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It’s Time to Upgrade Your Church’s Website
By: Daniel Threlfall

In my line of work, when I run into pastors, I always ask the question, "So, does your church have a website?" And, I inevitably receive one of the following responses:

* "Yes, our website is so 90s!"
* "Yeah, well, sort of. I mean, a volunteer made one, but none of us at the church know how to use it."
* "Oh, our church website is horrible!"
* "Yes, but I am NOT going to show it to you."
* "Sure, but it's kind of outdated."
* "A what?"
* "Whew. We totally need a new one. Ours is awful!"
* "Let's see. Yes, I think I had Helen order one of those."
* "No, but we're saving up for one."
* "Well, our media guys have been trying to build one for about 16 years now."
Fellow Christians, We Have a Problem
I'm frustrated, and after countless conversations like the above, I'm probably not the only one. There is a problem. Let me see if I can sketch it out in a logical way.

First, it's 2011, and the Internet is the mainstream way of accessing, dispersing, and utilizing information.

Local churches, stewards of the greatest information on the planet, are having trouble broadcasting their message effectively. The gospel of Jesus Christ is mankind's best news. Churches need a better voice in the maelstrom of information.

Church websites—good, quality, affordable, powerful, current, beautiful church websites—are hard to come by. They're expensive, complicated, and time-consuming. Few non-megachurches have stunning church websites.

That's why we have a problem. If websites are important and if the news of the church is important, then churches should have good websites. Why don't they? Why are so many churches hobbling along with bad websites?
Three Barriers to Awesome Church Websites
There are a few simple reasons why churches aren't unleashing world-class websites. If your church website is not exactly up to snuff, you'll probably say "Yep, that's us!" to one or more of these points.

1. Church websites cost a lot of money.
Chances are, your church doesn't have loads of cash just laying around waiting to be spent. The average church media budget for one year is $300. See how far into January a budget like that will go. The going rate for a custom church website is $3,000.

Don't choke on your dentures. That's for low-end website. A lot of churches are spending $10,000 on a church website. Even the template-style church websites can be high-priced.

And, we haven't even touched on hosting fees yet. Throw in an extra $30 or $40 per month for web hosting. Money is the No. 1 show-stopper to a great church website.

2. Church websites take a lot of time.
I know very few pastors who don't have enough to do. After preaching a funeral service, rushing to the bedside of a seriously ill church member, officiating a wedding ceremony, counseling a couple on the brink of divorce, folding all the church bulletins because your secretary got sick, and trying to win your city for Jesus (all on a Saturday evening), you have very little time to design a powerful church website.

3. Church websites are complicated.
Do you know what "Joomla!" is? It is not a Yiddish swear word. If you don't know what it is, don't worry about it. (Now, you're probably going to Google it.) Too often, really good websites require extensive use of arcane web languages and expensive programs. Things can get complicated. As a pastor, your life is complicated enough without Joomla! And, the whole volunteer thing (i.e., someone who does know Joomla!) gets even more complicated than Joomla! itself. Whatever happened to simplicity?
 Remember my conversations with that frustrated pastors? Let's see if we can wrap it up with a nice ending. After a recent interaction, I walked one pastor over to my iMac, and pulled up a church website in the web browser. He only had one word to say:  "Wow."
What I was showing him was an absolutely stunning church website. From beginning to end, this was a gleaming, screaming, megachurch-style website. It oozed with power. It was customizable to the hilt. The site featured professionally designed graphics, complete with moving parts and endless options. Podcasting sermons was a snap. Online giving was built in. Blogs were ready to go. Multiple collaborators with varying level of responsibility could work on the site.

Every aspect of the design was in keeping with website design best practices. This church website was packed with expensive features. Every page of the website was engineered for fast loading on any web browser.

When it came to updating the website, things were as simple as updating your Facebook page. Total freedom. No coding. No complication. No problem. The entire website was an immaculate display of church website perfection.
And the cost for building this fine website? Free. Dull, unbelieving stare from pastor.
"No, seriously. It doesn't cost anything." There we are, looking at each other. The pastor is thinking to himself, "But as for all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire" (Revelation 21:8). And I'm thinking, "How do I convince this guy that I'm telling the truth?"
Let me take a dramatic pause in the story to lay down some advice. If you're stumbling along with a lousy church website, you're in good company. Thousands of churches are. As we surge ahead in the middle of Web 2.0 (or is it 3.0 now?), it's time to upgrade.

Here are three suggestions:

Free might be legit.
Your dad told you that nothing in life is free. Anytime you hear the word "free" today, there is a 98 percent chance it's a scam, a lie, or some slick marketing subterfuge. But, in the off chance that it's legit, go for it. Yes, free church websites do exist. (Yes, some of them are bad.)

However, there are some that rock! Do your homework. Check your facts. Make a decision. It might just be the best thing that ever happened to your church web ministry.

Hosting is going to cost you.
Even though "free" may apply to the website design and setup, it hardly ever applies to the hosting costs. Church website hosting is simply not free unless you think that your church's Facebook page is your church website.

"Hosting" is web speak for having your church website on the web. You just have to shell out some cash, usually in the form of a monthly or annual payment.

Make it count.
Your website is the most valuable marketing tool that your church will ever use. Never underestimate its power.

Furthermore, never shrug it off as an superfluous luxury that you could care less about. It's important. For that reason, it's worth setting aside a few hours to research, a few dollars to spend, and a few meetings to plan for it.

I'm convinced that we are entering an era where pastors can say usher in a megachurch website, without taking out a second mortgage, getting an inheritance, or stealing from the bank. The web, and church website companies, has finally evolved to such a place where website quality must be high. It's time for a change, and, today, such a change is possible.
If that was you I was talking to at the conference, I'm happy to say that your church website does not need to stay that way any longer.
Your church is probably not as big as Lakewood, Saddleback, or Northpoint. And, your media budget is probably as big around as a shoestring. And, that's okay. You don't have to settle for a bad church website. It's time to upgrade.
I'm serious. Go ahead.
Daniel Threlfall is editor at Sharefaith, www.sharefaith.com.

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