This page contains the companion resource list for our published book, Church Websites: How to Communicate the Gospel Effectively in a Social Media World.
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You can also support the charity founded by the author, NewCREEations, and the ministry they do in Scotland and around the world by purchasing the book directly from them by clicking here: Church Websites book
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Now, on to the resources.
Now that you understand how all the pieces fit together and know why certain things should be done a certain way, here are the resources I promised that will show you how to get your WordPress website up and running.
You can click through the links to be taken directly to the different tools and services recommended here in the resource section.
WP Apprentice – In my opinion this is one of the best WordPress training sites for the value. They have a big selection of professional quality videos for a good price. Their videos cover everything from how to find your way around the WordPress admin to web basics, WordPress security, eCommerce, and even SEO.
WP101 – Another good option for WordPress tutorial videos. There is a smaller selection of videos, but the price is a little less too. Plus you can purchase individual courses too if there is something specific you want to get a handle on.
Udemy – This site has a slew of courses to choose from covering a wide range of WordPress topics. You can chose individual courses to go in depth on some very specific topics. I highly recommend you review the ratings for the individual courses as there tends to be a bit of variety in quality. Some courses will be better than others.
Web Savvy SEO Course – I’ve worked directly with Rebecca Gill, owner of Web Savvy Marketing, for several years. She knows more about practical Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and how to increase organic traffic to websites than anyone I have ever met. I’ve seen her work benefit many, many clients over the years. If you want to learn the nitty-gritty of how to achieve strong SEO for websites then this is the best course out there anywhere.
Platform by Michael Hyatt – Michael Hyatt is the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing. His book, Platform, is oriented specifically for authors. However the principles he explains will work for most anyone looking to reach more people online. What he explains dovetails nicely with what I’ve explained here.
The resources in this section includes a place to purchase a new domain name for your website, web hosting options, and some other services that can be beneficial for your church or ministry website.
Tame.Domains – This is our in-house web services store where you can search for and purchase domain names. We also offer low cost no-frills web hosting, SSL security certificates, email service (for domains registered with us) and more. Feel free to look around the site and see the services we offer there. We also offer very solid WordPress web hosting to help those on tighter budgets.
WP Engine – In my opinion they are the best full service high end WordPress web hosting out there today. We host all of our websites with WP Engine. They have nightly and one-click backups for the entire website install, high performance servers with built-in CDN (Content Delivery Network), and most importantly, their technical support is extremely knowledgable and helpful. When I need to reach out to tech support from my web hosting company it’s going to be for something pretty high level. WP Engine’s tech support has never had a problem solving my issues quickly and correctly. If they can handle my tough issues they should also be able to support you too, no problem.
Site Ground – Slightly less expensive, slightly less sophisticated web hosting. If you are looking to save a little and still get superior quality WordPress web hosting then SiteGround is a good choice. I have used their hosting many times in the past and have had no issues with it. One thing to note, SiteGround discounts their prices for new signups. So be prepared for a bit of an increase in your hosting cost after that initial billing period.
MaxCDN – As an advanced service, a Content Delivery Network, or CDN, provides high performance and speed for websites. Basically a CDN is a large system of servers distributed around the planet that each have a copy of the key files of your website. That way each site visitor is served your website’s content directly from a nearby location no matter where in the world they are located instead of from your primary web hosting account. MaxCDN is an affordable, relatively easy to use CDN that will give your website the same performance and speed advantages major websites have. I’ve used their service for years. Note: MaxCDN should not be used with WP Engine hosting as they already have a built-in CDN.
DNSMadeEasy – DNS stands for Domain Name System (or Server) and it is like an address book that pairs up human readable domains with machine readable IP address numbers. Most domain registrars and web hosts offer basic DNS service along with their other services. However, for sites that need better performance and reliability a third party DNS service is the way to go. I didn’t use one for years. But after using one for my sites I don’t expect I’ll ever go back. DNSMadeEasy is easier to use, performs better, and – I was amazed to see – it also costs significantly less than another DNS service I was using. That’s a three- way win! I’ve been very happy with the service since I made the switch. (I was using Amazon Web Services (AWS) for this previously. I assumed because AWS is geared for developers – meaning it’s not very user friendly – and marketed as low cost that it would be less expensive. Then I found out it cost more than DNSMadeEasy for what I needed. Switching was a no-brainer for me.)
