Web Dev = Creative Work

 

Fellowship One API Guest Entry

It’s official – I work for Fellowship Technologies!

After a whirlwind of change in the Mazelin family, I am excited to announce the news that starting on November 1st, I will be a Fellowship Technologies (or more accurately, Active Network) employee!!  If you haven’t heard of Fellowship Technologies, check them out here or read my blog post here.  I accepted the position of Senior Client Application Specialist and I am thrilled about this new opportunity to serve God in the context of Church Management Software!  Since I was a small child, I have always had an active interest in computers and especially software and the web and this new job represents a merging of two of my highest passions – technology and the church.  I am counting it a great privilege that I get to work for what I believe to be the best church software company in the world! 

A number of months ago my husband and I started sensing that God was moving us towards a new chapter in our lives.  We were living in Michigan and began to “knock on some doors” to see if moving to Texas was the direction God would lead us in.  Within no time at all, my husband was offered an internal transfer with his company that happened to have a division in Flower Mound, Texas – a few miles away from the main offices of Fellowship Tech.  The new position was a promotion and one which suited his skill sets even more than the position he already had.  The only obstacle we faced was selling our home, which given current market conditions could have taken a long time.  We listed it and within 24 hours, we had a full price offer and sold it!  Only God!

During our first house hunting trip to Texas, I was contacted by Fellowship Tech regarding an opening they had.  After numerous interactions with members of the Development and Support Teams, I was delighted to accept their offer of employment and know without a doubt that this is part of God’s direction for us as a family on our new adventure in Texas!

God has used the words to this song by Twila Paris at many significant junctions in my life and I pray they are a blessing to you too:

There is a great, broad road to nowhere,
And so many travel there,
But I have a gentle Shepherd,
I would follow anywhere,
Though the journey take me far away,
From the place I call my home,
To be ever in His presence,
Where He leads me I will go.
Where He leads me, I will follow,
When He calls me I will hear.

Google Apps for Non-Profits: All Churches REJECTED

After a little research, I am disappointed to discover that Google changed their policy on allowing churches to use their apps for non-profits program.  Churches were previously allowed to register for the services Google were offering which included free or discounted use of Google apps, free adword advertising, a premium youtube channel, and various other powerful tools.  For churches that have been using these services, they have saved thousands of dollars since many do not have the staff or the technical know how to manage the Microsoft alternatives to these free tools (such as Exchange Server etc.)  Reading through Google’s updated policy makes it clear that churches will no longer be accepted into their program:

Restrictions

The following organizations are not eligible for Google for Nonprofits:

Places or institutions of worship (e.g., churches, ministries, temples, synagogues)

Religious content or proselytizing on website as well as organizations that use religion or sexual orientation as factor in hiring or populations served.

Source: http://www.google.com/nonprofits/eligibility.html

There is also the possibility that churches who opted into the program before this policy was changed will be evaluated by Google and booted out.  This is more than just a little disappointing especially since Google’s Tagline on the Google for Nonprofits page is:

You’re changing the world. We want to help.

I can’t think of any organization that is changing the world more than the local / global church!  Hopefully Google will reconsider their position on this!

Website Redesign: Christ Followers For Change

I love being asked to help improve a church or ministry’s web presence.   It’s what I’m passionate about!  I am currently involved in a number of redesign projects and wanted to share my progress with one in particular – the Christ Followers for Change site. Christ Followers for Change is an organization based in Kalamazoo, Michigan made up of more than twenty local churches and organizations. Each year, these churches set aside the third Sunday in November to take up a special offering for the purpose of meeting two external needs. One global and one local. Last year they raised over $200,000!  Around 70% was given to various projects in Africa, and around 30% was used to purchase beds for people in need within Kalamazoo.  The stories of impact that these funds have had both at home and abroad are incredible and will be featured in a video shortly.

I was asked by the board to take over and redesign their website.  Whenever I design or redesign a new website, I break up the process into numerous steps involving a team of specialized individuals.  I will be publishing another blog post about the process I have developed for designing and redesigning web sites shortly.

Here is a snap shot of what the current  Christ Followers for Change homepage looks like:

Christ Followers For Change site

Current snapshot of the Christ Followers For Change Website

And here are a couple of snapshots of what the site will look like when I’m finished:

Redesigned Homepage for Christ Followers For Change

Redesigned Inner Page for Christ Followers For Change

Credit goes to Design Guru Ryan who I “met” through the Godbit Project for the awesome graphic artistry of these design compositions.

I am really excited to convert these compositions into full fledged websites and to measure the difference in traffic once the new website is live.  Stay tuned for news of it’s launch and the new 2011 goals in the coming weeks.

Go ahead and leave a comment to let me know what you think of the new designs!

29 Ways to Stay Creative

This is a very creative little video showing 29 simple ways to keep creativity in your life!  It is relevant to any profession but I found it to be a particularly good reminder for those of us in the web design / development world:

29 WAYS TO STAY CREATIVE from TO-FU on Vimeo.

Process for Redesigning a Website

1) Study the current site.  List it’s strengths and it’s weaknesses.  Pay particular attention to the navigation and flow of information – the User Experience.

2) Research other websites of other similar organizations.

3) Organize research and create a project outline

4) Contact a Graphic Artist to produce a homepage and inner page creative layout based on the project outline.

5) Evaluate creative layouts and send feedback for revisions if necessary.

6) Create the basic site structure.  I have a template I’ve developed that consists of folders called: CSS, Assets, Scripts, Images, Includes, Fonts, and Files.  I have base level CSS files that include Reset styles and the 960 grid system CSS.  I also usually include jQuery in my scripts file and then attach the CSS and scripts into a base level HTML file.  This saves me time as these are the items I include in most of my projects.

