“What’s the smartest, most affordable way to revamp my website?” These days when folks ask me that question, I find myself recommending a Content Management System, or CMS, almost exclusively. No other website solution offers more bang for your buck.
What is a CMS? In a nutshell, it is website management software with optional, flexible modules such as web pages, forums, calendars, and newsletters that can be easily added, subtracted, moved around within the site, or held for later publishing. A single administrative interface is used to manage all components and to assign “permissions” to various individuals and groups to include editing rights, administering other users, accessing only certain parts of the website, and more.
Change Makes Sense.
The idea of a CMS isn’t new. What is new is the way CMS’s have evolved into affordable, easy-to-use systems within the average church’s reach. Here are nine advantages a CMS-based website has over a non-CMS-based site:
- A CMS provides an interactive experience. Your typical church website is a static, online brochure with text and images to describe your church. It may be lovely to look at but lacking in depth. A CMS-based website provides an interactive experience that invites people to add comments about what they read, hear and experience (all within your control). This stimulates thought and helps the church and its pastors feel the pulse of the church and its website visitors.
- All parts of the site, including blogs, registration forms, and media, have the same look and feel. When you start trying to add new features to a conventional website, each is provided by a different program and therefore has its own look and its own navigation menu. But since a CMS has all of these modules integrated, the CMS-based site has a consistent appearance and navigation menu throughout, making it easier for visitors to find their way around the site.
- The webmaster doesn’t have to be a web design professional. The typical church website is created by a professional or volunteer who is proficient either with HTML or website development software like Frontpage or Dreamweaver. This severely limits who is able to change and update the site. A CMS includes a user-friendly web-based text editor that works like a word processor and is built right into the website.
- The website can be maintained by multiple staff rather than a single webmaster. Church websites usually have one webmaster who acts as “gatekeeper” to the entire site. This can work well if a full-time staff member has expertise in this area, but that’s often not the case, resulting in frustration and delays. A CMS is overseen by one administrator who has the ability to grant permission to individual staff and volunteers to update specific parts of the site. The youth pastor can have access to update just the youth pages, the administrative assistant can have access to update just the church calendar, and the pastor can be given access to publish a devotional blog, but none of them are given access to change (mess up) other sections or the overall design of the site.
- The website is updated regularly and remains current. If all responsibility for updating a website falls on a single “gatekeeper,” the site often languishes with outdated information when the webmaster is busy, on vacation, or leaves the church. On the other hand, since a CMS-based site can be updated by various staff and volunteers it’s usually updated several times a week or even daily.
- A CMS provides the means to offer not only public site access to designated areas, but also private, internal web pages, calendars, newsletters, and forums. The average church website has all content out in the open for everyone to see, but does nothing to improve internal communication and productivity among staff and ministry teams. In addition to those public features, a CMS includes the capability to create private features to enhance the productivity of your leaders. You can create web pages, calendars, newsletters, and forums that are only accessible to staff or specific ministry teams to foster better internal communication.
- Site design can be easily updated. With the typical church website, a volunteer builds the site in FrontPage and no one on staff knows how to make edits. The problem can get complicated if the design is less than desirable but the site was donated to the church, making the staff seem ungrateful if they wish to change it to something more attractive and useable. With a CMS-based site, content is housed in a flexible structure that grows and changes, with user-friendly web-based editing tools. Changing the look and feel of the site is as easy as switching out a template. Moving blocks of site content around involves a few mouse clicks.
- New functionality can be easily added in the future. If the church wants to add some additional functionality (such as an email newsletter) to a typical site, the webmaster has to go out and find new software, install it, configure it, add links to it in the menu, and so on. With a CMS, new modules can be added with just a few clicks giving your website the ability to grow and change along with your church.
- Affordability. Until recently, only mega-churches could spend the thousands of dollars in programming and development required for a CMS. Plus, they would often spend hefty monthly fees for licensing and hosting. But today there are CMS programs available to the community at large. Joomla, Drupal and WordPress are just some of the free possibilities you can explore if your web hosting includes cPanel with Fantastico.
CMS Installed and Customized for You.
Churches that lack staff or volunteers with the expertise to configure a CMS can consider hiring a web developer to install and configure the software, design the template to their specifications, and provide training – often for less time and less money than a traditional, static website. (Warning – blatant self-promotion…) OurChurch.Com’s Custom CMS Express for Churches is one such option.
Taste and see.
You can test drive a church CMS by visiting our Sample Church site. Now I’ll be the first to admit, this example is packed with far more bells and whistles than you are likely to want in one site. But it does help demonstrate a large number of things that are possible. The look and feel can be customized by a professional web designer to resemble almost any site you’ve ever seen on the web.
Remember, with a CMS, you are in the driver’s seat. You can keep what you want, get rid of what you don’t, and build your site content any way you like. So give it some thought. Take a good hard look at your church website. And decide for yourself if it could be doing more.
Note: Many thanks to Paul Steinbrueck for his substantial contributions to this article.