SiteOrganic Is a Great Solution for Most Church Web Sites

About ten months ago, my pastor asked me to chair the Evangelism Committee at my church. He also appointed several committee members to serve with me. We started by asking what was the single most important thing we could do to raise the visibility of our church in our local community.

A Man Holding a Full Size Tree in the Palm of His Hands - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/panorios, Image #4633733

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/panorios

The unanimous answer was that we needed a new Web site.

Why did we think this was important? Because a Web site is likely the first impression non-members will have of any church. Based on several studies I have read, the first thing non-members do before visiting a church is—you guess it!—Google it.

People want to see the Web site. This is a safe, no-risk way to check out a church and get a “feel” for what to expect. Based on that, they either make the decision to visit or move on.

Yes, our church already had a Web site. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t great. And, unfortunately, no one was really updating it regularly. Consequently, we felt that this needed to be our first priority.

So the first thing we did was start reviewing all the options available. That in and of itself was challenging. There are so many service providers. We considered:

  • Custom development. This was too expensive for our rather small church of approximately 350 members.
  • A Self-hosted WordPress Site. This is what I use for my blog, and I am a big fan. But in the end, we felt that it would be a little too difficult for non-technical volunteers to administer.
  • A Hosted Solution. We felt this was the best, most economical solution for our needs. There are numerous options available.

Over the course of a few months, we studied other Web sites, came up with a list of criteria, and looked at about six different service providers. We specifically wanted:

  1. A scalable solution that could grow with us. We wanted to be able to start small and grow the site over time.
  2. A user-friendly Content Management System (CMS). We wanted to be able to have it administered by a team.
  3. Reliable service and excellent support. I have worked with enough Web services to know that this is not a given. I wanted real humans on the other end of our phone calls who would provide the support we needed.
  4. Multi-level security. We wanted to be able to grant rights to our volunteers to change specific portions of the site without compromising the integrity of the entire site.
  5. All the necessary “bells and whistles.” These include: automatic photo resizing and galleries, content rotators, calendars, forms, polls, email newsletters, blogs, event registrations, member profiles, online giving, and full media management for podcasting, videos, PDFs, etc.

We finally settled on SiteOrganic. It met every requirement we had. We have been working with them now for a few months. Their support, in particular, has been excellent.

We still haven’t launched the new site—we are waiting on the final design components and then the proper approvals. But so far, we have been pleased. We are confident the site will grow with us. We can’t wait to share it with the world.

If your requirements are similar to ours, I would strongly encourage you to check them out. They provide both pre-designed, customizable themes, starting at $99.00 a month, as well as fully-commissioned custom designs. Best of all, they will waive the monthly service charge for new start-up churches. (The only charge is a nominal set-up fee.) You can see some of their sample sites here.

Question: Is your church ready for a new Web site?
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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Daniel Riddick

    We have used SiteOrganic for several years and have, over the course of time, brought online four separate websites with them. They provided awesome service and understanding of what we were trying to accomplish as an organization.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention SiteOrganic Is a Great Solution for Most Church Web Sites | Michael Hyatt | Chairman & CEO, Thomas Nelson Publishers -- Topsy.com()

  • http://www.mikestpierre.com mike st. pierre

    I looked into Site Organic for a project at our school; they never followed up and got back to us. As a result, we obviously went with another vendor. Hopefully this was just a fluke in customer service.

  • http://www.stmarkdc.org Andrew Mitry

    We just moved our church website over to SiteOrganic two months ago, so far they have been great!

  • http://www.pinprickoflight.blogspot.com/ Sara Rassler

    My church recently hired a new pastor after our former pastor of 32 years retired. We've been making huge changes and one of those changes is to create a website. Our new pastor came to me because my church of about 150 attendees doesn't have the funding to have our site hosted and I'm the most tech savvy person in the church. I haven't done very much web design, and I quickly found out that being proficient in HTML doesn't do much good when a whole site needs to be built.
    I immediately consulted Google and I've been taking a crash course in Adobe Dreamweaver the last three weeks or so. The single greatest thing I've found on the internet is other church websites and templates that I can steal single ideas from.

  • Sarah Clarke

    "what was the single most important thing we could do to raise the visibility of our church in our local community. The unanimous answer was that we needed a new Web site."

    Wrong answer. How about getting out into your community and serving. Shake hands, learn names, buy drinks. That's how you raise the visibility of your church.

