This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue.
By George Sexton
George Sexton is the president of MH Software, Inc. a web calendar software company, www.mhsoftware.com. To help you select the best calendar for your needs, the company has created a complete feature checklist in spreadsheet format that you can download. You can use it to create a comparison between calendars you’re considering. You can download it from their website.
Experience at our church has shown consistently that people who are thinking about attending first check out our web site. While there are a lot of guides on how to create a great web site, I want to talk about the importance of having a calendar on your web site, and how to select a great fit.
When people visit your web site, they want to answer some basic questions. Does it look like I’ll fit in? Is this an active community? Are their beliefs reasonably close to mine? A web calendar can answer the first two questions. Having a web calendar in your site can:
- Show potential attendees that you have an active and vibrant community.
- Show potential attendees that you have groups and activities that meet their needs and interests.
- Increase awareness and participation for events.
- Reduce phone calls and questions about when events are held.
The first two items are the most important for church growth. People want to know that your church is an alive and active group.
Let’s face it: Someone who is only interested in attending weekend worship probably isn’t looking for a new place to attend. I can’t stress it enough: People who are looking for a new place to worship want to see that you have things happening.
The second thing is showing people that you have groups and ministry areas that meet their needs and interests. Mothers with young children may be looking for a group targeted at them. People with substance problems may be looking for recovery support groups. Parents of teens are looking for a place where their children can spend time and meet others in a wholesome environment. Other people may be looking for a way they can invest their talents in the community and help others. It’s a good bet you’re doing these things at your church.
The question is, will someone who visits your web site be able to quickly find out where meetings are held at, who to contact, and when the next meeting is? A calendar can do all of these things in a quick and easy-to-grasp format.
The first decision in selecting a calendar is free vs. non-free. Several companies offer free, hosted web calendars. While free is nice, there are some problems. Free calendars usually don’t let you change the appearance of your calendar to match your site.
This decreases the professional appearance of your site. Nothing says “we’re struggling” like a free calendar that doesn’t match the rest of the web site. Additionally, free calendars don’t offer support. You will be on your own if you need help.
If you’re using a content management system (CMS) like Joomla or WordPress, there are literally dozens of free or very inexpensive calendars available.
These might be a good solution for the very smallest of groups, but there are some heavy limitations. They are usually created by hobbyists and only offer email support. They’re also very poor in features.
For example, few will have support for mobile devices like phones or tablets. They’re also not going to have management features like event approval or calendars that are only visible to staff.
There are also web based calendar applications available from several vendors. Typically these are very feature-rich offerings. Prices for very capable calendars start at a few dollars per month.
Here are some of the features you should look for:
- Telephone Customer Support
- Support for phones and tablets
- Room reservation and approvals
- Calendars that are publicly visible, and calendars that are only visible internally
- Easy integration into web sites including CMS systems
- Facebook and Twitter support
- Event Approvals
Choosing the right web calendar cannot only help you grow, it can streamline your internal operations. Calendars that provide room reservation can simplify scheduling and eliminate double booking.
One church manager said that eliminating the paper scheduling system they had been using saved her one hour a week in labor.
Using a web calendar allows the clergy to see when they can hold events, and members can quickly check the times of meetings and groups reducing calls to the office.
A high-quality web calendar can be a huge addition to your web site. It helps you grow by showing potential attendees what’s happening. It also helps communicate information to current members and staff, reducing the effort required to manage your facility.