Creating a Church Website in WordPress –Advanced Notes

My original article about creating a church website in WordPress has proven very popular, — just what the doctor ordered for many churches that have stale websites.  This post adds some advanced notes to that discussion. (Note:  that original article  points to my full article on the subject at http://www.sundaysoftware.com/wordpress.htm)

WordPress is website-creation software that gives churches a very inexpensive template-driven* way for a novice to create a respectable website.  With a little time and knowledge, a WordPress-created church website can also become an advanced-looking and functioning.

This article describes the two options you have to build a WordPress site. One of those approaches gets you up and running VERY quickly, but has some feature limitations. The other requires more expertise but is extremely expandable and customizable down the road.

*By “template-driven” I mean: WordPress gives you a group of pre-made website designs, and you select the one you want. Then you type your content into web forms and that info gets placed into your site.

WordPress’ control panel (aka “dashboard”) gives you many many features you can add by clicking and dragging the feature into place. WordPress also allows you to upload graphics and photos from your computer to your site with a minimal amount of fuss (WordPress will even compress and resize it for you).  No code experience necessary, though there is a learning curve.

In WordPress, you can preview and pick new templates at any time, and all your previous content is immediately updated with that new look.

There are TWO WAYS to create a WordPress website. One is “Easy” and other a bit more “Advanced”

 1) Easy…  You go to WordPress.COM and sign up to use their online web creation tools.  You can create a site for free, then play around with it.  You can then pay them $15 a year to convert your site (yourchurchname.wordpress.com) to your own website domain (yourchurchname.org). This is how my church does it (www.stcroixreformed.org)

2) Advanced…  You go to WordPress.ORG and download their free copy of the WordPress software and install it on your own existing website.  From that point on, it works just like a site at WordPress.com, except that you can add many more features and design themes. WordPress.org has lists of features and design themes you can get from WordPress developers at little or no charge.

When you ‘install’ WordPress.org’s free software, you’re putting it at your website, not running it from your computer. When you simply sign up for a WordPress website at WordPress.com, there’s nothing to download; WordPress.com does it all for you, including the hosting. Both options give you the same user-friendly “dashboard” that you access via your web browser to control your site.

Creating your site at WordPress.COM via their online tools is inexpensive and quick, but you’ll be limited to the three dozen or so templates that they offer. However, if you’re planning a fairly simple site, this is the way to go. This is how I did my church’s website, mainly because down the road I wanted it to be easily managed by other volunteers and the pastor. They also didn’t have a web domain name or host provider yet, and WordPress.com offers it cheap.

(If you change your mind some day, you can migrate your content from your wordpress.com site to your own.)

Either way, whether via wordpress.COM or wordpress.ORG, WordPress has a lot of great tutorials, examples, and community support forums.

NOTE: If your church already has a website, check with your church’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) to see if they already have Wordpress installed on their server and can load it on your site for free.  Just be sure it’s the latest version of WordPress.

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Implementing advanced features and design themes on your own WordPress.org installed software…

If you have chosen to download and install wordpress to your website’s server, a whole forest of WordPress themes and feature plug-ins can be found on other websites that can be installed into your wordpress software.

WordPress is “open source” software… meaning they encourage developers to make themes and features for the platform.

www.themeforest.net/category/wordpress is one of the best places to shop for WordPress themes and features which you can install into your WordPress website. You can download a very sophisticated and easy to modify WordPress design template for under $35 and then install it into your website.  (People will think you’re a web-genius.)   Please note: this approach requires knowledge of how to upload (ftp) files to your church website.

Look through the various theme forest categories and don’t limit yourself to any one category at themeforest because all the themes are customizable. Thus, you might find a really good ‘business’ template that works well for your church. How customizable IS each theme? Depends on what the developer gives you. Read their descriptions carefully. And Remember: one of the great things about WordPress is you can change the design theme without changing all the posts and breaking all the navigation links!

