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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