I’ve been designing church websites since 1998 when there were no content management systems for the average organization. Our current church website has been listed among some of the best on the web. Every page was hard-coded html an uploaded to the server separately. Now, a fourth of the internet’s websites are powered by WordPress, the world’s most popular content management system.
According to WordPress’ own website:
WordPress is web software you can use to create a beautiful website or blog. We like to say that WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time.
The core software is built by hundreds of community volunteers, and when you’re ready for more there are thousands of plugins and themes available to transform your site into almost anything you can imagine. Over 25 million people have chosen WordPress to power the place on the web they call “home” — we’d love you to join the family.
If you have little or no technical knowledge, there’s still a steep learning curve, which is why I offer creative services to churches when I have the availability to do so. But if you have a little bit of experience with web development, blogging, or church website management, you may be able to piece a fantastic website together yourself!
Here’s what you need in your toolbox…
1. You Need a Domain Name
And you need one that is basic and memorable. I recommend going with a .com. The .org is intended for nonprofits, so it doesn’t hurt to grab both versions, but when it comes to domains, people expect a .com most of the time. You can usually score a domain name for $10 to $15 using GoDaddy or another registrar. (I use GoDaddy for domain management, but nothing else.)
2. You Need a Web Hosting Package
There are plenty of options here, but one of the easiest companies to work with is Dreamhost, where you can usually score an adequate space for your church’s website for under $10 per month. Another is WP Church Host, which offers fast, secure, reliable cloud-hosting with some security and feature considerations tailored to churches at a great cost.
And WordPress works like any software, but it runs on a web server rather than a computer. You can download WordPress for free from WordPress.org, but with Dreamhost and many other companies, you don’t need to do so. Rather, after you’ve set up your hosting account, you will be able to install WordPress with just a couple of clicks through the hosting control panel.
WordPress itself is free, but there are a host of products and plugins that extend its functionality that all have various costs associated with them.
4. You May Need Some WordPress Help
Before moving ahead, it’s a good idea to have some reference help handy as you dig into the inner workings of a WordPress website. It’s simple to manage, but the capabilities of a WordPress-driven church website are virtually limitless, especially as you learn more about the system. I would recommend grabbing Chris Coyier and Jeff Starr’s reference book, Digging Into WordPress.
Also, be sure to check out my favorite website for learning more about WordPress, WPBeginner! Syed, who runs the site, has built an amazing business using WordPress and offers a bunch of free content, instructional videos, and tips and tricks.
5. You Need a Nice WordPress Theme
A WordPress theme is like a website template, except better. With most website templates, you buy a set of html files, then you start filling in your website content in the html code, duplicating pages and creating, by hand, an entire website. But with a WordPress theme, you simply upload the theme via the WordPress administration panel (a couple of clicks) and click “Activate.”
WordPress stores your website’s data in a database, separately from the theme or design files. So theoretically, you can add all of your website content, then change the design theme multiple times and it will have no adverse effect on your data at all.
There are a ton of WordPress themes to choose from. Some are better than others from a coder’s perspective and some are certainly better than others from a communication and design perspective. My favorite sources for WordPress themes are:
Some themes are designed with churches in mind, such as:
I’m also a big fan of the Genesis Framework from Studiopress and have used many of their themes for past projects. The offer many that would work fantastically for churches, but have designed the Outreach Theme with churches in mind especially.
6. You’ll Need Some WordPress Plugins
Plugins extend the functionality of WordPress. You upload them, similar to the way a theme is installed, and they add more functionality to the administrative side of your church’s website. There are way too many (thousands) to cover, but the plugins I’ve found most helpful for both blogging and building church websites would have to include:
- Blubrry Powerpress (for podcasting via your WordPress-powered church website)
- BuddyPress (to turn your website into a social network)
- Facebook Comments (to use Facebook’s commenting system on your posts)
- Gravity Forms (to collect website user data via contact forms, and more)
- Groups Engine (for organizing small groups and helping people find them via a directory and/or map)
- Instagram Feed (to display photos from an Instagram account or hashtag on your site)
- Jetpack (all kinds of stuff that WordPress.com offers, for your self-hosted website)
- Series Engine (for organizing sermon series’)
- Prayer Engine (for accepting and managing prayer requests)
- The Events Calendar (a robust event management solution)
- Yoast’s SEO Plugin (to optimize your site for search engines)
And again, there are many more, but those are fairly essential to most of the church website projects I’ve worked on.
Is it really as simple as getting a domain, a hosting account, installing WordPress with a click or two and uploading a theme? Yes and no. Yes, that’s all it takes to launch a site. But you’ll find that while WordPress is super easy to use, it’s also very robust in its capabilities, so the learning curve is simple on the “getting started” side, but complex on the “wow, I didn’t realize I could do that” side.
If you don’t already have a logo, or if you are looking for a more customized website solution, contact me. If I can’t help you right away, I will know someone who can.
This post was originally published on November 4, 2011 and was recently refreshed and updated. Many of the links to products are affiliate links.
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