There are lots of ways to establish an online presence. You'll probably want to consider all your options before committing to a particular system. So, let's see what some of your options might be...
Don't bother with a website - just use Facebook
You could rey on third party websites, but you don't have control over your data or how they might change things in the future, or how trends might change. It's a good idea to have a Facebook or Twitter presence - or Instagram if you have a younger demographic - but the received wisdom is that these should augment not replace your own website.
A Church Near You
The Church of England operates a free-to-use website that any parish or benefice can plug into. It might not be the prettiest, and it lacks some features of other more bespoke solutions, but it is being actively developed and invested in, it is free and it has the advantage of gathering lots of parishes' information into one place. It's certainly worth a look if you want an Anglican website. Again, it might be something to run in conjunction with your own site.
Check out "A Church Near You" website to find out more.
Free Content Management System
The most popular and the market leader is WordPress. It does take some learning, and can be overly-complex for novice users - but there is an active community support base. If you go down this route, it is probably worth investing £30 or so in a premium theme, to add a touch more style. Wordpress will host a site for you (more limitations/fees but more user-friendly) or allows you to host your own (you're in full control, so without limitations but requires more tech savvy).
There are alternatives to WordPress worth considering as well. Wix, with its massive advertising budget and ease-of-use, is stealing some market share. Joomla, Drupal and Weebly are also worthy candidates. Each one has pros and cons. If you want to explore this marketplace, go to their sites with a clear list in your mind of what you're looking for to see if they tick the boxes for you.
Pay for a Generic Content Management System
You can pay people to help set up a WordPress site, or maintain one for you. One innovative approach guides you through a process of setting up a church WordPress site, with guidance on how to maintain it, for a one-off fee of £30. Check out the link to "This Church" below.
There are some platforms that have gone all out for beautiful design and ease-of-use. The investment is reflected in the annual fees.
Wix offers a paid-for service as well as its free service. It has over 2 million paying users.
Squarespace is a great example of this genre. Unlike Wix, it doesn't offer a free option. It has over a million paying users - that number is increasing daily. You get unlimited pages and an integrated payment system for £180 per year. They partner with Google for email integration, which pushes it up £40 per year for each email address. With some training or with some help, you can create a very professional looking website. It's especially good if you want a chic image-oriented design.
Your Own Custom Design
This is a good solution if you can afford it, or if you have a friendly web designer in your congregation. You can get hold of both free and paid-for website templates, or go the whole hog and employ a graphic designer to come up with something totally unique and bespoke. With a volunteer using a template, you can get good value. With a professional designer and website creator you can easily be paying £1000s to get something set up.
If you pursue this route, it is important to keep in close contact with the people doing the work, to make sure you get what you want and what is going to work for your context. You also need to be absolutely sure how you will keep content up-to-date. You are risking the most with this option, but with a well-thought out scheme, it can be the most rewarding.
You could also employ somebody to use one of the free or paid-for generic CMS systems to set up and/or maintain your church website, in order to keep the costs down a bit. These services vary in cost and quality, and can still be expensive. Again, it is vitally important to be clear about what you want from the outset.
Pay for a Tailored Church Content Management System
There are clear benefits to this approach:
- You get a website that comes ready customised to your context
- It is cheaper than a bespoke design
- You have access to ongoing support, and a community of other users
- You have an online presence over which you are completely in control
- You have a straightforward way to maintain content
- The learning curve is much less steep than with the generic free content management systems
This is the category that ChurchNet falls into. We are not alone - you will find other providers, offering similar fare, including ChurchEdit and CPS. If those suit you better, go for it!
What you get with ChurchNet is something that is:
- especially suited to the multi-parish context
- packed full of features as standard
- exceedingly good value
Simply visit churchnet.co, have a browse and send us a message from there, telling us your name and email address, and ticking the box to start a 90-day free trial.
Our feature set is as rich as anything else out there, and all features are available as standard. The price is way lower than even the most basic budget offerings of others. Don't let this put you off. This is an excellent system, brought to you affordably because it's possible for us to do so, and because we understand the financial pressures on smaller churches, and are simply passionate about every church having a great online presence.
We also offer the most generous free trial period out there. A whole 3 months for free to trial the system without limitations and with no obligation. There's really nothing to lose.
Once we've received your message, we'll set your trial site up, and you'll be able to have a play. If you want to continue with it after 3 months, we can keep the site on a churchnet sub-domain or transfer it to a domain name of your choice.
It is best to involve as many people as possible in the information-gathering exercise.
You'll need images, details of people, churches and community groups ready to get your site up and going.
The section on "Gathering Your Content" takes you through everything you need step-by-step, and you'll find a checklist at the start of the "Setting Up" section of this guide.
You can work through the steps described in the "Setting Up" section of this guide or let us do it for you.
As you transfer all of your key information onto the website, the guide will take you through each part of the setup process in detail, and we'll be on hand to answer any queries.
Alternatively, you can pay an extra setup fee, in which case you simply send us the information and we'll do all the legwork for you.
Appoint one or more website administrators to keep news and events coming.
Again, it is generally a good idea to share the load when it comes to keeping your content up-to-date, and the site allows for as many people as you'd like to be able to update all or part of the website. The sections of the guide on Web Users explains more. Of course, if you have one keen volunteer, or a paid church administrator, for whom it would make sense to give sole control, then that would also work well. The website allows you to handle content management in a way that suits you best.
The website will automatically archive events that are past, or news items that are out-of-date. You can also control which uploaded items are featured or archived. If all your events are in the past, and all your news is old, the site won't look out-of-date - but it could look relatively empty.
Think carefully about how you are going to be updating content. Fresh, unique content is one of the best ways to improve your search engine visibility, and keep your visitors interested.
The website also allows people who are interested to sign up for email updates (checking for fresh content daily, weekly, or monthly) - it's a great and simple way to keep in touch with your people. For example, if you post an event on the website, people who have signed up are automatically first emailed to say the event has been added, and then emailed a reminder a week before it happens.
The section of the guide on "Maintaining" takes you through the most common tasks, and is always on hand to help your content managers.
The ChurchNet website contains lots of helpful little productivity boosting tools, and clever features.
We've tried hard to keep things easy to do, our rule being that if you can use email, you should be able to add content to your ChurchNet website. Inevitably, however, with more complex features, it is more challenging to keep it simple. We've done our best, and nothing should be too advanced, but for those tasks that are just a little bit more complicated than email, you have these simple guides to lead you step-by-step through each technique.
Once you've got the hang of it, you'll be flying! In the meantime, the "Advanced" section of the guide takes you through some of these more advanced content management techniques, such as:
- Embedding video
- Setting up or cloning a booking system for a prayer room
- Embedding multiple images in a news item
- Integrating with other social media platforms
- Handling HTML in your descriptions
3-Month Free Trial
Start your trial now by clicking on the button below and sending us a trial name along with your email address.Start Trial
The ChurchNet CMS
Browse the ChurchNet website to find out more about where this content management system (CMS) came from and what it can offer you.Learn More
Carry on with the Guide
The next section of the Guide will tell you all about what information you need to gather in order to get your trial site set up, and give you some pointers about where you can go to find that information.Preparing the Way