If your church needs a website, or if it has an old one which needs updating, this guide is her to help you navigate the myriad options available to you.
What sort of website do you want?
Before you start looking at how to create a website and how much it will cost, it is important to think about what why you want it and who it’s aimed at. There are a few givens for any website: it should look attractive and it should be easy to find your way around. It should work well on a wide variety of devices from desktop computers to mobile phones. And it should be secure so that it can’t be hacked by practical jokers and criminals.
But after that there is a wide range of things you might or might not want from it:
- Times and locations of services
- What to expect in a service
- How to contact the minister and church staff
- Details of groups within the church
- Information on baptisms, marriages and funerals
- Your vision and values
- Information on courses you run
- News and event reports
- Articles or Thought-for-the-day/month/year
- Photo galleries
- Recordings of sermons
- Video and live-streamed events
- Historical information
- Rotas, lists and general housekeeping
- … and, no list is ever complete
If you’re a big city-centre church with a lot of thriving groups, such as St Aldate’s in Oxford, then you’ll be looking for a website that caters for all those groups as well as drawing in people from outside. Theirs is a very comprehensive and well-designed website with lots of attention-grabbing content. But it would be completely inappropriate for the ageing congregation at Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh.
You should also consider how much time you want to put into keeping your site up to date. If you want a dynamic and engaging site with new material being added every week then you need to have someone prepared to take on that commitment – and it is a big commitment. If you want a low-maintenance site then you need to keep things simple and only put up information that doesn’t change often. If your ‘News’ is several years old then it’s obvious to visitors that no-one takes an interest and you would be better not showing it at all.
What are the options?
There are many ways to build a website, depending on what you want to achieve and the budget you have available.
The bee’s knees
At the top of the tree is a custom-designed website such as the St Aldate’s one mentioned above. This has been designed by a specialist web design company and they have an IT manager to update it. It looks fabulous but the startup and ongoing costs will put it out of the reach of most smaller churches. If you’re reading this article, chances are you don’t need a site as good as that.
Managed church sites
Because there are a lot of churches out there, all needing the same sort of thing, you’d expect that there would be companies catering specifically for them and you’d be right. There are at least three major church website specialists (in no particular order): churchedit.co.uk, churchinsight.com and church123.com.
What these companies provide is a Content Management System (CMS) aimed specifically at churches, and Managed Hosting. Those two terms need unpacking.
A Content Management System is a system which allows you to create your web content by logging in to the web server, so all your editing is done online. This is what I would always recommend for churches.
Managed Hosting means that the website hosting company looks after all the software updates and all the security aspects of your site, as well as making backups in case things go wrong. The only thing you need be concerned with is the content itself – words, pictures and maybe audio or video. If you don’t want to get involved in the technicalities at all then this really is a service worth having.
I have a separate article which goes into much more detail on both these terms.
These companies listed above specialise in churches rather than companies selling magazines or rivets, so they are familiar with what you need. They have technical support staff who can help you if you get stuck.
Of course all this comes at a price and you will have to pay an annual fee. Typically these start at £250-300 per year and there are generally several different levels depending on what you need. For a small church that may sound expensive, but it’s a lot less than getting a custom site design. This would suit churches with a reasonable level of activity that want a lively web presence with frequent content updates, but without the expense of a custom site.
Build your own site
The cheapest option is simply to do it yourself and build a website from scratch. Creating a website has become easier over the last few years and there are many companies offering a site building service. In general they won’t be tailored specifically to churches, but if you are building a simple site then it’s not difficult to design your own. There is a lot more information on the options available in my article on Content Management Systems.
One good option for a church which wants to build its own WordPress site is to use one of the themes from churchthemes.com. These are high quality, well supported themes designed specifically for churches. I used this to build the site for my own church, St Edmund’s Crickhowell. This is not a cheap solution, but if you want a good level of control over your site and you’re happy to get involved with some of the technicalities then this may work well for you.
If you are building your own site then you will also need to look at getting your own domain name. I have a separate article on domain names and security.