When is it Time to Hire a Full-Time Webmaster for your Church?

Posted at November 11, 2011

Very few churches have a paid staff position to focus on the Website, let alone their full online ministry strategy. Most churches rely instead on a mix of volunteers, administrative staff, and maybe even a little bit of the youth guy’s time thrown in for good measure.

This model works well and is very viable for the small- to mid-sized church, provided that you have someone overseeing the strategy and you have tools to handle the heavy technical lifting for you.

Is there a moment when you wake up and realize, “this isn’t working any more. Do we need to hire someone?”

A few factors to help you decide:

Based on church size
In a smaller church, it’s more realistic to think that you can manage the flow of content with a volunteer or two. Everybody knows everybody else, so news still travels heavily via word-of-mouth. The Website may be used as a way to share media (photos, videos) but may not be relied upon as heavily for event information.

As the church grows, so does the need for timely upkeep of the web presence. If you’re small but you want to grow the church, then you should also be hitting the online ministry pretty hard. It’s your best vehicle to spread the word near and far, and to engage with people on the social networks where they hang out every day.

Any church with more than 1000 to 1500 regular attenders really needs to have a staff position carved out for this purpose. This person is not only the primary gatekeeper for web content, but is the primary liaison to the website vendor, oversees the social network strategy, and may even be the one to prepare graphics for online use. Often, this person can come from within. Look for a current admin or other staff member who really “gets” this stuff. If they express an interest in moving into a full-time web slot, you may have just found your webmaster.

Based on the intensity of the web strategy
Do you have a concerted strategy to help you produce fruit online? If so, that also means you need to be constantly measuring your results. And tweaking. And experimenting. And talking to users. And spending time connecting all of your ministry activities to your online presence. Can you imagine doing this with only a few hours of week? Many busy church people do, and they’re exhausted. To prevent burnout and improve efficacy, any church with a “real” online ministry strategy needs to have a paid staff position as part of that strategy.

Based on the quality, accountability, and results you expect
Mike Boyink posted a rant a few years back, telling volunteer church webmasters to stop working for free. Ultimately he made a good point: a church who pays nothing for their Web team is sending a message that they don’t value it. Just about any other industry in the world expects to pay a fair market price to get service from vendors, but sometimes the church gets this upside down.

Paying someone makes them more accountable to you. There’s more of an implied contract. “I’ll pay you, and in return you’ll provide me with a service that you stand behind.” Paid contractors (or staff) check their work. They’re more likely to finish on time. They’ll devote more of their brain cycles to you when they truly believe in the work and they can buy groceries at the end of the day.

Based on the image you wish to project
Your church may be blessed to have a web design phenom available for volunteer work. If so, treat this person well! They will only be with you for a season. Ultimately, you will be in a situation like most other churches, where the quality of your volunteer labor pool is mediocre to moderate. This isn’t a knock on anyone. I’m sure they’re all nice people. But if they were really that good, wouldn’t they be doing this as a full-time gig? For, like, money?

If you intend to execute your online ministry with a consistent level of excellence–and consistency–consider the value in having a full-time staff member who can boost the quality of your image.

Based on the workload of your existing staff
This one is easy. If your staff are burning the midnight oil just to update your event registration forms, or your folks are getting snippy with each other after working 13 days in a row, it may be time to ask for a new staff budget. Don’t overwork your people and expect excellence. Give them important, challenging, and inspiring work to do, but make sure they rest.

Based on skills/talents of your existing staff
In keeping with our our earlier post on the necessary traits of a church web coordinator, it could very well be true that you just don’t have the right mix with your current team. As Jim Collins says, you need to have the “right people on the bus.”

Based on the engagement quotient of your more active ministries
In most churches, there is a certain unevenness to the amount of “Web time” that each ministry department requires. For example, you might have a women’s ministry who is promoting events every week, taking surveys online, designing elaborate event registration forms, etc. In the exact same church, there might be a music & worship music ministry who only updates their section of the Website every 6 months when it’s time to hold auditions again.

It pays to take an honest assessment of your departments and then figure out your current vs. ideal engagement levels. Some ministries might need to tone it down a bit, while others need to get in the game. If everything were to pan out the way you want, do you have the volunteer support to handle the increased Web demands? If not, it is time to look for a paid staff member.

Final thought

Our comments here are not meant to malign the venerated church web volunteer. On the contrary, the volunteer approach is the right one for most churches in the U.S. But we’ve also seen many situations where a church goes far too long without facing up to the reality that they need to pay for this service.
Has your church found success in balancing paid staff and volunteers on the web team? How far can you take it?

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