Joined: 14 Jun 2005
|Posted: Wed Sep 19, 2007 9:56 am Post subject: 12 Reasons Your Church’s Web Site Should Be a CMS
|An article I wrote has been published in the September edition of Religious Products News:
12 Reasons Your Church’s Web Site Should Be a CMS
By Paul Steinbrueck
The days when a church staff person or volunteer picked up a copy of Microsoft Frontpage and created a Web site for his or her church are over…or, at least they should be. Today, if a church has any hope of maintaining an engaging, up-to-date Web site, it has to be done with a Content Management System (CMS).
What is a CMS? In a nutshell, it is Web site management software installed on a Web server with optional, flexible modules—such as a calendar, newsletters, media gallery, and blog—that can be easily added, subtracted, moved around within the site, or held for later publishing. A single administrative interface is used to manage all components and to assign “permissions” to various individuals and groups to include editing rights, administering other users, accessing only certain parts of the Web site and more.
The idea of a CMS isn’t new. What is new is the way the CMS has evolved into an affordable, easy-to-use system within the average church’s reach. Here are 12 advantages of a CMS-based Web site.
1. An Interactive Experience
Your typical church Web site is a static, online brochure with text and images to describe your church. It may be lovely to look at, but lacking in depth. A CMS-based Web site provides an interactive experience that invites people to discuss spiritual issues or add comments about what they read, hear, and experience (all within your control). This stimulates thought and helps the church and its staff members feel the pulse of the church and its Web site visitors.
2. Consistent Appearance
When you start trying to add new features to a conventional Web site, each is provided by a different program and, therefore, has its own look and its own navigation menu. Visitors can become confused, not understand how to use the program, and even think they have left the church site completely. However, with a CMS, all of the modules— calendars, newsletters, blogs, and more—are integrated and have the same look and feel. Visitors can easily move around the site and make use of these features.
3. Minimal Technical Knowledge Required
The administrator of a CMS does not have to be a Web design professional. The typical church Web site is created by a professional or volunteer who is proficient either with HTML or Web site development software. This severely limits who is able to change and update the site. A CMS includes a user-friendly, Web-based text editor that works like a word processor and is built right into the Web site.
4. Multiple Administrators
The CMS-based Web site can be maintained by several people rather than a single administrator. Non-CMS-based church Web sites usually have one Webmaster who acts as “gatekeeper” to the entire site. When the Webmaster is busy or out of town or leaves the church, the Web site doesn’t get updated, resulting in frustration and miscommunication. In contrast, a CMS is overseen by one administrator who has the ability to grant permission to individual staff and volunteers to update specific parts of the site. The youth pastor can have access to update just the youth pages; the administrative assistant can have access to update just the church calendar; and the pastor can be given access to publish a devotional blog.
5. Updated Anytime, Anywhere
Because all of the information in a CMS is stored on the server rather than on a Web administrator’s computer, the Web site can be updated from any computer with Web access. Shortly after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, I led a team of volunteers from my church to provide hurricane relief. We were able to blog each day about our experiences from the staging area in Mississippi, and members of our church back home in Florida were able to read about it, pray for us, and post encouraging notes.
6. Up-to-Date Information
As mentioned, because minimal technical knowledge is required, responsibility for updating the Web site can be distributed among several people, and the site can be updated anytime from anywhere, there are no longer any bottlenecks in the Web site updating process. Web site information can be kept current by each ministry team leader from home or the church office. The end result is a Web site that is updated several times a week or even several times a day, ensuring that visitors and church members can count on the Web site to be current and accurate.
7. Easily Redesigned
With the typical church Web site, a volunteer or staff member builds the site, and no one else knows how to make changes. The problem can get complicated if the design is less than desirable but the site was donated to the church, making the staff seem ungrateful if they wish to change it to something more attractive and useable. With a CMS-based site, content is housed in a flexible structure that grows and changes with user-friendly Web-based editing tools. Moving blocks of site content around involves a few mouse clicks, and changing the overall look and feel of the site can be done by switching out the template.