    I'm not diminishing the importance of a website. But the most important thing? That's you, brother. Not your website.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I don’t think it’s either/or. Certainly, we are not expecting the Web site to do it all. It’s just the first step. Now we can move on to those other items as well. Thanks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/TimothyFish Timothy Fish

      Sarah, I think I see your point. No, a website is not the "single most important thing" a church can do to raise visibiliy, but when I look at the ministries of our church, the web ministry is the widest reaching outreach ministry we have, touching many times the number of people that the other ministries touch combined. However, it is less effective than some of our other ministries. But it's not a contest because they have to work together. Without the ministries the website is nothing but a page of information showing the meeting times of the church. Without the website, some people would be unaware of what is going on in the other ministries.

      • Michael Hyatt

        I have a consultant working with us on our new Thomas Nelson site. He said, “Think of your Web site as your hardest working employee. They are at their desk 24/7 and never complain.” I think sometimes we under-estimate the impact.

        • mike

          Spoken like somebody trying to sell you a website.

          Nobody's underestimating the impact of a website, but Sarah's right. It's not the answer to your team's question.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TimothyFish Timothy Fish

    I've never really looked at services like SiteOrganic because with skilled volunteer labor I'm able to do for less than $100 per year (yes, that's year, not month) I can do what they would charge me $300 a month to do. And that's part of the reason I wrote Church Website Design: A step-by-step approach. A lot of churches have a hard time justifying spending $1,200 to $3,600 per year on a website and yet they do see the potential benefits. For out church, we often get people who come because they found us on the web.

    One of the requirements that I have for any church website is that it is easy to add information. Another requirement is that old information must disappear when it is out of date. And yet another requirement is that there is no copy/paste.

  • http://davidbmclaughlin.com davidbmc

    GReat post MIchael. Very insightful.

    One complaint I have about church websites is that most of them have similar "stock" photos of people who have nothing to do with their church. They find a nice multi-ethnic group of people because that is what they want to attract but the look of the website (people and design) looks and feels nothing like the actual church when you get there.

    It feels like false advertising to me. Just my two cents.

    dm

    • http://www.facebook.com/TimothyFish Timothy Fish

      Most of those stock photos come right along with the stock website. Putting real church pictures out there requires work. I use pictures of our people on our church website, but even then, I'll be the first to admit that I have a tendency to highlight the diversity of the ethinic groups. When I get happen to get a good picture of a white guy talking to an American Indian woman, a hispanic man, a black lady, and an Asian man it has a better chance of going up on the website than a picture of three white widows. We love our widows, but we get seconds on a website to show people what everyone is welcome.

      • http://www.davidbmclaughlin.com davidbmc

        I'm not opposed to diversity btw. I just find it funny that people promote their church as a church full of diverse looking models when itis not the reality.

  • http://twitter.com/ARDaleJones @ARDaleJones

    Michael,

    I enjoy reading your blog and tweets. Did your Evangelism Committee look into Church Media (http://churchmedia.cc)? I'll admit, I'm a bit biased because my brother, Bill, is the Senior Graphic Designer, but I think the company rocks! I'll admit they're more expensive than SiteOrganic, but you get what you pay for, yes?

    Dale Jones
    BU `78-`81

    • Michael Hyatt

      I don't think we did. However, in looking at their site, I don’t see a good demo of their features. These are only listed on the pricing page and there doesn’t appear to be any way to see them in action.

  • http://twitter.com/allenfuller @allenfuller

    Thanks for sharing this web service with us. Another great service for building church websites is LightCMS (http://www.lightcms.com). They're based in Oklahoma City and all of the founders come from a church leadership/IT background. Their content management system has a lot of great features and is very easy for volunteers to manage. Their price is cheaper than SiteOrganic, although it doesn't seem like they offer as many features. Not only do they have a great platform, but they really shine at custom design. Our church in Murfreesboro engaged them to build our site, and the result was terrific.

    • http://twitter.com/allenfuller @allenfuller

      Quick correction: Light's product specifically for ministries is SkyCMS and the link http://www.discoversky.com/.

  • Pastor Lon

    SiteOrganic was a mistake for us. The site was klunky and tech support didn't know how to help. There was text on the front page we couldn't change, and had to pay them 1hr labor to do so. When I wanted to tweak the css to make a headline fit I was told "no" and their solution, "write a shorter headline." In the end it's not a horrible site, but it's not anywhere close to as good as it could be.

  • David

    Lon, the easiest way to overwrite their CSS is through the Group Styles panel (or through their "skinning" engine). You definitely don't need them to do it. If it's a site-wide change, then add your CSS to the Master Group. I've done it a few times before for our site and saved us their hourly fee.

    If I can fault SiteOrganic on something it's that they should be more community oriented with their clients. Calling on Customer Service for every issue sucks. They need a community message board where users can post problems/solutions like this (and don't tell me it's "Coming Soon!").

