If You’re Under Pressure to Create a Great, New Church Website, Take the 4-D Approach
If I had a toothpick for every person who told me their church website was horrible and had outdated information, or that they don't have one at all: I'd build my 20- room dream cabin.
It's a shame so many church leaders don't have access to, or aren't knowledgeable about, Web resources. It's vital that they maintain a professional presence online with websites that are informative and user-friendly. Right now, people are researching their local churches online rather than hopping from service to service for several months.
So, what are you going to do about it? The following is a tried-and-true process that's adaptable to the needs of your church. I call it the "4-D" approach to a great website.
Phase 1: Discovery
This phase is considered consulting, which might be free or cost you $40 to $100 an hour if you enlist a professional developer. In the discovery period, you'll determine your church's needs for its new website. First, you must conduct a needs analysis. Always approach this from two points of view: that of a regular member and that of a first-time visitor who knows nothing about your church. What information would each group hope to find on your site?
Second, what goals do you personally have for the site? Would it be just an informational website, or would it offer interactive features such as online donations, calendaring and more?
The needs you determine will become your outline. The main points will serve as the navigation of your site. Make sure it's easy for visitors to make their way through your site to obtain the desired information. This is called "intuitive" navigation, and it's the key to a great website. Nothing is worse than getting lost and not having a way to get back to the home page. You might want to make a site map available if you don't think your site is already intuitive.
Phase 2: Design
Now that you've conducted a needs analysis and are ready to start building your site, you'll need to decide on a design. You have a few choices: Hire a professional, find someone in your church to do it, or use a software solution.
Before you decide, please bear in mind that design and development are not the same thing. The design phase deals with the graphical interface of your website. (What colors? What images? Does it adhere to your current offline brand identity?) Design also deals with the navigation structure of your site. How will the content be structured? Where will certain information go, and will a visitor be able to find it easily? It's important that you and the designer agree on the answers to these questions. In the worst-case scenario, ambiguous information could cause you to spend valuable time and money on changes or issues that weren't fully defined on paper. This phase is also considered consulting. Again, it might be free, or it could cost as much as $100 per hour if you hire a professional.
Phase 3: Development
Now that you know what you want on your site and how it should look, it's time to build it. You could use the same professional Web design company to develop the site, find a Web programmer in the congregation who will do it for free or use an existing website program that lets you build it yourself.
It's always cost-effective if a church member can design and develop your site, but it might not be so good when you need to make changes or updates. A successful website doesn't just let you disseminate content; it lets you make sure that information is up-to-date. Remember, your site needs to be a resource to the two audiences: church members and the community at large. If you're displaying information about last year's Christmas party, the information isn't reliable and up-to-date. As such, first-time visitors to the site will assume it's unreliable. That said, if you plan to enlist a layperson in your site's design and development, make sure he or she is readily available to maintain it and keep content fresh. Even if he or she agrees, there's always the risk that you might not see those changes for weeks.
Phase 4: Deployment
Your website is built and you're ready to show the World Wide Web how it looks. Before you do, there are three main points of deployment to consider: domain name registration, hosting and maintenance.
Domain name registration is the act of registering a unique Web address (i.e., the church name: www.churchname.org or www.mychurchname.com). Some companies offer churches great deals, but by using them you risk unwanted advertising and the dreaded pop-up ad. Instead, you can work with larger companies such as Network Solutions (www.netsol.com) or Register.com (www.register.com). Both are reputable sources and will cost about $20 $30 per year, or you might consider signing up for a multi-year commitment for a discounted rate. Personally, I like Go Daddy (www.godaddy.com) because it's very simple to use and costs $7 or $8 a year to register your domain name.
Website hosting is a necessity. In simple terms, this is the service that takes your website and places it on a computer (server) that is connected around the clock to the Internet so that when someone types in your Web address, they can access your site.
Servers vary in price. Some companies offer free hosting and make their money from advertising or sponsorship. This can be problematic since you don't have control over what kind of advertising is being posted on your site. Other companies offer shared and dedicated hosting services that range from $10 to $100 a month, so dedicated hosting is obviously going to be more expensive.
Studies indicate churches typically pay about $25 a month in hosting fees. Again, this can vary depending on how much space you need, how much bandwidth you want and other technical jargon we won't cover in this article. Just remember that website hosting is a monthly fee, so at $25 a month, you should budget about $300 a year for hosting alone.
Finally, you must maintain your website. It's imperative that you be able to update text, photos and documents easily, quickly and inexpensively. Church events and services change weekly, if not daily, and your site should reflect these changes so visitors and members can rely on it as a resource.
You could hire the developer who created your site to maintain it, but this can be costly. Most developers charge an hourly rate to perform edits and changes. Do the math: If you make changes weekly, and the developer charges $10 an hour (which would be very inexpensive), you'll be spending a minimum of $40 a month or $480 a year! Plus, you would only be able to change content once a week, and the developer might not be able to do it right away.
One other option is to train someone at the church to learn HTML and other Web programming languages to keep your site updated. Again, not very practical.
Or, you could use an existing software solution that lets you update and edit your website any time you want from any computer with an Internet connection. It's affordable, simple and quick.
And aren't those the three magic words?
By David Urabe