How to Start a Church Website
Were you recently appointed or volunteered to manage your church's website? Are you daunted by the idea and not know where to begin? Don’t worry; we will get through this together! While it’s not possible to include all the steps or to predict the problems you will encounter when developing your site, the following steps will help you create a church website.
Assemble a team
Find people you can partner with that are knowledgeable about your church and also the internet. This team should contain individuals with one or more of the following skills:
Writing or generating content skills. Great content is key to your website and is the reason it exists. Find someone with strong writing and grammatical skills to create content. Even though a majority of the work will be writing and gathering existing content, ideally this person would continue to post information and updates to the site on an on-going basis.
Graphics or design skills. It is vital to have an attractive site, so you need to have someone who has a keen eye for design. It may seem simple to design a site, but it is actually difficult and also time consuming.
Coding and technical skills. Your website will be user-friendly to manage and update, however you will run into problems in which you will need someone that is able to edit code to fix a problem or to add a feature. This individual should also be knowledgeable about what's possible on the web and familiar with popular CMSs.
Insight into church proceedings and ministries. The website will need to encompass all areas of the church so it is important to recruit someone to your team that has experience and knowledge of your church, especially in the initial phases as you layout the design of the site.
Identify goals, purpose and design
Now that you have a team, you will need to identify the purpose of your website, your audience, and your goals. Even though some items may seem obvious, writing out these items will help to keep the project, and everyone involved, headed in the same direction. It would be a disaster to find with a project of this magnitude that two people have completed a significant amount of work but have conflicting goals or different audiences in mind.
This step also includes observation and research. Visit different websites and various church websites to identify examples of standard features and content. There are endless possibilities of what you could include on a website, so examine the features and sections of other church websites and determine which are essential, useful, and necessary for your website. As you determine what your site will include, don't bite off too much. Keep your site simple initially. Feel free to categorize your list between items necessary to start with, and features to add later.
As you visit different church websites take notes on design and how you want your website organized. You need to choose what pages your site will have, how users will navigate, colors, and the type of photos you need. It may seem overwhelming, but once you start visiting several sites you will have many different ideas to choose from.
Armed with the items above, now you can start creating your website by registering a domain, software, and hosting.
First you'll need to decide on a domain name. This is a very important step, it can be difficult to change later, and it will be used in many different places including email addresses. A common name for churches to use is the church name or an acronym if it is a long. If your church is Fifth Street Christian Reformed Church then a good domain would be fifthstreetcrc.com or fifthstreetcrc.org. Keep in mind that you need to keep it short, but memorable and recognizable. Fscrc.com is nondescript and fifthstreetchristianreformedchurch.com would be too long. To buy your domain, go to an internet domain registrar like eNom or Domain.com. In the future expect to see an article devoted to this step, but also use these resources to learn more about the logistics of choosing, and registering a domain.
You will also need software to run your website. Even though it is possible to hire someone to build and design custom software for you, this option can be expensive. Not only is there a start-up cost, but you will need to continue to pay for maintenance and upgrades. Also, you would probably need to pay for any changes in features you make to the site. There are many alternative solutions available when it comes to software, and they contain a wide range of features from simple to difficult. Several options include Wordpress, Drupal, Joomla, Google Sites, or Blogger. All of these solutions are free, and they can do anything that you want. In fact, this website runs on Drupal. Some advantages to using one of these options are that it is easier to maintain, you can utilize standards, the software is highly extensible (the ability to add a lot of features), and is upgraded frequently. If this seems overwhelming you can hire a designer, however, I would encourage you to have them use one of these options.
A hosting service will provide servers to serve your website. When someone goes to your website, it will communicate with their servers. Most likely you will not need a complicated hosting plan or expensive plan. Also, many hosting services provide free installations of the above software to entice you to use their hosting service. When you register your domain, and setup your hosting and software, be sure to use secure and different passwords for each system. These are prime targets for someone desiring to take control of your website so they can use your domain to spam or insert exploits into webpages. Both of situations, while unlikely, would be a technical and public-image nightmare.
Content is King
The key to your site is content. Content is the reason people will visit your site. The design, layout, colors and style will help, but without strong, relevant, and informative content, visitors will not stay. Before your content creator starts writing, review your site purpose, audience, and goals to keep them on track. Your audience will determine what voice and tone you use. Make sure that you use jargon that is known to your audience. If part of your audience is someone that is not familiar with 'the church', then do not use words that they will not understand. I suggest a balance between professional writing and informal speech in your content.
Even though the writer could draft everything on the site, initially it would be easier to draft it offline which will make it easier to proof. Before you put it on your site, make sure several people proof read it and check the spelling. Once it is ready, insert it into your site.
While content is being created, the site designer can create pages, layout photos, and prepare everything for content. Once the content is ready and inserted into the site, make changes to the pages so that everything renders correctly. Check this in different browsers to make sure your site is compatible. To help aid in navigation, ensure a consistent feel between each page.
Plan a way to update it and promote it
Test the site thoroughly and have friends, family, and staff review it and proofread it to find errors, and critique it. Make changes as needed and repeat until it reaches your desired quality. Even though its great to have everything perfect on the site, it is to be expected that a couple of items might still need to be changed. The site will change over time and this change is just part of running a website. After it's been tested thoroughly, announce it to the church, include it in the bulletin, and in the worship services.
Now maintain the site, keeping content fresh and correct. Also setup a schedule or make sure that someone is in charge of updating the site, and make this expectation clear to them.
Keep visiting this site for more tips and how-to's and utilize the many resources available on this website to setup email for the church administration, and to aid with podcasting the sermons and using video.