Building a more easily managed website without Wordpress
Wordpress is often the website builder of choice for churches. Its themes, plug-ins and blogging tools provide features that they need to maintain a robust online presence. There are even e-commerce tools to help churches raise funds online.
In some churches, staff may struggle with setting up and managing their Wordpress site. Knowing which of the almost daily security alerts and plug-in updates are essential to a site requires more technical understanding than church staff may have time for or interest in knowing.
When technology stands in the way, we may tend to let our websites become ghost towns or billboards of static information. However, this practice does not help or inspire prospective visitors, members and, yes, search engines. New content is “essential to attract your community ... and to assure your church’s story sees the light of day.”
The good news is there are robust alternatives to Wordpress that offer easy website building with fewer technical hurdles.
Offering a simple drag/drop editor with 500+ design options (including video backgrounds), Wix is one of the easier user-friendly options. It offers comprehensive support tools, including how-to videos to help users take advantage of features they may wish to try in the future.
Guiding the website build is Wix’s patented Artificial Design Intelligence (ADI), which prompts users through a series of questions to simplify the process. Users pick a color theme and template style, and ADI automatically builds a first draft of the website. Users can then edit or add elements (text, images) and structural blocks (menus, media galleries) from a drag/drop menu.
While easy to use, Wix doesn’t allow users to change a template once the site is published. Considering this fact plus the two-level navigation limit can make it difficult to evolve and grow a site over time.
Wix offers a free ad-supported package as well as five paid plans priced from $4.50 to $24.50 per month. The premium plans, which remove the Wix ads, begin at $17.50 per month (or $14 per month billed annually). The next premium level at $19 per month offers a free domain.
Weebly is another simple templated drag/drop builder that features many stylish design themes. While it lacks the cool guided AI design of Wix, the service offers navigational flexibility to support a deeper, larger site. Weebly also provides guides to help churches with Search Engine Optimization.
Weebly allows users to easily add a members-only area to their site, where content exclusive to members (i.e., the church directory) can reside privately behind a login.
Weebly also allows for more customization through the source code view, but it's important to note that this requires programming knowledge. Its blogging and marketing tools (social sharing, RSS, email campaigns) are more enhanced than Wix’s. One drawback: If a Weebly site crashes during an update, restoring it to the last live backup requires contacting their support department.
For those with tighter budgets, a free ad-supported version of Weebly is available with plans starting at $8 per month ($5 per month billed annually). Upgrades are available to remove the ads and include domain registration ($18 per month) and to host a members-only area ($35 per month).
Squarespace creates beautiful sites with arguably the best design templates in its vast profession-categorized library.
Building a site here is more technical and less intuitive than the drag/drop builds of Wix and Weebly. Best suited for churches using an experienced web designer, Squarespace is the platform for stunning image-heavy online portfolio or brochure websites. Among creatives, it’s celebrated for its high design rather than functionality (i.e. member area behind login, SEO, contact forms) or ease of use. In fact, Squarespace is so customizable that the options may be overwhelming to some users.
Pricing is simple: Plans begin at $16 per month ($12 per month billed annually), which includes the domain and is always ad-free.
Before you make your decision, consider…
- United Methodist Communication’s Local Church Services team offers marketing services and promotional grants to local United Methodist churches who are active in their communities and who need support and guidance in their web ministry.
- UMC Training offers the online on-demand course Launching Your Church Website that will build your Wordpress skills and clarify your website needs.
- Find A Church offers a free church profile page to customize that features contact details, worship times, a map, visitor information, links to your website and social media channels and more.
Which builder is right for your church?
For beginners, Wix or Weebly may prove to be the best choice. Within a day, an attractive and effective website can be built and launched. For those who have HTML/CSS experience and the time to spare for both the build and learning curve, Squarespace is typically the pro digital creative’s choice for a unique website.
Take advantage of the free trials Wix, Weebly and Squarespace offer. (Wix and Weebly offer forever free ad-supported plans while Squarespace offers only a 14-day free trial.) To take full advange of the trial period, try to recreate your current site design using the tools each provides.
- Which is the easiest for you to use?
- Did you discover any building or design restrictions you can’t live with now or in the future?
- What rate works best for the features that you'll use and for your overall budget?
In the end, the best website building solution is the one that's actually used paired with the experience and time available for these efforts. More and more, people — particularly young adults — are checking out a church online before visiting in person. Don't let technology stand in the way of telling your church's story and showing how God is at work.