Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan
"It looks fabulous! Thank you, again, for all of your hard work."
—Laura Pfeifer, Office Manager
What’s in a name?
If you dig much into the history of a little Oregon town called Corvallis, you’ll notice the name Samaritan keeps coming up. That’s because the Church of the Good Samaritan played a major role in establishing some of the town’s most notable institutions; it continues to play an active role today.
Pain point, a confusing website
But in 2017, the church’s website wasn’t much to look at. Its visual design was dated. Its information architecture was confusing. Its content included a lot of duplicate and contradictory information — to the point that it was easier to learn about events anywhere but the website. No question, it was time for an overhaul.
We embark on a redesign
That summer, Good Sam hired me for a redesign. The church put together a decision-making project team: a small, effective committee of five people, and together, we defined a few goals:
- Showcase the church as a venue to drive building revenue
- Identify specific audiences; strategize how to reach them
- Express the church’s unique identity
- Make its offerings accessible to everyone, parishioners and newcomers alike
Unraveling a complex structure
After conducting some interviews with the project team, I had a good start on the strategy and identity questions.
But what were the church’s offerings? That proved much trickier to answer.
I knew by now there were some 30 separate groups within the church, doing all sorts of things: planning events, fundraising, studying books, making music, maintaining the grounds, birdwatching. I needed a comprehensive list of them all, with an overview of what each group does and how newcomers could get involved, in order to know how to represent these activities to web visitors.
Between the church’s existing site and its print collateral, though, there was a lot of conflicting information floating about — and there was no one person within the church who could unravel it for me.
The reason for this was as unexpected as it was inspiring.
We worship the Triune God in a variety of expressions, with and without words. We experience God’s beauty and power in liturgy, music, art, nature, action and silence.
We respect our traditions, strive for social justice, and seek to apply our faith principles to our changing world.
An unexpected key
The church’s many activities were not top-down. They were grassroots, organized from the ground up by individuals within the church who saw a need and took the initiative to meet it.
What a beautiful demonstration of proactive, engaged community. Also, what a communications challenge!
From there, discovery
To proceed with scoping the sitemap — to determine which content to include and how to organize it — I had to figure out just how many of these decentralized activities were going on out there, which person could tell me about each, and how to get a hold of them.
So, for the rest of the summer, I took a deep dive into discovery:
- Conduct over 30 interviews with activity leaders
- Research local history
- Perform a brand audit of nine comparable church organizations
- Compile my findings and recommendations in a comprehensive report
- Create a master spreadsheet of all activity leaders, to make activities internally transparent and to support ongoing administrative communications
In the end, I got the details on all the church’s activities. I also got the chance to ask an extremely broad group of involved parishioners what they each perceived to be the church’s strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits.
Their feedback was brand strategy gold.
A powerful brand story
I learned that the parable of the good Samaritan isn’t just part of the church’s name, but core to its identity. The history of Good Sam is one of tangible outreach. Its focus on healing and helping isn’t simply a nice thing to say, but an authentic, lived mission.
Two notable examples: its affiliate organizations, offering regional medical care and affordable retirement housing, respectively.
The church’s brand story was a fit for the archetype of the Caregiver.
Affiliates of the church
Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center
I also learned that Good Sam is, first and last, a community — not polished and perfect, but quirky and flawed. Meanwhile its strengths were reiterated in interview after interview: generosity, gentleness, intellectual curiosity, open-mindedness, hospitality.
I noticed that many of the people I spoke with did not assume that their input was in sync with a larger whole. They didn’t have a vantage point to see that their individual thoughts and feelings were part of a coherent set of common values; yet these values proved to be the heart of the community.
There was a true story here — but it was invisible to those who were living it. I wanted to change that.
We’re a multigenerational community of authentic, quirky people who are gentle, opinionated, curious and imperfect. We don’t agree on every issue, and we don’t all practice our faith in the same way.
After presenting my findings to the project team and getting the go-ahead for my recommendations, I had what I needed to draft a clean information architecture, design wireframes for a simple and straightforward user experience, and strategize content — copywriting, video, and original photography — to tell the church’s story.
For the brand color palette, I captured tones from a stained glass window in the chapel, the one portraying the Good Samaritan.
This is one of a series of windows commissioned by the church from a reknowed French artist in the mid-century. The windows are a visual treasure: their light and color create the experience of being in the space. The stories they depict express the church’s values and priorities.
I felt that the vibrant colors and glass mosaic feeling were the right choice for the church’s visual identity, and the window portraying the Good Samaritan — whose parable of caregiving is the heart of the church’s brand story — was the one to focus on.
For the logo, I drew from the Episcopal shield, which is universally shared by Episcopal churches everywhere, but I made it specific to Good Sam by adapting it into a stained glass mosaic that incorporates the colors from the Good Samaritan window. Here, Good Sam is part of a larger whole — the Episcopal Church — but it’s also unique.
SEO issues, resolved
I also resolved an SEO issue that the church had struggled with for years: online confusion about the historic building it once occupied (listed in the National Register of Historic Places as “The Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan”) and its current location and entity. Both Wikipedia and Google Places contained misleading information that was perpetuating the confusion. I’m happy to say I cleared this up.
And it's live!
The site went live just before Christmas. In January, the church hired me on a retainer contract to provide ongoing web maintenance, content management, and activity coordination (communicating with activity leaders on a quarterly basis to ensure that online information stays current).
Since Good Sam invested in its website as an active communication tool, it’s noted an increase in newcomers, many of whom say they found the church online. As a venue, the building has gained a new tenant. Web traffic has increased; parishioners now look to the site for information, whereas it had been largely untouched before. And an online search for Good Sam leads one to clear, correct information about the church.
Perhaps most importantly, the church is more self-aware of its common identity. Many parishioners were inspired to find that their individual values actually define the church as a whole, empowering the entire community to lean into its authentic story with joy and confidence.