My wife worked for our church for eight years. In that time, the church website went from being an older site built on Frontpage and updated by one member to a WordPress site built by another member’s marketing firm to a do-it-yourself template site built by the staff. Each time it was rebuilt, all content was thrown out and rewritten, taking about a year from conception to implementation. My wife was part of this rebuilding process twice, so I was aware of the frustrations. Your church may have a similar story, or you might simply still have that old Dreamweaver website chugging along, but if you need something new, what should you do? The best answer is to remodel the website, meaning you don’t get rid of your content or locations on the web, but we’ll also take a look at why rebuilding can work and why removing is not an option.
Some church members might suggest that a website is not necessary, even if an online presence is still needed. They will point to Facebook as an option, and I’ve even talked to pastors who have told me that the plan is to just move everything to social media. While it’s true that social media is popular, it’s also true that the goal of it is to make money for its owners, meaning people who navigate to your Facebook page, watch your Youtube videos, or read your Tweets are bombarded by ads and other pages, Tweets, and videos. Since social media is about what’s trending now, your awesome article about what Transfiguration means will be buried as each new article is posted. If the thought is too long, folks will see “...” to show that it’s probably not worth reading. Social media is a wonderful tool to promote your church, but the point is to get readers and viewers to show up to the church, not just to get 140 characters of instant philosophy. I would never recommend removing a website altogether, since it’s kind of like your cornerstone on the internet, and it’s the place to which all the social media should be directing visitors. You do need to have a Facebook page, and Youtube is also a wonderful tool, but that’s how social media should be seen and used.
When our church bought their first new website from a marketing firm, everything was brand new. A new website, a new content management system, and all new content for it. Nevermind that our church was currently on page two of Google for the phrase “Why Jesus?” No kidding, that old Frontpage site that had been around nearly a decade had a few pages that scored big on Google searches, but that was all lost to newness. Like a new neighborhood in the suburbs with no trees, our church had to go about planting the seeds that would lead to search engines finding it all over again. The structure was different, the terms were different, and the site was empty for the first few weeks as staff began to write articles. However, writing articles about EVERYTHING all over again got tiresome, so several links stayed pretty barren for some time. Many of the 500 articles my wife had written for the old site were never recreated, so they were not only lost to search engines but also to members. The site was also difficult to change, so it had the same photos and introductory wording for the life of it, meaning it was pretty much as static as the old static site.
After not being able to get enough done with the new website, the church decided it was time to rebuild again. I asked my wife if the intent was to at least copy and paste the articles into the next new site, but it wasn’t, as there was some concern about who owned the content. (Note: YOU OWN YOUR CONTENT!) The new new site would be brand new once again, losing the thirty or forty articles eventually posted to the last new site, many of which had also begun to make their way into search engines. The point is that your website, as your cornerstone online, should be kind of static to some degree. Once Google finds an article or image and indexes it, that article or image should stay right where it is. Of course, that’s the big advantage of content management systems, since content always stays in the same place as new articles are added. Just not if you go and rebuild from the ground up every few years.
If you happen to have a really old website that never had much content to begin with, then feel free to destroy it, but you might want to find out what was working first. Search for your church, location, and keywords on your site, and make sure you re-add the ones that are getting you hits right now, even if you decide the site is a total loss. When I start from scratch on a site, I try to copy what was there, even if it’s all just put into one tidy article as part of the new website.
Let’s say you have an older WordPress website that has seen better days. There is no need to go to a new system or lose any content. All you need to do is update the script and add a new theme. Joomla, the CMS I use, is the same way. I have upgraded sites from Joomla 1.0 to 1.5 to 2.5 and now to 3.x. Granted, major upgrades can cause headaches and cost $1000, so it’s not easy, but you won’t lose your content. You can get very good paid templates that are mobile-friendly. If you don’t know what system you have, then type “What’s my cms” into Google and use one of the links to find out.
As a web developer who prefers remodels, I do this without caring about the old system, since I won’t be using the other host or dealing with the old database. I’ll just copy and paste all of the old content and menus to a new site so that it looks pretty much the same. I use a new CMS and template but with the original content and locations. Then I make sure I add a couple of sections that are for articles. The hopes would be that the church would add new articles weekly, but it does not matter too much. The structure is there, it’s new, and it works. The best part is that the decisions that were made and content that was written can still be used and found.
Keep in mind that you do need a content management system and you do need your site to be mobile-friendly, so I am not advocating just adding another dancing GIF image to a totally outdated site. You might have a member of your church who can build using WordPress or you can find a competent freelancer. Just ask to see a portfolio and explain that you want an updated version of your old site. Many organizations want to overthink the whole process. If you can get an updated version of what you had that can allow you to add new articles, then that’s all you really need. It will cost less and be more manageable. Then focus on writing content, posting on Facebook about articles your site, making videos that you embed on the site, and Tweeting about articles on the site. And that’s when the whole scenario starts to make sense and you have that online cornerstone that will help build your church.
I live in a great neighborhood built in the 1950s. It was new once, but it now has mature trees, aging houses, and many elderly residents. When you walk around the area, you can see all the additions on the houses, the new driveways, new roofs, and new paint. People like living here, and they often remodel rather than build new somewhere else. We’re close to downtown and have what we need within a modest budget. Think of your website that way. You don’t have to spend a lot, since much of the work has been done. Don’t destroy that work. Just remodel and upgrade along the way. If Google has built an off-ramp right to your website, don’t try to start over in a new place. Just make sure it looks good for when someone comes to visit.