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.
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.