Heal Your Church WebSite

Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

Perls of wisdom in a sea of site mismanagement

I received the following ‘love note’ from Scott Christensen, webmaster at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Madison, WI where he asks:

SUBJECT: What’s the big deal with CMS?

BODY:I have been reading your blog for awhile now and have seen you touting CMS solutions as the best thing since sliced bread, so I thought, “Hey, what the heck. I’ll look into them for our church’s website.” So, for the past couple of months I have been digging left and right comparing different CMS apps and have basically come to the conclusion that I don’t get it. It seems that most of the stuff a CMS does, I could do with FrontPage or DreamWeaver and an FTP client. There are a few useful things that I have seen such as calendar plugins or to a somewhat lesser extent, polls, but it seems that in general there’s less to a CMS than meets the eye. Can you shed some light on this? I mean, what’s the big deal?

Straight-up and to-the-point, just the way I like it. Thanks Scott! But I do need to make a minor clarification. While I am in favor of using Content Manglement Systems (CMS) to create and maintain church websites, it’s not because I think they’re “the best thing since sliced bread” but because having worked with a variety of church staff and laypersons, I can tell you that an online, form-based approach that handles most if not all of the formatting, image uploads, etc… is easier for the user than teaching one of these persons the finer points about DreamWeaver, FTP, HTML and a host of other nicke-n-dime tasks.

That said, Scott has a great point. If you are a church-going code-monkey, why enslave yourself with more software than you need? A sentiment expressed in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled “Perls of wisdom in a sea of site mismanagement.” Here, David Walker, the author expresses a real concern any webmaster should consider when implementing a content mangement system when he writes:

One simple theme runs through much of the commentary about website management over the past five years – all the complications should be automated away. The goal of this approach is a single platform that controls websites, their content and applications, and that works like Microsoft Excel. You open it when you want to do something, close it when you’re finished, and never worry about it …

… The great surprise of the past five years of content management is that, despite all the hundreds of systems, no clear winners have emerged. Instead, there’s a growing dissatisfaction with the ongoing technical burden that such systems impose.

Some influential voices are starting to argue that many sites should, in effect, wait out this immature phase of website management. For the moment, they should content themselves with limited automation.

Let me translate that into plain English. This article describes exactly what happens with small organizations, such as a church and charity where one becomes an employee of the CMS, as opposed to the latter being employed by the former.

In fact, it is very this very same reason I strongly urge those using FrontPage to buy a template. It’s a learning curve thing. If a user can enter an order at Amazon or eBay, then they can certainly use a blogging tool that has been smithed into a CMS such as pMachine. This is why some others of you have left comments to consider developing a site with DreamWeaver and maintain it with Contribute.

And this is the reason I’ve opted to go “Beyond the Blog” and take a relatively simple but extensible publishing tool such as MovableType, and smith it into a CMS backend, then given my users a client tool such as w.Bloggar to quickly post and/or edit entries on my church’s website.

All of which leads me to my answer to Scott with a quote from an article I wrote this past August entitled ‘Content Manglement, Open and Shut Cases:’ “… you should NEVER, NEVER, EVER, EVER select a software application until you have at least performed some form of needs analysis.

In other words, while I say nice things about blogging and CMS applictions, please don’t get the impression that one size fits all. It doesn’t.

Hat tip to James Robertson Column Two blog via Simon Willison’s Weblog for the article link.


  1. Two things:

    1) “NEVER, NEVER, EVER, EVER select a software application until you have at least performed some form of needs analysis.” – Amen to that. Otherwise, you’ll just get nowhere even faster than you ever thought possible.

    2) To me, one of the primary benefits of having a CMS is delegation of responsibility. A sunday school teacher should be able to update his own online calendar. I mean, really, we’ve had the web on a grand scale for almost a decade. Surely we can empower the users just that much! That’s what a good CMS should do: make it easy to delegate responsibility.

    The problem is, the CMS’s that do a good job empowering delegation usually do a terrible job with user interface and don’t help a non-techie to actually do anything once they have been delegated responsibility! To me, that’s why most CMS solutions just plain don’t work-whether for a big business or for a church.

    Just my $.02.

    - Doug

  2. A definite problem with using a content management system in my opinion is that if your needs change drastically it takes a lot of effort to actually modify the CMS for the new needs which lead to more errors and bugs or leave the webmaster having to backup everything they can to prepare for using another CMS. I suppose it depends which the lesser of the two evils mentioned above that is preferable, of course, other than not having to change anything!

  3. Hmmm..I can’t speak about most CMS systems. I’ve only used a couple. On the one end was Vignette – a “big boy” in the market. It didn’t come out of the box with *any* interfaces, we had to build them all – so the user interface was all on us. And, frankly , it was terrible.

    On the other end is pMachine, which I’ve launched our church site on. I’m not sure, Doug, what you’re looking for in a user interface, and what kind of content you’re working with, but I’ve got a handful of people using the PM interface to update the church site, and they’ve all picked it up pretty quick. There really isn’t much to it – enter a title, a body, sometimes fill in a “more” field, choose a weblog (determines where on the site the new content goes) and click submit.

    What a CMS *can’t* do is make people more web-aware. A CMS can’t make people recognize what makes good content, or write any better. But so far, using PM is working far better for our church than FrontPage ever did..;)

    Daniel – if your needs drastically change you’re probably hosed regardless of how your site is implemented. One good thing about having your content in a CMS is that migration to something else at least has a *chance* of being automated.

  4. One thing I wanted to also note, especially about using a blog tool for a church CMS. In many cases, it’s changed the task up updating the site easier – because rather than updates being “add the new and delete the old”, updates are now just “Add the new”. New stuff goes on top, and the CMS pushes everything else down and archives it, etc (but keeps old posts for historical purposes and searching). It seems like a small difference, and in fact has been a tough concept to communicate (“why are we keeping out of date content on the site?” kind of questions), but I think we’ll begin to see the value in it after a few months.

    To do this in FrontPage or Dreamweaver you’d be forever editing the same pages, then tweaking the layout for content of different lengths, and adding pages (if you wanted to archive old content).