Office Hours: Open-Source Websites & Social Metrics

Office Hours: Open-Source Websites & Social Metrics

July 6, 2011 by

Every week I hold online office hours and answer questions from folks like you. This week I answer a question on whether or not a church should use an open-source platform for their website. I also look at how to balance where information is sent across your various social networks. Take a look and be sure to join me every Wednesday from 2-4 p.m. CDT for online office hours!

Do you suggest a small church use WordPress or some other hosted solution for their website?

My answer: Can you do it? Yes. Do I suggest it? No. Here’s why. I talk to people literally every day who are in a pickle for this very reason.

The church has a well-meaning volunteer build a website on an open-source platform like WordPress or Joomla. The volunteer then moves away or loses interest and the site sits frozen in time because no one knows how to update it. The people in ministry don’t have time to learn the platform and the volunteer no longer wants/is able to update it.

If you have a dedicated volunteer or staff person who is responsible for the site, this approach could work. For the majority of churches, however, I wouldn’t recommend it.

I recommend using a third-party CMS (content management system) that’s updated by developers and web professionals not a part of  your church community. Reasons abound, suffice to say my experience at Monk has shown me the dark side of non-professionals getting a hold of a website.

How do I balance what information goes where? Example, I have some RSS feeds of my site and church-wide body, Bible readings and more going to Twitter with no complaints. That is far too many posts for Facebook.

My answer: Yeah. In general you want to avoid overwhelming any social audience with information, complaints or not.

Studies show that any more than four Facebook posts per day and you’re asking for trouble. With Twitter, this number fluctuates a bit and has more to do with the volume of tweets that go out within a certain time frame.

I’d be careful about using what I call the “complaint metric” as a reliable measurement. People could simply have tuned your information out, thus ignoring it completely. This is ten times worse than getting complaints. Complaints mean that people are still engaged. No complaints? Well, I think you can draw the conclusions!

I’d suggest getting your social networks hooked up to sites like:

Then you can get a picture of what’s effective and what’s not. These will inevitably tell you more than a gut feeling will.

Hope that helps!

Post By:

Justin Wise


Justin Wise lives in West Des Moines, Iowa, with his wife and son. He likes coffee, reading, running and blogging.
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13 Responses to “Office Hours: Open-Source Websites & Social Metrics”

  • Brad
    July 6, 2011

    Justin, while I tend to agree with the dilemma of finding and keeping a volunteer to update and be responsible for the church’s web presence, I cannot agree with you on the suggestion to use something other than WordPress. I see WordPress as nothing more than a #WIN! it is open-source, free, and simple & intuitive to learn. I compare using WordPress to creating and sending an email .. It is straight-forward.

    On the other hand, I can see your position to suggest the products of MonkDevelopment, mainly Ekklesia 360. But, what you do not consider is the price to “play.” WordPress is FREE, Ekklesia 360 costs .. more than a typical church budget allows .. Maybe, eventually, the church could migrate to Ekklesia 360, but to suggest WordPress initially is IDEAL and allows the church to see where they want to take the web site ..


    • Rob
      July 6, 2011

      I’ve recently redeveloped our church website and chose WordPress for the CMS. I think, if you take responsibility for any church ministry, you need to be prepared to teach your replacement. There’s a small team (we’re only a small church, 30-40 members) that looks after the audio-visual stuff and I’ve involved two of them with the website from the beginning with the aim that, if I get hit by a bus someone else can carry on the work.
      I guess though if you’ve not got willing volunteers or ‘techie types’ to help out then that could be more of a problem although you could partner with another local church…


    • Justin Wise
      July 6, 2011

      Brad … You raise good points, for sure.

      I’m not saying you can’t use WordPress, my experience has just shown me that most churches are not in a position to use it. In a large majority of people I talk to, they are communications/admin people who have been “handed down” a website that they have no idea how to update. Updating content is one thing, but administering the site is entirely different. Upgrades, security threats, plugins, caching–these are all factors one must weigh when using WP for a church website.

      I think WP is great. I use it for all my blogs. I would never put a church on WP unless there was someone on staff who had the technical know-how not just to update content, but to administer the site on a day-to-day basis. Even then I would be concerned about sustainability long-term for the organization.

      With Monk, yes, we certainly have some skin in the game with our CMS platform. But there’s a reason why we developed it. We saw too many church websites held hostage by the choices of a few individuals looking for a “place to play.” That’s not right.

