Five Things I Learned From Building a Website

Merge Ministry, the young adult minstry at my church, recently launched our new website, and I must say it’s pretty sharp. Dave (my college pastor) and I have been working for the past six months on the website. We worked long and hard on creating the right outline, getting the style to fit our ministry, and wording everything in just the right way. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

I’ve worked on a few websites before. After all, I’ve been running this one for a couple of years, and I administrate all the back-end stuff on the BackSpace Productions website. But this was my first experience of building a full-fledged website from the ground up. I started with a template, a few tools, and a long list of pages to create. It was an awesome experience, and it taught me a lot. Here are five things I learned from building a website.

1. Always have a plan.

Dave and I have been talking about creating a dedicated Merge website for a long time. I remember two and a half years ago when Dave approached me and asked me to put up a “Merge website coming soon” page on the old Cavanaugh Church site. In the grand scheme of things, two and a half years may not seem like a long time, but a lot happened during that period. We had several meetings where we sat down and talked about what we wanted the site to look like, what content we wanted on the site, and how we were going to manage the site once it was up. In the end, we had all these great ideas and all this amazing content, but we had no plan. We had no way of getting our awesome ideas out there until we sat down and came up with a solid strategy for how we were going to get it done. We got a domain name and a template through our media pastor, and then we decided that I was going to learn how to make the site while Dave wrote out the content. Once we made a plan, we started to see our ideas come to fruition, and a website started to form.

2. When in doubt, collaborate.

Creating the Merge website was definitely a group effort. Going in, I had very little knowledge about how to use all the powerful website-building tools that I had at my disposal. I had to depend on Dean, my media pastor, to show me the basics, and I consulted him several times throughout the process on how to do things that were outside of my skill set. I also worked very closely with Dave to make sure everything on the website looked and read the way it was supposed to. I’ve invested a lot in the Merge website, and I’m very proud of it, but if I had decided that the website was mine and that I was the only one who was going to have a say on how it looked and felt, the final product wouldn’t even be close to the great website we have now. I had to acknowledge that other people have knowledge and insight that I lack and that I can work with those people to make my work even better. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to learn new things, which is something I try to always take advantage of.

3. Accountability is key.

I was asked to start building the Merge website in June. I logged in and looked around at all the different tools I could use. I plugged in a few of the basic pages that had already been written. But I wasn’t in any rush to get the site finished. I figured I would work on it little by little and get it done eventually. That is, until Dave announced that the website would go live on January 1. All of a sudden, I had a deadline, and other people knew about it. Through this, I learned that a reasonable, self-imposed deadline can actually be your friend. It gave me a level of accountability that I needed to get serious about finishing the website in a timely manner. I set aside time each week to work on the website and update Dave on my progress. I got excited about the release date as it came closer and closer, and that gave me the inspiration to get the website finished and to make it the best it could be.

4. Find your voice.

The day before the website launched, Dave asked a fellow staff member to look over the site and offer feedback. When she finished looking over it, she got really excited and started telling Dave her thoughts on it. And then she gave the website one of the biggest compliments I think anyone could give to it. She said it really captured the tone of our ministry. Wow. We worked so hard on the look, on the content, and on the user experience, but the most important thing was that we used to website to reflect our ministry, and, at least according to her, we had accomplished that. That’s what it’s about. When you’re working on a website or any other creative project, you need to decide what tone or overall feeling you want to convey, and then you need to center everything else around that. While working on the website, we found the voice of Merge Ministry, and we communicated that on every page. That’s what we should always aim to do.

5. When you get stuck, just try something.

I can’t tell you how many times I hit a dead end when I was working on the Merge website. I would get an idea, and I would try to implement it using the knowledge and skills I had, and for one reason or another, it wouldn’t work. At that point, I would get discouraged and be tempted to give up on that idea altogether. But I eventually came to see these times as learning opportunities. Instead of giving up, I would re-think my approach to the problem, and I would try something new. Sometimes, that meant using a tool I had never tried before. It was a lot of fun. It wasn’t always succesful, but more often than not, I learned something new. There were some things that I had to seek help from others on (see point number one), and that’s OK, too. But I chose to take the approach that trying something and failing is better than doing nothing at all, and it led to some great results and a lot of new skills on my part.

Creating the Merge website was an amazing learning experiene. There’s no way I could put all that I learned from it into one blog post, but I hope this has given you at least a glimpse of everything I learned from building my first full-fledged website. I am so thankful for the opportunity and for everyone who played a part in it along the way (including my spellcheckers, Angie and Kristie). It took a lot of time and hard work, but it was worth it, and I couldn’t be more proud of the result. Thank you guys for reading. Please check out the Merge website if you haven’t yet, and I’ll see you on Saturday!