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Apr 16

Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts - Part 3

Posted by Bill Anderton

In this three-part series, I have been writing about a common situation at a friend’s church that produced an unacceptable website. If you haven’t yet read the first two parts of this series, please do so now.

In the second part of the series, yesterday, I wrote about the need for doing strategic planning within a proper development framework.

geeks_bearing_gifts_3_400w.jpgIn the third part of this series, today, I would like to address structural improvements in how the church’s Internet committee works, its roles and how it should function. This committee is the logical and typical place to do the required strategic planning but I see a need to make some changes first in structure and roles in order to make the planning go better. Hopefully, these suggestions will yield a much better outcome.

For the most part, the committee consisted of almost all of the important stakeholder-groups in the church and represented the various ministries operated by the church. This was a good thing! It put the people with an inherent and organic interest in the success of the website (to the good of their individual ministries) at the same table at the same time.

Also, the two geeks had seats at the table too and represented the technical interests of the project.

Just these two groups were assumed to constitute all of the major voices that needed to have a say in the development and operations of the church’s website.

However, this assumption was slightly incorrect. It is not that these two groups should not be represented but these two groups represented only half of the important roles that needed a seat at the table and a voice in the process!

Also, and this is more than window dressing, I would change the name of the group from a “committee” to a “team.” This is not purely semantics. This group needs to be a team; it needs collegiality and collaboration. All of the four major roles that I am going to suggest should have a voice but the groups also need to function as a team with a common goal and ultimately come together to produce the best possible online ministry.

A jurist in Texas that I worked with for a number of years used a great phrase for these co-equal but cooperating cohorts, “kings and queens of equal dignity;” each has their own authority and dignity but, ultimately, also must work together.

Everyone needs an equal voice to represent their specialized role and its implied constituencies; but, at the end of the day, they need to find the wisdom and the courage to work together to accomplish something good.

In my friend’s situation, the geeks assumed a disproportionate influence in the outcome. In fairness, I should make a point of saying that it was not that the geeks seized the extra influence in the outcome; it was surrendered to them by the others on the committee. As discussed yesterday, it was wrongly assume that the website was only a technical exercise and, therefore, it was fitting and proper that the geeks knew best and should take the lead.

This group dynamic combined with the fact that some important additional roles were missing and therefore didn’t even have a voice on the committee; a perfect storm was created that lead to the church having a less than desirable outcome.

Instead of the committee as it is currently constituted, my recommendation is to set up the structure shown in the diagram below. I designed this structure to work within the typical environment of churches as well be compatible with the development framework that I typically recommend for churches (and the subject of a future blog posting.) This team structure has been proven to work well in many situations.


The functional roles of this make-up are:

Content Managers – These would be the non-technical members of the current committee that represent the ministries of the church. All could continue their roles or their number could be downsized to a few people who would represent ALL of the stakeholders within the church. My suggestion for perhaps downsizing their number results from a personal bias against large committees.  I inherently prefer smaller more-agile teams. The role of this part of the team would be to manage all of the content that needs to go into the website or other Internet assets like social media. This group should be the conduit for anyone in the church that has content to share. This group also creates content as needed. I believe that the Editorial Department functions should reside within this group. See my blog of April 10, "Organizing the Management of Online Ministries" and April 11, "Minimal Editorial Skills Needed For A Church Webmaster To Thrive" for more details. Typically, the webmaster comes from this group since content and its editorial process are so closely associated with this role.

Technology Managers – These would be the geeks who would oversee the development and technical operations of the website. Also, as my other blog postings cited above outlined, the Production Department functions would reside within this group.

Now, here are the two roles that are missing from the existing committee structure in my friend's church:

End User Advocate – This group (or individual) provides a hugely important role in the success of the online ministry because this group is the voice of all end users; both visitors to the site as well as any content authors or administrative people who must interact with the site and its technology. This is an ombudsman representing the interests of all users. If something is too complicated to use or the planned or published content isn’t telling the full story of the church in the right way, it is the duty of this group to speak up and advocate on behalf of the under-served constituency. It is the duty of this role to sets off alarms when the forest can’t be seen because of all of the trees in the way. This role doesn’t have to be fulfilled by someone with a technical background; it fact, it is better is the people in this group are not technologists. Often, I suggest that clergy or elders for this role.

Program Managers – Labeled as "Ministry Management" in my diagram. Ministry Management doesn't have to be clergy but, instead, it is the people who manage the online ministry. The industry term for this role is "Program Managers." This group (or individual) perform a big role in both the strategic and tactical planning of the site and seeing to the adherence to the development framework. This role often provides the “adult supervision” for the entire team. The Publisher role should reside in this group as outlined in my blog of April 10, "Organizing the Management of Online Ministries." Note that the industry term for this role is “Program Manager” but that does NOT imply any role in “programming” as in the development or coding of software. Instead, the term “program” is used in its other meaning as a “system of services, opportunities, or projects; usually designed to meet a need” Program managers usually handle the jobs of the “recording secretary” of the planning process (and often the strategic planning leader), project management and budget control. Program managers are typically people with lots of common sense, "people persons" and often have business backgrounds rather than technical ones. They do need to be systems thinkers and be able to understand, even if nobody else on the team does, all of the moving parts of the online ministry venture and keeps everything running smoothly.

These four major roles are designed to provide checks and balances for each other. Usually, if it is made clear up front the duties and responsibilities of these roles, harmony among the team comes about rather quickly. As long as the teams remembers that they are all “kings and queens of equal dignity” peace will soon break out. If it doesn’t, it is the role of the Program Manager (in the Publisher role) to resolve any conflicts among the group.

In a medium size church it shouldn’t be difficult at all to fill these roles on the team. It isn’t too difficult in a small church either.

In my friend’s church, with his “embarrassment of riches” he mentioned in Part 1 of this series, it should be a snap to form this team.

Note that I designed this team structure so it works even when certain roles of the team are out-sourced to professional assistance. Most common, the Technical Management role might be farmed out for professional help. I have also formed teams where the Program Management was also performed by outside professional help.

I have also seen situations where the entire team was out-sourced but these situations are usually reserved for very-large or asset-rich churches that have a high commitment to online ministry. On rare occasions, I’ve helped small churches to out-source everything too but it is fairly rare due to the costs to these functions well.

However, a common configuration among churches of all sizes is to out-source three of the roles but retain some or most of the editorial functions of Content Management within the church. These roles are drawn from the ranks of church staff and volunteers. Keeping all or some of the important Content Management functions in the church can save a lot of money even when the other three roles are out-sourced to professional talent.

Professionals or volunteers, the team organization remains the same as does proper strategic and tactical planning in a proper development framework.

I hope this series of postings has been helpful for my friend and his church as well as an education for my readers. I hope I haven’t stepped on too many toes. This was done with love (albeit tough love) and a great deal of understanding about how this situation occurred.

Category: (04-13) April 2013   Tag:

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