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C-M-S spells website maintenance relief

SUMMARY: You know how much work it takes to create and maintain a church website. Whether you’re doing it yourself, paying someone else to do it or relying on volunteers, communicating through your website presents challenges. If you find it takes a week to get a news item published to your website or you spend hours making sure everything is up-to-date, a Content Management System may be a good solution.

A Content Management System (CMS) is a software program that provides authoring and administrative tools that enable a person with little or no programming skills to create and manage a website’s content. Beyond leveling the playing field for non-technical users, CMS programs can save time because they generally require fewer steps to post and manage content than a code manipulation and/or other management system does.

Deciding whether or not your church needs a CMS is less about how much or how often you update Web content and more about how much time andcapability you have to manage a website.

Many churches use a CMS if they don’t have on-staff capabilities and can’t afford to hire a company to create and maintain a website. The many CMS products on the market require some evaluation before purchase.

Define your needs. 
You have to know what your needs are because CMS programs vary in functionality. Do you need to update information on your website weekly, daily or hourly? Do you want to be able to post videos or just static photos? Will there be multiple blogs to maintain? Do you need to be able to manage the website remotely from your home or while traveling? How many people need to have administrator access?

Defining your needs and parameters enables you to narrow your choices so you don’t overinvest in too much functionality.

Prioritize your needs.
CMS systems have been around long enough that they all have similar core functionality, such as the ability to post news, create a calendar of events, etc. Vendors have taken to adding specialized functions to differentiate themselves. By deciding which functions are a must and which are in the “nice-to-have” category, you can be better prepared to choose the right CMS once your choices have been narrowed to a few.

Some CMS programs are designed specifically for churches and other non-profit organizations. WordPress is the leading CMS system solution, particularly for small- and medium-size sites. E-zekiel offers discounts for United Methodist churches. Others to consider are JoomlaDrupal and Plone.These options are among the simplest and least expensive, and will fill the need for many churches.

If you want a CMS that provides a strategic view, consider a system such as SynchShow, which not only manages content but also analyzes it so you can change your content to optimize search engines, page rankings and more. Squarespace allows users to manage their websites via an iPhone app and is operated as a Software-as-a-Service (the program and content live on a secured Squarespace server, which users access via a Web interface instead of downloading and storing files to their PCs). Another, Ektron, delivers unique content to users of your website based on their preferences as expressed in social media activity.

To find out more about CMS vendors, read news and reviews on CMS Wire, a website dedicated to the CMS market.

Ask for recommendations.
Call other churches and non-profit organizations and find out which CMS programs they use, what they use them for, how much they spend and what functions they use. This is one of the fastest and best ways to create a short list of potential vendors.

What about breaking up? 
One of the most important questions to ask, especially if choosing a vendor that is hosting your site and/or uses proprietary programming is what happens to the Web content, admin database, etc., when you stop using this specific CMS. You can’t predict the future. Protect yourself and your church by making sure that your church maintains ownership of all Web content as well as any back-end information that you deem important, such as a database of who visited the site.