When I first started as Director of Communications and Media for the Rio Texas Annual Conference, I wanted to find one church website solution that I could offer to most every church. Finding a “one size fits all” solution proved more difficult than I imagined. After months of working with local churches to build, redesign and improve websites, I am a little closer to my goal.
While a few local churches have the staff and resources to develop and maintain some very robust websites, most churches are faced with three barriers that keep them from having excellent websites: time, expertise, and budget.
The majority of our local churches have a staff that consists of the pastor and (maybe) an administrative support person. Often, neither of these people are full-time. That does not leave a lot of time to dedicate to creating or maintaining websites or content.
Often no one on staff is technically inclined. For some, even simple drag and drop platforms can seem overwhelming. While some are fortunate to have volunteers who are comfortable with the technology, others have trouble recruiting anyone comfortable with this task.
When we help churches build or refurbish websites, one of the first questions we ask is about the budget. The most common answer we hear is that there is no budget at all. That is unfortunate because technology can be a very high-yield investment. However, there are times that this is just the reality.
Given those three realities we face, we are focusing our energies on two platforms: Squarespace and Weebly. Now before you head to the comments to explain the superiority of WordPress or the advantages of Clover, let me explain that there are some other good options out there. We are certainly not telling churches not to look into those. There may be times, and particular situations that we recommend other providers more in line with a church’s particular needs. But let me explain why these two are our go-to providers.
No matter what, it is going to take some time to build a new website. However, with the right platform, most of that time is spent making decisions about what you want the website to do and collecting the needed content. Once the pre-work is done, building a simple website on Squarespace or Weebly is very fast. Keeping content updated is also quick and easy.
Here is another time advantage over some other providers, including WordPress: there is no need to keep the technical end of your website updated. There is no need to update plug-ins and themes or install security plug-ins. With these two platforms, just use strong passwords, and they will take care of the rest.*
Both Squarespace and Weebly are designed for people without website or coding experience. However, sometimes churches have trouble finding people who are comfortable with computers in general. Of the two, Weebly has a much shorter learning curve. Squarespace takes a little longer to get the hang of. However, it is a more powerful platform.
Part of the reason I have settled on just two platforms is that I want to be able to best possible technical support, especially for those who are less technically inclined. The more we work with the same platform, the better we get at explaining how to use it. Both Weebly and Squarespace offer excellent help, both through online videos and through a robust community of support. I have also started creating a small library of how-to videos for frequently asked questions. Although we can’t handle a full-time technical support line, we are glad to answer questions about these platforms.
Most of the churches we talk with with are dealing with a very small budget or no budget at all. Sometimes a pastor is paying for the website out of her own pocket. What I appreciate about these two platforms is they are affordable and scalable. Say a church wants to get a website up and running and has absolutely no money to spend on it. I can help get them set up on Weebly with a very nice website. The only catch is that, instead of a custom domain, like www.yourchurch.org, they have to use a Weebly domain, like yourchurch.weebly.com. Hopefully, some more people at the church begin to see the value of the website and decide to help fund it. $96 a year or $8 a month upgrades the church to a paid Weebly site and covers the costs of their domain and hosting. And the church doesn’t have to start over with a new site. They automatically get the additional features. The same is true if they decide to go further and sign up for a pro plan. $144 or $12 a month unlocks even more features, again, with no need to redo the site.
Squarespace doesn’t offer much help for churches with no budget but their personal plan is really affordable at $12 a month (if you pay yearly, otherwise it is $16 a month.) Again, if you purchase yearly, the domain name is paid for as well. For most churches, the $12 plan is enough. The only real limits that might affect churches are the number of pages (20) and the number of contributors (2). What pushes some churches to upgrade to the business plan ($18 a month when paid yearly) is the number of contributors. With that plan, churches can have an unlimited number of contributors. That means administrators can give multiple people access to edit and update the site with their own login. This works very well with churches that have volunteers working on the website, especially since you can adjust what features each contributor has access to.
There is one more benefit to narrowing our work to these two platforms. We can now focus on energies in creating training opportunities for churches interested in the two platforms. We have already offered Squarespace training and have plans to offer more opportunities for that and for a new Weebly training. Long-term, we would like to offer our own themes and templates to make getting started even easier.
Feel free to share your favorite platform in the comments. Every church is different so I like to know what works well in different contexts.
*Currently, because WordPress is so popular, it is prone to hacking. Anything on the web is prone to hacking. Currently Squarespace and Weebly are doing a good job of keeping their sites secure.