New congregational website themes available

Anna Belle Leiserson, a professional web designer and a member of First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, Tenn., is making it easier for congregations to have attractive websites. She has created two versions of a website format and is making them available free to congregations. Both are WordPress themes. A theme is a template applied to a WordPress site to give it a particular look, feel, and structure. WordPress is the most popular web content management system used today.

Leiserson says she was inspired to create her website formats, which she calls UU 2011 and Faith 2012, after seeing many congregational websites that didn’t seem welcoming. “It’s so easy for me to picture a new person in town looking for a congregation, seeing one of these sites, and within about five seconds literally dismissing the possibility of visiting.”

She said the new themes allow each user to insert his or her own photos. She recommends UU 2011 for UU congregations and Faith 2012 for other congregations, including synagogues and mosques. She adds, “Most WordPress themes are for businesses, magazines, news, or personal blogging sites. No matter how attractive, they can be an enormous challenge to adapt to a congregation. More information can be found here and here.

Leiserson also has a blog in which she writes about congregational website design.

Who owns your church’s website?

Who owns your congregation’s website? Occasionally a congregation finds out the hard way that it doesn’t.

If a congregation’s website is registered to an individual in the congregation, and that individual pays the monthly fee, then the church may not have any legal right to it if that individual becomes disaffected. In one case in recent years a member who controlled the website also maintained the congregational email lists and other databases. When a dispute developed, the individual proceeded to empty everything out.

The test: If a webmaster pays the bills each month for the website domain names and site hosting with her personal credit card then chances are good that the site host will recognize that person, and not the church, as the owner of the website.

InterConnections reported on a situation a few years ago when a congregation’s webmaster, who had registered the church’s domain name in his own name, was asked to leave the church because of a personal indiscretion. In retaliation, he blocked access to the website and posted negative information on it. It took the church six months to regain control of its domain name and website.

A UUA staff member in a district where another of these incidents took place reminds, “Congregations must always insist that ownership in electronic assets, including websites, databases, and all their content, is vested in the congregation, not the manager. And they should always have more than one person authorized to access and exert control over these resources––just like paying attention to authorizations for bank accounts.”

‘Faith and Web’ blog guides web designers

Looking to improve your congregational website? Check out Faith and Web, the blog of Anna Belle Leiserson of the First UU Church of Nashville, Tenn. She is a professional web coordinator and says she is committed to “web standards, accessibility, handsome design, elegant code, and deep dark chocolate.”

She writes about all types of web issues. A recent article explains how to “Launch a Church Email Newsletter in 9 Simple Steps.” Other articles: “Top 10 Tips for Church Blogging,” “Content Audits Are a Beautiful Thing,” and “Finding Stock Art for Your Website.”

Letter: Small congregation website costs little

Regarding your article about the UU Church in Arlington, Va., (Arlington Website Creates Stronger Connections) spending $1,000 a year doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but for small congregations like ours at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco, Tex., $1,000 is a big deal.

There’s never a need to spend hundreds of dollars to effectively reach visitors and communicate with members. For us, we can get the same level of interactivity—video, audio, forums—by doing the content management work ourselves for about $80 per year. No contracts. No downtime. No ads. No extra charges. Ever. If you don’t know how, I’m happy to share the knowledge for free.

Rob Cervantes, Tech Advisor

New website streamlines information updating

There’s a new, easier way for congregations to update their membership and leadership lists with the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Until now, congregations were asked annually to fill out a paper form listing new members, as well as members who had died or departed, and to indicate changes in leadership.

The UUA uses the membership list for purposes of mailing the UU World magazine and the leaders and staff list for keeping a record of congregational leaders, including key committee chairs, who appear in the annual UUA Directory.

Now these changes can all be done electronically at a new website, One person from a congregation (or up to three, if desired) can be authorized to change a congregation’s list of members. They can do the following:

• Add and delete people to/from the membership list

• Change addresses and edit other contact information for member households

• Print a copy of the membership list

• Edit the congregation’s list of leaders and staff

Congregations are asked to update leadership data at least annually so that new leaders appear in the UUA Directory. In the past, the UUA Data Services Office sent a paper form listing elected leaders, committee chairs, and board members during the month of a congregation’s annual meeting. Now leaders can update this information continually so that new members receive the UU World as soon as possible.  Congregations will be reminded by email annually to update their information. Paper forms will still be sent to those congregations that do not have an email address on file with the UUA.

For more information look at the Accounts FAQ pages, including a 14-page instruction manual that explains the steps for viewing and editing information. To authorize someone to use the system for your congregation, email Nick Rafeal with the person’s name, email address, and mailing address, and the name and title of the congregational leader who gives authorization. Only the person(s) designated by your congregation, plus district staff and certain UUA staff members, have access to this data. This new procedure is separate from the process used by congregations to update their  annual Certification of Membership, to be done by February 1 of each year.

CLF organizes online ministry for military, defense personnel

The Church of the Larger Fellowship has organized an online ministry for military personnel and their families. A website for the ministry debuted in February. It is open to service people, family members, veterans, Department of Defense employees, defense contractors, and others who want to support military families. According to the Church of the Larger Fellowship website, the CLF was founded in 1944 to help isolated religious liberals—including Unitarian soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines serving overseas—connect to their faith.

UU World offers useful articles for congregational leaders

Check out each Monday for articles relevant to congregational leaders, and other topics. You can also sign up to receive a weekly email notifying you of new articles. Here are several recent articles of special interest to lay leaders of congregations: