Perhaps the most significant contributor to the growth of a church is its website.
In this day and age, it’s clear that almost everything we do starts with an online search. Whether you’re looking for information about your health and wellbeing, buying clothes, or even researching the best way to get from A to B, your first inclination is to go online. It’s likely how you found this article.
This is no different when it comes to finding a local church. There are many decisions to be worked through – some that are more practical in nature and some that are more personal. The best way to discover local churches for your short-list is by going ‘shopping’ on the internet.
Let’s consider the typical list of decisions that might go through someone’s mind. Is the church located near me? If not, how far away is it? What religious values do they represent? Who are the church leadership? What’s their background? Will I feel welcome? Can I attend online?
A church’s website should answer all of these questions right away (and more). This is quite literally the first impression of a church and it needs to be well thought out, visually appealing, and easy to read.
In order to bring everything together, a solid foundation is needed. Creating this digital cornerstone starts with a key decision by church leaders. That is, which church website builder is best for our future needs?
One way to highlight why choosing the right church website builder is so important is to draw an analogy. Say you’re building the church itself – the physical structure. Would you construct your place of worship on a foundation of sand, wood, or concrete? What does the floorplan look like? Is it OK to cut corners now and hope for the best during construction?
Deciding how to proceed with building a church’s website is a remarkably similar process.
Church specific website builders are not created equal. This article explores some of the top choices that you may already be familiar with, or are in the process of evaluating right now.
Spoiler alert! The WordPress services provided by Missional Marketing are at the top of the list.
What Is A Church Website Builder?
Let’s start at the beginning. A church website builder (or, generally, any website builder) is commonly referred to as a Content Management System. It’s usually abbreviated to just “CMS”.
A CMS is a catch-all term to describe the underlying software that is used to create a website.
You’ll notice the term is used most frequently by website developers, marketing agencies and others in the online industry. A CMS is the engine that powers your website – allowing you to create a collection of web pages and bring the entire experience to life.
WordPress is the poster-child of website content management software. It’s hugely popular and used around the world in every industry. The number of WordPress websites in existence is counted in the hundreds of millions. So, as you might expect, it’s a solid choice.
With WordPress, your website can start as simple as you like. Then, over time, you may wish to add features like memberships, newsletters, and accepting donations. There is no one-size-fits-all and the proverbial sky’s the limit when it comes to building an effective online presence. WordPress is your ticket to building a website that truly impresses and attracts the right people to your church.
There’s a widely accepted measure for how long a ‘good impression’ actually takes to create in someone’s mind. Research has shown that a person’s first impression of a website is based on its visual design. This is because people ‘eat with their eyes’ first. Strikingly, it only takes about 1/10th of a second for someone to form a first impression. WordPress allows you to shape that initial impression by having a website that loads quickly and looks great.
If you’re in the market for a new website, it’s worth mentioning the relationship between choosing a CMS versus a website development agency. There can be some confusion.
For example, WordPress was chosen by Missional Marketing as the tool of choice for creating websites. Whereas, a product like eCatholic is proprietary software that was created by an agency. The agency and its software are joined at the hip, if you will. Is that a good thing for your church? It really depends on your needs. More on that below.
Why Your Church Website Builder Is So Important
Your website plays a critical role at every stage of your church’s journey – from creation, to growth and beyond. It’s natural for people to think about the here-and-now, but quite often is also useful to think about where you see the church going in the future. An appropriate church website builder should be selected with a long-term vision in mind. This will ensure your website can grow with the church from day one.
The quality of your website has a direct relationship to the perception of your church. The word “quality” can mean different things to different people. For a website, this generally means that it’s visually appealing, the content is well-organized and structured, it’s easy to use, and important information is quickly accessible.
To explore this a little further, here are the top criteria to use when deciding on the best church website builder.
- Ease of use – how quickly and easily can the website be updated?
- Design flexibility – how quickly and easily can the visual design be changed?
- Features – does it have all the features you need now, and in the future?
- Speed – does the website load quickly? Is it mobile friendly?
- Security – are there protections in place to prevent hacking?
- Widely supported – if you need help with your website, how easy is it to find someone?
- Optimized for search engines (SEO) – can people quickly find your church on Google?
Key Features To Consider For Your Church Website
When deciding on a church website builder, it’s often useful to think about the core set of features that you need from day one. There are several that stand out as defining features for any church website:
- Service Times and Location
- Live Sermons
- Sermon Video Library
- Events and Calendar
- Newsletter Subscriptions
- Contact Information & Social Media
Generally, a website’s feature list can be very extensive and it might be tempting to roll-out as many as possible. This needs to be balanced with the website’s usability, though.
