Churches today are having to learn, embrace and master digital communications. One of these digital communications channels is the church website. For most Churches their website’s has two prime foci acting as:
- a communication channel and
- a way of being discovered via the search engines.
The first iteration of the Emmanuel church – Pok Fu Lam website was in 2001. Back then our website was hand coded. Can you imagine that!
The second iteration of our website was in 2008. For the this iteration we used NetObjects Fusion, which is a great template driven web building tool.
For the third iteration of the Emmanuel church – Pokfulam website, we opted for WordPress using the Weaver template by Bruce Wampler. This template allowed us to customise nearly every element of the look and feel of WordPress, without having to go under the hood and write code! That’s a fantastic feature. In addition, WordPress and many of the tools and plugins we use to power the Emmanuel Church – Pokfulam website are Open Source so mostly free.
Planning for iteration three of our website started in early January 2011. Our new website was launched in March 2011. Post launch we spent another two to three months further refining the look and feel and general navigation. So all in all its been about a six to eight month project.
The beauty of WordPress is that although it is often viewed as blogging software, it is really a very sophisticated Content Management System (CMS) and can be adapted very easily to manage church websites – just like ours.
Three of the of the key features that WordPress offers is that:
- as a CMS it comes with various levels of User Authority that allows the “owner” the ability to control and assign what users can and cannot post. For instance an owner can manage and allow access to such functions as writing and editing Posts, creating Pages, defining Links, creating Categories, moderating Comments, managing Plugins, managing Themes, and managing other Users. This puts in place controls and checks and at the same time means that there are no bottleneck, so updates can be quickly posted to the website
- it is accesses via a web browser, so there is no software to install, meaning that all that is needed is web browser and online access. It does not matter if you are using a Windows, Mac or Linux PC!
- Google and the other search engines love WordPress sites – meaning your Church webpages get “indexed” quicker. And with special bells and whistles (called plugins), you can increase the love that the search engines give your church website.
Finally once you have set up your web presence – you do need to work at it. It is not a set up and forget activity! A bit like religion. Your church website is your shop window. That window needs to be kept updated with fresh content to keep viewers coming back time after time after time.
We are frequently asked two questions:
- How long has it taken to develop?
In terms of investment – it’s taken three to six months of evenings work (my night time job) to learn how to get our new WordPress driven website up and running. Most of this has been:
– behind the scenes work that makes the site work seamlessly and
– work associated with transitioning and archiving content from our old website.
One piece of advice: You probably need to identify a friendly Geek from within the congregation that can help you.
We have experimented with different layouts, colour schemes and navigation. At the outset you will need an outline skeleton of how you want the site to look and an idea of the navigation.
- How much did it cost?
Well my time is freeish! Think of it as part of my ongoing stewardhip!
In terms of actual cost – we have a standard web hosting contract with Bluehost – the top WordPress web hosting provider. We highly recommend Bluehost. We get a fantastic service for USD8.00 pcm!
On top of that it has cost us a few hundred dollars in donations to some the open source developers of some of the key plugins we use.
WEB HOSTING & THE CMS USED TO RUN The Emmanuel Church – Pokfulam website
Is our webhosting partner. We highly recommend Bluehost who are the top WordPress hosting partner and manage the updates and security patches seamlessly behind the scenes for you.
The engine that runs our website! This is the self hosted version which is hosted for us by Bluehost.com. The advantage of this is that it is more customisable.
An alternative is WordPress.com where you don’t need a web hosting partner, the downside, is that it has less functionality and is less customisable.
- WordPress Weaver template by Bruce Wampler
This is a fantastic template that is easy to customise, straight out of the box.
KEY PLUGINS we use within WordPress
- Better Delete Revision by Galerio & Urda
Better Delete Revision is based on the old “Delete Revision” plugin. This is useful for removing old revisions.
- Contact Form 7 combined with Really Simple CAPTCHA both by Takayuki Miyoshi
Just another contact form plugin. Simple but flexible.
Really Simple CAPTCHA is a CAPTCHA module intended to be called from other plugins. It was originally created for the Contact Form 7 plugin.
