You are here: Home > Resources > Creating UU Web content > 1

Creating great content for UU Web sites

Back to the introduction

First case study: Church of the Larger Fellowship

Key Concept Statement:

Your Web site should have content on it that appeals to newcomers...

...because most newcomers will investigate your UU church via the Web, and because many newcomers use the Web to deepen their knowledge of what it means to be a UU.

When you start to figure what content to put on your Web site, you should start by figuring out what newcomers want to read. And to show you why, we’ll go back in time to September, 2002, when I was hired to be the part-time Interim Religious Educator at Church of the Larger Fellowship, or CLF.

You probably know that CLF is the Unitarian Universalist congregation that serves isolated Unitarian Universalists, originally through print publications sent out via postal service, and now increasingly serving their worldwide membership through the Internet. When I started work at CLF as their interim religious educator, the CLF Web site was really starting to take off. For years, everything had happened through the postal service: new members found out about CLF via print publications, CLF reached members through print publications. But all of a sudden, within the space of a few months, 95% of new members were signing up via the CLF Web site. Quite frankly, we were caught by surprise. The Web site had really been designed to serve existing members. We weren't sure what was attracting newcomers to our Web site. We realized that we had to learn what these newcomers were looking for -- and we had to do it fast.

Well, we started looking at which parts of our Web site people were visiting. In my department, we found that we were getting quite a few visits at a new resource that had gone online just before I arrived. This resource was called Between Sundays, and it was designed as a resource for parents of isolated Unitarian Universalist families to use between regular Sunday school sessions, when their children asked them one of those difficult religious questions. Turns out we were totally mistaken about how people used this resource. I was exchanging email with our new members who said that they were using Between Sundays as a regular Sunday school curriculum. In other words, our newcomers -- and, quite frankly, our longer-term members -- were looking for an online curriculum.

My response to this was to create, from scratch, a complete curriculum plan for isolated families to use from preschool kids through middle school. I immediately ran into a road block, which was that it proved to be difficult to get permission to post copyrighted lesson plans on our Web site -- of course, at ten hours a week, I didn’t have time to write my own lesson plans. So we had to tell people that we would send them lesson plans, and eventually we worked out a scheme where we could send PDF files of the lesson plans via email. Looking back, I suspect that this project had two real (and unexpected) main benefits: (1) We showed that we were paying attention to newcomers and long-termers alike by responding as fast as we could to their expressed needs, and (2) We were able to show newcomers and visitors just exactly what Unitarian Universalist religious education might look like.

I also revived Connections, a defunct print-based newsletter for families with children. This newsletter, which had come out quarterly, had died due to the rising cost of postage, and due to the budget cuts at CLF. I decided to put the newsletter online, saving us a huge postage bill; and because my own time was valuable, I went through the extensive religious education archives at CLF, and selected archival materials to fill up half or more of the newsletter.

Another thing we did was to integrate the Web site and our traditional print-based media. We mentioned specific pages on the Web site constantly in the print publications, especially Quest, the monthly newsletter we mailed out via postal service. By the way, we discovered what lots of other people have discovered: Web-based publications don’t replace newsletters, they supplement newsletters. Maybe someday, print-based newsletters will die off, but for now people report that they really like getting that print-based newsletter. Therefore, we tried hard to integrate our print-based media and our Web-based media, mostly to serve those newcomers who found us via the Web.

I should also point out that we made a point of posting our print newsletter to the Web site. CLF’s newsletter is different from traditional church newsletters -- each issue contains two or three sermons, a poem or other meditative piece, a column by the religious educator, and a column by the minister. We didn’t have any hard data to back it up, but we suspected that newcomers probably spent a good deal of time looking through those newsletters before they took the leap and signed up to become members. I believe that getting all those sermons online was probably one of the best things we did. Equally important was having columns by the minister and the religious educator, so visitors could get a sense of the staff of this particular church.

You should know that CLF did all this at a time when CLF was going through major financial problems. Staff had been cut in half, we had no money to spare. Yet when we discovered, in October of 2002, that 95% of our new members were coming in via the Web site, we realized we couldn't ignore the Web, we had to focus some energy on it no matter what. And guess what: your congregation is now in that same situation. I would estimate that 70-95% of your newcomers visit your Web site before they visit your church. So you, too, simply have to make sure your web site is good.

To summarize what we can learn from CLF:

Next: Unitarian Universalist blogs....