For a church, it’s important to consider the needs of a very broad audience. Having too many advanced features might actually backfire and put some people off. Their impression of the website might be that it’s too cluttered and difficult to use. They likely won’t return.
This is where having an experienced agency can be very helpful. They can guide you through creating a website experience that appeals to many. This includes youth who are highly connected and digitally savvy, all the way through the demographic spectrum who may be looking for a more straightforward online experience. It’s certainly a fine balance and one that needs to be done right.
Taking this one step further, if you know that people in your community are visually impaired, or have other disabilities, you will be doing them a great service by taking these factors into account.
For instance, specific colors can be chosen so that your website’s text is readable for those who are color blind. Similarly, the size of the text could be made a little larger to help people with vision difficulties. In the website design industry, this is called making your website “accessible”. Unfortunately, too often these details are overlooked.
Think Beyond The Church Website Builder
The CMS is the engine-room of your website and is a vital cornerstone when creating a great online presence for your church. It’s also part of a larger plan.
What else goes into creating an effective website for your church?
There’s more than meets the eye which is another reason to partner with an online marketing agency. Exploring all of those topics would be a lengthy discussion. Instead, perhaps it’s helpful to phrase them as questions.
- Marketing & Advertising – are you eligible for a Google Ad Grant?
- Who can setup and run your church marketing campaigns?
- Who can navigate everything related to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
- Website Maintenance – who will keep your website up-to-date and secure?
- Is there an agency you can partner with that specializes in church websites?
- Who will design your website?
- What’s the track record of that agency?
- Are you locked-in to their services, or can you freely take ownership of your website?
- How much control over your website do you want?
- Do you want your website to be on auto-pilot, or hands-on?
Now that you’re prepared with these initial questions and considerations, you’re ready to take a look at the top church website builders that are out there.
Top Church Website Builders
|CMS||SEO||Ease of Use||Extensibility||Design Flexibility||Support|
|Church Plant Media||✔||✔||Partial||Partial||Limited|
WordPress with Missional Marketing
At the top of the list, we have WordPress which is used by Missional Marketing to create highly effective church websites.
WordPress is definitely the best church website builder out there today.
WordPress is the most popular website builder in the world for good reason. It’s a fully-featured CMS that is easily extended using ‘plugins’, so that you can start small and feel confident that your website will grow with your church. Perhaps you only want a single-page informational website? Or one that allows people to login and send donations with their credit card? WordPress is the answer.
A major benefit of using WordPress as your church CMS is that you can start with a clean slate and create a website that matches your vision. You’re never locked-in to a prescribed experience. It’s worth noting that some may consider this to be problematic because all of a sudden they need to hire a web designer. Luckily, there are thousands of customizable ‘themes’ which can give you a great head-start.
From an ease of use perspective, WordPress is known to have a bit of a learning curve. People’s experience with this CMS is largely dependent on the WordPress themes and plugins that are installed – some are better than others. It’s also dependent on who built the website and the quality of the end-result.
Missional Marketing specialize in building church websites using WordPress. Plus, if you’re interested in online advertising, video streaming and church membership growth strategies, this combination of agency and technology is incredibly flexible and successful.
Squarespace is a familiar name in the website creation industry. This platform is highly commercial and aimed at small businesses, in particular, who wish to sell online. The big question is whether this platform is ideal for launching a church website?
Known for its ease of use and ability to launch new websites very quickly, Squarespace checks many boxes because it was designed for the mass-market (no pun intended). It’s a very capable platform that includes a plethora of features and visual design options.
Being all-things-to-all-people comes with a number of drawbacks, however. For churches, this means that integrating with specific tools may be very limited, or not possible at all. Such tools include Church Management Systems, online giving features and sermon video libraries. Being able to embed these features into web pages could be an option, but a web developer will likely need to do this for you.
For all of its convenience and commercial appeal, other purpose-built platforms will likely meet the needs of your church more closely.
Ekklesia 360 offers a range of services in addition to their core church website product. They can provide content strategy, website design, custom development and managed giving. This all-under-one-roof approach will appeal to churches that wish to partner with a full-service agency.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the Ekklesia 360 platform is the ability to integrate with a wide range of church management systems. Whether it’s Church Community Builder, Rock RMS, or FellowshipOne, it’s possible to easily connect these services. The integration possibilities also extend to live streaming, event management and giving services.
