Creating a Church Website with Wordpress
and... how to set up a free email newsletter with subscription feature at your site
so members get automatically notified of new content

an article by Neil MacQueen, Sunday Software, www.sundaysoftware.com
Copyright 2009. Permission granted to quote or reprint for non-commercial uses.

2012 Update: If you're a Google Blogspot fan, then you'll also now want to read my blog article: Creating a Church Website in Google's Blogspot

UPDATE:  SEE THE NEW VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE AT http://sundaysoftware.com/site/webpage/

The following is an older version of the article.

The info is good, but the links in it may not work.

Why suggest Wordpress as a way to create a good* church website?
There are a lot very good reasons...

First, I'm a realist. I've created several websites and two blogs. I've worked in the church as a pastor and volunteer, and I've worked on several church websites. This article reflects real lessons learned. Wordpress is a great answer to problems that afflict many church websites.

Second, you not only need to create a church website, you need to MAINTAIN one too. And there's the rub. Most church websites are poorly maintained. Many start out looking great -and end up stale or abandoned. The person who did all the initial heavy lifting -leaves, or staffers change or lose interest. Or there's no easy way for multiple people to contribute content. The 'design' person ends up having to post everything, and that gets frustrating  -usually for the design person!  They get tired of people NOT giving them fresh content.

Or they have a volunteer who is good at designing websites, but not that interested in collecting fresh content. Some churches resort to hiring out to get a nice "first" website, but soon learn that the design company must be continually fed money in order to keep the site fresh.

Building a site in Wordpress ADDRESSES many of these real world issues. Wordpress can be set up and maintained by ANY volunteer who has a modest amount of web skills. It has a lot of automated processes, such as updating your menus each time you post something. And it allows for multiple contributors. Wordpress' online tool can be easily learned by new volunteers. Wordpress continues to develop and improve their tools. A Wordpress account is incredibly easy to set up. And Wordpress is ridiculously inexpensive.

Wordpress tools are all online. You sign up for a site, go to your site, sign in, and access the site's dashboard control panel to post new announcements, photos, and make design changes. This means you you can manage your site from ANY computer in the world as long as you have the password to your account. No software to download or install. Slick.

And then there are all those "other" factors:

You are not the most technical person on the planet. (Or maybe you are and you want a tool you can customize and tweak rather than having to do all the heavy lifting)

You don't want to have to buy web software or read a manual. You don't with Wordpress, and they have terrific FAQS and support forums. (And if you are the most technical person on the planet, you can customize Wordpress and still have time to do other things for the church.)

You want a quick and easy way for volunteers to post content, make it look nice, upload photos, and update content --without sending volunteers to MIT. That's Wordpress.

You want a way to have multiple contributors so that you don't have to post everything yourself to the site, or wait for a volunteer to do it. Wordpress supports multiple authors.

You want a site that collects visitor info and can broadcast an email newsletter alerting them to annoucements and new content at the site. Wordpress has an easy to set up widget for that.

You want a site that invites response. Wordpress lets visitors/members leave their comments after every announcement.

You want a site that's clean looking, has design templates you choose from, and has some "gadgets" you can turn-on that add some "coolness" and functionality to the site. Wordpress has all that at the click of a few buttons.

You want a site that you can turn over to "the new volunteer" when the old website volunteer moves on, and the newbie will be able to figure it out immediately. Wordpress is easy to figure out, and is located on the web so anyone with the password to your site can work on it.

You're no web rocket scientist. You need a setup that's Quick and Easy. You want to be able to press buttons to add features. That's Wordpress.

And you want it DIRT CHEAP. That's definitely Wordpress.

*Good Church Website
What's a "good" church webpage look like and do? See my other article at http://sundaysoftware.com/site/webpage/ You might be surprised by my definition!

Yeah, yeah, Wordpress was originally created as blogging software, -but more and more websites are using it to build great looking websites for organizations and businesses. The line between website and blog is now completely blurred. Wordpress' templates and multitude of 'gadgets' really are impressive. And all those 'blogging' features are actually things you can use to create conversation and invite multiple authors to contribute.

