UPDATE 16 April 2018: this article has been altered to remove names of specific congregations, links to their websites, and screenshots of those websites. I have done this for several reasons and I will explain my why in a separate forthcoming article.
Forgive me for being confused. Here in Missouri, there's snow in the forecast for much of the state.
But there's a different kind of confusion about Easter that I want to address: that of Easter service times on church websites.
There's probably no other day of the year when churches work so hard (Christmas being a close second). Rectors, altar guilds, sextons, choirs, organists (ahem!), flower guilds, volunteers who spruce up the grounds and the interior, the list goes on.
And there's no other day that people are looking for church service times more desperately than they are on the night before Easter.
There has been much advice and conversation about this online lately. And I thought it was high time that I weigh in as well.
So, here's what I'm really talking about here: having the Easter service times immediately visible on the homepage of the website on the night before Easter without clicking a single link.
I'm not talking about having the service times available somewhere else on the website (under a "Worship" page or, even worse, a "Calendar" page). Easter is too big a deal for that. It needs to be listed on the front page.
I'm not talking about a "worship every Sunday" at such and such a time. Even if the services on Easter Sunday are at the same time they were last week, the front page of your website needs to make this explicit.
Any seed of doubt in a website visitor's mind on Easter Eve is too much. Bottom line: the front page of your church's website needs to be absolutely crystal clear about Easter service times.
Let's use the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri as a case study. I visited every church website in the diocese (list) between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter).
Of the 42 churches in the diocese:
A few observations:
One of these churches listed "Sunday, April 1" and the worship time, but made no mention of Easter.
Another church (it happens to be rather familiar to me), had obviously incomplete listings of Easter Day services on the homepage.
One church had Easter service times on a slide in a homepage slideshow, but not the first slide. I had already scrolled past it before the service times came up. I found it later.
Some churches just left me with questions. For example, is [redacted] really doing Morning Prayer on Easter?
[Redacted] did actually meet the criteria of having the info immediately visible on the front page, but I have to say at first glance I looked right past it. It is in a very small font on the upper left-hand corner of the site.
One of the most distressing things I saw was [redacted] where there were conflicting service times. First, I saw a "regular" Sunday service time listing, and then, farther down the page, I saw a special Easter service time listing. The Easter Day service times are not visible without scrolling down (in most cases). I think one of the worst experiences a visitor could have would be seeing Sunday service time information on your website, but still arriving at the wrong time for Easter. This must be avoided at all costs.
One website helpfully had a monthly calendar on display, but today is March 31, and Easter is next month. So they didn't make the cut either.
But by far the worst example I saw was [redacted]. I remain unclear if this is an Episcopal congregation or a winery.
What conclusions can we draw from this? In this diocese, fewer than a third of churches are following what I and many others consider to be a best practice for church websites in the time leading up to Easter.
We can and must do better.
In a lot of cases the problem could be solved by creating an article or event with a headline such as "Easter services: 8:00 and 10:30 a.m.", and then filling out whatever details are needed within the article itself. I think this is so much more preferable to "Easter Services" and then a "details" button, or the dreaded "click here".
You might think I'm overblowing this (though probably not if you've read to the end of this article), but consider for a moment how carefully we prepare Holy Week service bulletins and other materials. Can church staffs really not take the five minutes required to get this right?
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