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An Effective Solution for Church Web Sites

The last thing you want is an ineffective web site. Your church web site must share your story and connect with your intended audience. To do this, you must determine who will build it and maintain it and what tools and resources they will need.

You also need to know what to look for when evaluating possible platforms for your church web site. Have a clear set of requirements ready as you look for your solution for an effective web site.
  1. Does it produce semantically correct content?
  2. Is the product actively supported?
  3. What level of expertise is required?
  4. Can you manage your work flow?
  5. Cost = Time + Money
  6. Will it work out of the box and will it grow with you?
  7. Groups and Users
  8. Can your site be given its own visual identity?
  9. The Benefits of Content Management Systems

There are a lot of options when building your church web site and selecting the best solution for your ministry is a vital step in creating and maintaining an effective site. Not every church or ministry is the same and you need to answer some questions about your ministry and your site to get the best product and establish the best practices for producing and updating your online message.

Each of the following will weigh differently in your decision, but they all need to be considered.

Does it produce semantically correct content?

This is a basic requirement for a technically good web site - if the pages created generate do not display properly, your readers will lose patience and even avoid your site. Web standards have been set and widely known for over a decade - there is little excuse to not have site pages that will pass validation tests.

Is the product actively supported?

In this day and age, lots of products get replaced by new versions and some even are very short-lived. You will be investing a great deal of time in producing your site and building your readership. You don't want to be stuck with a product that is no longer available or supported.

What level of expertise is required?

Keep in mind the people you will have maintaining the site - they are most likely not web experts. Improvements are being made that make web updates within reach of anyone who can use a browser and compose email.

Can you manage your work flow?

Every organization has processes they follow for publishing information, your church should too. You most likely already has a process for collecting, submitting, reviewing, editing and publishing information. Your web site should support the same process.

Cost = Time + Money

Being a good steward of your resources is a sound Christian principle. Take into consideration the amount of time and effort required to maintain and update your web site, not just the amount of money spent on the products used. A product that costs you little, or no, money may result in wasted hours trying to get it to do what you need it to do. Likewise, spending a lot of money on the product doesn't necessarily guarantee reduced time and effort.

Will it work out of the box and will it grow with you?

Initially, your church web site may be quite simple, with just a few pages introducing yourself to the online community and also serving as a training experience for your new web team. But, as your experience grows and you expand your vision, you will be looking for more functionality from your site. Does the product you selected have the capability to expand and meet those needs, or will you need to abandon it for another and have to put effort into moving all your existing content to the new platform?

Groups and Users

We have already identified at least 2 different groups that will be accessing your site - your readers and your web team. Each group will have different tasks they wish to accomplish. Some will only read, others will submit new information, still others will edit and publish the articles for reading. Be sure your selected platform provides you with an easy method to manage the permissions and access levels for each of those groups. You may even decide content can be different for each group - how easy it is to assign content to specific groups?

Can your site be given its own visual identity?

Your church or ministry already has developed its own style and character and your web site should reflect that. Look for a solution that gives you a choice of themes or templates to customize the look and feel of your site. If you have someone available that is a competent web designer, have them look at how difficult it would be to produce your own theme for the site.

The Benefits of Content Management Systems

  • There are many open source CMS solutions that have a solid foundation and thriving communities. Open source projects are quite reasonably priced (most are free) and target various skill sets. They also offer the ability to manage and update your site from any browser, rather than relying on a desktop application
  • They offer a variety of features - from basic web sites to complex intranet portals for medium to large organizations
  • Each CMS provides a wide array of themes (or skins or templates) to create a custom look for your site. Designers often offer custom design options if you wish to have a completely unique design. There is always the possibility of creating your own design, too.
  • The main purpose of a CMS application is to manage content - and content can be specifically tailored for various users and groups.
  • Administration of the web site is also controlled through web access, allowing actions to be assigned to different groups so your work flow can be followed.
  • Each CMS varies in its ability to produce completely valid content because of the numerous contributors for functionality and presentation. Careful selection and evaluation of each module can produce a site that does meet web standards.
  • The out-of-the-box experience of each system also varies, but most allow you to set up your site and begin working on your content from the start. Many also offer 'bundles' - sets of addons for specific types of sites and functionality - as single downloadable packages for immediate results.

I have been quite satisfied with XOOPS as the basis for many sites (including Christian XOOPS Resources) and I recommend you give it serious consideration as the platform for your site, too. I am also thinking their new offspring - ImpressCMS - will become another excellent choice as an open source CMS.

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