Whether a church should use a WordPress or proprietary hosted Content Management System for their church is a huge decision. Your website is the front door to your church and should rightly have a high price placed on it’s communication value.
I actually received this exact question in my inbox recently asking for recommendations as well for a developer. Now I’m NOT a techie. Far from it. But the decision isn’t just a technical decision, it’s a leadership decision that should be made in consultation across a communication’s and IT team.
Last year my team recently made a choice of platform for the next iteration of our church website. We had to choose between a fully hosted church CMS solution and a self-hosted WordPress set up.
Many churches have been going with the tried and true church CMS product, because these hosted solutions understood the unique needs, functionality and budgets of churches.
There are many good CMS solutions out there (I’m sponsored by one), however they aren’t the only pathway forward. Last year we made the decision to switch our church website from a hosted CMS to WordPress. Here are some tips to help you decide which way you should choose the right solution for you:
1. What are your functional requirements?
What are you expecting your church website to do and, more importantly, how does it function? List out what you are currently using and not using in your existing CMS (we had quite a few functions we never used). If you can find examples of how you want the functional requirement to appear or feel, make a note for future reference. For us our church calendar is a big deal. After discussions with an external programmer we discovered we could get the same functionality with WordPress as we had with our current hosted solution.
2. What Technical Staff Do You Have?
This can make you or break your ongoing management of your church website. We have a part-time developer on staff who has the programming experience to do some heavy lifting of code. If you don’t have a programmer a fully hosted solution may be a better fit (or be prepared to live with your limitations). An admin or any other staff member might need the comfort and support a hosted solution provides.
3. What is your budget?
What I love about WordPress is that there are some church themes already out there that are very cheap. Most of what you need has already been done if you are willing to use a church theme. There are also some budget conscious hosted CMS solutions out there as well. The defining factor I kept coming back to for us was that the different programming quotes were all more cost-effective using the WordPress framework. Budget will play a big part in taking your next step. Make sure you have covered all the costs before you decide. For us switching meant we had to think about hosting and ongoing external programming fees (anticipating any issues), on top of a design and build cost. Most hosted solutions are like a burger with the works. You get everything you need.
4. How do you back it up and how quickly can you restore?
Every hosted solution we looked at had a superb back up and recovery timeline. With a WordPress solution we have had to develop our own workflow for when (not if) we need to restore our site. There are various products out there on the market that can do that for you for a small fee. You may also need a developer on call to help you if you aren’t technical, cost them into your budget.
5. Is there a responsive design framework, and what experience do they have?
This was a big one for us. The hosted solutions we spoke to all seemed to be moving in this direction (Here are some great off-the-shelf responsive themes). Some hosted solutions even had some portfolio examples of responsively designed church websites. This is becoming the new normal now for many hosted solutions. One of the reasons why we chose our programmer was because he had extensive experience in this area and was the most cost-effective budget wise. If you’re not familiar with responsive design, check out my post for a quick explanation and some examples.
We are now live with our responsively designed WordPress church website. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, there have been some technical bumps along the way (check out 7 Lessons I Learnt Launching Our Responsive Church Website). For my church which has technical knowledge on staff, toWordPress is a good solution so far. If you don’t have a staff that can provide you with the right technical support and you need something that ‘just works’ I would recommend a hosted solution. I’m sure there are many more questions that you may have regarding choosing the right church website solution for you. Drop a comment below!
Disclosure: I’m sponsored Ekklesia360. They haven’t asked me to write this post and I haven’t written it to give them air time, quite the opposite if you read the 2 distinct technical pathways that are being weighed up in this post. Ekklesia360 are an amazing group of kingdom minded developers and designers and I highly recommend them. The goal in writing this post is so that you can make the right choice for your church.