The Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ launched a brand new website on November 9th with the goal of both better resourcing and better connecting all the settings of the church in Massachusetts.
“We are so excited about this new design,” said Associate for Communication Tiffany Vail. “It is colorful and inviting, and it enables visitors to easily connect with happenings at the local, Association, Conference and national settings of the church while also offering a huge selection of resources for local church leaders.”
The front page of the new site includes a “Local Buzz” section which is used to highlight happenings going on at local churches.
“There are a number of ways for local churches to be a part of this website,” Vail said. “They will find places where they can submit articles about their mission and ministry, classified ads and event notices. We are asking pastors and lay leaders to let us know when their churches are featured in newspapers so we can share that news, and also to let us know if they have church-related blogs that we can feature in that ‘Local Buzz’ section.”
“Our web designers were so excited about our ‘bottom up’ polity that they really wanted to help us design a website that would reflect that, and I believe succeeded,” Vail said.
The navigation of the site has been redesigned to offer resources according to area of interest. Church leaders will find such categories as “Growing in Faith,” “Inspiring Generosity” and “Nurturing our Children and Youth.” A “Changing Our World” section will connect users with those mission and justice issues for which they have a passion.
“We have tried to create a website where users will easily be able to find the resources they need, without having to know the institutional structure and language of the Conference,” Vail said.
The new website was designed to reflect the branding of the denomination, using red and black colors as well as words and images that reflect the UCC’s extravagant welcome.
The site was designed by Brick River Technologies of Exeter, New Hampshire, and uses a content management system originally created for United Methodist Conferences. Brick River is the force behind about half of the Methodist Conference websites in the country.
“We were so excited to find Brick River because they had a product in place designed to do exactly what we needed to do, for a fraction of the cost of what some design companies were asking,” Vail said. “They understood what a Conference is, and what users of a Conference website want. At the same time, they let us create a unique website that reflects our own identity as the UCC in Massachusetts.”
Brick River’s system has allowed the Conference to easily add some new features to the website, including sections for pastoral transitions and obituaries in the News section, and RSS feeds.
“RSS feeds will allow any of our churches to place headlines from the Massachusetts Conference site on their own websites, or allow individuals to display Massachusetts Conference news in their own news readers, such as on customized Google or Yahoo pages,” Vail said.
The site is also much more easily updated by Conference support staff, who can work on it from any computer with Internet access without needing specialized software.
“The staff are able to add content simply by filling in forms or using editors that are very much like using word processing software,” Vail said. “It is a much more user-friendly system, and gives us a great deal of flexibility moving forward.”
“I invite everyone in the Conference to visit the new site and explore it,” Vail said. “There is a great deal of wonderful content there now, and much, much more on the way.”
Of course, any transition can create difficulties, and this one will be no different. Many links to the Conference’s former site, for example, will now be broken and need to be fixed by local church webmasters.
“We have tried to redirect some of the most popular links so they will still lead people to the correct places, and archived content – such as old Spotlight and United Church News articles – will still be available at their old links,” Vail said. “But because the back-end technology and structure of the site has changed, many old links just will not work. I am sorry for the inconvenience this will cause our local church webmasters and hope they will understand that sometimes changes like this are necessary.”
“I am hoping that they will easily be able to locate content on the new site using the search function, and so will be able to fix those links without difficulty,” Vail said. “If they cannot find something, they should feel free to get in touch with me.”
Site visitors should also note that the site can be viewed with Internet Explorer 7 and 8, Firefox, Chrome and Safari.
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