Building Modern Church Websites, Part 3: First Steps

And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias;

Matthew 1:8 (KJV)

And the author was unable to think of a Bible verse related to this post. Suggestions welcome!

A Note On Domains

If your website does not already have its own domain (for example or, it should. When picking a domain, the most important things to think about are:

  • Length: it should be short enough that it can fit on business cards, flyers, and other church literature, and is easy for visitors to type in.
  • Easy to pronounce: it should be easy to pronounce, so that when you announce it on Sunday morning, everyone will be able to visit it later. For example, words like “you” and “eye” should be avoided, as when you say them out loud, it is difficult to tell if you mean the word “you” or the letter “u”. Also, is probably a bad domain; just try spelling it over the phone!
  • Meaningful: this one should be self explanatory.
  • Memorable: If people are going to visit your website, and tell their friends, the address needs to be one they can remember.

If you don’t have a domain yet, my personal favourite place to buy them is Easy DNS. They make the process as easy as they can, and have lots of guides helping you get everything set up. If you decide to go with DreamHost as your web host, you will get a free domain when you sign up with them. This makes everything super easy, as the domain will already be configured to work with DreamHost.

If you already have a domain, or aren’t using DreamHost, you will need to configure the domain you own to point at your web host. Depending on your web host, and where you purchased your domain, this process differs wildly. If you are hosting on Linode, this guide might be slightly helpful.

Installing WordPress

Are you still with us? It’s finally time to get WordPress installed and running! If you’re not, don’t worry. Domains are hard, especially if this is your first time working with them. If you’re having trouble, feel free to post in the comments, and someone may be able to help you.

If you decided to host with DreamHost, you’ve got the easiest job. WordPress is available as a one click install, from your DreamHost panel. That means you just fill out some information, and DreamHost does all the work! The only thing to be careful about is to make sure to select the advanced install. If you don’t, you won’t be able to customize WordPress, in order to add sermons, mobile support, change the appearance, etc. You should have WordPress up and running on your website within about an hour!

If you’re on Linode, the installation you will end up with will be much more powerful than if you were on DreamHost. However, you have a lot more work to get started. First, follow the instructions in the Getting Started guide. Make sure to use Ubuntu 11.10 as your distribution, as it is the most supported. Once that’s done, follow this guide to configure your Linode server to host websites. You need to complete the entire guide, as Mysql and PHP are both required by WordPress. Lastly, follow this guide on installing WordPress. However, DO NOT install WordPress Supercache. Some of the customizations we will be making to WordPress are not compatible with WordPress Supercache, and if you install it now, you will have problems later. If this is your first time ever configuring a server, you should probably expect all of this to take you at least 2 days. However, you’ll learn many useful skills along the way! If you have difficulties, the Linode Community can probably help. As well, this website is currently hosted at Linode, so if you post in the comments, chances are good that I might have some advice.

If you’re hosting your church website somewhere else, I’m afraid you’re largely on your own. The makers of WordPress have some generic instructions that you may find helpful. However, these instructions assume that you’re server is already configured to host websites. If you’re somewhere like VPS Ville, this is not the case. You’ll need to get the Apache, Mysql, and PHP software working first. If you’re not sure how to start doing this, you should probably ask for help. Please feel free to get in touch with me directly, and I’ll try and offer some more detailed direction based on your particular situation.

Questions To Ask Yourself

  1. Does your church website have a domain address?
  2. Is the domain memorable, easy to pronounce, meaningful, and a reasonable length?
  3. Is the domain pointing at your web host?
  4. Have you managed to get WordPress installed and running at your website?
  5. What on earth does EDVBGPTZ stand for, anyway? (Hint: This is a joke. Do not actually ask yourself this.)

Next Week

Next week, we’ll configure the built-in options of WordPress.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Building Modern Church Websites, Part 1: Introduction

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.

Revelation 7:9 (World English Bible)

Why Have A Church Website

The internet is changing the world. Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks are connecting people closer together than ever. Skype, Email, and cell phones are changing the way people communicate with one another. People are spending more time than ever online, either in the office during the day, or downloading music from iTunes at home after work.

If a church is going to be relevant today, it needs to be online, too. The church shouldn’t just be somewhere people go on Sunday morning; it should be part of their every day lives. It should be on the social networks they use, and in their email inboxes. They should be able to share it with their friends, and interact with it during their lunch breaks.

It isn’t just young people online, either. Many grandparents are using social networks to keep up with their grandchildren. Almost everyone checks email every day, if only for work. Those who cannot get out because of sickness are using the internet to interact with the wider world. The church has a place in the online lives of all of these people.

Why This Series

While rebuilding the Good Shepherd Community Church website, I noticed a lack of specific, chronological guidance and advice on the subject of how to build a modern church website. I found lots of good tips and advice from church webmasters, but nothing that really got into the details of what and why.