Here’s an example of a really nice design theme I found in the business section of ThemeForest.com, which could be easily modified for church use…

example

One of the things I really like about WordPress themes, is that you can PREVIEW THEM at your site, and if you don’t like them, you can revert back to the theme/layout you had before with the click of a button.

Tips on Customizing Your WordPress Theme…

In WordPress, you can add your own front page graphic, -replacing the one that came with the template. Just be sure to note the dimensions of the main “header” graphic which the theme is designed to display. For example, if the template’s header graphic is 600×300, make your replacement header graphic the exact same size.

When you install a theme, whether are WordPress.com site, or your own installed version of WordPress, often you cannot customize the fonts and link colors, those are locked in as part of the theme you have chosen. Check each template’s “specs” to see if those things are customizable in the particular template you want to use.  (As WordPress software evolves, they are adding more customization options.)

Some of the themeforest themes have “slideshow” features you can easily install on the main graphic on the front page. For example:  http://themeforest.net/item/good-start-wordpress-design/full_screen_preview/77989 (also seen above).  This is a business theme, but could easily be modified to work for your church. I’m not advocating a slideshow as your header graphic… just suggesting you are AWARE of the theme’s design before you install it.

Below is an example of MY church’s website, which is hosted via WordPress.COM for $15 a year. Out of their 50 some free themes, I liked 7 or 8, and chose this one.  They continue to add new templates and features to WordPress.com hosted sites.

I am able to customize SOME things about the layout, but because we’re doing it the inexpensive WordPress.COM way, some things are not customizable, and some things in this particular theme have limited layout options. For example, I wish the main header graphic is this theme could be wider and cover the top, -like most templates allow you to do. But I sacrificed it for all the other nice color/design features.  Give and take.

example2

The nice thing about this design is I can change it with the click of a button on my WordPress dashboard. All the photos, content and links will remain visible and functional, just put into a different layout.

The real key to the “look” of your site is NOT the template, but your content. Photos are critically important to making your site (and thus, your church) appear inviting and fresh.

The best part of our site is that we have a “subscribe” feature so that members can subscribe to automatically receive email copies of all new content that we post. In effect, it’s a free email newsletter.  Read about that ‘feedburner’ feature at www.sundaysoftware.com/wordpress.htm

For more church website do’s and dont’s go to www.sundaysoftware.com/webpage.htm

To learn how to create a basic WordPress.com website for your church, go to www.sundaysoftware.com/wordpress.htm

For tips on Adding a Donation Button and enabling a “Feedburner” feature on your church website that notifies church members every time you post a new message to your site, go to www.sundaysoftware.com/wordpress.htm and look down at the Feedburner section.

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NOTE: There are many OTHER web services that offer free or nearly free ready-made design templates and special features you can select from menus to quickly build a site.  Drupal.com for example. However, all of these services can still produce amateurish and lifeless sites with stale content.  Bottom line: you need somebody with an eye for appearances, and knack for writing.

Buyer beware:  Some web service providers offer simple website creation software, but the content won’t transfer if you want to change service providers. Many of these “create a site” webhosts are also PRICEY. And some of the services look good at first, but might not grow with you over the years. Why?  Some web hosts contract out their template services to enhance their product to first-time buyers (ie, your webhost doesn’t own or manage the template services they are offering you). Soon enough, you could find their features aren’t quite enough, aren’t customizable, or don’t get upgraded because the service behind them is long gone. WordPress has been around a long long time, is open source, offers its software for free, and has a non-profit foundation at its core.

There are a couple of web-hosting companies that cater specifically to churches with “point and click” approach to designing your church website. www.e-zekiel.com for example. Not cheap, but lots of features and support and they’ve been in business a long time.

I continue to like WordPress for the cost, the free stuff, the ease of use, their support community, and their continuing commitment to improving their product.

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Check out my software!  www.sundaysoftware.com

 
 
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