Blubrry – If you want to make your sermon audios available online or have a podcast then Blubrry is a service I highly recommend. I use their statistics so I can know how many people are listening to my podcasts. But they also have excellent hosting for audio files too. Trust me when I say that if you are using a low end web host you will want to host your sermon audio files in a different place than on your main hosting account. General web hosting servers are not really setup to serve multimedia files, especially at volumes that you will see as your sermons or podcasts get more popular. Blubrry’s media hosting is designed specifically to handle the load of serving larger media files. When coupled with their PowerPress plugin for WordPress (listed in the WordPress plugins section) they make it relatively easy to get your sermons or podcasts online and available for the world to enjoy. (I sill host the audio files for my podcast at my Amazon Web Services (AWS) account. It was a bit complicated to set up originally. Blubrry is far more user friendly.)
If you can’t find a suitable free theme to use for your self hosted WordPress website from inside your WordPress admin then you will want to shop for a premium stock theme. You can expect to pay between $50 – $200 for a good stock WordPress theme, and there are a ton of different theme shops to chose from. Here are some I recommend.
Genesis – From my perspective this is the premier theme framework for WordPress sites. I exclusively used Genesis based themes for every single website project I worked on for the last 5 years I worked as a WordPress developer before transitioning to full time ministry. Without getting all technical there are two parts involved. There’s the Genesis theme framework. And then there’s a child theme that overlays the framework. The Genesis framework takes care of all the heavy lifting of the website theme. Then the child theme lays on top of the framework and handles the specific look and layout for the website. Separating the parts in this way makes it easy to update the core theme framework without affecting the look and layout of your site. In this way you can keep adding all the latest features and security fixes without breaking your site.
StudioPress – StudioPress is the company that built the Genesis theme framework. Therefore they have a large selection of Genesis child themes you can use for your site. Since first writing this book, StudioPress was acquired by the hosting company WP Engine. Now anyone with a hosting account at WP Engine can use any of the high quality Genesis themes developed by StudioPress on their sites at no additional charge.
Web Savvy Marketing – This is the company I worked for while going to Bible college. Web Savvy has some great looking Genesis child themes. In fact I helped code several of them and use some of the Web Savvy themes as the basis for my own websites. So I can’t help but recommend them. As an update to this in 2020, Web Savvy sold their themes to another company, 9 Seeds. The new company still offers those themes I helped create.
Beaver Builder – If you want to try your hand at customizing your website without getting into code then Beaver Builder is one of the best options out there. This one I’ve not used myself because I’m good with code. But they have an excellent reputation. The Beaver Builder plugin works with the Genesis theme framework and a slew of other themes too, if you choose to go another direction with your theme.
Plugins add capability to the core WordPress software. Here are some premium and free plugins that add functionality useful for church and ministry websites.
Gravity Forms – Forms are important for websites for everything from newsletter signups to contact forms, and so much more. And Gravity Forms has long been the gold standard forms plugin from a developer perspective. As I write this we use Gravity Forms with Stripe (listed in the Miscellaneous section) to accept payments on our business website and so folks can partner financially with our ministry in a variety of different currencies. Gravity Forms is one of the earliest and most robust form plugins for WordPress that allows developers to create complex forms for a variety of different needs.
WP Forms – This plugin focuses on simplifying the user interface and making robust forms easier to create and manage for ordinary users (meaning people who aren’t WordPress developers). If the complexity of Gravity Forms intimidates you then WP Forms is an excellent alternative.
OptinMonster – We talked about the importance of people coming to know you, like you, and trust you in the Welcome to the Revolution! chapter. An excellent way to do that is to convert your casual website visitors into email newsletter subscribers. OptinMonster is an excellent plugin to help with that. Their exit intent overlay forms are a great way to put your email subscription form in front of folks as they are leaving your site. It’s a feature rich, robust solution that we use very successfully to help build our email list at NewCREEations.
Social Warfare – It’s critical to have social sharing buttons on your content to make it easier for your site visitors to help you generate buzz by sharing your articles, etc. to their social profiles. Social Warfare is the plugin we use on our own NewCREEations site. It gives us the ability to have unobtrusive, but easily visible floating social sharing buttons on every page of our website. Plus the plugin gives the ability to set custom images for Pinterest to increase the the reach and buzz your site has there.
