Archive for Church Website Design

Getting Your Money’s Worth In Church Website Design: WordPress.com vs WordPress.org

Deciding on a new church website design can be a difficult, and for some people daunting, task. At Church And Technology.ca we’re aiming to make the whole process easier for you by going through all the decisions needed once you decide to create or refresh your church website design. A quick note to say that while we talk a lot about church website design here, the principles also apply to other church organizations like presbyteries or other church related groups as well. They are also applicable to personal or business sites.

The first post in the series was on picking a platform for your church website. It went over some of the different options available to you for church website design and why I recommend using WordPress for church websites. To briefly recap, the WordPress platform was designed to be easy to use, it’s now the most popular website platform on the internet thus well supported, there are thousands of themes to choose from to help make your site look just right. And finally WordPress is very inexpensive to set up and maintain. Actually WordPress can be free, but as we’ll see in a minute, free isn’t always the best option, but then again, sometimes it is.

WordPress.com vs WordPress.org for church website design

If you’ve done any research into WordPress you may have already come across the fact that there are two different versions of WordPress out there. One, a hosted version, is called WordPress.com, the other is a self-hosted version called WordPress.org. Most of the time people talk about WordPress.com and WordPress.org, but I find that confusing, and I deal with them a lot. So for the case of this post I’m going to use Hosted WordPress (referring to WordPress.com) and Self-Hosted WordPress (referring to WordPress.org). That said the pictures will still say .com and .org, so it is worth learning trying to remember which is which.

To me the fact that there are two versions of WordPress with very similar names causes a fair bit of confusion. And as demonstrated by the picture above, some people even think they might be competing against each other in negative ways. This could be true. None the less, WordPress is WordPress. Both use the same easy to use interface and What You See is What You Get editor. (This refers to being able to use menus to change the font and text size, like in Word, without needing to use code.) And these are two of the main reasons to use WordPress. Here is WordPress.com’s comparison of the two. Now on to my comparison.

Hosted WordPress (WordPress.com)

WordPress.com sign up as see by Church And Technology.ca The most popular reason people pick Hosted WordPress is that it’s free, which is always nice. But for me possibly the best thing about Hosted WordPress is that it’s super easy to set up. In general WordPress is pretty easy to set up, but the folks at WordPress.com make it a breeze. You enter your name and email address, plus what you want the site to be called, and away you go. At least you can. Right away though you start to see where free is available, but that free is a pretty basic service, and there are lots of upgrades available. The first is that the free version gives you a domain name for your website that is YourChurch.WordPress.com, but if you pay them $13-$25 you can get YourChurch.com (if it’s available). I recommend any church website or business website have its own domain name, YourChurch.com for example. So here’s your first $20/year.

That said, you’re now paying $20/year and you’re website is up. You can now pick a theme that will determine the look of your site, and start entering content. Not bad for $20. You’ll also benefit from their expertise in keeping your church website up and running, plus their set up is next to impossible to take down by user error. They also protect you from comment spam free of charge as well as make periodic backups of your site in case something does go wrong. You’ll get to pick from their collection of over 200 themes to customize your church website design. Not bad for $20/year (or free if you didn’t get a custom domain name).

If you’re wondering what the downside of Hosted WordPress is it’s basically in the ability to customize your site beyond picking from those 200 themes. Also you are limited as to how much content you can upload. For example you would be limited as to how many pictures and audio or video files you can have uploaded right to the website. For some this might not be a problem, for others it might. WordPress.com does offer a package to mitigate these problems. Their basic premium package is $99/year.

Self-Hosted WordPress (WordPress.org)

Many people will tell you that Self-Hosted WordPress is more complicated, especially to set up. While they’re kind of right, considering the services offered today by many of the hosting providers I’d compare it to a banana being more difficult to eat then an apple since you have to peal it first. So yes, technically Self-Hosted WordPress is a bit more complicated however, most hosting providers, like the one I use, DreamHost*, have one-click installations of WordPress available that make it almost as easy as WordPress.com. Many of these also come with a deluxe install option which gives you access to 50+ themes right away. There are also many more, easy to find, free themes available after the installation.

