Creating a Church Website with WordPress
an article by Neil MacQueen, Sunday Software, www.sundaysoftware.com
I’m a big fan of WordPress. It is a “template driven” website creation tool, meaning, you select a theme, drag and drop features into layouts and slots, and type your text into forms. WordPress’ code takes care of making it layout professionally. there are other similar online programs/services to WordPress. Among them, Wix and Squareone.
Developing your site through an online service is the preferred method of most businesses these days. This is in contrast to the 20 lb web creation sledgehammers such as Adobe Dreamweaver or Microsoft Expressions Web (previously called Frontpage) where you build from scratch.
“Responsive Design” is the best reason these days to create your church webpage in WordPress. “Responsive” means your webpage knows how to display itself properly whether on a Tablet, Smartphone, or Desktop. That’s a big deal as now over half of all website traffic is coming from smartphones. If your church website’s navigational options, fonts, graphics, and features don’t adjust to that tiny screen real-estate, people will get frustrated when they find your site.
Having made several personal, church-related, and business websites using WordPress (both for hire and as a volunteer), I finally decided to switch my entire sundaysoftware.com website over to WordPress. Wordpress.org is free open-source software with a big community behind it. It started out as a “blog” software, but for years churches and businesses have been using it as their main software to build their entire site. WordPress is regularly updated & improved, and has tons of good looking free & pay-for themes to choose from. With a little bit of web knowledge and the ability to read WordPress’ helpful support articles, you can lay a terrific foundation for a church website that can easily grow with your plans. And perhaps MOST importantly for the church… it’s a platform that allows for multiple contributors, and can easily be learned by new volunteers and handed off to the next volunteer developer without having to redevelop the site. And those are CRITICAL components to the long-term success of any church site.
Other services similar to WordPress might be fine for you too. Just be careful of going with a johnny-come-lately service which is here today, gone tomorrow. Web dev companies do come and go and you don’t want to have your church site disappear.
You’ve been visiting WordPress created sites for years and probably didn’t know it. Many businesses use WordPress and heavily customize it, including big ones like ATT, Nokia, Ford, CNN, NYT, and MLB. And yet, WordPress can create very simple and easy-to-use sites.
WordPress has a less expensive “hosted” (pay-for) version at wordpress.com. I have my former church set up there at wordpress.com and trained a non-techie volunteer mom to take it over. Costs them about $18 a year.
WordPress has two versions:
1. WordPress.com …where they host your wordpress created site. You can set up a free version and experiment. It’s also a great way to explore basic wordpress. www.stcroixreformed.org is one of many good examples of SIMPLE church websites that are made and hosted on wordpress.com. If you keep your site there, it costs about $18 A YEAR for the hosting. That includes the cost of directing your church’s domain name to wordpress site you create there. Lots of templates to choose from too, some free, some for cheap. If you decide to move to a self-hosted, more robust form of WordPress, you can export your site from WordPress.com to WordPress.org. Keep reading…
2. WordPress.org …the non-profit site where you can download a free copy of WordPress to install on your own site. Note: Many webhosts already have it on their servers and will activate it for your church website. Ask. Using the full version of WordPress installed to your site gives you a lot more options and custom ability.
You’ll also now want to read my blog article: Creating a Church Website in Google’s Blogspot. Blogspot is Google’s modest wordpress-like set of tools. It’s also free and really easy to set up a site with. I developed two business sites on it for friends and they look great.
You may also want to read my “general” article on building a better church website. It has lots of non-Wordpress advice based on real-church experience.
Here’s the most powerful feature of any church website:
The email subscription feature!
Other than having a great looking site that has up-to-date worship times and Google map links, you want people to SEE what’s new at your site. By adding a “subscription” feature, such as Google’s free “Feedburner” service, every time something new is posted to your site, your subscribers will get a copy of that new info in their email.
Google Feedburner is a free service that “scrapes” your blog/site every day to see if there’s anything new. If it finds something new, it sends an email containing the new posts to all your feedburner subscribers. Your subscribers sign up at your website by clicking a link and typing their email address. This gives your site and church a DE FACTO email newsletter… for free. Now you just need to get all your members to go to the site and click that link!
The steps to setting up a Feedburner may change as their service evolves, but this is the basic idea as of April 2009. The important thing to remember is that you have to create accounts, activate them, copy a few things and paste them in the right places. It’s not rocket science, but your fellow parishioners don’t need to know that! Here’s the FAQ to it: http://faq.wordpress.com/2006/10/11/how-can-i-offer-email-updates/
Here’s how to set up the Feedburner acct to give your WordPress site an email newsletter feature:
(This was true in early 2013. It may have changed since then, but the following will give you the idea.)
1. After setting up your WordPress website, go to www.Feedburner.com and create an account. Remember to write down your acct info somewhere.
