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Web hosting reviews for churches

By Jeremy Steele

Shopping for a new web hosting solution is tough. Read through Wikipedia's guide on web hosting services and you will see there are several types of hosting. And for every type of hosting, there are hundreds of companies vying for your business. So instead of delving into the exhaustive web hosting abyss, we considered what a church may be interested in and offer affordable solutions from United Methodist Communications as well as other quality providers.

Let this list be a jumping-off point to help you start thinking of the specific needs for your church’s website.

Before you shop around, check out www.umcchurches.org

Here’s some good news: The United Methodist Church has a great option for website hosting called UMCChurches.org. It is incredibly affordable and packs in several features.

If you don’t have the funds to develop a website or pay for space or the time to maintain a website, a couple of clicks will let you add  information to the “Find-A-Church” search engine on UMC.org AND gives you a web address (it will look like YOURNAME.umcchurches.org) to promote for others to use to access the page.   

If you have a little time and money to devote and want to put together more than a single page, check out the “Level 2” package that includes access to the WordPress tool (see the WordPress review below), pre-made United Methodist WordPress themes and drag-and-drop United Methodist content from United Methodist News Service, The Upper Room and other sources.  All of that is available for $5 a month.  In addition, you will be using the same tool – WordPress – that businesses everywhere are using to run their sites. This could make it easier to find a volunteer who is already familiar with WordPress to help.  

Even if you are developing your own custom site, if you are considering using WordPress, make sure to check out UMCChurches.org as it has great United Methodist-specific content and premade United Methodist Church-branded templates at a very competitive price.

The reviews

If you want to go in a different direction, determining where to host your website can be difficult. The number of options and styles can make even the most seasoned web-shopper’s head spin. Below are quick overviews of several different providers with information on how easy it is to make an attractive website, how well those sites perform on mobile devices and how easy they are to use in general. We are also including the prices, although many have several options. Check their sites to find which is right for you.

Squarespace

Templates: 5/5
This is the gold standard for making a beautiful site. Though all of their templates are striking, what is amazing is the uniqueness of almost every template. Once you are in the site, the real asset is the editor and its careful limiting of features. While some might be frustrated (and there are workarounds) that they cannot tweak every image height to the pixel, most will relish the fact that everything is automatically placed in attractive sizes and shapes. When you edit the elements, the default is to snap to an attractive size or shape instead of giving you pixel-specific control. There is also a huge selection of fonts and great diversity in types of pages, including the sought-after “blank” so that you can design what you need.

Mobile: 5/5 
As with many providers in this article, Squarespace’s designs are device-independent or responsive, which means they resize and reformat for whatever size screen is being viewed.  

Ease of Use: 5/5
This is an arena where Squarespace excels. Taking a cue from the simple design, the interface offers a limited palette of options in favor of making everything drag and drop with simple popovers to allow you more fine-tuned control. Some of the features (like podcasting) may not be readily intuitive, but an excellent support search will give you the simple steps to do whatever you need. Commerce is included in every site. A great shopping cart allows you to register people for summer camp, accept donations or sell your pastor’s e-book.  

Cost: $8/mo for 20 pages and 2 GB of space

Virb

Templates:  5/5 
This is where Virb excels.  It initially presents you with a set of templates. All are different but strikingly beautiful. After choosing the template, you can select several different types of pages (including a blank one) where you fill in the content and get started. That’s it. Much like Squarespace, you don’t have to do anything more to make it beautiful.

Mobile: 5/5
All the sites are mobile-responsive, which makes them attractive and useful on any size display. The design “feel” remains consistent as the changes with the mobile device.

Ease of Use:  4/5 
If you have any experience using web-based applications, you will have little problem working with this site. Placing new content is simple; however, we did find it difficult at times to navigate. It was not always obvious how to move from the design interface to the content one. The interface is, however, usually user-friendly, attractive and straightforward.

Cost: $10 a month for unlimited pages, audio files and video files. (Free trial available)

Wordpress.com

Templates:  4/5 
WordPress has improved its templates by taking a page from Squarespace’s book by and offering unique styles that break the header/menu bar mold. However, making changes to the designs is quite difficult. While you can flip into a customized view, it is not always clear how the changes you make will affect all your pages. What WordPress does better than any of the others in this arena is to give you quick buttons to see how your site will look on different sizes of screens.

Mobile:  5/5 
WordPress gets mobile. Each of its new templates is device-independent, looking and working great on whatever size device you have.  

Ease of Use: 3/5 
WordPress is the engine driving many of the pages you see, which means that it has a lot of power. However, that power can be downright confusing to people who don’t spend much time doing web design. The editor is far from intuitive. However, after viewing some good tutorial videos, most people will be able to find their way around the interface. The main problem is that it feels like an interface designed five years ago for web designers rather than a consumer-driven contemporary interface.

Cost: Free for 3GB of space, ads and no video. Most will want the $99/year option. UMCChurches.org adds the UMC templates, UMC content and other features starting at $5 a month.

Wix

Templates: 3/5
You start with a great looking template; customizing it is simple and intuitive.  What makes your work even easier is the clear, short instructional video that plays before you begin to design your first page.  Though the interface is not always drag-and-drop, it makes sense and will automatically resize and crop images as you replace the content in the template. Stay with the template, and you will be fine. If you begin adjusting too many things, you can end up with a mess.

Mobile: 4/5 
The mobile site is well designed. The unique feature is that a simple switch will let you edit the mobile version of your site. This gives you a good bit of control over how your page is presented on the mobile side.

Ease of use: 3.5/5 
This tool is very easy to use. If you have had any experience using tools like this, you will likely find this a vast improvement over most of what you have used in the past. However, the frustrating thing about this provider is that you are editing what amounts to static pages. If you edit for a while and don’t like your template, you can’t swap templates, you have to start over. Be certain you know you like the look before you put much time into it.

Cost: Free for 500MB (premium plans start at $4.08/month)