Give WP – GiveWP is an excellent plugin family that makes managing the financial partners of your ministry much simpler than other solutions. I put off using this plugin for NewCREEations because they didn’t have the ability to accept donations in multiple currencies. As an international ministry, that is something we need for NewCREEations. However, they added a multiple currency feature so I plan to transition donations on our website over to Give WP in the near future. The basic plugin is free. Then there are several upgrades you can either purchase individually or as a money saving bundle.
Events Calendar – Churches have meetings and events going on all the time. The Events Calendar is a great way to make communicating all those times and places via your website possible. The interface is clean and the calendar looks great to site visitors. The basic plugin is free. The Pro upgrade can be purchased to add things like recurring events so you don’t have to add events that happen the same time every week, plus other advanced features.
Yoast SEO – Yoast SEO is the premier WordPress plugin to add everything you need to maximize the optimization of your website for the search engines. I have used this plugin on all of my websites for years. Not only does Yoast do everything you need today, but it is also very actively developed. That means the plugin is updated to keep up with the every changing search engines as they make changes in what they value in good content.
BuddyPress – This plugin can turn your website into a mini-social media site of its own. The plugin enables things like user profiles, groups, activity streams, user notifications, private messaging, and a bunch more. Know that it is a bit of a complex plugin to configure and maintain. It is good to have some coding skills, or have a reliable developer available, in order to keep things running smoothly with BuddyPress.
bbPress – This plugin creates an online forum for your WordPress site. With it active on your site users can create accounts, add topics, and have discussions with one another. The bbPress plugin is designed from the ground up to integrate seamlessly with WordPress.
PowerPress – This plugin from Blubrry (listed in the Hosting Related section) is designed for podcasters. However it also provides an excellent way to syndicate your church’s sermons so they can be more easily distributed to a wider audience. That way more people can be impacted by your great messages. The plugin has a ton of settings and may be a little overwhelming for some to configure. If you’re uncomfortable configuring complex settings it might be worth getting some assistance with the initial setup of the plugin. Then, once it’s configured you should be able to upload your audio files much more easily.
WooCommerce – This is probably the premier WordPress eCommerce plugin to allow your ministry to offer products for people to purchase. These can be either virtual products like MP3 files of messages that they download directly from your website or physical products like CD’s or DVD’s that will be shipped to them. WooCommerce is a very complex plugin to configure properly so it is probably a good idea to have someone with some WordPress expertise configure it for you.
Email Newsletter Services
You will want to use a bulk email service to send out your email newsletters. Otherwise you will likely run into all sorts of problems. For one thing sending a slew of emails directly from your Outlook or other email app on your local computer significantly increases the likelihood of your email getting flagged as spam. There’s no way for people to unsubscribe that way, so they’re more likely to send it to their spam folder. Then that can cause problems for your regular non- newsletter emails getting flagged as spam too.
With a bulk email provider you can track who opens your emails, see what links get clicked on, automate the subscribe/unsubscribe process, and a whole lot more. Considering that some of these providers listed below offer a free basic service, there is no reason not to go the more professional route and use a bulk mail service.
And there’s one other thing that probably shouldn’t have to be said, but unfortunately actually does. Never add people to your email list without their permission. Don’t do it. It’s ungodly and unethical. And if that’s not enough to deter you, it’s also illegal. Besides, it’s a waste of time (and likely money) to send your newsletter to people who don’t want to get it. Instead find people who are interested and excited about what your ministry is doing and send them your newsletter.
MailerLite – MailerLite is what we use for our monthly NewCREEations newsletters and our Daily Reflections email devotionals. We send out tens of thousands of emails each month and switched to MailerLite because MailChimp got very expensive as our email list grew. Their service is very comparable, and significantly less expensive. I’ve been very happy with them since we switched. MailerLite is easy to use with a robust feature set. They also have a free level that includes up to 1,000 subscribers which is great for smaller churches and organizations.
MailChimp – MailChimp is what we use for our NewCREEations newsletter. They have a free subscription level for email lists with fewer than 2,000 addresses. MailChimp has a solid feature set with very intuitive email templates and campaign builders for our newsletters. We opted for a paid subscription so that we could use their automation features to send out automatic emails whenever someone subscribed to our list. That way we can give new subscribers a free eBook when they subscribe automatically.