7) Hand draw (I’m sure there’s a better way to do this, I still use good old paper and pencil) a sketch of the composition with the divs and classes I plan to define.

8) Get to work breaking up the composition and constructing all the CSS and HTML.

9) Implement any scripts necessary

10) Test (usually involves numerous other people) and then launch.

There are plenty of other things I do during this process that are too many to document but this is a general idea.

Free Google Adwords for Churches – Amazing Opportunity!

Google for Nonprofits - Amazing opportunity for churches!

I just submitted a “Google for Non-Profits” application for one of the churches where I work as the Web Designer, Lake Center Bible Church.  This is a fantastic opportunity for churches everywhere to take advantage of some of the free resources Google are now offering non-profits.  Here is snapshot of what Google is currently offering:

  • Free or discounted version of Google Apps for your organization
  • Free Adwords advertising
  • Premium branding and increased uploads on YouTube
  • Free licensing for Google Earth, SketchUp, and Maps API

The one I am most interested in is the Free Google Adwords advertising.  I have been doing a little research on some keywords that are frequently searched on in our geographical location and believe there are some AMAZING opportunities for our church to reach out to people using targeted ads.  As my pastor likes to say from the pulpit, we all have hurts, habits, and hang-ups!  Many people turn to Google as the first place they look for help.  Often times they are directed to forums, articles, blogs, webmd, etc but it’s my belief that they are looking for more than information.  They are looking for freedom.  This is where the local church comes in.

What if someone in our local community does a google search like this: “lonely, get help”.  Does any church show up in the search results?  No.

Taking this a step further, what if they type into google the word “porn”.  Do you think any church websites pop up?  Absolutely not.  But they should!  What if the church were to intercept those types of searches and lead people who are searching for one thing into a very different direction.  It could be powerful.  In the last 30 days, the word “porn” was searched in the US over 83 million times.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if an ad for a local church appeared in the search results of someone in a specific location, looking to fulfill an addiction but instead of going to the porn site, they click on a link to a church website, are met with a message right where they are, and make the decision to visit the church that provided them with a glimpse of light in a moment of darkness!

The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.

http://bible.us/Isa9.2.NASB

Now the word “porn” is obviously one of the most sought after adwords in the world so unless a church has a very large budget, its probably unlikely that they could secure ads for that word but there is GREAT potential for the church to launch campaigns of this nature or relating to other issues that people struggle with.  I believe this is a powerful way for the church to embrace technology, by being a light in a place of great darkness.

Any help the church can get from Google is worth taking advantage of!  They are offering non-profits some amazing tools to use for FREE.  The application process was fairly simple.  Here are a couple of screen shots:

Applying for Google for Nonprofits

 

Application takes a few minutes. Very much worth the time!

If you would like to sign up your church, click here.

Creating a Jewish Themed Blog Step by Step

A local pastor asked me to create a blog for him to use while on his 5 week trip to Israel. He wanted to share his location specific insights with his congregation while he was gone and provide a way to post photos etc. I loved the idea of this and so got to work. I was quite pleased with the end result so wanted to share the steps I took for the purpose of helping any other church webmaster out there who may be asked to do something similar!

First of all I had to select a blogging platform. The obvious choice for this project was WordPress. It has a great community, endless plugins, beautiful themes and I’ve worked with it numerous times before – decision made!  After following their famous 5-minute install, the blog looked like this:

Wordpress Default Theme

Not a bad look right out of the box, but definitely didn’t have the Jewish flair I was imaging!  The next step was to select a better base theme from which to build on. This too was an easy choice – I selected the Standard Theme by 8bit. My own blog is built on it, I customized the blog on this site: becomingmore.com based on it and I absolutely love how well organized the code is and the graphical user interface is really nice too! It provided me with a clean and nicely laid out blog template from which to build on.

After uploading the “best coded wordpress theme ever” into my themes directory, the blog now looked like this:

Fresh Install Example of the Standard Theme

Continue Reading…

Church Assimilation using Attributes in Fellowship One

In 2010, I went to the Dynamic Church Conference held by Fellowship One at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.  I went to a session called “Sticky Church” presented by Matt McMaster and Chris Risen.  The information I gleaned from this session was priceless and completely changed my understanding of attributes and statuses and how to use them most effectively.  I immediately went back to our staff and we implemented some changes in our database that had a big impact on how we use Fellowship One!

We were using the “status” field as one of the most important fields in our database.  We were overly organized in how many statuses we had and it was getting confusing.  Every time a person would change into a different status category, we would lose the history of where they came from.  This was key assimilation data and we couldn’t afford to be losing it.  Also, the reports and queries were so difficult for our staff to understand because of our overly granular status system.

So,  instead of leaning heavily on the status field, we decided to greatly simplify our status groups as three main statuses – Attendee, Member, Dropped.  Everyone who visits, even if they only ever come once, gets the status of Attendee.  This took some getting used to but to further classify, we went ahead and developed an Attribute group called “Assimilation Process”.  Within that group we have various individual attributes but the most important one we use is what we call “Active and on Mailing List”.  Every attendee or member in our database that we consider part of our active church body, gets this individual attribute.  It is manually added on an individual basis and it has to be.  It takes a little work but the pay off is HUGE.  Many of our reports, queries, and general day to day operations in Fellowship One now depend on our Assimilation Process attribute group and it makes basic tasks much easier than they were when we were trying to depend on the status field.

Continue Reading…

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