What’s Best For Your Church Website: WordPress or Hosted CMS?

What’s Best For Your Church Website: WordPress or Hosted CMS?

May 1, 2013 by

My team recently picked a 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 they understood the unique needs, functionality and budgets of churches. But while there are many good CMS solutions out there, they aren’t the only way to go.

Late last year we made the decision to switch our church website from a hosted CMS to WordPress. So I’ve been there and my biases are now on the table. But here are some tips to help you decide which way you should jump:

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. Do you have experienced web development staff to update and sustain your website?
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. (Church Marketing Sucks is backed up using BackupBuddy.)

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. Some hosted solutions even had some portfolio examples of responsively designed church websites. This will definitely become the norm over the next 12 months. 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.

Almost There
We are not far from going live with our responsively designed WordPress church website. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, there have been some technical bumps along the way, but it certainly hasn’t been stormy sea. I’m a communication guy straddling the technical arena to try and get it done and 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!

Next week we’ll talk about what plugins you can use to make the most of your WordPress site, should you choose to go that route.

Post By:

Steve Fogg

Steve serves as the big cheese of communications at his church in Melbourne, Australia; he married way above his pay grade and has three children. Connect with him on his blog or on other social networks.
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37 Responses to “What’s Best For Your Church Website: WordPress or Hosted CMS?”

  • Jordan Gillman
    May 1, 2013

    I stand strongly in the camp of using WordPress – I use it as the CMS for almost all the site I develop (full disclosure – I’m lucky to be working with Steve on their new site).

    One of the great things about WordPress – particularly for churches – is that its flexible enough to allow for all sorts of content. Sermons, Events, blogs, personnel – all of these types of content have specific types of information they need to display. A big single content area just doesn’t do the trick.

    WordPress allows you to set up a range of fields in the editor so the content can be structured (to separate out things like Speaker Name, Passage, and the link to the podcast).

    It’s super-flexibility is a great advantage.

    • Steven Fogg
      May 2, 2013

      LOL everyone, Jordan is my ace responsive designer/programmer genius :-) who is developing the site for us.

  • matt adams
    May 1, 2013

    I also think WP offers worlds more customization. We have developed several custom plugins for staff management, sermon archives and media grids because the WP flexibility.

    So if you go with a theme, or custom, WP is going to offer you years of upgrades, customizations, and advanced developer options as you grow.

    Make sure you get solid hosting, and keep your site up to date at all times. Also avoid dangerous plugins that use timthumb.

  • Matt Schlueter
    May 1, 2013

    I’ve created a number of church websites, and used WordPress for every one of them. The CMS in WordPress is SO easy for people to understand. Even an older lady secretary of a little white church can easily add the newsletter online each month on their WordPress-driven site.

    The number of plugins available, to give just about any feature you’d need with a click, is amazing. One church needed an event registration system… Bam, done with a free plugin in minutes.

    My advice for churches starting or revamping a website: If you don’t have someone in your congregation who knows design, web marketing, seo, and specifically what works for church designs, HIRE SOMEONE WHO DOES!

    The church website is the first thing most people will see of your congregation, and needs to be solid, professional, mobile-friendly, and always current & up-to-date.

    WordPress makes all of these very easily accessible.

  • Mitch Canter
    May 1, 2013

    I’ve been designing WordPress sites (both commercial and faith-based) for over 7 years… I have YET to see a website that can’t be built in WordPress (website – not app, mind you… they have their place as well).

    Chances are, if you need it done, there’s a plugin that will do it (or at least it can be built within the confines of the WordPress platform – integrated in for easy use).

    Great points on the article!

  • Bill Patton
    May 1, 2013

    “After discussions with an external programmer we discovered we could get the same functionality with WordPress as we had with our current hosted solution.”

    Are you going to say more about the solution you found for calendar? Is there something (cheap?) that also prints a hard copy of a decent calendar?

    • Steven Fogg
      May 2, 2013

      Hi Bill,

      The calendar is a WordPress plug-in. There are various calendar plug-in’s available and it depends on your needs. Not sure what printing functionality it has, but it works for ical and the outlook.

  • Edwin
    May 1, 2013

    Our church is transplanting and I am leading the group having this exact discussion. Did you have any resources you developed that were useful in comparing the two solutions? Would love to chat further on this. FWIW I’m more inclined to embrace WordPress (especially due to an extremely tight budget), but we need to show the disadvantages and advantages of other solutions.

    • Steven Fogg
      May 2, 2013

      Edwin, the ‘resources’ were my programmer and Jordan (above in the comments) and other conversations with other web people I trust.