      Is WordPress “free” in the sense that it doesn’t cost financial resources to use? Yes. However, in talking with people all over the country, I can tell you that WP (and Joomla for that matter) is not “free” for churches who utilize it and end up with a mess on their hands. They spend time, effort, staff hours and, yes, money to clean up the mess that a well-intentioned volunteer has made.


      • Frankie Jarrett
        July 6, 2011

        Justin,

        Great article! I think this subject really hits home with a lot of smaller churches wanting to increase their presence on the web without increasing their liability for maintenance/upgrades etc.

        I don’t know of any free WordPress themes that have features custom tailored for churches (i.e. Sermon media post types, locations, people, online giving). And in the premium theme space it’s still scarce.

        I’m not trying to self-promote here, but this very subject is, in fact, why I created ChurchThemes.net. Our goal was to create a “hybrid” solution so-to-speak for churches who want to use WordPress but don’t necessarily have the expertise or staff to worry about maintenance, upgrades and big enhancements.

        If a theme company pushed theme updates consistently, improved their features based on user feedback and gave support to its users I think there would be more secretaries, sound guys, worship pastors and youth leaders (who have limited technical knowledge) willing to give it a shot for less than $100 instead of forking out $1,000+.

        I could be wrong, but it’s what I’m predicting.

        What if the church grows? (I hope it does!) What if someone who knows web development ends up being staffed at the church? I think in that case they would most likely be familiar with WordPress and would be able to take it where they want it to go without having to scrap the entire platform. WordPress accounts for something like 14% of all websites and it’s growing everyday. The community is unmatched and you can answer virtually any question in minutes for free instead of paying an agency a retainer every month.

        I suspect in the near-future there will be more theme companies like ChurchThemes.net popping up in the premium WordPress theme space.

        What do you think of this approach? Would really love to know your thoughts.

        //Frankie


  • Michael Buckingham
    July 6, 2011

    I used to be a big advocate of custom (though not hosted) solutions. It allowed strategy and design to lead the way and not held captive by technology. But today, I’m with Brad on this one.

    WordPress is a very nice solution for many, and with the growth of WordPress and the use of it, even most churches. The platform is solid, easy to use and even if your volunteer bails and doesn’t show someone else how to make updates there’s a big community to pull and learn from (A great example is James Dalman’s http://wpdesigncoach.com/).

    Of course there are pitfalls to have a volunteer build and manage your church site, so I suggest (and not just because we do this for churches) a best of both worlds. Bring in a company that can build a custom WordPress site and train a key staff person and volunteer on how to use it.

    If you are a small church you may even consider, to start out with, a simple static site that doesn’t require updating and thus doesn’t become outdated, maybe with FB (more natural to update perhaps) integrated in some way.

    I know Justin and the team at Monk are building some great websites, gorgeous work in fact, but with the large monthly costs and the fact that you are tied to their system with a hosted solution, makes it tough to recommend for the typical church. Hosted solutions also make transitions (to a new platform) difficult and often growth expensive. I’ve seen that to be a bigger hurdle than teaching someone WordPress or Joomla. If you do decide a hosted solution is the right fit though, Monk is certainly top of the stack.

    There are many other platforms to look at as well, I’ve used Joomla in the past (not bad but haven’t used it in a while) and have heard great things about Expression Engine (not free, but no monthly costs). And a host of options over at http://directory.cfcclabs.org/links/technology/web-developers/44

    All this highlights the importance of spending a great deal of time in strategy and planning. The biggest mistake often isn’t the platform you use but in not with knowing your direction and needs. Start with a plan. Don’t let technology lead the way.


  • Kevin D. Hendricks
    July 6, 2011

    In the name of full disclosure, WordPress powers Church Marketing Sucks. And we don’t have a regular techie on hand for updates. Unless you count, Justin. ;-)

    All kidding aside, I think Michael makes a great point. You really need to do some planning and serious thinking before you start building a website. We recently did a series on web 101 that included a lot of emphasis on planning.

    I think there are two camps you end up in–you either use a self-updated system like WordPress and you’re at the mercy of having a volunteer who knows how to update it (or you have to hire a contractor to do it) or you have to pay a monthly fee to be part of a hosted solution. There are pros and cons both ways, but I know many churches just can’t handle a monthly fee and that makes the risk of something like WordPress seem worthwhile.


    • Frankie Jarrett
      July 6, 2011

      Do you think a church WordPress theme provider that offers both product AND support could bridge the gap between these two camps?

      I don’t know if anyone is familiar with WooThemes, but they are a good example of this working in the business sector, I think.

