"The website was built for a desktop-computer screen, but everyone is on their cellphones or tablets these days," said Sanders, 28. "When you read it on an iPhone, the text was too small. You had to scroll all over the place to see the content because it didn't fit on the small screen. It didn't represent who we were as a growing church."
Church leaders looking to grow their 1,800-member congregation in innovative ways turned to a Web-development agency for a solution. The company built the church what's known as a responsive website, which shapes itself to the screens of all personal computers and mobile devices.
"The new website is more enjoyable," Sanders said. "There's less clutter, and it's easier to see on a phone without having to fight to get to it."
As the shift toward mobile continues to fuel the development of hundreds of smartphones and tablets of varying screen sizes, Web designers are working to craft websites that fit perfectly on any device.
At first glance, responsive websites look much like traditional websites. But when they are displayed on devices of different screen sizes, they seamlessly shrink or expand to fit that screen size.
Responsive websites also control the amount of content visible from one device to another. Smartphone versions sometimes have larger fonts and less content because there is less space. But when accessed on the larger screen of a tablet or personal computer, the site expands with more features.
Good examples of responsive websites include those launched by The Boston Globe and Starbucks.
"I strongly believe it's the future of the Internet," said 35-year-old Web developer Jody Resnick, founder of Ocoee, Fla.-based Trighton Interactive, which created Journey Christian Church's new website. "I think apps have a shelf life of a couple more years because they are so fragmented. It's also easier for most companies to address all devices at once with a responsive website instead of an app for every platform."
Research shows more people are using mobile devices to connect online.
A September 2012 report by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that 45 percent of American adults own smartphones, compared with 35 percent in 2011. About 1 in 4 owns a tablet.
Resnick said that more than 25 percent of the traffic Journey Christian receives on its website comes from tablet users.
"The church has a lot of graphics and video content on their website that was being viewed on mobile devices," he said. "They had an urgent need to make sure mobile users had access to that content in the best format possible."
Jodi Dinnan, business director at Journey Christian, said the church wanted to update the site to specifically target mobile users.
"Since many of our members found our church by searching online on their tablets, iPhones and Android phones, we wanted a website that would look good no matter the device," Dinnan said. "It's the most effective and appealing way we can get our message and branding out, and welcome them to our church."
Dinnan said cost was a factor, too. They researched different options and bids from several companies. Building an app could cost as much as $30,000. Church leaders were willing to spend about $10,000 on the mobile effort, and Trighton won the bid.
"I can honestly say I knew nothing about responsive websites," Dinnan said. "But once we saw what they did across mobile devices, we knew that's what we wanted."
Rick Osborne, program manager of the Web design department at Full Sail University, says that, although simplicity and improving the user experience is at the core of responsive websites, they also signal a rethinking of website development in a mobile world.
"It's really about designing for the mobile screen first and then adding content and features as that screen gets bigger," Osborne said. "It's the opposite approach to traditional Web design, and the logical progression of where the Web is going."
— By Walter Pacheco, Orlando Sentinel (MCT)