How to Pick the Right Web Platform for Your Church

by | Jan 2, 2015 | Church Websites

There are tens of thousands of companies offering you web hosting, and undoubtedly far more than that who offer website design services of one type or another. As if that weren’t complicated enough, there are at least 1200 “Content Management Systems” (CMS for short) that are, for lack of a simpler term, the “brains” of a website. And that’s not the only option for developing your site.

Got a lot of time to kill to study your options? Of course not. So, let’s try to simplify the process of choosing a web platform for your church website just a bit. (In a future post, we’ll look at a related topic: hiring a designer. Also, here’s my earlier post on choosing a web host.)

Choosing a Web Platform That Works for Your Church

Your platform is the type of software that powers your website. While there are many choices available, they fall basically into three categories.

Software-based Websites for Churches

These are websites you create using a software application that resides on your computer (or even on a tablet). Examples of four excellent ones include Dreamweaver (expensive), Coffee Cup HTML Editor (moderate cost), Serif WebPlus (moderate cost), and RapidWeaver (Mac-only, moderate cost). These are excellent for the person who wants complete control over the design process, who enjoys poking around with code, or who works with a designer who uses one of these programs. If the software is popular enough (like those I listed above), there are likely design templates you can purchase, forums to participate in, and large numbers of developers available for hire who specialize in that software.

A big disadvantage to the software-based approach is that you’ll have a much harder time editing your website if you don’t have your computer at hand. Second, although this can be a cheaper route initially, the time it takes to develop a website is often greater. That means the hidden cost of staff time is potentially substantial. Third, if you undergo a significant change in staff, you may be left with no one who is familiar with the application.

Self-managed Content Management System (CMS) for Churches

A CMS is web-based software for creating your website. Some are free software you can download and install on the server of your choice, such as WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal. Others have a cost associated with them (typically fairly modest). Because they are web-based, you can log in and work on your site from your web browser. This makes it easy to have multiple contributors, and (especially with the most popular systems) it’s easy to find developers to do specialized work if you need it.

Plugins and widgets, small tools that add functionality to the site, are readily available and are frequently free or just a few dollars. CMS-based sites don’t have a lot of down sides for most churches, except 1) they are often the target of spammers and hackers, if they aren’t set up properly and 2) they don’t always integrate easily with church management or building management software.

Proprietary CMS for Churches

Many of the largest companies that serve churches have proprietary content management systems. These are often very similar to a CMS you can download and maintain yourself, but with some important differences. There are definitely advantages to going this route, which is why many churches choose this option. First, support is available and is often included at no charge. Second, maintenance like backups and upgrades are typically included in the monthly fee. Third, the feature-set of the site is generally appropriate for most churches and has been well-tested.

Besides the cost – which is usually higher than with do-it-yourself software or a self-managed CMS – there are some important disadvantages to these options. First, you’re limited to whatever functionality that company has chosen for you to use. Don’t like the calendar program or the audio streaming service they provide? You’re stuck with it. Second, not all of these systems are easy to move should you decide you want to take your site elsewhere. In other words, you may have to do a lot of re-creating pages and other content if you decide to use another company’s services.

Some church website companies have theological or belief statements in their Terms of Service that their clients are expected to support and abide by. Not all denominations or churches will support such statements (which tend to be on the fundamentalist or conservative end of the theological spectrum.) Read these carefully before agreeing to them; you literally could be at risk of having your website removed by the company if they feel your content is inappropriate.

A final note: there are many, many proprietary platforms out there for churches and businesses in general. Some of the most popular ones are heavily marketed and are in general fairly simple to use. They may even be free, up to a certain number of pages or if you’re willing to put up with a URL like yourchurch .websitebuilder .com (which, of course, your church shouldn’t do.) However, the functionality is often more appropriate for business and personal sites and not nonprofit/faith-based websites. These sites sometimes load more slowly because they are hosted on shared servers. So if you’re tempted to go this route, be sure to test the system fully before committing to it.

So, What’s Right for Your Church?

There is no one-size-fits-all system when it comes to church websites. Instead, your choice should be based on the answers to these twelve questions.

  1. How much time do we have to devote to the site development?
  2. How much staff or volunteer time do we have to devote to the site management?
  3. What is our development budget and our budget for the ongoing costs (hosting, plugins, platform, developers, etc.)?
  4. How much help do we need with creating our initial content?
  5. How much support do we anticipate we will require? Does that need to be phone-based support, or will email and forum support generally suffice?
  6. What are the critical functions we need? (Blog, calendar, streaming audio or video, community tools, etc.)
  7. How much of our existing website do we need transferred? How easy is it to export our current site into an editable/importable format?
  8. How much custom design do we feel is necessary?
  9. Do we require special integrations with other church software or online giving systems we now use?
  10. How many staff members or volunteers need to be able to create content? What will our process be for getting that content up on the website and having it approved?
  11. What training will we need to develop an effective web ministry?
  12. Do we have particular theological concerns that might shape which company we want to support or system we wish to use?

Aboundant uses WordPress as the platform for our websites. We provide a selection of the plugins that most churches will need, offer email-based support, and host your site on the top webhost for WordPress. The price-point is competitive and below what you’ll pay  at many other church website companies, and we do not discriminate against churches based on their theology or beliefs. And our unique Form-to-Site system can get you up and going in under an hour. We hope you’ll take advantage of our free one-month trial!

Got a question about choosing a web platform or about whether Aboundant is right for your church? Add a comment below or send us a message.

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