I wrote yesterday about utilizing your website for communication purposes. It’s an incredibly effective method to communicate to visitors as well as regulars/members. If you make it simple and neat (ideal for all, especially visitors) and up to date with fresh information, you’ll have a great tool. If not, people may visit your page once, but rarely again.

Today I want to focus on the idea of using your website as a tool for communication where your audience can communicate back to you… and I’m not just talking about providing a link to your email. I know some churches are using FellowshipOne software which I used to use (don’t ask). They have the weblink component which is absolutely marvelous! Whether you just want to poll people, sign up for an event, or have people pay online… you can do it through weblink. For those of us who don’t have FellowshipOne, there is still hope!

As much as possible, I try to include online forms and registrations where people can respond immediately. Why have someone download an application for camp, VBS or whatever and then leave it to them to fill it out and mail it in when they could just do it right then. On the flip side, why would you want to take hand-written registrations and forms and then do the “data entry” thing for your records when you could just import them from an excel spreadsheet in a matter of seconds? To me it’s a no-brainer.

Two types of forms:
Email Generated Forms – It’s pretty easy for any web developer to include a form that send you the data in an email. This is great as you are notified immediately when someone fills out a form. You can scan the information and save the email in your inbox/sub folder or even print out and put in a file. I have this action enabled with every form I publish as I like to see them as they arrive.
Database Written Forms – The database written form does things a little differently. When a user fills out a form, it writes the data to a database on the website. Not every run-of-the mill web developer can do this easily as it involves installing a database on your web server and linking these forms to the database. I also have this action enabled with every form I publish.

Yes, I do both. I want an email sent to me as a form is filled out. It really isn’t necessary, I’m just that way. However, I save billions of hours (yes, billions) every year due to the fact that online registrations and forms are written to a database. As a result, I can log into the backside of the website and export the form submissions as an excel spreadsheet or csv file. In seconds, I have a spreadsheet of everyone who registered for an event. I can now sort by gender, grade, age, school, parent’s names or whatever. If I relied only on the email generated form, then I have to cut and paste the info cell by cell or just simply re-type this into my spreadsheet. Not Fun!

I remember just a few years ago paying a web-developer well over $1000 to add this functionality to a outreach event website where over 5,000 people registered. The website we use at my church, element fusion, includes this in our package. You may not have access to these tools on your website, but now the ability to use tools like this are available and very affordable… like for only $10 a month. Both wufoo and icebrrg allow you to add forms to your website.

Regardless of what tool you use, you can gather information from your audience for polls, camp registration, vbs registration, signing up for baptisms, baby dedications and whatever else you can dream up. It’s a no-brainer function to add to your set of web communication tools.