A church website may still seem unnecessary to some, but the reality is that having a church website is an important way to make sure people can find out the key information about your church, like where you’re located and what time Sunday service starts. Of course you probably have other information people might be interested in as well, study groups, turkey suppers, etc, but that’s bonus. For more and more people, if they can’t find the basic info about your church online, you might as well not exist.
Don’t worry though, it’s not as hard to set up a church website as you might have thought. There are plenty of helpful tools out there to make it easy on you. Plus, I’ve set it out in 6 easy steps how to get a basic site up and running, for free. I’ve also included a few extras you can do that don’t cost much, but can make things a whole lot more professional looking.
Step 1: Pick a purpose
It’s important to decide what you want your church website to do for you and how you plan on using it. You might make different choices if you’re going to be updating it a lot with audio, pictures and a blog, compared to just some basic information. Remember to be realistic as to how much time you’ll actually spend maintaining the site. No one likes to see pages that imply they have current content but that haven’t been updated since last Christmas.
Step 2: Pick a platform
There are church specific platforms for websites like freechurchonline.net that can help you set up a basic site using one of their templates. They also have more advanced sites and features you can pay for. There are also free website development platforms available you can use for a church website like Joomla and Drupal.
Another option is to use on of the free blogging platforms like Blogger or WordPress.com. Now before you reject these platforms because you don’t want a blog you need to understand that while these platforms were initially created for blogging, they have developed a lot since then and are now very versatile and used to develop many thousands of websites that don’t have a blog attached to them at all. Personally I’m a big fan of WordPress and use it for the church websites I design. There are two different versions of WordPress you can use, wordpress.com and wordpress.org. The former is hosted by wordpress.com and will either give you a domain for free like (yoursite.wordpress.com) or let you use your own (you can register domains using sites like GoDaddy.com*). The latter requires you to have your own domain and hosting. Both platforms are completely free and offer lots of options for customization although there are definitely more customization options in wordpress.org.
Step 3: Sign up
This is a pretty painless step no matter what platform you choose, just follow the instructions. If you think you’d like to go the WordPress.org rout for your church website you can either contact a developer for pricing and to get you started, or you can setup WordPress.org yourself by following their easy instructions or with a one click install. One click installs are provided by many hosts, like DreamHost*, these days and do all the setup for you.
Step 4: Choose a theme/layout
For me this step is the easiest and the hardest. Easy, as it’s really not that hard to do, you just have to pick one. Hardest, as there are usually lots of options to choose from and none that exactly match what I’ve got envisioned in my head. It’s always possible to find something though, and usually it’s pretty good. Depending on which format you choose, you’ll have more, or less, free options to choose from. As with most things online as well, you can usually find something just a little bit nicer if you’re willing to pay a bit. Seeing as we’re talking about free church website design here though I won’t talk too much about those.
Some themes or layouts come with some stock pictures which may or may not be useful for your church website. If they are, feel free to use them, but remember that other people who picked the same theme may also be using them, and they may not express the reality of your church. If the stock pictures that come with your theme aren’t useful to you, or really even if they are, you’ll want to include some pictures of your own especially of the building and people. If you, or a friend of yours, is a professional or aspiring photographer make sure you take advantage of this fact. It’s important to customize your site with real pictures of the place. Plus people love seeing themselves online. You may also want to get some artsy pictures takes for pages like ‘what we believe’ or if you plan on posting sermons or blogging. If, like me, you don’t do the artsy picture thing, you may want to look for some stock church pictures. Check out my post on free church stock photos for ideas on where to start.
Most themes will also have somewhere that is designed for a logo. Don’t worry if you don’t have one, you can put any old picture there, or often even leave it blank. Or you can get your own custom church logo. This isn’t something only big churches can do either, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. See if someone in the congregation is or knows a graphic designer, or take a look at my post on how to design your own free custom church logo.
Step 5: Create your pages
Once you’ve picked a theme or layout, it’s time start building the actual church website. This shouldn’t be too hard as you should have decided what you want out of your site in step 1, now we’re just carrying though. I recommend that every site have a Home page, an About Us page, and a Contact Us page as a minimum. If your church has a thrift store, or a great Sunday school, you can add pages about that as well. Remember if you’re going to add pages that require updating like a blog, or an events calendar, you, or someone else, needs to update them regularly. I’m sure you agree there is nothing worse than a stale looking site.
On the Home page, make sure to include the basic things people are going to want to know, like what time you have worship and if there’s a Sunday school. You may also want to put your address and even a map there so people can find you. Those can also go on the Contact Us page, or a Location page, but make sure it’s easy for people to find your address, otherwise they’re not going to be joining you for worship, or any of your events. Also a picture of the inside or outside of the church can make the homepage of your church website more interesting.
The About Us page should have a brief description of your church, if you have a great detailed history of the church you want to share, I recommend you create a History page and put the detailed version there. Also you should have a section on ‘What We Believe’. I know most churches have a variety of opinions within them, but usually there are a few general things that you can say that will give people an idea of what they are in for. Make sure you’re honest here. There’s no point in saying ‘we have a traditional Sunday morning service’ if you don’t. This will only frustrate people who come for something that is not offered. Same goes for other things like beliefs.
The last page I recommend as a minimum is a Contact Us page. Here is where you put the church address, both physical and mailing if they are different. You should also put the church phone number(s), email address, and the contact info for all church staff.
Another great addition to the Contact Us page of your church website is a map showing where the church is located. This is pretty easy to do using most online mapping services including Yahoo! and Google maps.
Step 6: Getting found
It’s one thing to setup a church website, it’s another thing for people to find it. Church website SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is about making your website easily found by people searching for it. There are many books and blogs on this topic and it can get quite in depth. I’m not going to do that here. What I am going to do is suggest you submit your church website to Google and other search engines so that at least you are in their database. Depending on what platform you have chosen this may happen automatically or may be easy to do with a plugin. It’s always good to check and make sure though a couple of days after setting up your site by searching the full name of the site or the URL, these are terms that you should show up reasonably high in the search results.
Other good ways to easily improve awareness of your church website is to sign up with Google Places, local business associations, wedding planners, & tourism associations. These are not only places people may be looking for your church, but will also help with your search results as those are partially based on how many links you have going to your church website.
What do you think? Are there other questions churches should be asking before setting up a website? What pages would you recommend churches have on their sites?
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