Take a moment and think about the prices you pay for these five common items you likely purchase regularly:
- A pound of chicken or cheese
- A month of Internet service
- A gallon of gas
- A new pair of nice tennis shoes
- A subscription to something you use regularly, such as a newpaper, magazine or gym membership.
Wasn’t too hard, was it? You probably had to think a bit about a few of them, but overall these prices are fairly fixed in your head and you know what to expect at the time of purchase. If you went to the gas station and the price was double or triple what you’d expect, you’d undoubtedly drive to the next station.
Now try one more. What should the monthly cost be for a church website?
You might think that church websites would be so ubiquitous that a relatively standardized price would have evolved over time. The truth is, though, that there are just too many factors to consider. In this series of articles, I’ll talk about the various costs of a church website. While the stated prices can vary widely, I want to focus in this time on the hidden costs you won’t find on a sales page and how you can avoid or minimize them. In the future, I’ll look at actual costs and ongoing costs.
In our surveys of churches and their website concerns, Aboundant found that churches experience more pain over the time their website takes up than any other factor. There is, of course, some work that your church cannot avoid. Mainly, you’ll still need to provide great written content and images for your website. These take time to put together and implement. However, there are ways in which you can effectively use your time:
- Use a good Content Management System (like WordPress). I would be wary of any developer that’s not using a content management system to develop your website. I would estimate that it’s about 80% easier to develop a site with a CMS. Of all the CMS’s available, WordPress developers have the most resources to pull from. A web-based CMS will have a built in text editor similar to Word that makes it easier to publish new content than it would be if you are tied to an installed application.
- Get Access to Graphics. Web designers build up a toolkit of graphics over the course of their tenure, which means they don’t need to constantly purchase or design new material. Developing graphics is actually often one of the most time- and cost-intensive parts of getting your site up. If you can either budget for the purchase of one or two graphics memberships or have a reliable and talented volunteer create them, you can save a lot of time and money over the costs of paying a developer or graphic designer.
- Do Training. Good training up front will save you boatloads of hassle down the road. However, don’t ever just train one person, as you need to create an institutional memory and process.
Scope Creep refers to unexpected issues or requests that enter into a project…and churches are notorious for such requests. People are often surprised to find out their church website costs more than many small business websites. This is because a good church website has some high-powered features that not every business needs, like:
- An Events Calendar
- A Donation System
- Advanced Audio/Video Capabilities
Even if you’re using a third party system like Google Calendars, there is still time involved to implement it and ensure its compatibility. The more features you have, the harder your site is to build, because each of those features has to work together in harmony. You should still use these features, but be aware that each new feature you add needs to be reconciled with every other feature you have in place. It’s never “simple” to add a new feature.
If you have reached this point in this article, it’s likely that your church does not have an effective web ministry. This is something that every church should strive for…but be careful. There are two similar mistakes that end up costing the church a lot of extra time and money. The first is having a youth create your site. Don’t expect that volunteer to help out after they go to college or lose interest.
That leads to the second mistake, which was mentioned earlier: Never have just one volunteer work on your website. There needs to be institutional memory so that someone can pick up the pieces if a volunteer moves on, dies, or has a significant computer crash. More than one person needs to know the access information for your domain, email settings panel, web hosting, and website administrator’s account.
If you are paying for a church website subscription, then at least basic support is typically built into the price. If you are working with a developer directly, be sure to gauge the availability of the person or team you are working with and how much they will charge you for piecemeal work in the future, and then budget accordingly. Open source systems, like WordPress, have the benefit of coming with a lot of potentially free support. Just Google your problem, and more often than not, you’ll find a solution.
If a committee is involved with the planning of the website, impress upon them the need for speedy decisions. I have worked with multiple churches that have spent over a year planning before implementing their website. This is a costly mistake. Technology changes so fast that by the time your site is done, parts of it are likely to be obsolete. You’re better off building a preliminary website right away, then adjusting it. This will allow you to implement new technology as you go and will give you a concrete starting point for discussion.
There are a lot of popular subscription services available for creating church websites that are extremely affordable or even free. One hidden cost is that these systems are generic. In order to add the features you want for a church, you will likely end doing a lot more work than you would have with an actual company that creates church websites (if the system allows for these features at all.) A company that knows the needs of churches will select the best features for most churches. Plus, when you call for support, you’ll know that the person on the other end understands “church.”
Not long ago, a church would need to plan on remaking its site every three years or so to keep it looking fresh and to take advantage of the latest technologies. Websites became obsolete over time. However, as website technologies have gotten better and more flexible, this is becoming a less of an issue. You can now refresh your site quickly using the tools in the existing platform or CMS–provided the platform itself is versatile and incrementally improving. With a few clicks, you can change themes and color schemes, update or add plugins, or rearrange content to suit your creativity.
The Bottom Line
As you compare one church website company to another, keep in mind some of these hidden costs. They can have a significant impact on the development or ongoing costs of your church website. Church website comparison charts are difficult to create because there are so many different types of plans and features available, but always remember that the monthly fee doesn’t tell the whole story of what your real costs will be.