Who is Wordpress?  The people behind Wordpress are some of the web's most respected innovators. They are an organization of developers who have spent years developing blog software using an open-source model (free and collaborative manner). Their community of coders continues to improve it, which to me, that's a key feature. Your Wordpress website -if you host it on their website, will improve every year because of Wordpress' dedicated community of developers working for you. And all those improvement get immediately added to your site --IF you sign up with them at www.wordpress.com.  

I have no connection with them whatsoever, other than I'm a user and like how their tools can help churches with their websites.

Why not Google's Blogger/Blogspot free web blog service?

Originally I didn't recommend Blogger/Blogspot because it lacked some features and controls. That has now changed and Blogger/Blogspot is now on par with Wordpress for our church website purposes.

Read my blog article: Creating a Church Website in Google's Blogspot

There are other collaborative/blog style options on the web, but be careful. Many of such services come and go. They get developed and then languish after a year or two. Wordpress has been around a long time, and has a track record of continual improvement.

Caution:

You can count on some Web Techies turning up their noses at this Wordpress/online solution. They'd naturally prefer to create a custom website of their own design using their own software. Many web developers I've met love the idea of creating a church site from scratch. They want to contribute to the church and show what they can do. And some actually do a great job long-term. But over time, most get discouraged and/or move on, and the church is left with a site that need revamped. Wordpress de-emphasizes "custom," brings more people into the process, and can easily be access and improved by new helpers, if the original developer leaves the project.

So let me address this directly to the web techies reading this: Here's what discourages those who have gone before you...  They put in all this time to make the site look nice, but nobody gives them timely info, and/or, they were interested in starting the site, but not good at maintaining it. And then the next volunteer who comes after them doesn't understand the original design or code, and "rebuilds" the site. Or the web techie actually gets a LOT of support initially, and spends a lot of time fulfilling everyone's wish list, but after 6 months, key people lose interest and the good-looking site is full of stale content. And round and round she goes.

Unfortunately, the internet is littered with the wreckage of well-intentioned church websites and techies. That's why I encourage the web wizards to think about the future, rather than just about your own skills and current interest in developing a site for your church. Wordpress has the kind of features that can help you AND your church avoid some of the well-known bumps in the road to developing and maintaining a church website. Mainly, it makes collaboration E-Z. And the easier you make the site to USE and MAINTAIN, -the more people you involve in creating and maintaining the site, the more likely you are to have a project that's clean, quick, fresh, supported AND APPRECIATED by MORE than JUST YOU. 

Here's a surprise: When you move yoursite.wordpress.com to yoursite.org via Wordpress' update button, your new domain appears in about in a matter of minutes!  Usually it takes up to 72 hours for a new domain to appear across the net. (BTW: Your site is still hosted at wordpress.com. They simply create your new domain for you and redirect your prototype site to that new url. It's seamless and simple.)

(My former church's wordpress website is at www.stcroixreformed.org. We have 60 members, and a volunteer with no prior web experience now maintains it, though I help from a distance as I'm no longer in that community.)

 
Wordpress Tips & Suggestions for Churches:  ...based on my own experience building MY church's website with Wordpress.

1. Pick a template "theme" that says "customizable header" in the description. This will let you upload your own picture to the site that will appear on the top of every page. A few of their templates don't let you put a picture on the top of the page. You can always upload picture in individual posts, but having a main logo pic, if that's your desire, is only available in those which say "customizable header" in their description. All the themes have the same features/widget. Avoid dark themes with faint lettering.

2. You can change the "Theme" (aka, template) and click PREVIEW to see what your site will look like in that theme. I like that feature a LOT. Then you can implement a theme, and change it again -as often as you want, without affecting all the content you've posted. Pretty slick.

