There are a lot of challenges and risks you can encounter when setting out to build a church website.
- What should your domain name be?
- Where should you host it?
- CMS or static site?
It can be a little bit overwhelming.
When I set out to build my church’s website, I encountered these same things. The biggest decision we made, however, was deciding whether or not to get a template and built it on an existing platform or to custom build our own solution.
We put a lot of thought and strategic planning into building our website and we found ourselves falling under the mantra of “Quality, Cheap, or Fast – pick two”. Which is almost true for every creative situation. Below I’m going to outline some pros and cons of building a custom church website, and some awesome alternatives to it as well.
Lets dig in.
To kick us off, I’m going to break some options up into 3 main categories for church websites.
- Pre-built Templates
- Church CMS ( or similar)
- Custom Built
1. Pre-Built Templates
When I first started diving into designing for the web, this is where my beginnings lie. And for good reason too! Templates are easy and cheap to get started with. You can head to many popular theme sites and pick up a professional looking theme for $50 or less. For churches on a budget, this can be a wonderful option.
Pros: Affordable, Quality, Fast
Cons: Can Require Maintenance, Learning Curve, Customization
The reason that I love using pre-built templates are because of how quick it is to get something up and running. You can literally go from boring, default WordPress site to modern church wonder! Going with a template also gives you flexibility on what platform you choose. WordPress, Drupal, Joomla (please no), are some of the popular CMSs available to purchase themes for.
Probably the biggest setback you may encounter though is customization. Often times, themes will allow you to only make a few changes in the dashboard to customize your site. Other than that, you are stuck with whatever was included in the theme, unless you go digging in the code. Chances are it will be hard to get exactly what you want from a theme. However, the pros of being affordable and fast outweigh that for most.
2. Church CMS (or Similar)
There are many great church CMS’ out there. Faith Connector, Clover, and Ekklesia360 just to name a couple. There are also more “secular” CMS’ available too. Squarespace and Wix being popular ones in that category. The great thing about services like these are that they are usually inexpensive and dead simple to setup. I recently helped a church plant setup their Squarespace site. And I kid you not, the most technologically challenge guy was able to get it update. Its that easy.
Pros: Inexpensive, Dead Simple
Cons: Not Original, Limited in Customization,
The benefit to using one of the church CMS’ though, is that they have tools built specifically for churches. Sometimes it can include options for online giving and sermon uploading. These websites are great for people who really don’t have the time to put into a theme or custom built solution. The biggest con here though too is that you will be limited in how you can customize it. It also won’t be very original. You and 1,000 other churches may end up choosing the same theme. Everyone needs to start somewhere and this may be a great option for churches who don’t have the manpower or resources to get something else going.
3. Custom Built
When it comes to this category, my opinions may be slightly biased because I’m a designer/developer by trade. I’ll do my best though to try to compare this one evenly to the other two options.
I’m going to start with the negatives of a custom built site first. Building a custom website for your church can potentially be a long and bug-filled process. If you embark on this journey, prepare to never feel like your site is finished (if you build it in-house) because I promise you that you will never get the time to complete every little thing that you want to do.
At my church, we went this route. I dedicated 2 full months to totally rebuilding our website from scratch, both the backend and the front end. When we launched it, I cringed because I knew that there were so many little tweaks that still needed to be finished. That feeling is still with me to this day. This mainly applies if you build the website in-house. If you don’t, then the other option is to outsource it. Finding a good firm or web development company can take time and lots of resources. It can get very expensive when you are talking about a custom solution. I’m not talking about finding your friend’s son who customizes WordPress themes after school and calls it good I’m talking about a full featured front end and backend website built specifically for your church. One were you don’t have to fiddle with little hacks just to get your sermon uploaded.
Which leads me to the pros of custom building your site.
You get exactly what you want!
No really, you do.
For our church, we wanted a system built specifically for sermons. That way, anybody on staff could log on to the site and easily upload a sermon to the website. We wanted pages to automatically update when sermons were uploaded. We also wanted a blog up and running. We got all of these things and weren’t limited to what platform we were on or our CMS.
Should your church custom build your website or something else? Ultimately, that is up to you. It all depends on your budget, time, and manpower to get it done. For those of you who are curious, we built our website using Craft CMS and the Foundation Framework.
What platform is your church website running on?