Oftentimes, it’s the worry about the complexity of websites that prevents church administrators from even trying to create a website the first place. Despite leaps forward in usability and ease-of-use that have been introduced in the past ten years, many people (especially those that were around before these changes became commonplace) remember the pages of hypertext markup language (HTML) code and proprietary programs from a simpler time in web development. HTML is still the language of the web; all websites remain comprised of HTML (and some other facets). However, what is much simpler in this day and age is creating websites without writing any HTML at all, even for a small church without an IT budget.
In fact, the majority of the church websites that you see were not built by a web designer typing code into a text file. In the last few years Content Management Systems (CMS) have become the standard way of creating web sites. Instead of writing the HTML, users install the CMS onto a web hosting space (or have their host do it for them) and log into it on the web. From here, each CMS is different, but the concept is the same: find a church website template that you like, create pages within the website template?, type the content you would like, then hit publish?. It really is that simple, and looking at the underlying code of the site will still show HTML, even though the person tasked with creating the site didn’t have to write any. The function of the CMS is to allow a non-technical person to create a site without having to learn the intricacies of web development.
CMS packages can be used to create a church blog or church website. Many CMS packages are popular, well-documented and FREE solutions that are widely-used and very versatile and even come with hundreds of plugins and themes to help build your online project. Part of the reason CMS programs have become so popular with churches is that with a little reading, any church member can take up the job of webmaster. In our experience, a volunteer tasked with the job can put together a basic website in a weekend, from conception to publishing. Such CMS products include WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and ImpressPages. They are all designed with different goals in mind, so the best tool for someone else’s job may not be the best tool for yours. While some of these can be complicated and overwhelming, often used for corporate websites with lots of content, there are others that are made for the more novice user that have basic familiarity with computers yet still have great options with lots of functionality. If you don’t know what you need exactly, and are just experimenting with the idea of trying out a website, try using some of the more simple products.
For some options, such as WordPress and ImpressPages, the emphasis is on usability for the creator of the site. As WYSIWYG (pronounced wissee-wig) web building programs (which stands for “what you see is what you get”), the panels and elements are in a ??drag-and-drop fashion and editable without opening any other pages, just like a text document on your computer. In addition to being easily configurable, these packages also have a number of “widgets” that you can drag around to do things such as play music/videos or embed pictures/documents. These options are widely-used by churches everywhere because of the very easy learning curve. Most volunteers will at least have had experience with Microsoft Word or a similar program, so the concept is very similar.
Most, if not all of these CMS packages, are categorized as Open Source software. This term refers to the type of program license and means that anyone is free to add fixes and improvements to a program. This may sound too technical, but what this means to an end-user is that open source programs often are great choices that don’t involve a fee at all. In addition, Open Source software is easy to write extensions for, so many are known to be incredibly versatile. Many users have written sermon podcasting and church photo gallery plugins for WordPress that are now free to use and easy to install from the WordPress plugins menu.
With a little bit of research, it should become clear to anyone that setting up a website is really not that far removed from setting up a Facebook page or sending an email. The tools to do so are available, and in many cases, completely free. Don’t be scared of the prospect of encountering HTML code as you may never see any the entire time youâ??re building your own website!