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Give Your Church Web Site a New Look
By: Robert Thoelen

If your church is an established one, more than likely your Web site has not had significant functional or design changes in several years. The small church Web sites I visit have basic information on the church, with possibly a contact form in order to make contact with the leadership.

This article will explain the benefits of updating your Web site to provide more functions and services with a content management system (CMS).

Several years ago, it was difficult to keep a Web site up-to-date unless an investment was made in expensive design software.  This would mean that only a few people would be able to update the site.  

By using a CMS, the editing functions happen in your Web browser. Also, file transfer is simplified by upload buttons and other mechanisms that allow you to manage the site files with ease.

A technical person in your church who has experience with Microsoft or UNIX systems and databases should be able to install a CMS. There are also many Web hosting providers that provide "one-click installs" of many popular systems. The installation program asks a few basic questions, and then, in a minute or two, the application is ready to be used and customized.  To get the one-click installation program, look for a Web host that has support for the Fantastico application installation system.

Some of the more popular CMS tools include: Joomla, Drupal, DotNetNuke, WordPress, and many others. Most have modules that will allow you to extend their functionality. Blogs, calendars, and forums can be added for posting church events and allowing a new level of interaction among your members. For sites that are informational, most CMS will give an option to put a "print" button on a page, which will allow a visitor to get a paper copy that is formatted nicely.

Recorded audio of sermons and homilies has become very popular in digital format. When I ran the sound system at a church about 15 years ago, I used to record messages on cassette tape and then used a large duplicator to make copies for those who requested sermons. Some churches record CDs instead of cassettes.  There are many churches that place their sermons online, which allows for a greater distribution of the teaching ministry of the church than could have been done previously. Audio can be distributed via a page on your Web site, or you could take advantage of sites such as SermonAudio. 

One important audio service that is very popular is an iTunes podcast. You can use tools to create the information and the podcast, and then register with the iTunes store. Many people have iPods today, and, by providing an easy way to listen to sermons with iTunes, members can have fresh sermons to listen to during the week. With commutes becoming longer and longer, Christians are looking for content that they can listen to during their trips to and from their workplace.

A consideration when using content management systems, and especially audio and video, is making sure you will not exceed the resources of your hosting plan. If your site experiences a large, sustained surge in traffic, your provider may charge overages or require you to move to another plan. Many hosting plans are very generous with the resources they will allow a site to use, but it is wise to check with them. 

Also, it is important to review if your hosting plan comes with a backup service. You will want to confirm that if backups are not included, there is a method for doing your own backup of the database and support files. While many hosting companies do back up your data, ultimately if they cannot recover your files, you will have to start from scratch again, losing many hours of work. 

In summary, the Internet is changing and becoming more socially oriented. Content management systems will help your church stay current with the latest trends on the Internet. Those who are responsible for keeping the site current will have new tools that will be easier to use. An easier update process will allow for more participation, which will help keep your church's site fresh with relevant information.

Robert Thoelen, III, is the owner of RTCubed Consulting, LLC, which provides consulting services to businesses and churches on specialized software and Web applications, www.rtcubed.com.

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