3. Resist the temptation to load up your pages with too many "widgets".

4. Less is More.  Resist the tempation to load up your pages with too much text.  Make a rule to keep things tight.

5. Learn the key features, such creating a PAGE which can be set as your "home" page...ie, always appear on the main page. Click Settings then Reading in the Dashboard and pop the static homepage switch. (Wordpress is blog software --which means it was originally designed to always put your LATEST post on the main page. But you can tell it to put certain posts on the main page.)

6. Set up a way for your readers to get ALERTS to all your new posts. Read one solution below...

7. You'll probably want to "turn off" Wordpress.com's automatic features known as "Related Posts" and "Snapshots." Click Appearance, then "EXTRAs" on your Wordpress Dashboard and check "Hide related posts" and uncheck "Snapshots." If you don't, Wordpress.com will automatically put LINKS underneath your posts that it thinks are related to your content, and you probably don't want to let them associate 'their' content with yours. For more details, go to http://support.wordpress.com/related-posts/

8. Insert the FACEBOOK WIDGET!   Your church should have a Facebook page because it allows your members to connect with each other, 'friend' each other, and stay connected in-between Sundays. You can easily put a 'live feed' of your Facebook announcements ON your church's wordpress website.

Here's the most powerful feature of any church website:  an email subscription feature

Every time something new is posted to your site, you want your members to automatically get an email with the news. And Google's free "Feedburner" is the answer.

 

Feedburner is a free service that "scrapes" your blog/site every day to see if there's anything new. If it finds something new, it sends an email containing the new posts to all your feedburner subscribers. Your subscribers sign up at your website by clicking a link and typing their email address. This gives your site and church a DE FACTO email newsletter... for free. Now you just need to get all your members to go to the site and click that link!

The steps to setting up a Feedburner may change as their service evolves, but this is the basic idea as of April 2009. The important thing to remember is that you have to create accounts, activate them, copy a few things and paste them in the right places. It's not rocket science, but your fellow parishioners don't need to know that! Here's the FAQ to it:  http://faq.wordpress.com/2006/10/11/how-can-i-offer-email-updates/

Here's how to set up the Feedburner acct to give your Wordpress site an email newsletter feature:

1. After setting up your Wordpress website, go to www.Feedburner.com and create an account. Remember to write down your acct info somewhere.

2. Next, Feedburner will give you a special web address where it will place your site's latest posts for broadcasting. Write that down for safe keeping.

3. Next, After creating a feedburner account and getting that special address, you must go into your Feedburner acct and click the "Publicize" tab, and then click the links to 'create email subscription' to generate the required code.

Two code choices will appear. I recommend using the second code offering marked "Subscription Link" rather than the first code they offer (which is a form that sometimes doesn't load in wordpress). If you click the "preview the subscription link" you can see what your subscribers will see when they find it on your website.  Copy the link code using your mouse.

4. Finally, go back into your Wordpress "dashboard" and select to add a 'text' "widget." You'll see it appear on the right side of the dashboard. Click 'edit' on the widget and it will open. Paste the feedburner code into that widget. Give it a title such as "Subscribe to News from the Church Website" ...and then click Save.  (you can now move that widget up on the page by dragging/dropping).

This will put an 'email subscription' link on your church webpage. Sign up and see how easy it works!  (Note: after you sign up, it takes the Feedburner servers a little bit to activate your feed and send the subscription code into your blog. At first, only the subscription title will appear. Soon enough, link for subscribers.)

Now, every time a new post is added to your website, everyone who is subscribed will get an email with a copy of that post, and a link back to your site as well. Posting Note: Feedburning does not immediately broadcast your new posts. The Feedburner service  typically "scrapes" your website for the latest posts every 8 to 12 hours, so you have some time to edit your post before everybody reads it.

So now you have an "email newsletter". Anytime you want to broadcast an email to your subscribers, simply create a post in any category.

Who's subscribed and reading your blog? Feedburner can tell you that too. Log-in to your Feedburner Account and examine your feed stats. Follow the links and it will give you a list of everyone's email address who has subscribed. You should also copy your subscriber's email addresses from time to time for safekeeping.