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Picking A Website Template

Picking A Website Template

Posted August 7, 2013 by Jerod Clark

You’ll often hear people say custom designed websites will always be better for an organization than using a template. There’s an argument to be made for that, but often the reality in many churches is the lack of budget for something custom. 

A quality template based site can be an option, but it takes work to pick the right one. So if your church is looking to build a website using WordPress, (a free, open source content management system with low-cost, customizable template style themes) or some other private company, here are some tips for making sure you get a website that’s functional for your needs.

  • Set goals and priorities before ever looking at a template. What do you want people to do on your site? Who are the audiences? What are the important features? How do you want to present your church? A lot of the work you do when creating a website comes in the planning stages. Just because you’re using a template doesn’t mean you can skip the planning. Without it, you end up stuffing a lot of information into a site that doesn’t work for you or your end user.
  • Find a template that meets your identified needs. Once you’ve done the planning, then you can start looking at designs and companies. Does a template have a homepage layout that lets you dedicate the right amount of space to the priorities you want to communicate? Do the subpages let you customize content to fill your needs? If you want to upload sermon audio, does this template easily allow it? Just because a template looks cool doesn’t mean it’s going to serve your church well. For example, if the template dedicates half of the homepage to a big image slider box and you don’t have the content to fill it, that’s a problem.
  • Know the look and feel of your church. What is your color palate? What style best represents your church? The goal of a website is to make it feel like someone is walking into your church for the first time. You want your website to match who you are in person. One of the biggest problems with template sites is picking something that looks really nifty but feels nothing like the real experience of physically going to your church. If this happens, there’s a disconnect with visitors and there’s a question of whether they can trust you.
  • Understand how your template works on mobile devices. If a template you like doesn’t have a feature rich mobile version, don’t buy it. Mobile functionality is a top priority. If the site defaults to something plain that doesn’t let you share your key content in a compelling way, it’s not the right option. Increasingly, it’s easier to find templates, especially in WordPress, that use responsive design. This type of design scales to the size of the screen someone is using without the loss of major functionality or design. (Here’s a post we wrote awhile back on responsive design.)
  • Find something that has flexibility. Even within a template, there should be some level of flexibility in what features you can add or change. Also, look for something that grows with you. If you decide to expand what you’re doing online can you do it easily without having to start from scratch? It’s awful to think about spending so much time developing a site just to shut it down and reload your content into a new system a few years later. Using a WordPress theme may take a little more technical work, but there are so many different plugins and other options that let you easy add new features.
  • Know the real costs. Template sites can seem like a good deal. You pay a small amount upfront and plug in all your content. But some companies charge a hefty fee for monthly hosting and the rights to use their proprietary content management system. Plus any sort of design help or technical support is extra. In some cases, it’s better to pay more for a custom design with updates every few years than to constantly pay monthly fees.

Your church website is too important to ignore. It takes money, budgeted yearly, to make it happen. A tight financial situation doesn’t mean you have to end up with something that doesn’t fit your needs or doesn’t represent who you are. Be thoughtful and picky. After all, as I’ve said many times, your website is your church’s new front door.

Filed under: Website, Design/Layout

About the Author

Jerod Clark

Jerod joined ReFrame Media in 2007 and built Church Juice from scratch. He poured all his passion for branding, marketing, and messaging into the ministry, publishing e-books, blog posts, and speaking at conferences to help churches energize their communications. He also served as ReFrame’s in-house graphic designer. Before beginning his work at Church Juice, Jerod was a local TV news reporter. In 2016, Jerod stepped away from the ministry to pursue interests in marketing and communications on new horizons.

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Comments (7)

  • Laurie Neumann
    12:02 PM
    Wed, Aug 7, 2013

    I agree that a template can be a cost effective way for a church to have a website. But, yes, you do need to research the “fine print” as far as costs and functionality. And today, a mobile responsive design is a must, as many people search online using their phones or other smaller devices.

    And, last be not least, there are affordable options for a custom design out there.

  • Laurie Neumann
    12:04 PM
    Wed, Aug 7, 2013

    Sorry, but I realized the link on that last comment didn’t work. If you want to check out our website, click on this link!

  • Debi
    5:06 PM
    Wed, Aug 7, 2013

    We joined a CMS company in 2007 and have been happy ever since! Up to then we had a volunteer running our website and he never did any updating on it. I now manage the website and continue to learn something new all the time (thanks to blogs like yours). The company has great tech support which we do not pay extra and they have never raised our monthly rate since we have been with them. They continue to upgrade their software (I’m still bugging them about a mobile app, they say it’s next on the list). I am the administrative assistant for the church and if something happened to me it would be very easy for someone to take over running the website. We are not a “megachurch” with a hired, professional media team that knows everything about anything so a CMS option was the best money we’ve spent.

  • Steven Gliebe
    1:34 PM
    Thu, Oct 10, 2013

    There will almost certainly be monthly (or annual) fees regardless of the solution picked. If you go with a WordPress theme, you need web hosting. That will run you $10 or $15 a month. Still, that’s usually cheaper than all in one type church CMS services which typically range from $20 - $60 per month. The upfront cost of a WordPress theme is usually $40 - $80 while hosted CMS’s are commonly $200 - $500. Most WordPress themes will come with support as well (sometimes for one year, renewable for a lesser price than the original purchase). All in all, WordPress is usually the most affordable solution.

  • James Bosma
    1:34 PM
    Tue, Feb 4, 2014

    Great article, and fun to stumble across a comment from Steven Gliebe here.

    I work as a consultant and have worked with several churches now on the planning and implementation of their websites. I’ve worked with a variety of options, including Joomla, Wordpress and Ekklesia360. My favourite platform is Wordpress, and it’s getting easier to pass on to a client so that they are able, with a little training, to do their own event promotions, page updates, blog posts, sermon uploads, etc.

    Stephen has created a great template, available at Church Themes. I recently used it for Bethel Church in Waterdown, ON.

    My personal take is that most smaller churches with limited budgets need some professional help in planning and creating their websites. Church Juice is an excellent resource, but doing a website well, without a solid grasp of communications best practices (along with technical ability and aesthetic sense) is very difficult. Churches that try to create websites using well meaning volunteers or unqualified staff usually end up with a substandard result. It’s a shame when churches don’t invest in reaching out online the way they invest in things like buildings.

  • Yvon Prehn
    7:15 PM
    Tue, Sep 20, 2016

    After working with many churches and creating my own websites for years, I strongly recommend doing your own site with WordPress and I also strongly recommend Steven Gliebe’s themes. I tested a lot of them (my ministry takes no advertising or affliate stuff) and not only do Church Themes (his company) look good, but I think he has the best tutorials by far.

    Personally the canned look of many of the big hosted companies has a somewhat phony look and feel to me.

    I’d much rather see a “less professional” looking site than a slick one that didn’t really represent the church.

  • Chris
    2:28 AM
    Wed, Sep 21, 2016

    Thank you for this post. It is difficult to estimate the costs and especially the amount of time setting up a website. If you’re new to Wordpress or web design in general look for someone who already knows it.
    On the other hand a custom layout and a professional setting it up will cost much more.

    For small churches Mobirise.com will be worth a look. You can very easily set up a beautiful onepager on a very low budget, if you don’t need interactive features

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