Your website is your most valuable online asset. It speaks volumes about your church. It might say, “We’re growing, we’re relevant, and we care about the impression we make.” Or it can say, “We’re small but we still take the time to look professional.” Hopefully it doesn’t say, “We didn’t give our website much thought, it is managed by volunteers with no experience, and it shows.” Sadly, an astonishing number of churches fall into the last category.
Before you decide which CMS is right for your church, clearly define the purpose of your website. There are four basic purposes:
1. Be found
2. Provide information
3. Generate interest
4. Create a virtual church experience
You need to have a clear purpose in mind for your website to understand which CMS is best suited to your needs.
Decide Who Will Manage Your Website
This is one of the most important decisions you can make. Your website is a marketing tool. It should be managed by an experienced digital marketing professional. Just because nearly anyone can put together a basic website using free templates available from hosting companies doesn’t mean they will put together a good website.
What experience does the person have with websites? They might be excellent at writing content but have no real website administration experience. Conversely, they might be good with the technical aspects of putting together a website but have no experience with creating content that engages visitors and gets found by search engines. Again, just because someone is capable of putting together a basic website, doesn’t mean it is a good website.
Choose a Content Management System
Let’s look at the two most popular choices for churches: church website CMS and WordPress
A church website CMS is designed specifically to address the unique requirements of churches. A good church website CMS should be fairly simple to use, include standard templates or allow for custom design, integrate with your church database, and include features such as a media center and an event management tool.
WordPress is an open source blogging and website CMS. It is based on themes and a plug-in software architecture. Numerous designers sell templates for WordPress sites; these templates vary greatly in terms of functionality and ease of use.
There are a lot of factors to consider when comparing a church website CMS to WordPress:
Whereas most church website CMS providers host the website on their servers, organizations using the WordPress CMS need to select a hosting company for their website. Important hosting features to compare include routine site backup, security, data storage, number of emails, number of domains and subdomains included, and support. Prices vary from provider to provider so it is important to compare apples-to-apples and research the reputation of the hosting company.
Websites are constantly under attack from groups that want to inject the site with malware, steal personal information, or both. Sadly, too many people fail to take security seriously. Besides the basics of having secure passwords, website administrators need to understand security vulnerabilities of their site and how to safeguard against them. You need to protect your data AND your members’ data. One of the reasons websites based on open source CMS such as WordPress are under constant attack is because users fail to implement proper security measures. Of course, even experienced site administrators can become victims of aggressive hackers, but you need to think very carefully about who will set up your website and manage it.
3. Software Updates
Who is responsible for software updates? Security threats often necessitate software updates. New features or changes to existing ones also require software updates. A church website CMS provider is responsible for updates. If you use an open source CMS, you have to track updates and decide whether or not to implement them. Because many of the templates and plugins used for open source sites are free or low cost, you are depending on the programmer to update the template or plugin each time the CMS updates. You have no way of knowing how a software update will affect the template or other plugins you are using. This is where reputation and experience really matter. Sometimes an update is seamless. Sometimes your site stops working until you figure out which software update caused the issue. How experienced are you at managing software updates?
4. Content and Features
What do you want your website to include? You need to look at this from two perspectives: what your site visitors will see and what you will have access to in the CMS (in other words, what’s under the hood?).
Typical church website features for site visitors include an events calendar, media library, online giving, staff blogs, links to the church’s social media sites, and the ability for visitors to share content from the church’s website to their personal social networks.
The ease of setting all this up on the backend depends on the CMS, the template and plugins used if open-source CMS, and the experience of the website administrator. A good church website CMS also allows for integration with church management software, mass communications, check-in solutions and mobile apps.
5. Training and Support
Training for setting up your church website comes in several forms: personal training, documentation, and video libraries. What type of initial and ongoing training do you and your staff require? If personal training with Q&A sessions are required for your church, than make sure that option is available when purchasing a church website CMS. An open source CMS such as WordPress does not include personal training.
What type of support is available for resolving issues? How quickly can you expect an answer? Who is providing the support – the CMS provider, the hosting company, the template provider, or the plugin provider? Who has ownership for resolving the issue?
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