De-mystifying webdesign - Part 1. Choose your provider

De-mystifying website design
Part 1. Choose your provider

For a lot of small churches the prospect of a developing a website is daunting but it need not be. The image still exists of specialist computer software, complicated programming code, unfathomable acronyms and expensive design fees but this is all in the past. Like so much other computer software the last few years have seen a big change to pre-designed templates that you can use or modify without any special training or knowledge. In this first of two articles we will look at the benefits of this approach and what to look for.

There are many advantages of using these template based providers.

Free! – Free is good and many of the providers offer free starter plans. There are of course drawbacks in that you don’t get the advanced features that you see on some websites but there are normally ‘workarounds’. You may also have to have the provider’s logo or name showing somewhere on each page but whilst this may be an issue for businesses it will often not bother churches.

Templates galore – A big question for many people is setting the look and feel for the website. Most providers offer hundreds if not thousands of templates either free or paid for. With most providers these are aimed at small businesses so it takes a bit of imagination to see which one will work best for your church context. The templates are already mocked up with stunning images so you also have to try and imagine it with the images that you either already have or can get hold of.

Drag and drop – You add ‘content’ to you website – such as text or images – by using the mouse to drag a text or image box to the page you are working on before typing in the words or clicking to add the photo.

“What you see is what you get” – As you build your website the view you see on your screen is roughly the same as what it will look like to someone visiting your site. So just drag them around until you are happy with it – this takes a bit of getting used to but is not difficult.

Easily add updates – If you want to put the latest newsletter to your site each week then you can simply swap the old one for the new one. One of the great things about the template based sites is that you have the option of getting someone else (paid or otherwise) to set it up and then just manage it yourself.

There are a number of a large range of secular providers of these template based sites with the big names being: WordPress, Weebly, Wix, and Squarespace.

There are reviews and several comparisons available on the internet you can just search for these but make sure that the article you find is recent or it may not reflect the latest situation. Here are some we found for you:
Comparison 1
Comparison 2
Comparison 3

At Rural Ministries we have direct experience of Weebly (I manage my own church's website) and Squarespace. In fact Rural Ministries' own website uses Squarespace although we did have an expert Dave Valler modify it slightly. If you are looking for a cheap and easy to use option then we can recommend Weebly.

There are also several Christian organisations that provide specialist templates aimed at churches. These include:
Proclaim ItChurch123Church edit, and Sharefaith

One of the advantage of these Christian sites is that they often have a large selection of pictures that you can use and these are more likely to be relevant to you than secular providers. However they do not normally offer free plans and generally cost between £150 and £200 per year.

All the providers give you the opportunity to try them out for free so it is worth giving a few a go and seeing how you get on. You are bound to have questions but most all either have a help-desk or tutorials you can use. 

With these providers building a website is not difficult but it does take time to plan it and prepare the text that you will want to put on it – we will look at this in part 2 next month.

Nick