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A Vision for the AICF Website

November 5, 2009

aicflogoclouds_02The redesign of AICF’s website was originally intended to serve one main purpose: that being to give me, as the Administrator and main content writer, far less of a headache when I went to update the site. The first site was designed and filled with content by our former Pastor Bill Vorhees from 2006-2007 on GooglePages. In 2008, he allowed me the privilege of transferring all the site’s materials over to a much better HTML and CSS version of the site using a template he found, but it quickly became a beast that was nearly impossible to tame.

HTML and CSS allows the programmer much more control over the style, design, and layout of a website. However, as a site grows, so too grow the number of HTML pages – all individual of each other – that must be updated. That can prove to be a massive headache in that if there is a certain piece of information on multiple pages (say the service time globally across every page). If that changes, then every individual page that bears that information must also be changed – think how long that would take on a site spanning several thousand pages (I think ours had around 50). The Content Management System (CMS) I chose to upgrade our site to (Joomla!) keeps all information in a singular location, and allows me to place blocks of that information on whatever page I choose to. Therefore, rather than editing 50 pages of the same information, I can just edit one block of information that is linked to from all the individual pages, and save myself a massive headache (and dozens of hours).

Technical Mumbo-Jumbo Aside

Technical mumbo-jumbo aside, as I considered the upgrade, new factors came to mind as well. In this day and age of social networking and online communities, it is true that more and more people are interested in connecting to each other and building relationships online. The Internet is no longer a static medium only good for searching for information, rather it has become a very dynamic community of users that daily interact with each other and content in new and exciting ways. Therefore, a new AICF site should not perform as a static online version of our Sunday bulletin, but should rather connect our users and members together individually and corporately and through the various services and modules provided on our site. Today’s Internet user loves new daily content, connection, and a sense of interaction with the site and other members. Therefore, the static HTML of yesterday needed to be drastically modified and updated to meet the demands and expectations of today’s modern Internet user. It was no small task to be sure.

The current rendition of the new AICF homepage (still in the prepartory and testing stages) contains some really great elements. There are daily updating Christian and World news, automatically updating AICF updates, an auto-updating blog, daily YouTube Christian videos, a personalizable daily Bible reading plan, a prayer wall, a forum, a Community Builder (complete with links to member pages and their bios), a Shoutbox that allows instant messaging and interaction on the site, linked content from our YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter accounts, as well as all the original content in a newer, brighter, and more easily readable format. The site also allows for further expansion and the addition of extra content providers: people like authors, editors, and publishers.

The Real Purpose of the AICF Website

As I sought to make the new AICF homepage more interactively friendly, I also ran across a few interesting articles about church website design on the Internet. They were quite profound and made me stop to think about the real purpose of an AICF website. Obviously, one of the major things we want to do with the website is to draw in new people to our services and to become a part of our community. Most new people I’ve talked to tell me that they found information for our services on the Internet (and that’s from the old, Search Engine Unfriendly site). Therefore, I wanted to make the new AICF home as easy to find (Search Engine Friendly) and as easy to navigate (a big “New Here?” sign on the home page) for everyone who is new or familiar with the church. I also tried to make the site as warm and friendly as possible and avoid too many “churchy” words which could throw off seekers.

Although the new rendition of the AICF homepage may not be exactly the right place to do it, I’ve also been deeply considering how the site (or a site) could be used as an outreach tool – not only for evangelism purposes, but also as a place to promote discussion about spiritual matters, and hope for people in need. In Korea, foreigners can often feel isolated and have a hard time. I’ve also been working on which has become THE site for foreigners in Jeonju, and includes things like a City Guide, Job Board, For Sale Board, and local and national News. However, I still feel that there isn’t exactly a resource in Jeonju for foreigners who are struggling in their hearts – spiritually, or emotionally. I think it would be an excellent idea to begin building links and resources that are Biblically-based for anyone in Jeonju who is struggling with things like depression, drinking, relationships, or other matters that tend to make a person feel sick and isolated. Wouldn’t it be great if people from all walks of life in Jeonju could turn to AICF in a time of spiritual need, and know that our site would direct them to invaluable resources that could help address their needs?

As far as evangelism goes, I also read in an article that 95% of Koreans have the Internet (high-speed access at that) and are online at least one hour per day. Imagine a website that would draw in those vast numbers of people who use the Internet on a daily basis and point them to Christ. Korea is becoming quite a Christian nation, and the numbers of Christians here grows daily. But think about a country like Japan where the Christian population is very small, and the roots for the growth of Christianity have not sunk in deeply yet. Technologically advanced nations where citizens access high-speed Internet regularly for hours every day are missed missions fields, ripe for the harvest. There just needs to be websites that reach out to the lost, hurt and struggling on the Internet and point them to Christ and provide hope. Maybe the AICF site isn’t the right place to focus directly on Internet evangelism, but I want it to be a place that is open and available and ready to help those in need and point them to the Ultimate Provider: Jesus Christ.

Happy New Year 2010!

So, although the original goal of the new AICF site was simple: saving me time and a headache, it has turned into something much broader in scope: building community within our church, and reaching out to the lost. It seems however, that my work is never finished. Even once I get the whole thing programmed and up and running well on all different Internet browsers (Internet Explorer is a nightmare for a developer), someone still has to keep the site updated and filled with content and resources. And especially if I hope to make this site accessible to all: Christian and seeker, it requires a daily time commitment.

But, I don’t mind. The new site already provides for me much of what I want it to provide for others: hope and direction to Christ. And that’s not only what I want from the site, it’s what HE wants as well.

Look forward to the official launch of the new AICF homepage by the first of the year 2010.

What do you think? Leave me a comment in the box below.

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