      //Frankie


      • Kevin D. Hendricks
        July 6, 2011

        I think maybe they could. iThemes is another one that comes to mind. The problem is that there’s still a fair amount of work involved to keep things updated. A company like that can help a church through it, but unless you’re going to hire someone to help you through it, you’re still having to do it yourself.

        I think it still comes down to making that choice. Is it worth to shell out the money to have an ideal, hosted set up, or are you going to need to go the cheap route and take the risk of volunteers that move on. A company or contractor may make that second choice easier as a safety net, but for churches without money it’s hard to even afford the safety net.

        My two cents.


        • Frankie Jarrett
          July 6, 2011

          Well said Kevin, I like your safety net analogy. In the end, you’re right, it really does come down to making that choice.

          Although, I still wouldn’t call a hosted setup “ideal”. But maybe that’s because I’m a WordPress zealot :)

          //Frankie


  • Andrew Hansen
    July 6, 2011

    I use WordPress for all of my web development work – specifically the ministries I support at South Hills Church in Corona, CA.

    The points Justin raises are more than fair. It can be a disaster to have someone end up moving on before they can adequately train a person underneath. That said, true leadership lifts people up underneath you to take your place. If your church base is predominately older, you may have a harder time. I’m working with two guys, 18 and 19, and they pick things up extremely quickly.

    Another important move is to create guides. My website for our youth ministry is going to rarely see updates outside of blogs. When it does though, I have a series of PDF’s made with pictures and step by step guides as to how to update and troubleshoot. It’s a great way for me to train my two interns as well. As they write these guides, they learn more and more. All I have to do is check the accuracy of the guides they’re creating and provide correction where needed.


  • T. J. Jones
    July 7, 2011

    Hey Michael and all CFCC folk!

    I’ve followed here for a long time here. My job kind of makes me keep up with the CFCC trends. And it’s joyful “up keep” mind you.

    I’d love to push back here and tell you all what I see on a day-t0-day basis. I work with Justin as well and can say that I talk to more people than him on a daily basis for those seeking a 3rd party CMS solution for churches. In other words, I’m the guy that initially takes the calls on potential clients looking for, you guessed it, a 3rd party solution.

    I’d like to use some of Michael’s objections to hosted solutions as his is very clear and concise.

    He writes:
    “WordPress is a very nice solution for many, and with the growth of WordPress and the use of it, even most churches. The platform is solid, easy to use and even if your volunteer bails and doesn’t show someone else how to make updates there’s a big community to pull and learn from (A great example is James Dalman’s http://wpdesigncoach.com/).”

    What’s a prerequisite here is actually time. It takes time to engage with a community. These people are looking to get into a CMS, publish their content, and then get out! The last thing they want to actually do is scouring the web for resources. That’s where CFCC would actually help these people. Unfortunately, they’ve never heard of CFCC. Don’t worry I point them to several articles about strategy as Michael mentioned. However, like Justin, the people that we talk to most of the time have tried and failed with self hosting, WP, Open Source…you name it. In other words, they’re actively seeking out a third party. It’s sad really ,because a lot of times well meaning volunteers, in some cases ,hold churches back because they know enough about WP just to be dangerous! So, in their minds, using a non hosted solution really isn’t an option for them anymore. They’ve went down that road.

    When there’s transition in churches (and when isn’t there?) people usually are seeking stability. In other words, it’s no longer about a platform of technology. What it’s really about is giving Connie the church admin a break because her eyes are bleeding from balancing budgets and making sure she doesn’t have to clean up a hacked install of WP. The church volunteer that got left behind by a somewhat technical person’s poor WP install is mainly looking for stability. Thus, it makes sense for them that they’re looking for a “safety net” as someone aptly pointed out. It’s unfortunate actually, because they’re back to square one in terms of understanding web technology.

    From Michael

    “I know Justin and the team at Monk are building some great websites, gorgeous work in fact, but with the large monthly costs and the fact that you are tied to their system with a hosted solution, makes it tough to recommend for the typical church. Hosted solutions also make transitions (to a new platform) difficult and often growth expensive. I’ve seen that to be a bigger hurdle than teaching someone WordPress or Joomla. If you do decide a hosted solution is the right fit though, Monk is certainly top of the stack.”

    That’s very kind of you. One of the things that I know Monk values above making pretty websites is actually releasing people to do ministry online. Sure, we want to make amazing sites, but I’d say that Ekklesia360 is more about gathering people, equipping them for ministry, and then releasing them all in the name of online ministry. That’s really the difference between what Ekklesia360 offers rather than something that’s not fitted for ministries ala wordpress.