There are many good books on web design, but none of them seem to deal with the unique needs of churches:

  • Finances: many churches don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on servers, web design, etc. Many don’t even have tens of dollars.
  • Ease of use: it’s hard enough to run a modern church; if the website is going to be adopted and kept up to date, it needs to be super easy, even for people who don’t generally use the internet.
  • Accessibility: the church includes everyone. A church website needs to work for those who are hard of hearing or low vision. It needs to work on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Dial up or broadband. Cell phones and computers.
  • Theology: a church website can’t be hosted on some free web hosting site that puts ads for gambling and adult movies across the top of every page.
  • Openness: a church website needs not only to serve the church community, it also needs to be open and attractive to seekers.

So, every Sunday on this blog, I will be posting a detailed article covering one particular topic related to building a modern church website. I will use the Good Shepherd website as an example, explaining what I did, why I chose to do it that way, and spending a little time on how I did it.

If you’d like to modernize your church website but don’t know where to start, hopefully these posts will help you. If you’ve been tasked with being the webmaster for your church, I hope my thoughts will be of some use in your journey.

Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Start

  1. What is the congregation of my church doing on the internet today?
  2. How can the church interact with them on the websites they are already using?
  3. Does the church website have the support of church staff and elders? If not, what needs to happen before it does?
  4. Are there people in the congregation I can turn to for help, so I don’t have to do it all myself?

Next Week

Next Sunday: foundations! Why use WordPress? What about web hosting? How much should web hosting cost? Is our current web host good enough?


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Christmas Letter 2011, directed by Dustie

Christmas is a perfect time to sit down and watch ye olde “home movies”… When do you ever do it otherwise? Huh? Never! So grab a quarter-hour, sit back and watch it!

Christmas Letter 2011

To view previous letters, click on CHRISTMAS LETTERS, at the top.

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Christmas Letter 1996


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Another reason to love Aardvark

If you don’t already use Aardvark, the worlds best question answering system, you should. Someone on the website will take the time to answer whatever fool question pops into your mind in the middle of the night when you just had a rather strange dream and know the question will bother you until you do something about it. Of course, that’s not a quality unique to Aardvark; when I used to use Yahoo! Answers I had success getting answers to questions about Spider Pigs, or how to contact my local superhero, but Aardvark is much quicker most of the time. The example that prompted this particular post is an answer from someone clarifying…the dietary habbits of centaurs for me, of all things. It’s reassuring to know I’m not the only person in the world who spends time thinking about this sort of stuff:

Centaurs do require more calories in their diet, however due to having a mostly-human digestive tract (The lower intestines are more horse than human in nature), the centaur is an omnivore.  Additionally, due to the fact that they are sentient, they are able to cook meals, also contributing to a full diet.  I’m not sure where to find centaur information.  Don’t you have a local learnatorium?


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Video of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan

The following is a repost from BoingBoing for those who might not have already read it:

Wow! From Coilhouse:
Helen Keller — inspiration to generations and inspiration for an entire genre of schoolyard humor — and her teacher and friend Anne Sullivan in a clip from 1930 in which they describe the way in which Helen learned how to speak … It’s a fascinating little clip which pays homage to a woman who, even beyond her amazing circumstances, was a radical socialist, suffragist, and supporter of birth control, who was friends with the likes of Mark Twain and who worked tirelessly to champion the rights of both the downtrodden and the physically disabled.
(Via Richard Metzger)

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Strange political quotes…

“If somebody’s gonna stab me in the back, I want to be there.”

“When you’re talking to me, keep your mouth shut.”

“I hate to confuse myself with the facts.”

“My knowledge is no match for his ignorance.”

“The average age of a 7-year old in this state is 13”.

“Candidly, I cannot answer that. The question is too suppository.”

“I deny the allegations, and I defy the alligators.”

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OS X Scanning: The Saga Continues

As readers of Thursday’s posting may remember, I was attempting to scan documents using OS X. After getting the scanner set-up and installing the correct drivers, I purchased Read Iris. However, I didn’t have a serial number.

This morning, my serial number problems got resolved. At 9:00 sharp, I called Iris tech support. I spent seven minutes and thirty seconds on hold (the exact number from my phone logs), before the system gave up on finding anyone to talk to me and sent me to voicemail. I called back again right away, and spoke to someone in sails. They told me that the serial number was included in the email with the download link. I told them it wasn’t, and read the email off of my screen. Sails decided they couldn’t help me, and sent me to support. Support also told me that my serial number was in the original email. Once again, I told them it was not. So, they read me the number over the phone. They never did explain why the system failed, and my serial number wasn’t in the original email. Oh, well! At least, after 5 days, one unanswered email, and two phone calls, I finally have my software!