    • bhillford

      Hi David-

      Thanks for jumping in on this. I'd love to get your thoughts on a community site for clients. We have tried it twice before, with mixed success. We find that these sites work best for those who are slightly progressive on the tech-savviness spectrum (like yourself). Most of our churches aren't blessed with someone like this, so they wind up just calling us for answers rather than sifting through a community forum.

      A concept like this would be a huge win for our clients, though. We are constantly doing everything possible to empower our clients.

      I'm very interested in your thoughts on this. Please Email me at brad (at) siteorganic (dot) com and let's discuss.

      • Ryan

        Do a Google search for any blogging platform (Blogger, WordPress, Moveable Type) or CMS (Drupal, Joomla) plus the world "forums".

        The only reason your clients call is because you give them no other viable option.

        So long as you do your part to organize the forums initially, Google will do all the "sifting" for your clients.

  • Pastor Lon

    I truly hope my seemingly well-reasoned comment criticizing SiteOrganic wasn't deleted, but it certainly appears to be. So much for open dialogue.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I rarely delete comments, but I do so occasionally, particularly if (as my comments policy states) your comment is snarky, offensive, or off-topic.

      It also helps if you have the courage to post with a real email address, rather than null@null.com (as you did). I am wide-open to honest conversation. I don’t have much tolerance for drive by attacks by anonymous commenters.

      • Pastor Lon

        What could I have possibly said that was snarky? I pointed to open source as not often a viable, but often preferable, solution and pointed to high traffic corporate, governmental, and educational organizations which support my position. How could that be considered a drive-by attack?

        Your own policy states I may post anonymously.

        • Pastor Lon

          "not often" should read "not only" Sorry.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          Honestly, I have no idea. I have read hundreds of messages since you first commented. Obviously, I am not opposed to negative comments per se. (Just look at the comment thread above.) I think you should ask yourself the question you asked of me.

          Thanks.

          • Pastor Lon

            Fair enough. Thanks Michael.

            One last question; I have since noticed this is a "Sponsored Post" (And the only such tagged post on your site.) Did SiteOrganic write it?

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

            Actually, there are a few sponsored posts on my site. I shoot for one to two a month, and clearly disclose them as such. I write every word. And, I only write them for products I personally am excited about.

            I turn down about two a month two, either because I don’t use the product or don’t think it would be relevant to my audience.

            Thanks.

          • Pastor Lon

            Thanks for your reply, Michael. Sorry I missing the other sponsored posts.

            I still wonder if SiteOrganic wrote this post and if so why is it written in third person. You must admit it's odd what a church would be so delighted with any vendor they would pay someone else to promote them.

            Is this viral marketing that isn't viral?

          • Pastor Lon

            Ahhh…missed the I write every word part. Sorry. Are you able to share the URL of the site SiteOrganic built for you?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    SiteOrganic did not build the site; we (the committee) built the site, using SiteOrganic's tools. SiteOrganic is a hosted Web service.

    The site is still going through the internal review process at our church. It is scheduled for a September 1 launch. At the point, I will gladly share the URL here.

    Thanks.

    • Pastor Lon

      Thanks Michael. Best of luck as you and your team creates a new site. I appreciate the time and thought you have given to me as you responded to my posts.

      As people evaluate web developers its good for them to know there are a multitude of free online tools which provide a peek into how well a site is working:

      The W3C's markup http://validator.w3.org/ and CSS http://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator/ validators

      Consider one of these accessibility checkers http://www.w3.org/WAI/ER/tools/complete (Or even simpler, try to navigate the site using only the keyboard)

      Yahoo! Has the great YSlow performance analyzer http://developer.yahoo.com/yslow/

      SiteOrganic sites do not employ valid code, are not accessible to users with daiabilities and typically receive a YSlow score of "C". As I stated in my initial post, "It's not a horrible site, but it's not anywhere close to as good as it could be. "

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/bhillford bhillford

        Lon,

        Thanks for making these tools available to readers here on this blog. They are all very useful. Good Web designers know that there is often a trade-off between design, features, and accessibility. For example, sites that are 100% accessible may not offer the ability to provide certain interactive elements, typographical treatments, or image-based features. This is not always true, but is often the case.

        We work with each client on their particular requirements. Our system has the ability to support a site that is 100% accessible, 100% W3C compliant, and a site that works on any platform. We're always turning the dials and adjusting things on each site to strike the perfect balance in each specific case. Ultimately, our end goal is to create an environment where our church and ministry clients can produce results for their audience. This looks different for each church.