Ekklesia 360 may fall short if you’re looking for an easy to use platform with a lot of design flexibility for your church. The website management tools may have a steep learning curve for some people. It’s also worth noting that the design options are limited and may incur additional costs depending on the template that you choose.
Clover has an attractive and straightforward pricing structure that will appeal to many. Similar to other platforms listed here, Clover has created services that are specifically aimed at churches and religious organizations.
There are significant limitations with the platform however, such as an inability to fully customize Search Engine Optimization features. Some SEO content is created automatically for you. This may sound like a big time saver (which it is) but unfortunately this means less control over how your church is presented on search engines.
On the plus side, Clover’s selection of website design templates provides a good amount of variation even though the number of design options is relatively sparse. Their extended library of images and templates is provided at additional cost.
FaithConnector specializes in creating church and ministry websites, recognizing that many people are not technically minded (or want to be). With over 16 years in the industry, they have a substantial customer base.
The platform was designed and built by their in-house team. The feature list is long, as you’d expect from a church website builder of this scale. However, this does create a walled garden of sorts. It may be difficult and/or expensive to extend your website with specific add-ons.
Thinking about the future, should you ever wish to migrate your website away from FaithConnector, you’ll be faced with a complete rebuild. That’s a major project from both a time and cost commitment.
FaithConnector’s pricing is upfront and transparent. It is worth noting that some items are provided at additional cost, such as the installation of visual design themes. On the plus side, their selection of over 50 website designs has an impressive amount of aesthetic depth which will appeal to many.
ShareFaith offers a very broad range of services for church management, communication and media. Their product list includes everything from church websites, to live streaming and even personal background checks.
In terms of their church website builder, Sharefaith has taken a slightly different approach compared to other providers. Sharefaith created a website administration console that is powered by WordPress. The end result is a product that benefits from the stability of WordPress, but provides a custom experience specifically for churches.
In theory, this is good news if you are familiar with WordPress. However, the Sharefaith product replaces familiar settings and options with their own. For customers who are looking for a highly tailored WordPress experience, this will be an attractive proposition. Be aware, though, the level of control over your website will be less than what WordPress provides out of the box.
On the other hand, Sharefaith’s focus on ease of use and Search Engine Optimization will appeal to non-technical people.
Church Plant Media
Church Plant Media offers a nicely packaged church website solution which is likely to satisfy the requirements of most churches. Their emphasis on design and ease of use is apparent as soon as you visit their website.
Church Plant Media’s selection of website design templates may seem a bit limited – there are about a dozen – but each design is well-executed and effective. They all look great on mobile phone and tablet devices, too.
Similar to other providers, customers are generally restricted to specific design templates unless additional development services are paid for. It’s worth noting that Church Plant Media will only go so far as altering the brand colors.
Integration with various Church Management Systems doesn’t seem to be provided in the base product, but they do offer the ability for website developers to go in and make customizations. That’s a major benefit if you have a technical person on-call.
Ministry Designs recognize that people who are buying a church website generally fall into two categories. They either want a prepackaged solution, or something that is highly customizable.
On the prepackaged side, there are about 20 templates to choose from which can be purchased in a few clicks. The designs will appeal to a wide audience and feature clear and colorful imagery. There is also a free library of thousands of images and media to choose from which are appropriate for events, occasions and holidays.
For those who want more control over the design and layout of their online presence, Ministry Designs offer a product called “Omega” which is a dedicated church website builder tool. This provides a drag-and-drop editor to create your own website using their predefined modules.
Both options are appealing, but some lock-in will occur regardless of the path you choose. For example, there is likely no easy way to move your website to another provider, should you ever wish to do so.
In case you’re confused, Subsplash is the name of a company that provides a set of online services around church giving, mobile apps, messaging and more. SnapPages, on the other hand, is the name of their church website builder tool.
SnapPages is a very capable website authoring tool which uses a familiar drag-and-drop interface. There are certain features that you wouldn’t typically expect – such as 3D image tilting – which are a nice surprise and fun to use. With the ability to create unlimited pages, you can freely experiment with online forms, adding full-screen images and integrating your church events.
For the most part, customers are limited to the Subsplash eco-system when it comes to integrating additional features. For example, should you wish to launch online giving, you will need to use the Subsplash Giving platform. Similar to other providers, this will appeal to some churches and not others. It really comes down to finding a balance between convenience and being locked-in.
