Let’s be clear from the outset, this website – the very one your eyes are scouring right now – is built using a template.
WHAT?! I know, unbelievable. The thing is, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I had some options when I set up my church comms website – probably not all too different from the options you face when thinking about a restructure of your own church website.
The following options are all valid, and each have their own advantages and drawbacks.
Firstly, I could have built it myself. It probably wouldn’t have turned out to be the most functional thing in the world, but it would have been useable, it would have worked, more or less.
A preferable option to this, in my case, would have been to work with another developer, or several – someone who’s able to make the site way better than I could. I would have still designed the site but handed it off to be built by someone else – it’s what I do with my clients, and it’s tried and tested with lovely developers with whom I have great working relationships.
This isn’t always an option in the church, but it may well be, depending on your membership. It’s a great way to work but be sure to oversee the process with good project management.
Calling on those within your church who have skills in web design is a great way of saving money and maintaining creative control. It is, of course, very important to be aware of the tendency for Web standards to change quickly, and just because your volunteer could build a great static html or flash-based site back in the day doesn’t necessarily mean they are able to code something that meets the needs of today’s Web user. There’s also potential for awkwardness and even hurt if the site doesn’t meet expectations and feedback is not given in the right way (in fact, even if it is).
Another possibility would have been to outsource the site completely – probably something that I personally would be less likely to do, being a designer myself – but still a valid option. This way means you specify what you want and receive back a finished product – assuming you’ve paid your bill! Hopefully the result is something that looks good and works flawlessly. Any further changes will incur extra costs, and don’t forget the admin side of this – even outsourced projects need management!
Outsourcing is easily the most expensive option, although probably the most common. It is also therefore the option with the most potential for wasted money – I have heard so many stories of churches, charities and small businesses paying vast sums to agencies who promise the world, but deliver very little. It’s not a nice process.
With this in mind I shall endeavour to write about choosing the right design agency in the near future.
Where did we start, ah yes – templates.
Given that this site is built on a template, and I’m pleased with how it’s turned out, I would be foolish to not recommend them. So I will! I do recommend the use of templates.
But not without a big but.
Whilst using a pre-made template is a great way of quickly and cheaply designing your website, it is not a beginner’s option.
Good templates generally come with page builders – if one isn’t included (and sometimes even if it is) it’s possible you’ll still need some basic knowledge of html/css to properly format your pages. However, don’t be put off, this is an opportunity for learning, and, providing you’ve picked a template with an active development team, support is usually readily available.
Critically, the most important part of any website is its content. Always content. This is something no template will provide you, and is the primary reason that using a template is not a beginner’s option.
Thankfully, there are lots of helpful sites out there, like this one, that will help you to optimise the content on your church website, to best suit your audience.
Finally, choose wisely with your template. This decision will impact how your site looks, and will influence how you create and format your communications content. There are lots of great sources of themes, both free and paid. Creative Market is a great place to start for high quality paid themes, but also search the web to find great themes for your system (for example check out the WordPress theme listings).
Have you had fantastic or terrible experiences with templates, or perhaps working with developers? Continue the discussion in the comments.