- Dynamic Headers by Nicasio Design (Dan Cannon)
Allows a custom header image or flash file to be displayed site wide, randomly or on a page by page and post by post basis.
One of the themes in setting up the our Church WordPress website was to have a library of masthead images that would appear randomly. The aim was to use images with an association with Emmanuel – such as images of Béthanie, or the surrounding area or even of things in Hong Kong plus a few holy images to give sermons a more formal and holy feel. Below are a selection of our masthead images:
In addtion we used a feature of the Weaver Plus theme plugin by Bruce Wampler to overlay the Emmanuel Church logo onto the mast head image.
- Events Manager Extended by Franky Van Liedekerke
Manage and display events. Includes recurring events; locations; widgets; Google maps; RSVP; ICAL and RSS feeds.
- Google Analytics Tracking Code Embeder by Penuel Ratnagrahi
This simple plugin allows you to embed your Google Analytics Tracking Code to your theme files without hard-coding them into your template or theme files. You add your GA code once in plugin’s settings page and it gets embedded in all themes you select for your blog.
- Google XML Sitemaps by Arne Brachhold
This plugin will generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask.com to better index your blog.
- NextGEN Gallery by Alex Rabe
A NextGENeration Photo gallery for the Web 2.0.
- SEO Ultimate By SEO Design Solution
Adds addition Search Engine magic to WordPress.
- Subscribe2 by Matthew Robinson
Notifies an email list when new entries are posted. It works seemlessly in the background managing the email notification list.
- WP-DBManager by Lester ‘GaMerZ’ Chan
Manages your WordPress database. Allows you to optimize database, repair database, backup database, restore database, delete backup database , drop/empty tables and run selected queries. Supports automatic scheduling of backing up, optimizing and repairing of database.
- WP-Table Reloaded by Tobias Bäthge
This plugin allows you to create and easily manage tables in the admin-area of WordPress. A comfortable backend allows an easy manipulation of table data. You can then include the tables into your posts, on your pages or in text widgets by using a shortcode or a template tag function. Tables can be imported and exported from/to CSV, XML and HTML.
- WP Super Cache by Donncha O Caoimh
A very fast caching plugin for WordPress. Speeds up the loading of your website web pages!
- Google Analytics (GA)
No website should be without GA. What’s more it id free! GA will give you a deep understanding into the performance of your website and help identify where there may be problems.
To implement GA you need to paste a piece of code onto the bottom of each page. The easiest way of doing this in WordPress is to use a plugin like: Google Analytics Tracking Code Embeder by Penuel Ratnagrahi
- Google Webmster Tools (GWT)
This is another free tool from Google. It does need Google Analytics to be in place.
Here one of the most important tools is the Diagnostic section which identifies crawl errors. To fix this you can edit your .htaccess file that resides in the root directory of your webserver to redirect the broken links to your new pages. Most of these crawl errors are caused by old indexes or links back to your site.
In our case when we moved from using NetObjects to WordPress we chose to archive some of our old posts. Some of these posts had previously been indexed. To maintain our ranking we simply added in some redirects from the old link to the new links. This meant building a redirect table that consisted of about 300+ old links! It’s little things like this, that eats up time as it needed to be done semi-manually, and then each redirect needed to be tested!. Here is an example from our .htaccess file:
Redirect /html/2004-sermons.html http://www.emmanuel.org.hk/oldwebsite/html/2004-sermons.html
We did initially use a mod rewrite within the .htaccess file, however, later opted for a flat table as it was easier to manage the exceptions.
- Online donations via PayDollar
Our parent church, St. John’s Cathedral recently implemented on their website an online donations page hosted and powered by PayDollar. We have simply piggybacked this using an iframe call to the St. John’s Cathedral online donations page hosted by PayDollar.
NOW JUST DO IT!
For churches looking to set up their own website, we hope this summary of how we used WordPress to set up iteration three of the Emmanuel Church – Pokfulam website proves helpful and provides the impetus to develop your own church website. It’s easy. Take the plunge. Just do it!
Some further reading:
- Sunday Software blog – WordPress
- Church blogger – creating a WordPress church website
- Church Communications tutorial series – using WordPress to run a church website