Building a church website can be an overwhelming task. It’s about having church services to share and communicating effectively with church members and the general public. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to create your own church website from scratch – saving you time and money!
Step 1: Choosing and Registering a Domain Name
The first step to creating a church website is choosing and registering the domain name. Here are some tips for doing so:
- Try to find an available .com or church-specific extension (.church, .christian) if at all possible. If you can’t find one that’s already taken, consider purchasing another type of domain such as .net.
- If your church’s name is taken, consider using a part of your church’s name with another phrase. It may be easier for people to find out more information about the church by using search engines.
- Ensure the URL is short and easy to remember – this will make it much simpler when sharing with friends and church members.
- Make sure the domain name is available – some of them are taken years in advance, so if you’re not able to find or purchase one that’s already been used, it may be a good idea to consider another phrase for your church website.
Some great domain name registrars are Google.com/domains or Porkbun.com. Google is easy to use, and the pricing is very consistent, while Porkbun.com is often the cheapest. However, domain names are usually paid every year. Therefore, it’s important to turn on auto-renewal in your billing settings so you don’t lose your domain name after it expires.
Step 2: Find a Website Host
Now that you’ve registered your domain, your website has to live somewhere, and that’s what a website host does.
Websites can either be static or dynamic—static means they are pure code with no content management system—strictly HTML and CSS. Dynamic means they have a content management system so that anyone, including people who don’t know how to code, can update and use the website. I recommend that you choose a host that allows you to use a content management system.
My recommended content management system for a church is WordPress. WordPress itself is free (offered through WordPress.org and not WordPress.com) and is usually easy to install on most web hosts. Unfortunately, many web hosts only host WordPress websites.
Keep in mind there are many different hosting sites that you can choose from online. I have experience working with a lot of them. Here is a list of some hosting providers that I recommend.
Small Church/Church Plant
If your church is small and just starting, and you have 501c3 status, you can get free hosting through Dreamhost. I will say, this is the most technically challenging route you can take. The hosting isn’t great, and the support is subpar, but it’s great because it’s free. Remember the old Vinn diagram, you can have things cheap, quick, or good, but you can’t have all three. So I would say this is just cheap. It will work to set up a website in the short term. I will go this route if you’re a church plant or a church website expecting less than 500 visits per month.
The next step up from the free hosting that Dreamhost offers is SiteGround. SiteGround offers pretty great shared hosting services, meaning you’ll share space on a server with another company (you’ll never notice, and nothing will interfere with your website). Still, it saves you money from owning your own dedicated server space. In addition, SiteGround has decent customer service that I’ve found to be helpful in a crunch. I personally use Siteground to manage many of my own websites.
If your church is large or growing, and you’re getting more than 1000 views per month, I recommend seeking better hosting. These options are WordPress Managed Hosting specifically. The other hosts mentioned, Dreamhost and SiteGround, could technically host any website.
The first option is WP Engine. This host offers managed WordPress hosting, which means they can install and manage the WordPress install for you as well. They also offer 24/hr support and monitoring – so if your site goes down for any reason, someone will be there monitoring it within an hour. They have great customer service.
Another option that I personally love and advocate for is Pressable. Automattic, the WordPress parent company, owns Pressable. This website is on Pressable hosting. It has never gone down for me and handles great usage and bandwidth issues. In addition, they have AMAZING customer service. I would sing about it if your ears wouldn’t bleed.
Step 2.B: Point Your Domain to Your Host
I would do you a disservice if I didn’t say you have to point your domain to your host. This seems more difficult than it actually is. You can buy a domain from your web host, which often makes it easier, but it is usually more expensive. Buy the domain separately as step one suggests, and then you can either point your “A” record to the IP address of your web host or change the nameserver records. If you have an issue, please ask in the Church Communications Facebook Group; we would love to help you.
Step 3: Finding a Theme
Choosing a theme could take DAYS, WEEKS! I’m going to boil it down to three choices for you. Each of these choices has pros and cons, but more importantly, each choice is a “builder,” meaning you have endless options of what you can do with it. I prefer these to “church only” themes personally but to each their own. We will give you those options too!
The first theme I’m going to recommend is Divi. The learning curve is less steep on this theme than all the others. It’s the easiest one to use and get started with. There are loads of churches using the Divi theme in our group, and you can ask them questions when you have them. Divi also has great support. Another pro of the Divi theme is the lifetime deal pricing. For around $249, you can purchase the theme just one time and use it for life, with upgrades and support. It’s a pretty sweet deal which is why so many churches use this theme. The biggest con of the Divi theme is that it uses “shortcodes,” which makes leaving the theme later much more difficult because it mixes your content with their theme coding. Also, it can be a mess to clean up, so it’s not as “portable” as other themes. However, I don’t think this is a good enough reason not to use it.
The second theme I’m recommending is actually a plugin, Elementor. Elementor does have a theme, “Hello Elementor,” that is completely plain. You can buy themes that work with Elementor directly. I recommend and use Astra Pro, but there’s also the Page Builder Framework theme or GeneratePress. This option is more complex, obviously, but Elementor also has a lot more customization options specifically for more complex users. I say it’s what you graduate to from Divi. It’s a great plugin/theme combo and works for a lot of websites. Our website is on Elementor using the “Hello Elementor” theme right now. You can also see a website I built using Elementor and Astra at Community Life Church. Elementor is a recurring subscription paid annually.