Example of One-Click WordPress install from Church And Technology.ca

Self-Hosted WordPress is a bit more complicated in that you have to pick a host rather then there being only one option as with Hosted WordPress, but that’s not really a big deal. There are plenty of big name hosts out there like DreamHost* and Laughing Squid that have one-click WordPress installations available and there all good. I recommend DreamHost* because I’ve been really happy with the service and support I’ve gotten with them, but it doesn’t really matter who you choose. I would however, recommend a large, big name hosting provider. Web hosting is something where bigger and more experienced really can provide a better service as well as a cheaper price. Hosting will cost between $4.99 and $12.99 per month depending on what services you get and what specials you find. Some will also include a free domain name registration with signup. Otherwise you’ll need to purchase a domain name from someone like GoDaddy.com*

Once you sign up and run a one-click installation you’ve got a basic WordPress set up just like in Hosted WordPress. The differences are that you can pick from any theme you can find on the internet and install it. (Only download themes from reputable sources though, some can contain viruses.) You can also include plugins. Plugins let you add additional functionality to your church website design. This can include for example an easy way to podcast sermons, or the ability to create a custom contact form to take prayer requests. Like themes, some plugins are free while some cost money and you should only trust reputable sources. Downloading from within WordPress using the ‘Add New’ features is a great way to know you’ve got a reliable source.

Conclusions

There really is no right answer as to which WordPress is better. It really depends on your situation. If the most important thing to you is ease of use and getting started quickly and easily then it might make sense to use Hosted WordPress. On the other hand if, like me, you appreciate the ability to have more control over the look and feel of your site, it might make sense to use the Self-Hosted version of WordPress. If you are considering Premium Hosted WordPress remember you still have limited customization and both Hosted and Self-Hosted will end up costing roughly the same. In either case though, you can also hire a professional WordPress designer to do the initial set up and design of the site if it still seems too daunting. We’re also going to go over the rest of the steps involved in the process over the coming weeks here at Church And Technology.ca.

 

What do you think, is Hosted or Self-Hosted WordPress better for your church website design? How come? What church website design features are you after?

 

* These are affiliate links with which I get a small commission if you by their product.

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A New Year, A New Church Website Design

WCRC, current church website design

The current design for the World Communion of Reformed Churches

With the start of a new year comes the desire, at least for me, to finally get going on some of those projects I decided on last year but never got to. For me that’s getting out skiing in the back country this year and creating a new website for one of the organizations I volunteer with, the World Communion of Reformed Churches. For you it might be reading more of the bible, creating a new church website design, or something else. For those of you looking to start of this year with a new church website design, I encourage you to sign up for the Church And Technology.ca newsletter or subscribe to the blog using some other manner like RSS, or follow me on twitter, as over the next few weeks I’ll be going step by step through the process of setting up a church website using WordPress.

 

Rundle Memorial United Church website design

The new look Runde Memorial United Church website

At the end of last year I finally managed to create a new church website design for my local congregation, Rundle Memorial United Church in Banff, Canada. I say finally because I’d been meaning to do it for months but ended up focusing more on work than my volunteer commitments. Like I said, I did finally make the time to redesign the church website, and I’m pretty happy with the new look. As a whole though, it still needs some work. I still haven’t created a ‘Visitors’ page that will have all the basic information that visitors will be looking for. I’d also like to create a page for interesting reports or documents from the wider church that people might be interested in. For example, the Accra Confession, a really interesting document from the World Communion of Reformed Churches that is based on the theological conviction that the economic and ecological injustices of today’s global economy require the Reformed family to respond as a matter of faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Plus, I’d like to go over the content and make sure that it’s written not for the members of the congregation, but for people looking to learn more about us.

But enough about my goals. I only mention them to give you some ideas of things we’ll go over in the next few weeks, and to point out that even for someone whose job involves church website design, it can be hard to make the time to design a good church website. But I’d say making the time is really the hardest part. As you’ll see, WordPress makes church website design pretty easy. If you can make a poster in Word, or a PowerPoint presentation, I’m confident that if you follow the directions I set out, you’ll also be able to create a professional looking church website.

I’ve previously written about picking a platform for your church website where I go over why I think WordPress is the best platform to design a church website, so in the next post I’ll go over the two options you have with WordPress to help you decide which might be best for your situation. After that we’ll go over initial setup, picking a theme, writing content, and getting the word out, among other things.

 

As we go through the process of setting up a church website I’m interested in what you are most curious about regarding church website design? And what features do you want to make sure your church website has?