      But I would definitely not rule out an existing hosted solution if you are light on the staff side.

      Budget wise it worked upfront for us, but consider ongoing updates that a hosted solution includes. That hidden cost needs to be built into your forward budgets.

  • Amelia Franz
    May 2, 2013

    I’ve developed a few sites using WordPress, and wouldn’t consider using anything else. We built our church site using a responsive Studiopress theme called Outreach. FWIW, I wouldn’t use anything other than a Studiopress theme built on the Genesis framework, to develop a WP site. (I’m not connected with them in any way, other than being a satisfied customer.) Our church was using another CMS on our previous site, and no one except the designer (who wasn’t even a member of the church or really connected with the church) could do any updating. What a nightmare.

    I will say, however, that although it is not terribly difficult to write a blog post or add an image, once you start customizing beyond changing the background color, you do need someone who knows CSS and html, or is willing to learn. Someone needs to be willing to research plugins, for instance, to determine which one is best. So while it is definitely user-friendly to USE, it will require some technical knowledge to really make the most of it.

    As an example, our Rector was adding sermon audio after five minutes of explanation from me, but something like writing the html to add an image to the text widgets–he isn’t quite there yet.

  • @PaulSteinbrueck
    May 2, 2013

    Hey Steve, can you clarify what you mean by a “fully hosted church CMS solution?” Are you talking about a service that combines hosting and a proprietary web builder, so that once you create your site you have no option to move it?

    If so, congrats on making the move to WordPress!

    We at OurChurch.Com offer a build-your-own-site option with our proprietary NE1 web builder. It is quick and easy to get started, easy to manage, and inexpensive. But I definitely agree that WordPress is a step above because of the myriad of design and plugin options, plus ability to create your own custom themes and plugins. When we develop custom sites for churches we do it in WordPress.

    Looking forward to seeing your new site!

    • Steven Fogg
      May 2, 2013

      Hi Paul, What I mean is church web products like Ezekiel, Ekklesia 360, Cloversites and yours etc

  • matt adams
    May 2, 2013

    A fully hosted church CMS solution is usually a proprietary system you have little to no access to via FTP, and any code edits are very restricted. This means the company hosting it must make all the edits, and still restricted to their system.

    So custom items become very expensive, or not possible. Or you see pricing tiers based on functionality. I have seen some systems that bill $100 a month as the minimum to offer podcasting. Or priced on pages, users, etc. Silly stuff that is not a big load on a server or function set, but defines a price point “just because” they can.

  • Amy Andersob
    May 4, 2013

    I am the communications manager at a church and I am about to release a new wordpress site (we currently have an old HTML site in desperate need of redesign). I looked at other CMS options and wordpress was a no-brainer. Even with a theme, with some basic programming skills, you can customize the theme and make it your own. Plug-ins provide most any kind of functionality you need and can often be modified with a little bit of programming knowledge or study.

    That said, we are a church with a communications manager and the communications manager is a designer with a bit of coding experience. But, part of the beauty of wordpress is that it is flexible enough to be easy enough for a beginner who can just download a theme and input their content, but robust enough for a larger church with complex needs.

  • Andy Wittwer
    May 7, 2013

    Sheesh – a lot of WordPress love going on here. I love WordPress too, and use it, but for the sake of another argument …

    A “fully hosted CMS solution” has a lot of benefits over WordPress.

    Although these sites have a higher monthly cost as well as additional costs for customization, the amount you’ll pay is likely far less than what you’d pay someone in-house. I’d wager WordPress has more hidden costs than you anticipate.

    Further, I’m not comfortable settling the people who run these solutions into a camp where they’re price gouging “just because” they can. How about some trust for our brothers?

    Plus, these companies all likely offer pretty reasonable amount of troubleshooting and assistance when you encounter problems. And there will be problems with either solution; how much time does it take to work those out?

    Wordpress is indeed flexible, but just because you can bend something to your will doesn’t make it the best. A hosted solution is built for churches by people who love the church. You don’t need to find a plugin to do event registration or calendaring because they already thought of that.

    For ease of use, any worthwhile solution should be just as easy (if not easier) to use than WordPress. I know of a couple that are. They’re basic text editors with appropriate fields. And because hosted solutions are built for the church, there is a “sermon series” field instead of “category.” Which is more confusing?

    Regarding access to FTP and coding, I know that at least one of the hosted solutions mentioned above offers that functionality, but I have to question how useful it is. How often do you need to change that stuff in your site that you need access? I’d suggest that if it’s designed well (form and function), then you shouldn’t need to.

