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Launch Your Church Website with WordPress

Though I still dabble to stay fresh, I’m somewhat retired, at least for now, from the business of full scale design of church websites. But when I was developing sites for clients of all sizes, I built 95% of my church websites on WordPress. 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.

And it isn’t slowing down in terms of its growth in popularity. I’ve attempted to convince some rather reputable clients that WordPress is the way to go. So how can you get started? Here are the basics…

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 less than $10 using GoDaddy or another registrar. (I use GoDaddy for domain management, but nothing else.)

Typical cost: $7.50 per year

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.

Typical cost: $5 per month

You Need WordPress

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.

Cost of WordPress: FREE

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 one or two of the reference guides listed below:

You Need a Nice WordPress Theme

WordPress Themes For ChurchesA 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. I’ve listed a few of my own favorites that I feel offer strong, solid coding plus a good communication platform for churches. By that I mean that the way that these themes present content flows with the way stronger church websites present content.

WPChurch ($35)

WPChurch is available through the Themeforest marketplace, and offers an incredible look that really captures the arrangement of information churches need to be utilizing, including a “next service” countdown clock in the top right corner and a sweet slideshow.

WPChurch WordPress Theme

Visit Themeforest

Quantum ($49, but 2 for the price of 1)

Quantum is an extremely cleanly-coded theme by ThemeTrust and provided the basic framework upon which I’ve built Grace Hills’ website (though I’ve radically altered the graphics). It comes with a built-in slideshow and several skins.

Quantum WordPress Theme

Visit ThemeTrust

Outreach Theme ($79.95)

Outreach is actually a “child theme” which simply means that you would first upload the Genesis theme framework (included with the purchase) but not activate it. Then you would upload the Outreach child theme and activate it. Outreach borrows its functionality from Genesis, the parent theme, both developed by StudioPress.

Outreach WordPress Theme

Visit StudioPress

Platform Pro ($95)

Platform Pro, by PageLines, has a special advantage. You can move the layout around and design your site using a special drag-and-drop interface from within WordPress. This makes it a strong contender as well.

Platform Pro WordPress Theme

Visit PageLines

And there are plenty of other places to find great premium WordPress themes as well.

Are there free WordPress themes that are good for churches too? Absolutely, but you’ll have a little harder time finding them simply because you have to sort through so many to find the good ones. I would recommend checking out the list gathered by Smashing Magazine which is edited by Paul Andrew, a guy who knows.

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:

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.

And is it really better than the other popular open source content management systems out there? Just read this comparison between WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla.

Total cost: $50 to $150 to be up and running.

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.

I’m Moving from Hostgator to Lunarpages

I’ve been hosting several dozen sites (a few for me, most for clients and friends) with Hostgator for almost three years, and until recently, things have worked quite well. I would still recommend them as a reliable company to host with, especially for starting or shared hosting packages.

Recently I started experiencing problems with which Hostgator’s support team was unable to help. They are operating under the assumption that the problem is on my end, and I’m of just the opposite opinion. The problem is, I have no idea who is right. I just know that things were being changed on the backend that suddenly required ftp passwords for updating WordPress plugins and the inability for WordPress to scale uploaded images. My CPU usage kept maxing out, effectively shutting the server down.

It was the CPU problem that kept me busy for a solid week just trying to restart the server repeatedly while emailing support about a dozen times. After changing scripts, increasing limits, and moving things around, the problem kept occurring. So I decided to jump in a bit deeper and lease a dedicated server. I scouted around and asked questions and finally discovered Lunarpages Hosting (aff).

I’ve spent about four weeks now moving sites over one at a time to give each a fresh install of WordPress and a nice clean database setup. Thus far, I’m quite pleased. The Lunarpages sales representative was extremely helpful and even threw in an extra gigabyte of RAM, since that was one of my bigger concerns. I learned that the company is headquartered in Irvine, California, about ten minutes from my house (Irvine is also the home of their newest datacenter). Their support team had my server ready in about four hours and after a half dozen emails back and forth over the next few hours, we had it all fully optimized for WordPress installs. They also responded to something I said on Twitter, which is always a perk. After three full weeks, it’s humming along quite nicely.

If you’re looking for a hosting solution, I can confidently recommend the sales, support, and equipment of Lunarpages Hosting. I host sites for my design clients so that their sites are “close to home,” but if you’re comfortable handling your own hosting issues, give them a shot.

Lunarpages Hosting