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Church Website Design: Picking A Platform

If you’re coming at church website design from the outside, it can be a little daunting I’m sure. For many people I’m sure it’s hard to even know where to begin. I’ve laid out the basics of the entire process before in Setup a Free church website in 6 easy steps and talked about the importance of deciding why you want a church website in other posts as well. After some thought and discussion though, I’ve decided it’s worth breaking down those 6 steps in more detail for people who might need or want more explanation. In this post I’m going to talk about the process I took when first setting up a church website as an illustrative journey to the different ways this can be done. It will let me go through most of the different options available, since I tried most of them, and share some of the pros and cons of them along the way.

Free Church Website Design picture

The Old Way

I call this the old way since it’s the way things used to have to be done. I’m talking about either writing HTML, or designing in Flash, or using a template for these programming languages. When I first set up a church website, this was still the only real way to do things. I’m not programmer, although I do have a bit of experience in the area, so while I was not intimidated by the notion of dealing with code, I certainly didn’t relish the thought. I did a bunch of searches and found an inexpensive church website design template, and did my best to modify it for my church.

Pros of ‘The Old Way’

Back then there were a few, today though, I can’t really recommend people use HTML or Flash templates since there are so many Content Management Systems available that make this process soooo much easier. Plus they make it easier for multiple people to edit the site, even those without any programming knowledge.

Cons of ‘The Old Way’

This could be a long list, but I’ll stick with the difficulty of setting it up and making changes, plus the reliance on one or two people in the congregation, if you’re lucky enough to have any, that can update the site. This can lead to all kinds of problems if they leave the congregation for whatever reason, or just go on extended vacations.

The New Way

Eventually people figured out that there were more people who wanted websites then there were people to build them so they started building what’s called a Content Management System (CMS). The first CMSs were somewhat clunky and the templates they used often kind of ugly, especially the free ones, which is where I was looking. Some of the initial CMS companies had some church templates as well which were okay, but often were not really appropriate for my congregation. These initial CMSs also, while way easier to use then HTML say, were still not the easiest things in the world to use, and especially to customize. Since then, a lot of work has gone into Content Management Systems and today you can find many great ones out there. There are even some that are church specific like iMinistries and freechurchonline.net.

Pros of ‘The New Way’

An easy to use system that’s stored online so that anyone with the login information can make edits. Lots of templates to choose from in the free and paid categories to get you started.

Cons of ‘The New Way’

Theoretically it could be less customizable over all, but if you pick the correct platform this doesn’t have to be the case at all.

After looking at some Content Management Systems I decided to use a free blogging platform to update my churches website. I looked at Blogger and WordPress.com and was more impressed with the customizability of WordPress.com so decided to use it. This was a great choice for me at that point as WordPress.com gives you a fair bit of customizability and a free site at YourChurchName.WordPress.com. I’m a big fan of things looking professional though so I bought a domain for my church (which you can do at GoDaddy.com*) and had it automatically send people to the WordPress.com site, but hid that fact. This made it always look like people were at YourChruchName.ca. It’s pretty easy to set up, and works really well.

After a couple of years using the free WordPress.com site I decided I needed a bit more flexibility with my church website design so decided to create a new church website using WordPress.org.

I know the names get confusing, but WordPress.org is different than WordPress.com in that you need to own your own domain name and pay to have it hosted online (I use DreamHost* and am very happy with them). Otherwise the interface is fairly similar only you have a lot more opportunity to make customizations, or have someone make those for you. The good part about it all is that it’s still really simple and easy to use.

The Pay Someone Way

So far I’ve been mentioning ways to set up a church website yourself. There is however always the option to pay someone else to do it for you. If you decided to go this route, it definitely takes the pressure off you having to do the initial work yourself. I would however still pay attention to how you want to be able to use the site in the future. If you want to be paying someone to do all the updating and maintenance, and don’t mind that happening on their schedule, then it doesn’t matter how your church website is designed. If however, you want to be able to just pay someone once and do simple updates yourself, it’s important that this is easy to do, so your church website design matters.

I personally do all my church website design work using WordPress.org. It’s an open source platform, so it’s free to use and maintained by a large collection of people, plus it’s the most popular Content Management System on the web today, so it’s got a lots of flexibility and is easy to use.

Conclusions

When picking a platform for you church website design my biggest piece of advice is to pick something that fits how you want to use and update your church website. You can find an HTML template and customize it like back in the day, if that interests you. Or you can find a church specific Content Management System to provide you with a great looking, easy to use church website. Or you can use a generic Content Management System like WordPress.org and customize it with one of the many free templates available. Just make sure that whatever you choose works for you and the other people in your church or organization that will be dealing with the website today, and into the future.