Registration of the software was another process. It took three forms, a serial number, a key, and a bunch of other information they already had. But after another half hour, it worked, and I was ready to scan.

I haven’t yet, however, recognized everything correctly. I’m having problems with images getting cut-off, zoomed strangely, etc. But those things, at least, have nothing to do with Iris Read. Image Capture on OS X isn’t obeying the image measurements I type in; it only respects cropping information provided by the mouse. I’ll post when I figure this next problem out.

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Scanning and OCR on OS X

I’ve had a mac computer for over a year, now. However, for all this time, whenever I needed to scan and OCR something, I’ve been using a back-up Windows laptop. Mostly, this was because I didn’t have any OCR software on the mac. I did briefly test out the scanning abilities of the mac, just to make sure things were working with my scanner, but I never seriously tried to scan something…until today.

The first step, of course, was plugging in and recognizing the scanner. I figured this would be a no-brainer; it’d been done before, and it should just happen, again. I plugged in the USB connection, and hardware growler notified me that I had connected canoscan. Yay! I figured all was still well in scannerland. Just to be safe, though, I pulled up Image Capture to do a test run. “No image capture device connected.” Huh? It worked before!

After some help from Aardvark, I found an Apple support article that told me I may need to download updated drivers from the website. I guess some update broke something, somewhere. Thankfully, the Canon website it sent me to was nearly perfectly accessible. Unfortunately, it was then that I realized I wasn’t exactly sure of my scanner moddle.

The first trick I tried, of course, was to go look at system profiler, and see if it would tell me anything helpful:

Product ID:        0x1900
Vendor ID:        0x04a9 (Canon Inc.)
Version:        3.07
Speed:        Up to 480 Mb/sec
Manufacturer:        Canon
Location ID:        0xfd100000
Current Available (mA):        500
Current Required (mA):        Unknown (Device has not been configured)

Well, that was useless. The next trick: scan my scanner with KNFB Reader didn’t work, either. It told me text was cut off at the edges, but it couldn’t recognize the raised text on the back of the scanner. Oh, well. I suspect I remember my scanner moddle correctly, anyway. I just wanted to try and make absolutely sure before installing drivers. The last “trick” is to just go ahead and install what I think is the correct set of drivers.

Lucky for me, the second drivers I tried were the correct ones. After a more-or-less friendly install process, and a reboot, my scanner could be used. I opened up image capture again, gave it another test, and all was well.

With the scanner finally working, the next step was to get some OCR software. According to this guy, Read Iris Pro was the best. I’ve also read that omnipage was accessible, but it had several bad reviews when it came to OCR quality. Neither product had a downloadable demo. After some research, I eventually went with Read Iris. The online shopping cart was, however, confusing and hardly accessible. Links were unlabeled or mislabeled, and the entire purchase process was long and confusing. Anyone with a Visa card will understand the true horror of the process when I say that it insisted on sending me through the Verified by Visa program, a program that most websites (including Amazon, Paypal, and Google Checkout) all avoid because it has been proven so broken and insecure.

I did, however, finally make my way through it, and was emailed an FTP download link. Figuring that was all I needed, I downloaded the software, mounted the DMG, and moved the .app into my applications folder. To my surprise, that application was, in reality, a poorly named installer. Why it wasn’t packaged as an installer package, as is the correct procedure on OS X, is utterly beyond me. It required several mouse clicks to get through, it froze voiceover at several points, and was generally an awful ordeal. I have no idea how crap like that got through anyone’s testing process, to be declared accessible. After about half an hour of fussing, I completed the install.

When I started the application, for real this time, I was asked for a serial number. The problem is: nobody from Iris Link emailed me one! Figuring that the processing system they used was, perhaps, running slowly, I waited for two hours. When I still had no serial, and thus couldn’t get any work done, I emailed Iris. While waiting for an answer from them, I started this weblog entry, in order to kill time until I could do useful work. After getting the entry up-to-date with my adventures thus far, I did my daily work-out, and hit the shower. Still, I haven’t gotten either a reply to my email, or my serial number.

So, after a day of set-up, I still haven’t managed to scan a single document on OS X. Hopefully, I’ll have gotten the information I need from Iris sometime tomorrow. Interestingly, while searching for product reviews of Iris Read, google gave me several links offering torrent downloads of the software I’m attempting to purchase. I suspect that, if I had just downloaded the torrent, I would have my software by now. I’m not sure why Iris feels the need to punish honest customers with extremely unreasonable wait-times. I mean, seriously: they write state-of-the-art OCR software! Couldn’t they have an online activation system at least as advanced as the hobby developers selling $10 utilities? If you ever feel the need to make an online purchase from Iris, this is something to keep in mind: the company doesn’t answer emails, and at this point only God himself knows when I’m going to get the software I purchased.

TO BE Continued…

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