Creating a Church Website with WordPress
an article by Neil MacQueen, Sunday Software, www.sundaysoftware.com
Update: When I originally wrote this article, not a lot of churches knew about WordPress, but now it’s well-known. Yet, I still come across church websites that are “hand-made” and look it. If you’re not using WordPress, check with your internet host to see if they offer it as a free “plug in” to your site. Most do. Otherwise, you can install it to your site, or go to wordpress.com and pay to use their online version of the tool. All good options.
I’m a big fan of WordPress because 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 the layout and navigation look professional. You can add features (called “plug ins”) and it’s all secure. Did I mention WordPress is free to install to your site? There are other similar online programs/services to WordPress. Among them, Wix and Squareone. They aren’t free, but are like WordPress.
Developing your site through an online service is the preferred method of most businesses and churches 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.
You can also easily install third-party email newsletter subscription feature “plug in” into your WordPress site. Go to your Plugins link on your WordPress dashboard, select “add new” and browse.
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/
Read: How to set up the Feedburner acct to give your WordPress site an email newsletter feature.
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.
Ten Reasons to Use WordPress for Your Church Website:
- It’s cheap and easy, and they keep it up to date.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- You want a site that collects visitor info and can broadcast an email newsletter alerting them to announcements and new content at the site. WordPress has an easy to set up widget for that.
- You want a site that invites response. WordPress lets visitors/members leave their comments after every announcement, if you turn on that feature.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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