Was that any help in deciding on a platform for your church website? What other questions do you have about getting started with a church website design?

 

* These are affiliate links with which I get a small commission if you by their product.

 

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Why Have A Church Website? Some Answers

I know I’ve already got a post on Why have a church website, but as I continue to reflect and talk with others about church and church organization marketing and web presence, I’ve realized that too often the answer people have is essentially “we need a church website because today, if you don’t have a website, you don’t exist.” While this is indeed pretty much true, it doesn’t really help churches or church organizations to plan out their church website design, which is a lot of the point of asking the question. So, I’ve decided to give some possible answers to this question to help you and your church figure out what you might want from your church website design.

Why have a church website?

Church Organization Website Design as seen by Church and Technology.ca

Your church or church organization website should highlight the information people will be looking for.

Reason 1: To give people basic information about your church

To me this is not just a possible reason to have a church website; it’s the most important one, and a non-negotiable one in my view. Not only should you be making this information available on your church website, it should be obvious. Your worship times should be on your homepage, and your location should be no more than one click away.

Reason 2: To help people learn more about your community and your beliefs

Once people have the basic information, step two is to provide them with a bit more detail. When they come to your church, what will they find? Laid back hippy Christ followers and/or a more formal intellectual crowd? Do you have regular bible studies? What’s an example of recent topics or discussions? Are you an older crowd or full of young families? Be honest here, don’t say what you might wish you were, tell people what you’re really like. You’d be surprised how many people might be looking for a community just like yours. You can also tell people about some of your other ministries like a food bank or a thrift shop. This lets people know that your church is active in the community and tells them indirectly about some of your values.

Church Website Design by Church and Technology.caReason 3: To help advertise church programs and events

A website can be a great way to let people know about programs and events going on at your church. This is true both for church members and those exploring different church environments. If you’re going to be adding this type of content though, it’s important to make sure it’s updated regularly. No one likes looking at empty calendars or events listings that are 3 months out of date. That definitely leaves a bad impression.

Reason 4: To share the Good News

Many churches post written, audio, or video sermons (or whole services) online. This definitely lets you reach a larger audience which can include people who’ve never been to your church before, as well as those that can’t make it all the time. Posting some version of your sermon or worship online also lets people who were there to see it live take a second look or listen and really dig deeper into things that caught their attention.

Reason 5: For congregational in-reach

Church websites can be set up to help foster greater community amongst current members and adherents. Posting sermons can be part of this, especially if you encourage comments and discussion. Churches can also set up discussion forums or congregational blogs (which can be kept private if desired) where the main point is internal community development. This can also have some out-reach potential, but is not designed this way.

Reason 6: For community outreach

This is often the desire of many church and church organizations that I work with. There’s lots that can be done in your church website design to help with outreach, but there’s also lots of competition. Clearly defining goals in this area can save a lot of trouble and disappointment when unrealistic dreams aren’t met.

There are definitely other things that can be done with a church website, but these are some good places to start. And as I mentioned in my original post, one of the most important things to consider is how much time and energy will realistically be spent on the church website. Don’t over commit. You can always add more later if people have the time and energy.

 

How do you use your church website? Are there any important reasons churches and church organizations have websites that I missed? What do you wish you saw more of on church sites?

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If You Can’t Edit Your Church Website, It’s Time For A New One

I recognize that I may annoy some other church website designers out there with this post, but I firmly believe that everyone should be able to make simple additions and changes to their church website themselves. This doesn’t mean you have to make changes or additions yourself, but I think it’s really important that you’re able to do so.

Why it’s important to be able to easily change your church website

You should be able to edit your church website without codeThere are two main reasons I feel it’s important to be able to make changes to your website yourself, without needing to contact a developer. The first is that technology today has created platforms that make this possible. No longer do you need to be a programmer in order to create a great looking website. Platforms like WordPress have made website design easy enough that if you can make a PowerPoint slide, you can not only make edits to your church website, you could even design it yourself if you wanted to.

The second reason I feel that you should be able to change your church website yourself is that, often, the changes you’d like to make are somewhat time sensitive. Sometimes when you send a web designer changes or updates you’d like to make they are able to get them done right away, but often they have multiple things on the go, and frankly changes to your church website aren’t at the top of their list. Also, if you can make simple changes and additions yourself, you don’t need to spend money paying someone else to do this for you. With many churches struggling to stay afloat, this can be a nice savings.

