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Technical blog and writings by Micah Webner.

Drupal Adoption Issues for Churches

Matt Farina recently posted a question on FriendFeed about increasing adoption of Drupal among churches.

I'm wondering how we can make Drupal easier for churches to adopt. Drupal for Churches distribution? Documentation targeted at churches? Thoughts?

I think four factors are that churches are asking the wrong questions, we're providing wrong answers, the Drupal web site probably doesn't target non-geeks, and the word about Drupal isn't getting to the right places.

Wrong Questions

A lot of churches have web sites because during the Dot-com bubble, they realized they needed one. This led to an explosion of FrontPage-build brochureware sprinkled with sparse content and nifty animated GIFs. Many of these sites still exist, while others got updated to tables-within-tables-within-tables layout as webmasters flocked to Dreamweaver and Adobe Go-Live. Even well-constructed church sites are static, not encouraging repeat visits.

Church leadership likes numbers, and at the top of the list are people and dollars. How many people are attending on Sunday morning? How much was the offering? Even churches that don't focus on numbers have to keep track of them.

How many people are visiting our web site? How much is this costing us? The answers are usually disappointing. The church is paying a lot for hosting and domain registration, but not many people are visiting. How can we increase visitors? Most of them have heard of Web 2.0, and it's the mysterious Holy Grail solution to the problem. But they're not sure how to get there. Or how much it will cost.

A bigger question is getting ignored: Why does this church even have a web site? Actually, this is a badly-worded question. Here's a better one: What is the mission statement of the church, and how does the web site help to fulfill it? For example, my home church's mission is the Great Commission, teaching the saved and reaching the unsaved. Every decision made about our site should be weighed in terms of those objectives.

It's important that churches catch this concept, but they aren't the only ones that need to look at things differently.

Wrong Answers

I'm a big fan of Lee and Sachi LeFever's Common Craft Show. They've developed an uncannily clear way to explain complex concepts, including popular Web 2.0 services, "in Plain English." (If you haven't seen any of their videos, go watch some.) Lee's blog post about the explanation problem changed the way I look at communicating with end users.

Often, when someone asks "what is...", they really mean "Why does it matter to me?" By considering what matters to someone, the answer becomes different and more likely to give them information they can act on. One of the things that we've learned is that explanation sometimes means answering a different question than was asked. It's not always "what is it?" as much as "why should I care about it?"

How do you describe Drupal to someone for the first time? Simply put, it's a tool for building a web site so that for anyone in the church office can easily update information without going back to the web designer. But maybe they're not even ready to hear that it'll be easy to update. They need to understand that keeping content updated attracts repeat visitors, and that building a site with a vision and a mission is more important than updating the way it looks.

At some point, of course, it is finally time to bring up Drupal as a solution. The worst way to convince them is point them at Drupal.org and tell them to check it out.

The Drupal Home Page

It's no secret that the Drupal web site is confusing to newcomers. The Drupal community and the Church have similar issues in the way they communicate with outsiders, but that's another story. There is an active group on a redesign. Most of the proposed front page changes are geared towards helping new developers find their way around and start contributing. Those are great things, but here's something I thought of last night:

The Drupal home page needs a big button that says something to the effect of "I don't know the first thing about making websites, but some geek friend of mine said I should come here so now what?" This would open up into an area targeting end users. Acquia has started in this direction with their What is Drupal? page, but the screencast there may still be too developer oriented.

Spreading The Word

Of course, this all assumes that someone they know is advocating Drupal. If not, how will church leaders even hear about it? It seems that print publications may still be a good avenue. Every once in a while, some church leadership magazine will get passed on to me from the senior staff because it has an article about loudspeaker systems or Internet Security in them. Like any other product targeting churches, advocacy has to take place where these leaders are looking for it.

These are just four areas to consider. I'm sure there are a lot of other things that would help motivate churches to improve their web presence, and to use Drupal to do so.

Comments closed on this one. This conversation started on FriendFeed. Please post comments there.

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