For the next part of my project, I am going to do a survey of as many churches as I can about their websites. At the moment, I think I’m chiefly interested in who is responsible for the website and what they see as the purpose of their website. Are most church websites run by volunteers in the church like at my home church? Or is it usually the pastor who is responsible? Or a different staff member, such as a communications director, office administrator, or parish administrator? Or is the website entirely outsourced to an outside company? I’m also interested in denominational trends and how the church size affects the currency of the website.
The first challenge is narrowing down what churches I am going to attempt to survey. To try to get some sort of a reasonable sample, I started by going through all the churches listed in the Dubuque, Iowa phonebook yellow pages. This is more difficult than it sounds, since there are many duplicate listings between categories like “Churches,” “Churches – United Methodist,” “Churches – Methodist,” “Churches – Baptist,” “Churches – Independent Baptist” etc. and some churches are listed under all possible headings, some under only one heading, and some under several. It’s also possible there are some not listed at all, but I can’t help that. The phonebook also includes several towns and cities around Dubuque, like Galena, Maquoketa, and Zwingle. It turns out that there are, as best as I can tell, 128 churches in Dubuque.
Next, for each church I searched online for a website. Again, this is harder than it sounds, since some churches, particularly in Dubuque with its many small Catholic parishes, have websites shared between several local churches. I counted each of those churches as having a website. I also included the several listings for the Church of Latter-Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses as having websites, even though they appear to only have central denominational websites. Also, many of the Catholic parishes and a few others, particularly a couple Methodist churches, had websites specific to the local church but as part of a denominational or synodical directory site. I did not count these as having websites, since it’s not a website run by the local church, which is my interest area. By these standards, there are 72 churches with websites in Dubuque. This means that approximately 56% of churches in Dubuque have a website. I didn’t look at whether these websites are at all up to date or effective. That may be a later step of my project, however.
For each church that did have a website, I looked for contact information, specifically an email address to send my online survey form to. Most churches with websites seem to have contact information for at least either a pastor or the church office, although some have only an online contact form (which I will use when I send out survey invites), but a couple churches with websites have no contact information online. I think I ended up with a fairly large number of contacts, including several per church in many cases, since I know many of my contacts won’t fill out the survey.
The survey is basically ready to go, so the next step will be to send out the link and hope that at least a few people take the time to fill it out. After that, depending on results, I may try the same study in a different area, although Dubuque is the only region I have a phonebook for at the moment. I’m anticipating sending out the link to the Google form for the survey on Monday, so with some luck, I’ll start to get some comments within the week after that!
Finally, I also just started reading Less Clutter. Less Noise.: Beyond Bulletins, Brochures and Bake Sales, so look for a mini-review of that in the next day or two.