The Bad Guys
I'm not sure what it is about "Christian" web design agencies that seems to attract the dregs of advertisers, coders, and designers. Typically, unless people are getting ripped off or exploited, I don't really get upset. However, when I'm constantly bombarded with just plain bad web design and layout methods, I feel I must speak up. Normally, my spam just gets trashed without a second thought. But in this case, the trashiness could potentially affect the Church, and that I will not stand for. So, let's fight fire with fire.
Every time I check my Hotmail address, I find a pile of junk emails from
firstname.lastname@example.org. Supposedly, this is because I signed up for their services, which I never did. I don't know why I would have, because for me designing the site is half the fun. I've emailed the
email@example.com service before, to no avail. Hopefully, a little public shaming will help things.
The email links you see there are unprotected, meaning that when spam-bots surf my site, it will see that poor ol' Steve has email addresses, and will add him to all sorts of junk-mail signups. I figure, if he wants to continue to waste my time with his emails, I will waste his. While I'm at it, you should watch out for the website services they offer under the guise ExtremeYouth.com.
I checked out both of these sites, and neither one bothers to have a
DOCTYPE defined. They do both use plenty of
<font> tags, pointless inline CSS, and lots and lots nested
<table> layout. Whoever set up this site must be a schizophrenic, because there's no rhyme or reason to their code. In the end, this achieves their desired effect of an incredibly bland and in all other ways unappealing website. Rounding it out are obligatory stock photos of happy people, and testimonials from clients they've duped into using their service.
The Good Guys
Not wanting to appear entirely negative, I'll recommend a few sites that I do think are doing things right. If you read my site regularly, you will remember the interview last week with the founder of BetaChurch, whose goal is to help the Church progress into the age of web-standards, and get away from junk like MyFlock.com.
Another good one is Church Marketing Sucks, which has a similar vision - "Frustrate Educate Motivate," helping the Church improve past clip-art and Microsoft Publisher. It's got a few little things that could be fixed in the code, but since they're a marketing blog and not a website service, it's not a big deal. On their website, there is a full listing of resources encouraging you to "Don't Suck" as a church.
After looking at their Web Site Solutions listing, I was disappointed to find that most of the sites listed actually do suck. Most of them don't define a
DOCTYPE, and when it is defined the sites typically use HTML 4.01
<table> for layout. Let's be clear here people: That age has passed, time to catch up.
Out of all of them, the only one that I could actually recommend in good conscience is ImmerseMe Inc. I was impressed to find that they are using XHTML 1.0 Strict. This is not a very common thing for Christian websites, who tend to be a step behind. In this case, I would say that ImmerseMe is on the forefront of what God is doing through the web. I didn't even find a single instance of inline CSS, meaning that they're knit-picky about code, just like me. It's refreshing to see a commitment to quality in web design and development that matches the respect the Gospel deserves.
Okay, what started as a rant turned into more of an overview. To recap, here's the run-down (categorically, then alphabetically) of what I consider to be good, middle ground, and outright bad Christian resource sites. This list is by no means comprehensive, just the ones I'm aware of. If you have one you want me to critique, let me know.
Pretty, but Obsolete Code:
Don't Even Bother:
Note: The purpose of this article is not to drum up business for myself. I've currently got a few side projects occupying my time. If you want to hire a good web developer, check out the list of people on my resources page.