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A website in waiting

National staff briefed on the research that goes into the PC(USA)’s website revamp

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — As part of its work helping the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to overhaul two of its main websites, the denomination’s consultant, Centralis, has produced short videos of Presbyterians trying to navigate the current sites, and

The clips, shown to staff during a project update at the Presbyterian Center Wednesday, were a little difficult to watch. A range of users, including mid council and congregational leaders, church members and bilingual speakers, were asked to, in some cases without using a search engine, perform certain tasks using the website, such as downloading the Presbyterian seal and learning about the Church Leadership Connection.

The one-on-one research sessions took an hour to complete. According to a few representative clips on display Wednesday, users often struggled to find what they were looking for.

“I’m trying to understand — or guess — how a topic fits into one of these organizational structures,” one user said, clicking buttons based on hunches.

“I may know to go (where I need to go),” said another user, “but for the average person helping out with a stewardship campaign or Special Offerings, they won’t necessarily go there.”

“Clearly this is a challenge for us,” said Jeffrey Lawrence, director of Media & Publishing for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Wednesday’s presenter. “The loud and clear message is that we can’t assume people know what we call things. We do that at our peril.”

The news following the first round of Centralis research wasn’t all bad.

“People were surprised and pleased to discover the wide scope of material on the website,” Lawrence said, noting it contains “tens of thousands of pages.”

“It’s like panning for gold to find content,” he said.

They also expressed appreciation for being asked for their feedback. “They are glad to have a role in shaping the new website,” Lawrence said.

Much of the current website material is organized by agency and then further sifted into a specific department or office. But some material, including education, stewardship, and grants and financial aid, is spread out across multiple sites. “When you search, you hop from site to site,” Lawrence said. “You may start on a homepage but you can quickly end up at the PC(USA) Store or Special Offerings or disaster assistance. People don’t realize the extra tabs they’re opening in their browser. They find themselves at dead ends and confused, and it makes for a disappointing user experience.”

Depending on their role, website users visit the site for different reasons, Lawrence said. Mid council leaders may be searching for content to share with pastors or other congregational leaders. Rank-and-file Presbyterians may be interested in the PC(USA)’s stance on an issue trending in the news, the Church’s advocacy work — or they might want to help their child or grandchild apply for a Presbyterian scholarship.

Bilingual users told the consultant that in an ideal world, they’d like to see a site mirroring the English-language content but in, say, Spanish or Korean. “They were understanding. They realize this is a huge task,” Lawrence said. “They know the Church probably doesn’t have the resources to do that. But they said, ‘That’s our dream, if possible.’ We were glad to hear that, because one of our hopes is to provide that kind of mirrored site experience.”

The plan is to merge the two websites under the domain name “It’s clear that at the least we ought to integrate ( and,” Lawrence said. “Search engines aren’t keeping up as well as they are supposed to.”

Another Centralis recommendation is to organize content by topics, and “not by our internal structure,” Lawrence said. “That’s not to say we can’t use insider terms, but we have to explain what they mean.”

A third need, he said, is to employ “a single, consistent navigation system so people know where they are.”

The rollout for the new site will probably occur no earlier than late 2021, Lawrence said. That will follow several more months of research and development, he said. Centralis, based in Evanston, Ill., has completed the first of four planned research phases. It’s being paid $214,200 for its work.

For the time being, the denomination’s four other agencies — Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation — will maintain their current websites.

During the second phase of research, which Centralis calls card-sorting, the consultant will use 75 topics found on the websites to ask a sample of users which ones they think are most important and to group them however they see fit.

The main reason it’s taking so long to revamp the website, which the Moving Forward Implementation Commission charged the PC(USA) to do, is that Presbyterians have many demands on the two websites.

“People have different needs,” Lawrence said, including event registration, online learning portals and maps locating the work of mission co-workers. “We want to make sure we take everyone’s needs into account. We want to do it right.”

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