Wix is a well-known website builder used around the globe. It’s primarily aimed at individuals and small businesses who wish to create a website quickly.
Wix is a very capable platform and has a pay-per-feature pricing model. Basically, the more you pay per month, the more features become available. This may be perfectly fine for a church website, but there are a few trade-offs to keep in mind.
From a visual design perspective, Wix has a number of premade themes. For the most part you are limited to those. Wix themes allow for a lot of customization but you may quickly discover that your design goals aren’t able to be met. This is a major roadblock if you prefer full control over how your website looks.
Website speed is also something to be very conscious of. Even if you hire a web developer to improve the load times of your Wix web pages, there’s only so much they can do. Wix does not allow deeper technical improvements to be made because all of their customers are running on the same platform, which has some fundamental inefficiencies.
Ease of use, on the other hand, is where Wix shines. The website creation process from start to finish is quite streamlined. Their content authoring and administration tools are intuitive. In addition, if you ever get stuck, there is a community of people who produce “how to” videos on YouTube.
eCatholic is a proprietary platform that is purpose-built for churches. There are many familiar features such as donations, payments and live streaming that appeal to those who are starting a church, or wanting to move from an alternate website platform.
eCatholic’s website creation tools are aimed at people who are seeking a straight-forward process for managing their online content. This may be fine for most, but it’s important to remember that your website may not be as easily extended compared to other platforms. In other words, if your needs evolve and change over time, there’s a chance you might outgrow the platform.
In terms of aesthetics and design, eCatholic provides a number of templates that can be applied to your website. If you wish to customize your website’s look-and-feel more substantially, they offer this as a paid service. It’s worth noting that if you’re looking to add photography to your website, the eCatholic Stock Photos library has many to choose from.
Overall, this platform is robust and backed by people who understand the needs of religious establishments and schools.
Weebly is a mass-market website builder that is designed to be as accessible and affordable to a broad audience. Even though this platform is not specifically aimed at churches, there are many features that can be tailored to suit.
Similar to most website builders, Weebly has a strong focus on ease of use. For the most part, entire websites can be created quickly using their proprietary tools.
Unfortunately, customers who need to integrate with third-party Church Management Systems will be out of luck. The platform is not able to be extended in this manner which could be a deal-breaker for many churches.
In terms of visual design options, Weebly also falls short when compared to other products such as WordPress. The number of themes is somewhat limited and is perhaps a reflection of Weebly’s target audience who are more focused on convenience than visual impact.
On the other hand, Weebly is widely supported by a community of users and help is never far away. Their support team and documentation is also on-hand for anyone needing assistance developing their website.
Nucleus is a purpose-built church website platform by Pro Church Tools, Inc.
Their offering is unique with a focus on three main pillars – video, social media and giving. Consideration is also given to aesthetic design and Search Engine Optimization. It’s apparent from their website that digital marketing is one of their strong-suits.
The platform itself is productized which means that it’s sold to you ‘as is’. This is very important to understand because customers are, for the most part, locked-in to their offering with little room for technical or design flexibility. This might actually be a good thing depending on your specific needs, especially if you’re looking for a nicely packaged solution at a predictable price.
In terms of supportability, your main point of contact will be the team at Nucleus as opposed to a global online community of designers and developers.
ChurchCo, as the name suggests, appeals to church leaders who are seeking an online platform that meets their specific needs.
ChurchCo places an emphasis on community building and communication tools. There is a single destination, or “hub”, aimed at ensuring church members are kept fully informed about upcoming events at their place of worship. There is a semi-automated scheduling system which keeps members up-to-date each week.
It’s worth noting that the ChurchCo platform isn’t easily extended or widely supported, so choose carefully depending on your specific needs. However, it’s ability to connect with Church Management Systems is a plus. ChurchCo provides a showcase of organizations they work with, so perhaps check out a few real-world examples to see if there’s a fit.
As you may gather from this article, finding the perfect church website builder can be a lengthy process. Balancing the current and future needs of your church against each of the vendors’ offerings, features and costs will be a unique exercise for each church.
Church website builders are not created equal. Sometimes they are inextricably linked to an agency or provider which can limit your options further down the road.
If there’s one key message to take from this article, it’s that you actually have two critical choices to make. Namely, which website builder is best for your needs, and which agency can help grow your church’s online presence to reach its full potential.