Bishop Steven Ullestad of the Northeastern Iowa Synod, ELCA had to fill his synod’s Director for Evangelical Mission position in late 2013.
With the growth of social media blooming and its importance in society becoming more clear, Bishop Ullestad wanted someone who could help bring the position into the 21st century with digital ministry outreach.
“Because I had a lot of experience in that area, [Bishop Ullestad] offered me the position,” Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson said.
Task No. 1 for Rev. Colville-Hanson: create a blog for the synod for digital outreach
Rev. Colville-Hanson originally created a basic blog on Blogger as an easy way to get the ball rolling. But eventually, she decided she need the blog to look more professional, and for that she looked to Christopher Harris and Faith Growth.
Rev. Colville-Hanson and Harris first met through social media and then met again at the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit, where they learned they had a lot in common with their ideas about the importance of digital ministry.
“I was very impressed with the work of Faith Growth and I trust Christopher,” Rev. Colville-Hanson said. “He understood what we were trying to do and had good ideas of how to accomplish that. There really never was any any question of anyone else doing the redesign of the blog.
Through the discovery process, she realized it needed to be more professional given the potential reach of the blog.
“I was preaching to other leaders that they needed to own their own real estate on the web and I needed to set an example,” Rev. Colville-Hanson said.
Instead of creating a new theme from scratch, Harris decided it would be best to use a theme out-of-the-box. He andRev. Colville-Hanson eventually decided on Publisher, a magazine theme for WordPress.
“It’s a good magazine theme,” Harris said. “They write a weekly blog post about what’s going on in their synod highlighting different things and resources. This highlighted the stories well. They all have a big featured image.”
But the challenges saved by using a pre-made theme were met with challenges in migrating the content from Blogger to WordPress.
“It’s not as straight-forward as we would like for it to be,” Harris said. “So making sure the import [worked] and setting up 301 redirects because the URL structure is totally different in the Blogger world than it is in the WordPress world.”
Rev. Colville-Hanson also faced the challenge of going from Blogger, something she had used for a while, to WordPress. But she said the training provided by Harris helped get her up to speed quickly with her new blog.
With that learning curve in the rear-view mirror, Rev. Colville-Hanson said the new blog has certainly achieved the goals they laid out for it.
“The goal of the synod blog is educating leaders and congregations in outreach,” Rev. Colville-Hanson said. “I think having our own WordPress, professional-looking blog gives more credibility that we know what we are talking about. Visits to the blog increased since we moved it. Our reach extends far beyond our own synod.”
Harris has also seen the new blog help grow the synod, especially with a night and day difference between the two sites.
It wasn’t the whole website and it wasn’t like some of the websites we do, but what we did we made a major impact and it was a huge change between what the site looked like before,” Harris said. “That’s what made me so happy.”
Harris said this type of site with an out-of-the-box theme can be big for churches looking for a low-cost entry point into the world of digital ministry.
“We helped them get into an off-the-shelf solution with no customization so it was a big win,” Harris said. “It helped them meet their budget, but it gave them leaps and bounds improvement in functionality because their now on the WordPress platform. It’s something they can grow with.”
View the Northeastern Iowa’s Synod’s new blog here: http://blog.neiasynod.org