        • Pastor Lon

          Brad, then you are using the wrong technologies. (ie, Typographical treatments can ALWAYS be accessible.) IF your system can support 100% W3C compliant sites, why does your own homepage throw 16 Errors, 82 warning(s)?

          Google A11y for all sorts of advise on how to include people with disabilities…Just like God intended…

          • bhillford

            Hi Lon,

            I'd be happy to carry this conversation on with you directly. Please feel free to send me an Email and be sure to include a valid way to get back in touch with you. You already have my address.

            Thanks.

        • bhillford

          I realize that my previous statement about sites being "100% accessible, 100% W3C compliant, and sites that work on any platform" could have been read out of context. That was my mistake for not being more clear. When we build our sites at SiteOrganic, we intentionally add elements that are designed to degrade to the best possible experience for the widest universe of users. Here are 10 examples of things we have learned to do over the years. Perhaps this list would be helpful to other Web designers too:

          1. We use simple URLs whenever possible, and we give our clients a tool to create short addresses. We call it the Friendly URL tool. For example, http://www.mysite.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=1234… could become http://mysite.org/missions.

          2. We build our sites using strict TITLE and ALT tags on images, and we give our clients the tools to do the same (keep in mind that our CMS tool allows clients to add their own images in most areas of the site.

          3. Flash is used sparingly, if at all.

        • bhillford

          4. To achieve special typographical treatments, we use a combination of home-grown javascript tools, along with open-source vehicles like jQuery, Cufon, MooTools, and others. This allows users to see the full-fidelity experience if possible; if their system or device is more limited then it would degrade to an HTML equivalent.

          5. In our CMS, we limit users to a list of common HTML-safe fonts as shown in this example: http://www.ampsoft.net/webdesign-l/WindowsMacFont

          6. When our ministry/church clients have a special affinity toward users with vision impairment (especially common for senior adults, special needs communities, etc.) we add a font-size control on the page itself. This allows the user to choose his or her most comfortable font size, and the site will remember the preference for future visits. This technique is less-commonly used now, because nearly all computers support dynamic font sizing with browser zoom, mouse-wheel zoom, or other similar tools.

        • bhillford

          7. Our system supports standard DOCTYPE declarations (either loose or strict) so that browsers can make decisions on rendering based on standards.

          8. Except when absolutely necessary, we do not combine layout with content. This means that we stay away from tables, inline styles, inline font declarations, etc. Of course our clients are free to add these types of things to their sites as desired, but our practice is to use CSS for almost all layout, appearance, and positioning.

          9. We dynamically feed different style sheets for different media types. For example, we can serve up a different style sheet for screen, print, handheld, or even tty/braille (these are rare). Here's a great resource on this technique: http://www.w3.org/TR/CSS2/media.html.

          10. Although not a technical point, it's also imperative to design for readability…for any user. Our internal design critique meetings are often filled with comments such as "make the text larger", "improve the contrast", "consider different screen sizes", or "adjust the design so that links are clearly visible as clickable links".

    • Chris Anderson

       September 1 of what year? Care to share the URL?

      • Chris Anderson

        @428d3304e42e0488424b878e2f1df43b:disqus So let me get this straight. You’re willing to be sponsored to stay “SiteOrganic is great for everyone.” Some seemingly knowledgable folks criticize your sponsor, you promise to release the URL when it’s complete. Have I missed it, or was the URL never released? What’s the follow up to the story? I’d like to know now that the site has (presumably) been running for a year +. do you think your site is food, bad or indifferent.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

          Here is the URL; http://www.saint-ignatius.org. We are very happy with SiteOrganic.

          • Chris Anderson

            Glad you’re happy with your site.

            It looks very nice.

            The homepage throws 48 errors and another 37 warnings, so the earlier comment “It’s not a horrible site, but it’s not anywhere close to as good as it could be.” seems to apply here, as well.

  • Michael Hyatt

    Lon, I deleted your last comment. Please see my comments policy. If you want to carry this conversation on with Brad in private, as he suggested, please do so.

  • Michael Hyatt

    I am now closing this thread, due to inappropriate and offensive comments.

    • Timmy

      I thought the comments were closed, yet Mike Jones is allowed to post. So much for honesty. >Sigh<

  • http://www.mikejonesdesigns.com Mike Jones

    Michael, I would highly recommend you make your disclaimer of this being a ‘Sponsored Post’ a bit more clear from the outset of this article or at the very least in a more readable font size and color. This would have been much more helpful to me in judging the intent of your promotion of this company’s products and services as I was reading rather than waiting until the very end to squint and find out the full truth.

  • Pastor Lon

    Apologies, the link in the above comment should read http://www.siteorganic.com/express/faq.asp#q2