A Brief History of Mobile Web Browsing
Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007. One of its standout features was a “real” web browser. Many cellular phones before the iPhone did have internet capabilities. But these “capabilities” were clunky, and the phones loaded webpages that did not look like their desktop counterparts. The user experience was terrible! But that changed with the iPhone. The Safari web browser on the iPhone displayed web pages that looked the way they were supposed to – as if you were visiting the web page from a desktop. What a revolution!
Of course, there were still some quirks. iPhones didn’t (and don’t) do Flash. Way back then, many websites had elements that relied on Adobe Flash technology. When you visited those websites on an iPhone, the Flash elements were non-functional. But that was a small price to pay for having a “real” web browsing experience on a mobile device!
Another challenge when visiting these “real” websites on your iPhone was that much of the content on the webpage was displayed too small to read on the small screen of a mobile device comfortably. Fortunately, you could deal with this problem by using the fantastic pinch-to-zoom technology of the iPhone to zoom in on the content so that the text would be large enough to read without having to use a magnifying glass.
The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 was revolutionary! It changed the mobile phone industry in many ways. It changed our lives significantly. If you haven’t ever watched the keynote address in which Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone (or maybe you have watched it, but it has been a while), let me highly encourage you to take the time to watch the video.
Alternatives to Responsive Design
So what are the alternate options if you don’t have a responsive website?
One option would be not to offer a mobile-optimized website at all. Visitors using smaller devices would merely see the full desktop layout. But imagine zooming out far enough so that the entire width of the site would fit on your smartphone screen. The content would appear crazy small. Then you would pinch-to-zoom in on the content that you want to read, and would potentially be constantly panning from side to side to read complete lines of text – basically a horrible user experience!
Many websites used to have a mobile counterpart website that was “dumbed down” and designed for mobile use. When you would go to a website URL, it would detect your type of device and direct you to either the mobile version (usually a URL like m.yourgreatwebsite.com) or to the full version of the website. Often there would be a link near the bottom of the website that you could click/tap to go to the other version of the website. But creating this sort of set-up would be something like building two websites. Not ideal for the website creator as it means a lot more work. Also not ideal for the website visitor on a mobile device as the mobile version of the website would often be missing key content or functionality. To try to get the information or functionality that the visitor needs, he or she might be tempted to tap the link to the “full” website. But then they would be faced with the same issues that most non-mobile optimized websites have (see the previous paragraph).
Responsive Websites Save the Day
While the iPhone made web browsing much more elegant and “real,” it did leave a bit to be desired. Fortunately, there has been a move toward responsive websites. What are responsive websites? Essentially, a responsive webpage is one on which the content is rearranged to display on various screen sizes appropriately. For example, on your desktop or laptop computer, a website may have three columns of content. But if you go to that same website on your tablet, the content display rearranged to only be in two columns, with the additional columns repositioned below. Visiting that same webpage on your smartphone may display the content 1 column wide, and you scroll down to view the content from the other “desktop” columns. For a brief overview of what responsive design is, check out the video below.
If you want to experience responsive vs. non-responsive webpages yourself, you can check out and compare these websites on your different sized devices:
- Responsive: https://www.bostonglobe.com/ and https://dequeuniversity.com/library/responsive/1
- Non-Responsive: https://dequeuniversity.com/library/responsive/1-non-responsive
What Kind of Website Should My Church Have?
If you want a modern, functional, and easy to use website, you should create a mobile responsive website! When you create a WordPress-based site, there is a vast number of themes to choose from that are mobile-responsive right from the get-go! And if you want more design flexibility than what a stock theme offers (and don’t want to get into complicated coding), you can create mobile responsive designs with a page builder like Elementor.
The Kingdom Perspective
When it comes to church and ministry websites, it is essential to create sites that present as few barriers to visitors as possible. Think of someone visiting your church website. The Holy Spirit is potentially drawing this person to seek the Kingdom. In our modern world, part of that seeking often involves searching the internet. In a literal sense, you wouldn’t want to put obstacles and tripping hazards and stuff in that person’s path toward the Truth. So why would you be willing to accept potential barriers and tripping hazards in their online path? When a potential seeker visits your church website, the way should be as smooth as possible in the direction of them attending your church or contacting you or whatever your call-to-action is for him or her. Somewhere I heard something like this basic concept: Following Christ means taking up our cross and following Him – we shouldn’t try to add more crosses to the process.
So don’t let your website present barriers to the Kingdom seeker. Make it mobile responsive!