Building Modern Church Websites, Part 2: Firm Foundations

He is like a man building a house, who dug and went deep, and laid a foundation on the rock. When a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it was founded on the rock.

Luke 6:48 (World English Bible)

Just like our church buildings, our church websites need to be built on a firm foundation, if they are going to succeed.

In the early years of the Internet, websites were built by one person, using software like Dreamweaver or Microsoft Frontpage. They would use their computer to create each page by hand, then upload the completed page to the server. This might still be how your church website is done. Today, however, technology has moved on, and this is no longer the best solution.

Content Management Systems

A content management system is a type of software that can be run on a web server, that can allow anyone with a username and password to make changes to the website, directly from a web browser. This has many major advantages. First off, creating a new page on the website, or updating an existing one, does not require any more than an hour or two of special training. If you can surf the internet, you’re already three quarters of the way there. Secondly, several people can each be given usernames and passwords, and all allowed to update pages on the site. This reduces the work for everyone, and helps make sure that your church website stays dynamic and up to date.

Content management systems can also perform many other functions for you, like accepting comments from visitors, emailing site subscribers when the site is updated, tracking your website popularity, and much, much more. The two leading systems on the market currently are Drupal and WordPress.

Why WordPress?

Drupal is a wonderful, flexible system, that I am deeply fond of. However, Drupal is also difficult and expensive to configure, harder to run, and more painful to upgrade. It is for these reasons that, for most church systems, I recommend WordPress. While WordPress was originally intended as a blogging system, it can be easily extended to do everything most churches will need, through the use of plugins. The Good Shepherd website is run on an extended WordPress system, and thus far, I have been able to quickly create every requested feature, from sermon uploading to Blackberry support. In my opinion, WordPress best meets all of the requirements for a church website that were listed last week.

Hosting

If you already have a church website of some kind, you probably already have hosting. However, the server your website is on currently may or may not be able to run WordPress. You will need, at least, support for PHP and a MySQL database. PHP is the programming language that WordPress is written in, and MySQL is the database system that WordPress will use to store most of your website’s information.

Even if you already have hosting, before redoing a website, it’s always good to stop and think about your hosting needs. How much are you paying? Have prices come down since your website was set up? How much disc space and monthly bandwidth do you get? If you’re going to start putting up recorded sermons, and have not done so before, you probably don’t have enough disc space or bandwidth. You will need at least 10 gigs of each, to start. As your website grows, this number will, of course, increase.

Dreamhost

If you find yourself in the market for a web host, Dreamhost is the cheapest and easiest. They give you more disc space and bandwidth than you will ever need, and even have an option to install WordPress for your website in one click. If cheap and easy is what you need, they can’t be beat.

Unfortunately, this also comes with some down sides. If your website becomes extremely high traffic, you may notice that it begins to load slowly, or begins getting errors during busy times. As well, Dreamhost has occasional down times, when your website may be entirely unavailable. The last disadvantage is that dreamhost makes it more difficult to install custom software, or change the advanced configuration of your server.

But for the $8 a month that Dreamhost charges, most churches can work around the above disadvantages.

Linode

If your website outgrows Dreamhost, or you are a large church to start with, another option is Linode. They are much more stable, and make it possible to change advanced server configuration, and install custom software at need. On the flip side, they are slightly more difficult to set up, though they provide clear instructions at every step. Depending on the disc space and bandwidth your website needs, Linode can run you anywhere from $30 a month into the hundreds of dollars a month.

VPS Ville

If you are a Canadian church, VPS Ville is similar in pricing and functionality to Linode, but they offer servers in Canada. This can mean that pages will load faster for the majority of your visitors. It also means you can buy Canadian.

Conclusion

Dreamhost is a perfectly acceptable host for most churches, and everything discussed in this article series will run perfectly fine on Dreamhost servers. If you are on another host, like Linode, I will highlight when better or easier options may be available to you, as an aside.

If you are paying more than about $30 a month in hosting bills for your church website, it is probably a really good idea to stop and ask yourself why. While there may be a perfectly good reason, the fact that you signed up at that price in 1996 probably isn’t one. Shop around, compare prices, and make sure you’re really getting the deal that is best for you.

Questions To Ask Yourself

  1. Does our church have web hosting?
  2. Does our web host support PHP and MySQL?
  3. Do we have enough bandwidth and disc space?
  4. Are we paying a reasonable price?

Next Week

Next week: setting up your domain, and installing WordPress!

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One Response to Building Modern Church Websites, Part 2: Firm Foundations

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