Why Your Church Needs a CMS

I wanted to write this post for a number of reasons… First of all, I wanted it to be a useful resource for Church leaders that aren’t familiar with web technology so they can understand why the web platform they choose is so vital.  And second, so that developers that haven’t had experience using a CMS would understand the real benefits.

** As a disclaimer, I have very little experience in development, so most of the perspective I bring comes from front end experience with CMS platforms like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and a few different custom CMSs.

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Web technology has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.  Besides the obvious improvements to browser technology and all the cool improvements to things like PHP, Javascript and upgrades like HTML5 that make the web so versatile and flexible, one of the biggest changes has come in web publishing.  The ability for someone that knows absolutely nothing about html or database management to create a blog, tumblr page or even a full blown website is truly amazing.  The frameworks that undergird these publishing platforms is where so much of the innovation has happened.

Because of these innovations, there is absolutely no reason why a Church/Ministry website should not be using one these content publishing platforms

If you Church website was created 5+ years ago and hasn’t undergone any updates, chances are, you are using an outdated platform or even worse, you may be creating new pages and making edits manually!

 

7 Reasons Why You Need a CMS (Content Management System)

1. Non-CMS websites are difficult to maintain

Non-CMS websites are basically static webpages built with html, javascript, flash, etc.  These web pages require deep technical knowledge to edit and keep up to date and therefore are very expensive and difficult to maintain.

2. Scaling a manually edited website is next to impossible

The static, manually edited website model is not scalable.  It’s not practical to keep track of all of the pages/messages/content without the use of some kind of aid to help manage it all.   An accountant wouldn’t try to keep track of everyone’s taxes without a spreadsheet.  Likewise, a Church website can’t reasonably manage a few hundred pages and/or sermons without the use of a database.  A CMS is basically an easy to use database that scales nicely.

3. Security and software updates

There are a number of security and software update issues that come with trying to manually maintain a website.  Software plugins and software languages are constantly being updated and it’s tricky to try to maintain everything and sometimes trying to make manual software updates or security updates can mean an entire site has to be rebuilt.  A CMS has hundreds and sometimes thousands of developers that work every day to make sure their code and software are secure and up to date.

4. Are you willing to entrust the entire website to one person?

Operating on a manual level brings a set of risks because it means that usually very few people hold the keys to the website.  What if the main person that developed the site gets hit by a truck tomorrow?  Does the Church have access to make changes?  Many times a manually created site is created in a very “proprietary” way.  This means that if that person is no longer available, it could be next to impossible to transfer those responsibilities to another party as the new person will have no knowledge of the proprietary system.  A CMS uses software that is more universal in nature where control can be easily transferred to another person for management.

5. Non-CMS sites have terrible SEO

Static websites tend to be extremely unfriendly to search engines.  This is absolutely critical because if done properly, on heavy content sites, 80%-90% of traffic could be coming from search engines.  Some Church sites are so poorly built and conceived in terms of SEO, that hundreds or thousands of pages may be completely unaccessible to a search engine.  Most CMS platforms provide solid and up to date search engine optimization features out of the box.  It’s difficult to over-state the importance of a site that is well optimized for search engines.  You don’t have to be an expert in SEO… the newer platforms do most of the important stuff for you.

6. Stop doing everything manually

Using a CMS gives you the ability to make dynamic changes.  Want to change the header or navigation menu for the website?  Make a single update and it is changed site-wide in seconds.  Want to re-name a page?  Type in a new name and the url, page title, menu link and more will be changed automatically.  On static websites this would all have to be done manually.  These kinds of small changes could literally represent thousands of hours of work over the life of a website, but could be done with a CMS in just a few minutes.  I cannot stress enough how important this point is.

7. Supporting new technology is very difficult with static websites

With a CMS, support for new technology is a given.  For example: A recent trend in web technology has been creating websites that are fully compatible with tablets and mobile devices.  This doesn’t take a 6 figure website budget to pull off.  Websites should be built in such a way that they “flex” depending on the device.  This is called responsive design. It means that you can look at the same website on your computer, tablet or phone and the site will change the page width, text size and more automatically depending on the device (try it on this website if you want an example).  These features are built right in to many CMS platforms out of the box.  Considering some websites are seeing upwards of 50%+ traffic coming from tablets/mobile, this is becoming a critical feature for websites.

Key Benefits of a CMS

  • Just about every content heavy website these days relies on a CMS to help publish/organize/curate content.  The vast majority of updated Church websites are using a CMS of some kind. 
  • Easy to update the website without any specialized knowledge.
  •  Multiple people could be given access to make various updates (Church calendar, blog, bulletin, newsletter, updates, pictures, messages, etc)
  •  The website would use updated code provided by the CMS which is constantly updated to web standards making the site virtually “future proof”
  •  Most CMS platforms are open-source software meaning they are extremely well documented and supported by thousands of developers.  (no one owns the code)
  •  More secure and scalable.
  •  Search engine friendly features out of the box. (this is key!)
  • Placing all of a site’s content in a database (CMS) allows for quick and easy retrieval.  Using a CMS would allow a visitor to perform a search on the website to look up a past message by topic, or look up virtually anything on the website with a keyword.  We take this kind of functionality for granted, but it’s virtually impossible to implement with a static website.
  •  Design updates are easy because the entire website uses a set library called a style sheet in a CMS.  Want all your titles to look different, make a single change and they are updated on the entire website.  Don’t like the width of the page, make one small change.
  • A CMS is built specifically to manage content.  Whether it’s an informational page, teaching, calendar, blog post, or some other kind of content, it’s critical that a platform built for handling this kind of content is used.

 

Which CMS is Right For My Church/Ministry?

You may not like this answer but it depends… there are varying opinions on the subject.  Everyone has different needs, but this may help you get started:

  • Small Churches/Ministries – Consider a basic platform like SquareSpace.  It provides an all in one solution and is simple enough for anyone to use.
  • Medium Churches/Ministries – Consider a flexible platform like WordPress.   It’s easy enough for a beginner to use but can be scaled nicely for larger sites and is probably one of the most flexible, well documented, and supported platforms out there.
  • Large Churches/Ministries – For large sites, I recommend getting some specialized help and recommendations from an expert.  You may choose to use an open source CMS like Drupal or WordPress, or you may need something more custom.  It really depends on your needs.

Sharing is Caring

This is the point in the post where I ask you to share this article with your Pastor, Church/Ministry webmaster, creative director, and just about anyone you know that manages a Christian website.  I believe that there are massive opportunities being missed because of a lack of understanding of SEO.  No hidden agenda here.  Just want to be a helpful free resources for Churches and ministries.  Thanks for your support.

Leave a comment if you have any questions or need help implementing what I described above.

Grace & Peace,

Justin Smith

Comments

  1. says

    Our church just signed up for a ShareFaith.com account. Though it was a little bumpy at first getting all of domains setup it is another great option for a CMS. They also include resources for our music and creative departments that we have found valuable.

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