MCS Wiki:Esserville Church Directory and Website

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Motivation


I attend Esserville Church in Norton, VA. For years we have felt that we needed a directory that contains contact information for members of the church. Instead of making a paper directory, I thought, “Why not save paper and make it online?” An online directory would be easier to access and update in comparison to a paper directory. I had only intended to do the directory in the beginning of this project; but, I later found out that our old website was no longer being maintained. This led me to add some new pages, such as About Us, a link to our Facebook page, Upcoming Events, and a calendar that keeps track of birthdays and wedding anniversaries.

Research


Before the directory could be created, I had to collect information from the members of the church. This included first and last names, names of children, phone numbers (2), mailing address, and email address (2). I collected this information by giving a half sheet of paper with blanks for each item to each family in the church. I handed out the papers every Sunday for a month to make sure every family was included. I also added a box to the sheet that they could check if they were interested in this information being online if it password protected. After seeing that almost everyone checked this box, this assured me that the website would be used and not a waste.

Technology


I chose to use a content management site for development of the website to make updating and maintenance easier in the long run. The site I chose was iPage. I felt that out of all the content management sites I looked that, iPage had what I was looking for. iPage had so many options that made web development easy, such as a file manager, where I stored different directories, and a “.htaccess Editor” which allowed the directory with contact information to be password protected with the click of a button. iPage also gave me access to an online database program. The database helped keep the directory entries maintained and organized. This database program allows the use of SQL queries but is also user friendly for those who do not know anything about SQL. I also used the database to print a contact list for anyone who wanted a paper copy, rather than accessing it online.

Other technologies I used included Photobucket and Microsoft Excel. I used Photobucket to upload, store, crop, and resize pictures that I used in the directory and throughout the site. Excel spreadsheets were used to keep track of birthdays and anniversaries. I later pulled the information from these spreadsheets to use in the calendar I created.

The Process


I started with proposing the idea to the pastor of Esserville Church. He thought that the directory would be beneficial to the church and told me to “go for it”. At the time, the main focus was the directory. After getting approval for the project, I picked a content management site (iPage) and picked the domain name, “esservillefamily.org”. I then gathered the necessary information from church members and stored it in the online database provided by iPage. I gathered information and took family photos for a month to make sure that no one was left out. While working on the directory, I realized that our old church website was no longer available. That’s when I decided to add the extra pages to the site, including: About Us, Like Us on Facebook, Upcoming Events, and Calendar. I then gathered birthdays and wedding anniversaries as well to be included on the calendar. After finishing the extra pages, I made the website known to the church, along with the username and password that allows access to the database. Once people began to look at the site and the directory, I was able to correct things like name misspellings, typos, and broken links. As more members continue to view the page, the maintenance process will continue.

Challenges


When I first started this project, I knew nothing about how to create a website other than the few basics I learned in Advanced Database class. I used W3Schools and many other online tutorials to develop a basic understanding of HTML and CSS and how they mesh together. The learning process included a lot of trial and error; but, I’m thankful to say that I did get better as I continued the development process on the website.

During the development of this site my client (or pastor) resigned from his position and later passed away. My new client became the Head of the Deacon Board. Unfortunately, he knows nothing about technology. He was very supportive of my progress but had very few suggestions and comments on questions I had. Because of this, I’ve had to make some decisions on my own. Luckily, there were no major decisions to be made and nothing is a permanent change.

During the gathering stage, I realized that even though people were happy to surrender their information, no one was happy about having their picture made. This resulted in people giving excuses to have a picture made at another time. Since I couldn’t take pictures every Sunday after church, I decided to give people the option of sending me a photo of their own that I could use instead. I still do not have pictures for some people but this solution helped me gain more pictures than what I had before.

While entering contact information into the database, I came across strange names, emails, and bad handwriting. This resulted in some misspellings. My solution to this problem was to pull the ones I wasn’t sure of and ask the family to make sure everything was accurate.

Around the time when my pastor resigned, many people decided to leave the church. This resulted in me having to go through the database and delete entries. During this time, I noticed an increase in new members so I gave out information sheets again to make sure new members were included.

When I began this project, my first thought was to use SQL and PHP and pull contact information from the database according to search results from the user. My first problem with that was I realized I didn’t have enough entries to need a search function. So I decided that I was just going to create a page for each person and then pull from the database. As I was coding the SQL and PHP, I began to have some trouble with it. If I was having trouble with it, I wondered, how user friendly could this be? That’s when I decided to drop the SQL and PHP idea all together and implemented a user friendly approach with HTML basics instead. If someone else wanted to take the website over ,then different templates could be used according to which page is being updated.

The Future


The following are ideas that I currently have for future development of the site:

  • Adding family Facebook links to directory entries
  • Putting additional information on the “About Us” page as it becomes available
  • Photo Gallery section to show pictures of previous events at the church
  • Write a user manual if someone else decides to take the web site over
  • Add an option to contact us for questions or to be added to the directory
  • Implement a version that works on smartphones

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