attending LCMS colleges and seminaries.
“As a result of Pam’s hard work for the district on our Web site, students are now able to download the necessary forms to apply for the financial-aid grants available from the district,” said Musick.  Before, the committee mailed grant information and forms to each student — 43 were enrolled in college, seminary, and deaconess programs last year.  So, having that information online “has made things tremendously easier, as well as more cost effective,” he said.

It’s a win-win situation, says Berner, who began developing the online partnership with Iowa East staff about a year ago.  In addition to the Iowa East and Southern districts, New Jersey and Minnesota North also have redesigned their Web sites within the District Directory content-management system.

Berner says there is no charge for the service and cites several advantages for districts that choose the Web-site redesign:

  • Posting information to the site can be done by district staff with little training.  Moreover, pastors, teachers, and other church workers in the district can make password-protected changes to their personal listings — such as addresses and telephone numbers — keeping content up-to-date.

  • Users can link directly to a list of the district’s congregations, church workers, and schools, and locate who and what they’re looking for with a few clicks of the mouse.

  • District Web sites are “hosted” by the Synod at no charge at an off-site, secure location with emergency backup power and multiple connections to the Internet.

  • Depending upon your district’s existing Web site, the redesign may improve your site’s design and usability.  Districts can include their own graphics on the Web site, and decide what to include as navigation “buttons” and links.

  • A “Give Now” button for online giving, administered by the LCMS Foundation, can be added to the site, giving visitors an easy way to make credit-card donations to a specific district cause, such as a natural disaster.

  • A calendar — listing district events and meetings, with links to more details — can be included.

“Why wouldn’t a district do this?” asks Musick.  “It saves time and money and makes the district information available 24/7.”

And, he notes, as more and more people begin to use the Internet to “check out” a congregation prior to making an on-site visit, it’s crucial for a district’s Web site to make a good “first impression.”

Says Musick: “This will be one of the most effective means to begin to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people that are unchurched in the years to come.”

For more information on Web-site redesign using the Synod’s content-management system, contact Berner via e-mail at david.berner@lcms.org.

Posted Nov. 28, 2005

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Reporter Online is the Web version of Reporter, the official newspaper of
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Content is prepared by LCMS Communications.

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