2. Next, Feedburner will give you a special web address where it will place your site’s latest posts for broadcasting. Write that down for safe keeping.
3. Next, After creating a feedburner account and getting that special address, you must go into your Feedburner acct and click the “Publicize” tab, and then click the links to ‘create email subscription’ to generate the required code.
Two code choices will appear. I recommend using the second code offering marked “Subscription Link” rather than the first code they offer (which is a form that sometimes doesn’t load in wordpress). If you click the “preview the subscription link” you can see what your subscribers will see when they find it on your website. Copy the link code using your mouse.
4. Finally, go back into your WordPress “dashboard” and select to add a ‘text’ “widget.” You’ll see it appear on the right side of the dashboard. Click ‘edit’ on the widget and it will open. Paste the feedburner code into that widget. Give it a title such as “Subscribe to News from the Church Website” …and then click Save. (you can now move that widget up on the page by dragging/dropping).
This will put an ’email subscription’ link on your church webpage. Sign up and see how easy it works! (Note: after you sign up, it takes the Feedburner servers a little bit to activate your feed and send the subscription code into your blog. At first, only the subscription title will appear. Soon enough, link for subscribers.)
Now, every time a new post is added to your website, everyone who is subscribed will get an email with a copy of that post, and a link back to your site as well. Posting Note: Feedburning does not immediately broadcast your new posts. The Feedburner service typically “scrapes” your website for the latest posts every 8 to 12 hours, so you have some time to edit your post before everybody reads it.
So now you have an “email newsletter”. Anytime you want to broadcast an email to your subscribers, simply create a post in any category.
Who’s subscribed and reading your blog? Feedburner can tell you that too. Log-in to your Feedburner Account and examine your feed stats. Follow the links and it will give you a list of everyone’s email address who has subscribed. You should also copy your subscriber’s email addresses from time to time for safekeeping.
Why WordPress? (or other similar online services?)
1. WordPress’ is Template-driven. That means you pick a theme, graphics package, and navigational style, and apply it to your content. That also means you can CHANGE your template without having to recreate your content. You can even experiment with different templates, -previewing how your content looks with different themes. Wordpress has many free templates, and some you can buy and easily install. Your content adjusts to each template.
2. Online Access
After signing up for an online web service or installing the software at your site, you access and build the site using WordPress’ online “dashboard”. You don’t need to go out and by software for your computer. And you and your helpers can access your site’s “dashboard” from ANY computer, ANYWHERE, anytime. You type ‘posts’ and format text into pages and your installed theme takes care of most of the layout work.
3. Wordpress keeps improving and expanding what it can do.
Code standards are changing all the time. By using WordPress, your site will always be up to the latest standards and have the latest gizmos. No so if you use a piece of software you installed on your computer three years ago. Also… by using the latest version of WordPress with an UP TO DATE theme will make your website “responsive” …which is to say: it will look right on a mobile or tablet device.
4. WordPress gives the CHURCH control over the site, rather than a single person.
Eventually, the person who makes your site moves on. Many start out looking great -and end up stale or abandoned. The person who did all the initial heavy lifting -leaves, or staffers change or lose interest. Or there’s no easy way for multiple people to contribute content. Or they have a volunteer who is good at designing websites, but not that interested in collecting fresh content. As long as your site is made in WordPress, you can also assign new people to access it. If you build your site on one person’s computer, good luck.
And then there are all those “other” factors:
1. You are not the most technical person on the planet. (Or maybe you are and you want a tool you can customize and tweak rather than having to do all the heavy lifting)
2. You don’t want to have to buy web software or read a manual. (Have you priced them?!) WordPress is free from wordpress.org. If you ARE the most technical person on the planet, you can customize WordPress and still have time to do other things for the church. (Those who think WP isn’t that customizable just sound arrogant when you look at sites like ATT, MLB and Ford.)
3. You want a quick and easy way for volunteers to post content, make it look nice, upload photos, and update content –without sending volunteers to MIT. That’s WordPress.
4. You want a way to have multiple contributors so that you don’t have to post everything yourself to the site, or wait for a volunteer to do it. WordPress supports multiple authors.
5. You want a site that collects visitor info and can broadcast an email newsletter alerting them to annoucements and new content at the site. WordPress has an easy to set up widget for that.
6. You want a site that invites response. WordPress lets visitors/members leave their comments after every announcement, if you turn on that feature.
7. You want a site that’s clean looking, has design templates you choose from, and has some “gadgets” you can turn-on that add some “coolness” and functionality to the site. WordPress has all that at the click of a few buttons.
8. You want a site that you can turn over to “the new volunteer” when the old website volunteer moves on, and the newbie will be able to figure it out immediately. WordPress is easy to figure out, and is located on the web so anyone with the password to your site can work on it.