    We might like WordPress because it offers lots of options, but, as we often preach, excellence is fostered by vision and intention, not by an abundance of choice.

    • Steven Fogg
      October 15, 2013

      Andy, some great points there. For some churches fully hosted is the way to go. I blogged about hosted options shortly after writing this post too here –>> “6 Reasons Why A Hosted CMS Solution Might Be Right For You” http://bit.ly/13QXTPy

  • Zach Imboden
    May 8, 2013

    I am wanting to move to a wordpress account however my our leadership is concern with security and us being on our own without help is someone hacks our page. Do you have any recommendations on any wordpress hosting and managed wordpress hosting companies out there to provide the back end support?

  • James Giroux
    May 28, 2013

    I’ve been designing church websites for almost ten years and having used several different solutions (including wordpress & clover) I would have to say that I agree with many of the comments here. I would caution that with some of these hosted solutions, what you see is not usually what you get. The demo sites are optimized with incredible imagery and tailored fonts/logos to really make the design work. When you start to customize a design to suit your needs, often it won’t look as good as the demo and may end up looking really bad at some point as well. The other reality of hosted systems is that their development cycle is usually more limited. For example, a hosted solution that uses antiquated technology like Flash or framesets may take longer to go ‘mobile’ or adopt current design practices than open-source technology. Something like wordpress will give you more flexibility to change things but you can lose information with WP as well. It can be a Ferrari driven by a grandma or it can be a VW bug driven by a nascar driver if you aren’t strategic and willing to invest regularly in your online presence.

  • James Giroux
    May 28, 2013

    @zach imboden, a great managed hosting solution I’ve been really excited to work with recently is Flywheel. You can check them out at http://getflywheel.com.

  • Joe Luedtke
    June 30, 2013

    Your #2 point is the biggest one for me. I’ve seen beautiful, elegant websites with a ton of functionality and capability fall in to disuse because no one at the church had the requisite skills to maintain it. Who’s maintaining the site and can they sustain it is far more of an important question than who’s going to build it. I love WordPress, but as easy as it is, it requires some level of technical skills that are beyond the capabilities of many church staff. For churches without sufficient staff, they really need to look at a templated-based system with phone and email support.

    • Steven Fogg
      October 15, 2013

      Joe, Support was one of the factors we considered too. As I said we are fortunate that I have the budget and on staff web tech support as part of my team to stay on top of this.

      Many miss this important point and dive in too early to a WordPress option!

  • Jose Gomez
    October 14, 2013

    OK – let’s throw some cold water in here. LOL. My company has been serving churches for the last 12 years using our hosted solution, NetMinistry. On staff, several of us have also worked in WordPress extensively. I have to say, WordPress doesn’t compare to NetMinistry in terms of out-of-the-box features and ease of use. We have new clients every month that come from a WordPress environment that would never go back. The biggest reason is that we integrate CMS with CRM and E-Commerce – along with event registration and useful features that most churches, ministries, and even businesses need.

    So, although I do love me some WordPress (we actually offer low cost WordPress hosting, too), after serving over 7,000 churches, ministries, and Christian businesses, I can’t really agree that WordPress is a good choice. Sometimes it is – like when you have a web guy or church admin that only knows that and doesn’t want to learn another system. But, for the money, features, and ease-of-use, I do prefer our solution for rapid publishing and easy, powerful management of a ministry site.

    BTW – let me also make an honorable mention of some of my competitors so this doesn’t come across as a blatant advertisement. The guys over al Elexio have a very elegant solution as well. Same with the guys over at Monk Development. We are blessed to have several companies within the Kingdom that serve with their hearts and make some amazing software that genuinely meets the need.

    • Steven Fogg
      October 15, 2013

      Hi Jose, I love hosted solutions too! I think many companies are doing a great job developing solutions perfect for all kinds of churches. Shortly after writing this post, I blogged about hosted options –>> “6 Reasons Why A Hosted CMS Solution Might Be Right For You” http://bit.ly/13QXTPy

  • Mark
    February 8, 2014

    Can anyone provide some examples of church sites built on WordPress? I have a WP blog but am not programer or developer just a design person and the pastor. We have a new church we planted 14 months ago and have no web presence aside from a Facebook group. I really want to get the word out about Christ and give our people a place to go and point people to. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Steven Fogg
      February 11, 2014

      Hi Mark,

      Just google ‘wordpress websites for churches’. Great place to start. Lots of options for the budget conscious new church plants.


  • David
    May 17, 2014

    I would say undoubtedly say WordPress, if compared with other CMS. With the amount of church themes coming out, it’s pretty easy to pick it up and get started fast.

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