Website

Nichols-Bethel relaunched its website in March 2007. The driving purposes behind the design were to keep the current congregation informed of the many activites and resources that the church has to offer and to advertise those same activites to visitors and potential new members.

For those of you interested in the technical details of this site, they are offered below:

  • WordPress opensource blogging software (uses PHP, CSS, and MySQL) with a custom theme
    • Automatically creates RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feeds from each category as well as an RSS feed for the whole site. These feeds can be used in any RSS aggregator, as well as services that send email updates when content changes.
    • Various WordPress plugins
  • Cross-browser DHTML menu system courtesy of twinhelix.com
  • Gallery2 opensource photo gallery software
  • Church calendar maintained in Google Calendar and available in iCal format
    • If you have a Google Calendar account, you can search for the Nichols-Bethel public calendar.
    • If you have a calendar program that accepts iCal format, you can use this same feed to update that calendar.

What’s New With the Church Website?

Our church website, having been recently modernized, is getting better all the time! Our Automation Committee spends a lot of their time and effort to put what Nichols-Bethel has to offer out there to prospective visitors and to keep church members better informed of events in the life of the church.

Do you know that the website contains a Calendar? It has articles on future events, write-ups on past events, newsletters, bulletins, and pictures and videos depicting the life of the church. You can now read and listen to sermons on our website. You can even get the sermon audio as a podcast and take it with you. If you read email often and want to be notified when new articles are posted, you can now subscribe on the church website. If you use an RSS (real simple syndication) reader, you can do that too.

Sign up for the email updates on the website; this should take under two minutes.

  1. Go to the news page http://www.nicholsbethel.org/category/news (though most pages on the website have the same right hand side)
  2. On the right hand side, under "NBUMC updates via email", there is a text box. Type your email address in here. Click the "Subscribe" button.
  3. Another window with a FeedBurner logo will pop up. Type the characters that you see into the provided box and click the "Complete Subscription Request" button.
  4. You will quickly get an email with the following text: “You recently requested an email subscription to Nichols-Bethel. We can't wait to send the updates you want via email, so please click the following link to activate your subscription immediately.” Click on the link & your subscription is confirmed.

Any day that an article is posted to the website, you will get an email the next morning with all articles from the previous day. No articles, no email.

Nichols-Bethel Website Features

A hearty welcome to all first-time visitors to the recently updated website of the Nichols-Bethel United Methodist Church in Odenton, Maryland. The purpose of this article to is introduce you to the new website format and many new features.

Pictures

The first thing that you'll notice is that the screens are colorful and contain lots of pictures of people. There are pictures on the homepage that change on successive visits and there are random pictures on the right side of many of the pages throughout the site. If all you want to see are pictures, you can visit the gallery where pictures are sorted by year then event. If you look at the bottom of the gallery pages, you will find links for viewing the pictures as a slide-show. (I recommend the full-screen version)

The use of pictures was purposeful. The attendance, support, and involvement of our members is vital to the continued growth of our church. Some of the things that first-time visitors look for in a church are the level of activity and involvement, demographic composition (including family-friendliness), and the character of the church. For many reasons, including its ingrained systems of mutual support, a church is often referred to as a family. New members want to know what type of family exists at Nichols-Bethel. Consider the pictures on our site your chance to take a peek at the family life at Nichols-Bethel. After you've enjoyed the pictures, we hope you join us in the non-virtual world. We're even more animated when you visit in person!

Video

In conjunction with the Capital Campaign, the church recently recorded a very nice video in which the many church programs are described and members describe their reasons for choosing and attending Nichols-Bethel. This video has been transferred from DVD format to flash video format and posted on the visitors page of the website in two sizes to account for different connection speeds. The video starts playing as it is downloaded and buffered.

Calendar

A calendar of events is available online just as you would expect. The data for this calendar is maintained in Google Calendar as a public calendar. That means that if you have a Google Calendar account, you can easily search for and overlay this calendar's events on yours. You can do the same thing with many other calendar programs by using the iCal feed or XML feed (Atom format) feeds which are linked on the bottom of the calendar.

News

Each group or program on the website has its own page. This page can be used to post upcoming events, news, or event reports. Additionally, a post can be included on multiple pages. You might find an MYF post on MYF, News, and the home page. The main place for news will be the home page and the news page. The home page will display a list of titles/links of selected news items, a featured news article (or rotating descriptions of programs), and can contain a breaking news headline.

Podcasts

We are continuing to post the text of sermons online. They are usually posted the morning of the day that they are given in church. Additionally, we are now recording the sermon audio off of the soundboard. This audio is converted to mp3 format and is available for listening immediately below the sermon text. Since the sermons are in mp3 format, they are are also available as a podcast feed and can be used in any standard podcasting software. We will investigate adding our sermon podcast to the iTunes database and providing a link from our site. (Many other churches are podcasting sermons and other material and are listed in the iTunes database).

Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Have you wondered what that square, orange, radio-wave-like icon is that's been spreading around the internet — including some of your favorite websites? Have you noticed that it has now found its way to your church website? What is it, how does it work, and what can it do for you?

The orange icon is an indicator of and a link to the website's content (or some subset of the content) in a special format called Really Simple Syndication — more commonly and henceforth RSS. For technical people, RSS is a particular format of Extensible Markup Language (XML). It allows you and the rest of the world to access a website's content in many new ways. Let me explain.

If you have one favorite website, it's pretty easy to go online and see if there are any new articles, stories, or more generally: content. Even if you have a few favorite websites, you can use bookmarks to scan them and determine if there is any new content that is worth the time to read. At some point, (which varies depending on the person) you just have too many favorite sites to keep up with. Additionally, you may find yourself reading a good article on a website that you just found but the site isn't updated frequently enough to bother checking it every day. What if there was a way to view the new content from all of our sites in one place… and the new content would be added automatically so you wouldn't have to look for it.

RSS feeds and RSS aggregators (clients) are a new way of collecting the online information that YOU are interested in. Your email program is to email what the RSS aggregator is to articles on the internet. Think of it as your inbox for the internet. Many of these RSS clients are free. If you click on any of the RSS links on the Nichols-Bethel site, you will see the content in that particular RSS feed, along with options to subscribe using one of many RSS clients. For what it's worth, my current favorite is Google Reader. The Nichols-Bethel site is using the (free) services of Feedburner for our RSS feeds.

Email

Even if you're not into RSS feeds, this ought to interest you. Wouldn't it be nice if you got a daily email anytime there was an article posted to the church web site? That way you would know that there was something new to look forward to or remember. Wait no longer.  Another service of Feedburner that builds on the capabilities of RSS s a daily email digest of articles posted to the web site. If there are no new posts, you don't get an email. The sign up for email updates is located on each dynamic page on the website. After you enter your email address and click subscribe, you must complete two steps to compete the registration. You must type in the characters that appear in a random image. This is to ensure that you are a human user and not an automated process. Next, you will receive a conformation email. It will contain a link that you must click on. This is to confirm that you are the human that you said you were and that you actually own that email address. This process is referred to a a double opt-in. Each email update has an unsubscribe link if you want to stop receiving the updates. Don't worry — the unsubscribe link in OUR emails IS safe to click on. It does exactly what it says it will do.

External Content

The site contains several periodically updated pages of high-quality external content (most often from other Christian websites). Some of these are found under Worship -> Devotions. A favorite of mine is found under Education -> Daily Bible Story.

Suggestions

If you know of any other quality content (especially dynamic content), want to add some information to the website, or have comments or suggestions, please contact the webmaster via the online contact form.



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