9. You’re no web rocket scientist. You need a setup that’s Quick and Easy. You want to be able to press buttons to add features. That’s WordPress.
10. And you want it DIRT CHEAP. That’s definitely WordPress.
re: “Good” Church Website
What’s a “good” church webpage look like and do? See my other article at www.sundaysoftware.com/site/webpage. You might be surprised by my definition!
Here’s what I suggest you do next:
1. Check out a few WordPress-created church websites, and read some blogs by people who are talking about using WordPress for church sites.
A few links to get you started looking:
www.stcroixreformed.org …a simple nice site for a simple and small church. Two church ladies keep it up to date.
2. Go to www.wordpress.com and sign up for a free website. Within minutes you’ll be designing yoursite.wordpress.com. Practice with the dashboard. It may be all you need. If you want fancier features and themes, go to wordpress.org and look at their free downloadable software. (Check with your webhost as many already have it installed on their servers and can install it for you).
3. After you have toured the tools, put together a good proto-type and show it to your church leaders. Show them how the tools work too. Then make a plan.
4. If you’re going to just use wordpress.com to host your wordpress site, then when you’re ready to go public with your site, click the UPDATE feature on your site’s “dashboard” –to move your prototype to it’s own full domain name so that members and visitors will visit yourwebsite.org instead of yourwebsite.wordpress.com. It costs about $15 a year to do this, which is incredibly reasonable when you consider that this includes the annual HOSTING FEE as well as the annual Domain Name fee, plus all the tools to build your site.
Here’s a surprise: When you move yoursite.wordpress.com to yoursite.org via WordPress’ update button, your new domain appears in about in a matter of minutes! Usually it takes up to 72 hours for a new domain to appear across the net. (BTW: Your site is still hosted at wordpress.com. They simply create your new domain for you and redirect your prototype site to that new url. It’s seamless and simple.)
Yes…. there is a learning curve.
You need to spend time with WordPress to figure out all its options.
But once you’ve got them figured out -you’re set, and can easily teach others how to help build and post content with you, …even your pastor 😉
If you go with WordPress.com’s version of WordPress….
Your site’s appearance is limited to the WordPress templates, and there are currently about 50 to choose from, of which I personally like about 6 for church use. Update: I see now that they are offering a limited number of “pay for” themes at wordpress.com. If you have wordpress installed at your own host, the template possibilities are endless. WordPress.com created sites are customizable to a point, and if you know Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) you can make quite a lot of changes. Creative web people might feel like WordPress restricts their creativity… but considering the REAL WORLD experience many churches have suffered through regarding their sites, it’s not a bad thing to emphasize functionality and content over endless options, ease of use over complexity, collaboration over having to do it all yourself, and longevity over staleness.
Some of your non-techie volunteers will want “fancy.” What you want is FRESH, FUNCTIONAL, and UPDATEABLE. Fancy can come later.
WordPress Tips & Suggestions for Churches:
…based on my own experience building MY (former) church’s website at WordPress.com.
1. Pick a template “theme” that says “customizable header” in the description. This will let you upload your own picture to the site that will appear on the top of every page. A few of their templates don’t let you put a picture on the top of the page. You can always upload picture in individual posts, but having a main logo pic, if that’s your desire, is only available in those which say “customizable header” in their description. All the themes have the same features/widget. Avoid dark themes with faint lettering.
2. You can change the “Theme” (aka, template) and click PREVIEW to see what your site will look like in that theme. I like that feature a LOT. Then you can implement a theme, and change it again -as often as you want, without affecting all the content you’ve posted. Pretty slick.
3. Resist the temptation to load up your pages with too many “widgets”.
4. Less is More. Resist the tempation to load up your pages with too much text. Make a rule to keep things tight.
5. Learn the key features, such creating a PAGE which can be set as your “home” page…ie, always appear on the main page. Click Settings then Reading in the Dashboard and pop the static homepage switch. (WordPress is blog software –which means it was originally designed to always put your LATEST post on the main page. But you can tell it to put certain posts on the main page.)
6. Set up a way for your readers to get ALERTS to all your new posts. Read one solution below…
7. You’ll probably want to “turn off” WordPress.com’s automatic features known as “Related Posts” and “Snapshots.” Click Appearance, then “EXTRAs” on your WordPress Dashboard and check “Hide related posts” and uncheck “Snapshots.” If you don’t, WordPress.com will automatically put LINKS underneath your posts that it thinks are related to your content, and you probably don’t want to let them associate ‘their’ content with yours. For more details, go to http://support.wordpress.com/related-posts/
8. Insert the FACEBOOK WIDGET! Your church should have a Facebook page because it allows your members to connect with each other, ‘friend’ each other, and stay connected in-between Sundays. You can easily put a ‘live feed’ of your Facebook announcements ON your church’s wordpress website
Hope you’ve found this article helpful.
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org