Before we talk about responsive websites, a clarification is important. A responsive website, for the purposes of this article, doesn't mean one that meets the needs of seekers to your website, though that is important for a church website.
What I'm talking about is a website that adjusts, (responds) to any technology that is used to view it. It's also one of the most important web trends today. It's also the foundation of the changes that I'm making on this site to serve you better.
An honest disclaimer first
I'm not writing this as an expert website creator, even though I've created several websites for churches and ministries, plus I created and maintain this website for my ministry Effective Church Communications. Though I can do a little coding if I have to, I usually mess that up and rely totally on WordPress.
In the process of updating this website, I discovered responsive websites and was totally impressed with and excited about how they can expand the ways my ministry can help church communicators. Fortunately, WordPress has some fantastic FREE website templates that have all the complex coding of responsive websites built-in. Making this site responsive was as easy as replacing the template.
Well, not quite that easy. I'm still rearranging material to take the best advantage of the new way it displays content. Still, the shift to a responsive design using WordPress is relatively painless and I wanted to share this at the start because I don't want you to worry about this being too complex for you to do if you want to do this for your site. As with many things in ministry technology, somebody has to do the heavy lifting in coding, but I think it is a much better use of most church communicator's time to use a template where the programming framework is already done and you can focus on the content. WordPress allows you to do that. Later I'll have some links that show you how easy it is to create sites using it.
Responsive technology, what it is and why we need it
Here is a more complete definition of a responsive website:
A website that responds to the device that accesses it and delivers the appropriate output for it uses responsive design. Rather than designing multiple sites for different-sized devices, this approach designs one site but specifies how it should appear on varied devices.
This is very different from what happens on the most websites today. Though you can view them on a variety of devices, like a mobile phone, the website is simply smaller on the smaller device. Unless you know what is already there, it is difficult to move around and expand a section of it, even if you have a phone that can do that. To actually use the site, to use drop-down menus, for example, is almost impossible.
A responsive website is also different from a website having a secondary version of it coded for mobile phones.
A responsive website in contrast, without additional coding for each device, automatically adjusts to the size of the device used to view it, and it shifts the organization of the content, so that you can always read the primary content on the screen. You can view the difference here is a short video I did to illustrate the difference:
Why we need them
A quote from Jeff Veen gives the technology reason:
“Day by day, the number of devices, platforms, and browsers that need to work with your site grows. Responsive web design represents a fundamental shift in how we’ll build websites for the decade to come.”
The ministry reason is this is simply another step in "becoming all things to all people so that we might win some." Websites are an essential way for churches and ministries to communicate both the plan of salvation in Jesus as well as the details about our church or ministry and how people can connect with us. Though the content remains the same, people now view our websites on an ever-increasing variety of devices.
The idea of responsive websites developed as an option for having to create a completely different size for every size device. Instead of having an exact layout for each one, responsive design determines the device and then scales and rearranges content to fit it.
If we want to both have our ministry material available to everyone who needs it and be able to manage the creation process at the same time, responsive design is a great tool.
How to make responsive design work for you
Many of you have highly skilled webmasters or companies that created and or maintain your site and they are most likely in process on adapting responsive design principles to it—if you are happy with that—keep with it.
My advice is for those of you who want to create your own website easily and for free (or almost) and that is to consider WordPress. You can start out with http://www.wordpress.com, which is completely free. It is extremely easy to learn and use. At this link here I have a series of free videos that show you how to create a basic site with WordPress. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhAhP30CKzo&list=PL35207ECE78421EF4&feature=plcp
Update note on the link above: some of the interface examples have been updated on WordPress, but it is still a useful video to enable you to see what you can do with it.
For more about Responsive design:
I realize I've barely touched the surface of this exciting development in website design, but below are some additional resources, from a visual explanation to some excellent and more technical articles.
Following is a scrolldeck of responsive design, don't get overwhelmed by the how-tos at the end of it: http://johnpolacek.github.com/scrolldeck.js/decks/responsive/
I highly recommend this overview article: http://arstechnica.com/business/2012/05/whats-responsive-web-design-all-about/
A good, more technical overview and links to basic resources: http://blog.teamtreehouse.com/beginners-guide-to-responsive-web-design
Keep learning and growing in your service to your people and our Lord
Work in computers and communication never stands still and here is one more challenge. Let's charge ahead trusting the Lord that this is yet another way we can serve Him and His people.