Heal Your Church WebSite


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

How to avoid high maintenance church website design

High Maintenance: Lamborghini v. Mommy VanFor what will it profit a man if his church website is the slickest in the Internet if he has to forfeit a month’s collections just to change the welcome message?

If you haven’t guessed by the play on Matthew 16:26 (&/or Mark 8:36, &/or Luke 9:25), or the somewhat wordy “bad church web design poster #006,” the topic of today’s “sermonette” is website maintenance.

You see, there’s a dirty little secret that professional web developers such as Tim Bednar, Mike Boyink, and myself have known for years:

Creating and designing websites is alluring and hi-profile work – whereas maintaining code and a consistent stream of compelling content is difficult and is about as glamorous as the janitor who keeps the church toilets clean.

A point made all the more sharper, like a pointy stick in the eye sharper, when you fall into the trap of having that college kid studying home on spring break create for a really super-click Flash-based church website that everyone – and only – those in his age group and demographic can ‘really appreciate.’

Then the train wreck occurs sometime in early October when said student is back at art school and your poor church Secretary has to post updates from those in the field on summer mission programs.

Sound Familiar?

If not, just give it time. Since 2002 when I started out on my crusade to teach, rebuke correct & train others in righteous web design I’ve seen literally hundreds – perhaps thousands – of church websites that went down this path to obscurity and frustration.

And this is why we find churches equipped with data-driven content management systems, or at least driven-by a reasonable blogging system, providing pages with excellent search engine rankings and the visitors and conversion rates to show for it.

Sound Good?

Okay, so if I’ve sold you on the concept that maintenance is the key to a successful online ministry, then perhaps then I can also convince you and/or your church to engage in the following processes to keep it going for years and years even though your resources are tight and your time tighter:

  • Establish a web ministry team comprised of the following mix of talents:
    • a member of the church staff
    • a software developer type
    • a hardware geek
    • a graphic artist type
    • a word-smith
    • a marketeer
  • Consider employing a content management &/or a logging service to render your church website such as:
  • Engage in a formalized design process before writing a single line of HTML/code that includes:
    • reviewing what’s out there
    • understanding your neighborhood
    • setting attainable goals and objectives
    • establishing minimum requirements
    • defining an informational architecture
    • creating a project plan
  • Execute a development plan that includes the following steps:
    • designing a prototype
    • soliciting user feedback
    • building the system
    • testing functionality
    • testing use cases
    • testing loads and bandwidth
  • Follow-up with a maintenance plan that includes:
    • user education
    • staff training
    • analysis of web analytics
    • data & system backups
    • disaster recovery drills
    • security audits
    • error-log reviews
    • checks of search engine ranking
    • software upgrades
  • Security ongoing success with:
    • rotating in/out new members to your committee;
    • occasionally testing new applications and technologies;
    • periodically soliciting feedback from seekers and church members;
    • make sure there’s a line item in the church budget for the website.

Sound Too Hard?

Now if you’re panicking a bit over some of the items above – don’t sweat it. If you’ve took my advice to create a team that includes both a hardware and software geek, you’re good to go on those issues like “use-case testing” or “disaster recovery drills.

And if you’re too small to do the above – again, don’t sweat it – simply figure out what you can do from the above list with what you’ve got, never forgetting that putting up a website is easy – it’s the maintenance that’s a killer.

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:28-33

(psst: oh yeah, in case you didn’t figure it out, you click on the small image of the poster above to get to the really-big version you can print out and nail to the door of your church)

8 Comments

  1. I’m curious as to your opinion of Joomla as a CMS. I don’t want to start a Joomla vs Drupal flame war or anything… just curious for your thoughts.

    We used it to develop our church site (http://www.kcctriad.com) and liked it. But, I’ve not worked with Drupal before.

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  3. I just installed Joomla to try it out. We’ve been toying with the idea of going with CMS for a couple of years. I did install Drupal, and had a semi-decent prototype, but it kept spontaneously “breaking”, as in, all by itself. I can only assume it was one of the numerous plug-ins I employed to customize the site, but it was irritating.

  4. Well, you may have the same issue with Joomla. I ran into a couple bad plugins. It’s the dark side of open source… sometimes people don’t take care with the code.

    There is a new version of Joomla that is supposed to a lot better in terms of standards compliant code and reliability. I haven’t checked out the new version yet, so I can’t give an opinion there. Maybe I’ll have to install Drupal soon and check it out too.

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  6. I have been developing church websites with a CMS called “TYPOlight.” It’s a really great alternative to bloated ones like Joomla!.

    I was using Joomla!, but was getting increasingly frustrated with their lack of standards compliance, lengthy development cycles, and apparent code bloat. TYPOlight is the opposite! New releases are frequent and there’s a built-in updating tool called “Live Update” that makes installing the new versions as easy as a few clicks. Clean code output, customizable layouts, built-in CSS editor, calendar/events, granular user management, news/blog, etc.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean this to be a TYPOlight advertisement, but I have just loved using it so much. Check it out: http://www.typolight.org

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  8. Try http://www.thechristianlight.com

    They develope professionally designed church websites that you can update yourself.