The third theme is Beaver Builder. I’ve seen many beautiful websites built with it, which is why it made this list. It’s also probably the most “clean” coded theme on this list as well. Beaver Builder is fast and good at its job. Beaver Builder is a subscription service paid annually.
Finally, there are some church-specific themes out there like ChurchThemes.com. The church-specific theme is great because it’s made for churches, but it doesn’t leave much space for creativity if you are more creative. However, it is great because you can get your church website up really quickly with it. There is an annual cost to this.
If I had to choose, I would say start with Divi. If Divi isn’t right, try Elementor instead. You can not use them together.
Step 4: Choose Your Plugins
The best part about WordPress is its flexibility—you can literally build anything with it. WordPress has a wide array of free plugins at your disposal, and they might work for what you want to do. I’m going to tell you my must-have plugins for a church website.
The first plugin that most churches need is sermon management, which is where I recommend, Series Engine. Series Engine was the first and original sermon management tool for WordPress. I love that it creates individual pages for each sermon, which helps for SEO. Google loves fresh content. Series Engine allows you to create new series, input new sermons, tag it with relevant scripture, and tag the speaker. It is filterable. It is organized in a way that makes a lot of sense. This plugin creator also made Prayer Engine and Groups Engine, worth checking out.
The second plugin I recommend is WP Livestream. WP Livestream lets you embed your church’s live stream from Youtube, Vimeo, or Facebook easily and updates it each week for you. It’s smart and intuitive and takes a lot of the pain from embeds out of the equation.
The third plugin I recommend is Gravity Forms unless you do your forms inside your church management system. Gravity Forms is a simple plugin that allows you to create all sorts of forms for church. From registration to giving, to event RSVPs and more—it’s got options galore. Gravity Forms is flexible enough to be used by anyone from the church secretary who needs a form on their website or someone building out an entire online church registration system.
The fourth plugin I recommend is an event management plugin. Event management is a widespread church need. I use Modern Event Calendar, but The Events Calendar is also a really great choice depending on what you’re hoping to accomplish.
I would recommend using an SEO plugin like Yoast or RankMath. A lot of people have strong opinions about either of them; I don’t. I like that RankMath has a built-in redirection tool for making short links. You can also use the “Pretty Link” plugin for building short links, so that’s up to you. SEO is important, and I recommend using one of these plugins (not both) to help raise your SEO scores and help search engines what this site is about.
Additionally, I recommend you install Google Analytics on your site. Google Analytics is, in many ways, the gold standard of church website analytics. Suppose you want to know what your church site is doing and why Google Analytics is required. Google Analytics can help you know what people are doing on your site and help you figure out why.
I also recommend installing a caching plugin like WPSuperCache on your church site. This will save you money in the long run because it reduces load time for people visiting your website (which means they’re more likely to stay on your church’s website).
Finally, I recommend Sucuri’s Website Security plugin to install on your site. We’ve all heard horror stories about church websites being hacked and defaced with porn or other spammy links. The best way you can safeguard yourself against this happening is by installing a website security plugin. Sucuri is one of the best plugins out there for this kind of thing, and it’s a very affordable service with a great reputation.
Step 5: Design Your Site and Add Content
This is the final step in building your church website. Design and content go hand-in-hand, so this might be a two-step process for you! First, you’ll need to create new pages as needed or fill out any existing pages with helpful information about your church that Google likes (i.e., church hours, location). Then, you’ll want to design your church website so it looks good.
Content and copywriting on a church website are more important than it seems. Your opening tagline can make or break if someone leaves the site immediately or not. If you need help with writing copy, I recommend reading Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller. If you’re still confused, I recommend working with a StoryBrand Guide like myself (Katie Allred) or Kenny Jahng. We’d be delighted to help you create the copy that clearly tells your church team’s mission and vision.
Make sure you have one clear call to action on your homepage. You need one direct call to action. It might be “Plan a Visit,” for example. It might be, “Watch Our Latest Message.” Whatever it is, be sure it’s clear and use that same call to action all over the home page. A call to action is usually a prominent button; it’s a step you want the user to take next on your website. Planning your user’s journey on your church’s website will help you plan what pages and how to connect each page.
Step 6: Launch
I recommend launching on a slow day for your church; you can figure that out via Google Analytics if you had a previous site. If not, I really recommend a Monday or Tuesday night so you have time to fix mistakes that might happen during the launch process. Of course, if you’ve been working on a live site and not a staging site this whole time, then nothing to worry about.
Now it’s time to tell the world about your new website. Launch a social media campaign, send an email to your congregation, ask for opinions about what could be improved.
Step 7: Evaluate
A month after launch, it’s time to evaluate the website. Is it doing what you hope it would do? Where are people “bouncing” or leaving, and why? Is there content that’s not getting the right attention? Figure out who the main audience of your website is; is it mostly visitors or returning users? This will help you decide what to put on your homepage in the future.
A church website is an important tool for any church, and it often takes a lot of time, energy, and money to build the perfect church website. This article has provided some helpful tips on saving both time and money when building your church’s new site so that they are more likely to see success from day one. As we’ve mentioned in this guide, every church should have a professional who knows what they’re doing to create their dream website. If you need help designing or executing your vision for your church’s website, don’t hesitate to contact our team at Storybrand Guides! We would be delighted to partner with you to design the perfect church online presence, whether through your website on content creation.
If you’re like, “Katie, I don’t want to do any of this!” Then I have a solution for you as well. We trust and recommend Ministry Designs to make church websites easy. They have amazing support and will take the wheel and help you build a great church website without having to do all this. Just a heads up.