It’s my experience that some designers ask clients to pay a monthly maintenance fee and give you a certain number of changes a month. Many churches never use that full amount, and thus end up wasting money. As a church website designer myself I understand the appeal of monthly cheques from clients, but as a member of a shrinking congregation, I feel it’s important to save every penny you can. Making sure your church website design allows you to make edits yourself is one way to do this. You can still contact the designer if you need larger changes, but since this doesn’t usually happen all the time, it should be less expensive than paying a monthly or yearly fee.

WordPress Logo, WordPress is recommended for church website designThere a multiple platforms that make this possible. Some of the church website specific platforms like iMinistries are pretty customizable and give you a fair bit of control, but personally I recommend WordPress for church websites. WordPress was designed to enable anyone who’s semi computer literate to start a blog. Since then it’s become the most popular website platform on the internet and is used for much more than blogs. I personally use WordPress for all the church website design’s I do since it gives you a great looking site, that you can edit yourself.
Can you edit your church website? Do you wish you could? Am I wrong about the importance of being able to make changes to your church website yourself?

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Design A Church Website That People Actually Visit

When it comes to church website design it can be hard to design something that will attract people to actually visit. It’s not uncommon to find sections that seem like they should be current, but they aren’t. This is definitely something that will keep people away. In my view there is little excuse for things like empty events calendars or a sermon page whose most recent sermon is from last Christmas. If you’re not going to update things like events calendars, people aren’t going to visit, so don’t have them on your church website.

I’m a big advocate of creating church websites based on how they’re going to be used. If you’re not going to be updating your church website on a regular basis, then don’t have elements that need updating, but don’t expect tuns of visitors. Having a static site that only has your address, contact info and worship time is better than having a website that doesn’t deliver on what it promises.

If you do want visitors to your church website, one of the best ways to encourage that is to have new content that they will be interested in seeing or reading.  To some, this may sound like a daunting task, and for some it might be, but it doesn’t have to be.

The first and most important element in designing a church website that people actually visit is to make sure you are using a platform, or Content Management System, that is simple and easy to use. There are a lot of companies out there that will help you set up a church website, but not all of them are easy to use, or do they necessarily give you the ability to make changes yourself, which is also important. Personally I use WordPress for all the websites I design including church websites. WordPress is very user friendly and has a large design and support base, so you should be able to find any support you might need. WordPress is also open source software and free to use, proving that having a good church website doesn’t have to break the budget. Here are a couple of examples of church websites designed by me with WordPress.

Iglesia Evangélica del Río de la Plata

Rundle United Church website design

Rundle Memorial United Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

When your church website is on an easy to use platform it’s not as hard to get other people up to speed to help with the maintenance. For many churches though, that still needs to be easy. The following are some simple ways to keep your church website fresh.

Have a short excerpt of the sermon on the homepage. (If you don’t currently post sermons, why not?) Sermons are easy content as generally they are already written. If the minister doesn’t write sermons ask them to write up some of the important points afterwards and post those. If that’s all they write in the first place, not a problem, just use that, it’s still new content for the website. If people heard the sermon it can serve as a reminder, and if they didn’t, it can get them thinking and maybe asking some questions. This should be easy to setup if you are using a platform that has an integrated blog like WordPress. Just use a plugin like the advanced recent posts widget.

If you or the minister at your church are concerned about posting things online, I encourage you to read this post on the website Internet Toolbox for Churches. Dave does a great job at assessing many of common fears I hear about posting online.

Another easy thing to do is to incorporate the RSS feed from your denomination or another organization you think people will be interested in. An RSS feed automatically updates with the latest information published by a website. Most websites have one and it’s usually not too hard to set up an area of your church website to display one. This lets people keep up with more than just your congregation when they visit your site.

People love to look at pictures and with cameras being in most people’s pockets most of the time these days, there are lots to look at. Adding pictures of an event to your church website is a great way to encourage people to visit the site. Services like Flickr and Picasa let you easily create an album. They also give you code which you can then copy and paste into your church website, and presto instant photo gallery.

There you go, a few relatively easy things you can do to design a church website that people actually visit. Let me know how it goes.

What are some other simple ways to encourage people to visit your church webiste?

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