Why the Digital Footprint Initiative?

The Digital Footprint Initiative (DFI) was developed by the Michigan District to improve a ministry’s visibility on the web. It is rooted in the research that shows that about 85% of first-time guests choose a church to visit based on a visit to the website. Many congregations in the District have websites that are not engaging to visitors because they are outdated or were not developed with a communications strategy and modern design aesthetic. An assessment of congregations revealed a number of contributing factors including:

  • A lack of skilled volunteers;
  • A lack of willing and trained volunteers;
  • A lack of ownership for the task among the staff and leadership;
  • Poorly written or non-existent content;
  • Insufficient funds for improvements;
  • Conflicting design philosophies, and
  • Conflicting goals for the web presence.

Project Steps

While each project is unique, the timeline below provides a rough estimate of the processes and their flow through the development of a web presence. We have had some ministries complete a website redesign in about 14 days and others that have taken four months. The most significant impact on the development of the website is the responsiveness of the ministry to the process.

1. Initial Application

The ministry submits an initial application to the District.

2. Draft Scope of Work

The District and the ministry collaborate on a scope of work agreement for the new website. The agreement enables the congregation and district team members to coordinate. The agreement provides measurable outcomes for the project.

3. Pre-Build Worksheet

The ministry contact completes the pre-build worksheet which is used to modify the template for the initial pass of the new website. The worksheet includes information about the ministry, a logo, and site color selections.

4. Sandbox Build

The Sandbox is a draft of the new website. The sandbox allows the ministry and the district to finalize the design for the final website and provides a testing platform for the congregation's volunteer team.

5. Photo Shoot

The district will work with the ministry coordinator to schedule a photo shoot. Normally the photo shoot occurs on a Sunday. It will include outside shots, interior shots, and staff photos. The goal of the professional photo session is to develop a clean and cohesive visual experience for the visitor.

6. Beta Site

The beta site is the final stage of the website before the site goes live. The beta site allows for minor revisions. It is used as a training ground for the ministry website support volunteers.




7. Training

The volunteer support team members are provided opportunities to become familiar with their systems and gain the skills to maintain and further develop the web presence.

8. Site Launch

The site launch occurs when the District and the ministry agree that the project is ready to become a live site. The site launch may include the creation of the complementary email addresses.

Frequently Asked Questions

The web presence portion of the DFI includes:

  • A free audit of your existing website
  • Technical assistance in the backend maintenance of the congregation’s domain (Web Address).
  • A choice of three template versions which are provided freely to the congregation. A template controls the overall look and functionality of the site. A professionally developed web template ensures that the site meets today’s design aesthetic and is functional. The templates are responsive, adjusting for mobile viewing and desktop viewing.
  • Free access to a server to host the website. The Church Extension Fund (CEF) has provided a grant that enables us to host the websites of congregations in our district free of charge.
  • Post-it and forget it option. For congregations with insufficient manpower, one of the templates requires only annual updates. A second template requires limited updating, about four times a year.
  • A design team to assist your congregation in gathering the photos and content needed to customize the template to the congregation’s culture.
  • If desired, we can provide training for individuals in the congregation to form a communications team, providing content and support for the ongoing work of developing a web and social media presence.

The District provides the DFI service free of charge to the ministries of the Michigan District. We do not charge for the development of the website, nor do we charge for hosting the website or the email hosting of up to four email addresses associated with the ministry’s domain. The congregation will need to have a domain name, or it will need to purchase a domain name from a name hosting provider. The cost per year for a domain name can be as little as $9.99. However, the average fee to maintain a domain name with a name host will be about $15.00 per year.

There are some limitations to the DFI hosting. Ministries that require more than four email addresses or want to host extensive audio or video content will need to secure their own hosting service. If the selected host is capable of supporting a WordPress site, we can install the ministry’s site on their own server.
In addition, congregation’s that agree to use the initiative are expected to ensure that their front page—the main landing page—is designed to help those seeking to visit the congregation to prepare for their first visit. Material primarily targeted to the members of the congregation may be posted in the members section of the website. Some of the member’s items include a traditional monthly calendar, a newsletter, a weekly bulletin, and a listing of ministries. For more information, check out the article in the blog post “No More Potlucks” in the blog listing below.

Security is a critical aspect of any web presence. Of primary concern to a congregation’s website are the threats posed by outside sources, such as hackers using malicious code or the threats posed by corruptions in the internal systems. The hosting company that we utilize for the DFI has a robust set of tools and protocols designed to detect and eliminate obvious threats to the system from malicious programs and hackers. However, no system is foolproof. To minimize the threats from outside hackers, each user is strongly encouraged to follow the best practices for computing safety including the use of strong passwords and the avoidance of phishing schemes via email, text messages, or social media. Internal data corruption generally requires a rebuild of the website. Our hosting company keeps a monthly backup of the entire server. This backup allows us to recreate the websites should our server go down. We also provide a tool that enables each ministry to make regular copies of their website and related data files so that a new website can be rebuilt in just a few minutes, should that be needed. It is the responsibility of each ministry to make regular backups of their site.

For more information you can contact the Rev. Dr. Todd Jones at: todd.jones@michigandistrict.org or, to sign up, complete the online application found at https://michigandistrict.org/digital-footprint-initiative-contact-form/

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