With a non-CMS Web site, if the church wants to add some additional functionality (such as an e-mail newsletter) to a typical site, the Webmaster has to go out and find new software, install it, configure it, add links to it in the menu, and so on. With a CMS, new modules can be added with just a few clicks, giving your Web site the ability to grow and change along with your church. When a new module is added, it automatically has the same look and feel as the rest of your site. If it requires a login (like, for example, a message board), the new module usually utilizes the existing user registration system, so church members don’t have to register for it separately.
9. Private Sections
A CMS provides the means to offer not only a publicly available Web site, but also private, internal Web pages, calendars, newsletters, and forums. The average church Web site has all content out in the open for everyone to see, but does nothing to improve internal communication and productivity among staff and ministry teams. In addition to those public features, a CMS includes the capability to create private features to enhance the productivity of your leaders. You can create Web pages, calendars, newsletters, and forums that are only accessible to staff or specific ministry teams to foster better internal communication.
10. Advanced Functionality
Piggy-backing the expandability factor, there is some really cool functionality available in many of today’s CMS programs. Want to podcast the Sunday sermon? No problem. Would you like to scrap all the paper sign-up sheets for VBS, youth trips, and volunteer opportunities and replace them with an online event registration system? You can do that. How about creating a MySpace-like community where people can create profiles, share photos, and chat? That’s possible too. How about an online document center so people can download and print permission slips, membership manuals, and reimbursement forms anytime they need them? Done.
Until a few years ago, only mega-churches could afford the thousands of dollars in programming and development required for a CMS. Plus, they would often spend hefty monthly fees for licensing and hosting. Today, there are CMS programs available to the community at large.
12. Saves Time and Money
Many of the advantages mentioned above enable church staff and volunteers to serve more efficiently, thus saving time and money. When staff and ministry leaders update their ministry Web pages directly without going though an administrator, that saves time. The easy-to-use Web-based tools allow people to make changes and additions faster. Online event registration can save hours of administrative work. An online document center can also save the time and effort involved with sending common forms and documents.
CMS Installation and Services
Churches that lack staff or volunteers with the expertise to configure a CMS can consider hiring a Web developer to install and configure the software, add the desired modules, design the template to their specifications, and provide training—often for less time and less money than a traditional, static Web site. Costs typically range from $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the magnitude and complexity of the site being developed.
There are also several companies that offer their own proprietary CMS Web services hosted on their servers. With this option, the upfront costs are typically lower and one monthly fee—usually in the neighborhood of $50 to $100—covers the use of the CMS and the hosting. The downside is that because the CMS is usually proprietary, you can’t move your site to another server, and, therefore, you are locked into using their service forever, unless you start from scratch with a completely new Web site somewhere else.
Think Long-Term Value
Unfortunately, most churches look at the $1,000 to $3,000 upfront cost of having a CMS-based Web site developed or the $50 to $100 a month for a hosted solution and then someone says, “Hey couldn’t Bill create a Web site for the church for free?” They opt for having a volunteer or paid staff person create the site. Usually, within six months to a year, there is grumbling about the site not being up-to-date or why their site can’t do certain things. Bill is getting frustrated because people call him Friday night and tell him they need information added to the site immediately because it’s going to be announced in this Sunday’s service. It’s only a matter of time before Bill quits or is asked to step down. Then the church Web site languishes while the leadership goes back to the drawing board and reassesses their options for a new Web site.
When I meet new people at my own church, most tell me they checked out the church Web site before deciding whether to visit or not. If your church’s Web site does not have accurate information because it hasn’t been updated in a month or more, many church seekers will not even visit to attend a service. And, if you have a conventional Web site with static HTML pages that are updated by a single administrator, it’s only a matter of time before that person is too busy, sick, or out of town and can’t update the site.
From a purely financial perspective, a CMS will pay for itself with its ability to attract and connect new people, even for most small or rural churches. From a spiritual perspective, a CMS will enable your church to better reach its community and better minister to those already within the church.
Paul Steinbrueck is the CEO/CTO of OurChuch.Com, which has provided Web design, hosting, and search marketing services to Christian churches, ministries and businesses since 1996.