    In terms of paying a monthly subscription? I think it really comes down to how much “pain” churches experience when they’re wanting a third party solution. Are they experiencing 20 dollar a month pain or are they experiencing 50 dollar a month pain?

    Also, as someone else has already pointed out, just because it’s free of a monthly subscription fee that doesn’t always equate free. One must take into total cost of ownership.

    Michael writes:

    There are many other platforms to look at as well, I’ve used Joomla in the past (not bad but haven’t used it in a while) and have heard great things about Expression Engine (not free, but no monthly costs). And a host of options over at http://directory.cfcclabs.org/links/technology/web-developers/44
    All this highlights the importance of spending a great deal of time in strategy and planning. The biggest mistake often isn’t the platform you use but in not with knowing your direction and needs. Start with a plan. Don’t let technology lead the way.

    I’d agree. However, most people actually talk to say they’ve “grown out of” WordPress, Joomla…etc. Imagine that, right? What they really mean is that they’ve grown out of their ability to manage a WP install. Sometimes the argument is made that technology is agnostic. I’d tend to disagree. Different companies service different sectors very well by providing them a custom solution that fits their needs with minimal upkeep. You see this in education, city municipals and niche businesses in the private sector.

    Final thoughts:

    It’s interesting, these conversations we all have as people eager to help the church craft her communication strategies. Most of the disgruntled folks who are looking for a 3rd party solution aren’t even having the differing opinions that we all have in this thread. For them, they just want their problem solved. When I first started at Monk I talked to people who were just seeing the web as a necessary evil. In other words, they wanted to invest the minimum amount of money to be able to do what (insert trendy church web design here) does; all for a grand total of 1k for the initial build and 10 dollars a month. it seems that now churches are seeing the web as an investment (which is good for everyone involved; designers, creatives, copywriters) and actually want to have a monthly subscription and thus a safety net for support when they need it. It seems like they’re kind of tired of operating in a vacuum. That’s what’s so great about CFCC. You guys provide great resources for these folks. Just know that most of the time people have pain and they’re looking for creatives to help solve that pain. Do them a service and encourage them to see whatever monies that they spend on the web as an investment into their future rather than a necessary evil. In other words, don’t assume that they’re not willing to make an investment into a platform that will serve them long after their leaders have left their respective leadership roles.

    You all are doing good work.

    T. J. Jones
    Monk Development
    619.757.2623
    twitter- @t_jjones
    Skype|| tjatmonk


    • Michael Buckingham
      July 12, 2011

      The key from the original question is that we are talking about “a small church”. They don’t need a big system. They need technology to support what they are doing as a small church, a solution like WP is a great fit. We also need to remember that the dollars spent don’t come from a budget, it comes from tithe and we need to be good stewards of that as well and help them not overspend for the stage they are in.

      As for my response, the key there is to not simple install WP and run, but to find a company that loves the church, can take them through strategic planning and support them throughout the process.

      As for: “What’s a prerequisite here is actually time. It takes time to engage with a community. These people are looking to get into a CMS, publish their content, and then get out!”

      Whether Monk, Holy Cow or Joe the plumber creates the site you need time. But further, if their goal is to simply publish content and get out they need help in seeing the fuller potential and use of the online world. That type of strategy will fail no matter what platform they are on.

      That’s why when looking for a web (or branding, or print, or whatever) solution churches need to look for:

      – someone that loves the church (aka someone interested in relationship over profit)
      – someone that starts with strategy and understanding
      – someone that creates a solution based on the church + strategy, not a product


  • Tom Fink
    July 7, 2011

    I think an open source website is a great way to go. We choose to use Joomla for our church website over WordPress but it was more of a personal preference as I had done some Joomla sites and liked Joomla.

    We also looked at several church hosting sites and the lack of freedom to make changes and expenses were frankly ridiculous. $10K for a medium size site and $200/month for maintenance. We hired a local company at less than $5K and guess what – no maintenance costs. As stewards of the churches money you have to make the proper choice. Projecting out 5 years for a cost of $22k for a hosted site that charged to do any changes – like adding a menu item – was like leasing an expensive car that you could never own.

    The risk of losing your lone website volunteer is a real one, but in reality it is present for many of the other ministries in your church. There are an abundance or “freelance” website designers that are available locally or online that could pick up and rescue your website. In a perfect world it would be great to have the website backup but as Andrew mentioned having some DIY guides will help greatly. Even in a small congregation there are people that can do website work or have friends that can help.



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