GetResponse – GetResponse is another top notch service. It is really geared towards internet marketers, though depending on the size of your email list it may be slightly less expensive than MailChimp. If you have complex automation needs GetResponse will likely be a better option. Also GetResponse has a webinar service bundled with its bulk email service. This might be a good creative way to offer teaching to people you might not otherwise be able to reach. Beyond that, it is a very comparable service to MailChimp.
Constant Contact – Constant Contact is another huge bulk email provider. They also are a top rated service. I have used them in the past and I found their email templating system frustrating because I’m used to getting into the code to do what I want to accomplish. But I know folks who aren’t so code focused and find their system easy to work with. Constant Contact markets heavily to nonprofits and offers 20% or 30% discounts to nonprofits who pay for 6 months or a full year of service instead of paying month-to-month.
SendInBlue – SendInBlue is a newer service that is less expensive than the established services and has an excellent reputation. Instead of charging based on the size of your email list, SendInBlue sets their pricing based on how many emails are sent each month and what features are included. Their free tier includes sending up to 9,000 emails per month. That makes their service worth looking at for smaller churches and ministries.
Free Stock Photography
Images can really enhance your articles but coming up with good images can be a big challenge, especially for smaller ministries that can’t afford to purchase stock photography. Here’s what you don’t want to to: Don’t go to the Google Image search and snag the coolest looking image you find there. When an image is used without the photographer’s permission it violates his copyright. That can literally get your website shut down by your web host. That would be a bad day, especially because it is entirely avoidable.
For our websites I use either photos I take myself or photos I find on one of the many free stock photography websites out there. Here are some places where you can find photos that are in the public domain, meaning you can use them without fear of a copyright violation.
Pixabay – This is one of the biggest and fastest growing free stock photo sites I know of. It has a solid search feature and has become my go-to source for images to use on our site when I don’t have one of my own that will meet my needs.
Pexels – A smaller stock photo site. But they still have a good selection. They add 100 or so new photos a day.
SplitShire – Another source of unique free stock photos.
SkitterPhoto – More free images you can use.
This section has some tools and services that can simplify and help organize your online life.
Social Oomph – Social Oomph is a fantastic tool that helps you manage your social media presence. One of the most useful features helps you find accounts on Twitter that are worth following and interacting with. They also have some automation tools. However I recommend you use discretion with your social media automation. It kind of defeats the purpose to hand your entire social media presence over to a robot.
Buffer – Buffer is a useful tool for scheduling your social media posts so they spread out over the day. Sometimes you’ll see someone post a string of potentially interesting posts all within a few minutes. Then they don’t come back to their account for another day. You will get much more mileage from each post if you spread them out. Buffer is a great tool to help with that. Also, they have a 50% discount for nonprofits. After you open your account just email support and they should refund you half of your purchase price once you meet their nonprofit qualifications.
1Password – In today’s internet security environment you really should be using unique long random passwords for all of your online accounts. An app like 1Password makes that possible. I’ve been using 1Password for over a decade now. I just have to remember one master password and then everything else is saved securely in my 1Password vault. The app remembers all my other passwords for me. Simple and secure.
Evernote – I’ve used a free Evernote account for what seems like forever. It’s a great service. You can jot a note down and it syncs across your devices. I couldn’t imagine living without the convenience. However they changed their pricing model so that you can only sync two devices with the free account. After they did that I migrated all of my Evernote notes over to OneNote by Microsoft. I have an Office 365 account for Nonprofits (listed below) that includes OneNote, which can sync across all my devices. Evernote’s great and there are a ton of third party services and apps that integrate with Evernote. I highly recommend it.
Dropbox – Dropbox was one of the first services that allowed you to sync files across devices and share them with others via the internet. It’s a robust service that integrates seamlessly with tons of other apps and services. It’s a great way to share files with your team. For example I setup a shared folder in Dropbox so our church worship leader could easily get the week’s lyric sheets to the tech team. Simple.
Facebook Sharing Debugger – I hate it when I share something to Facebook and the preview photo and link are all messed up. I especially hate it when the link I’m sharing belongs to one of my own websites. Both the Yoast SEO and Social Warfare plugins (listed in the WordPress Plugins section) do a good job formatting the data Facebook needs. Even so I still use the Facebook Sharing Debugger tool to check things before I share a link to my site for the first time. The Scrape Again button will clear out the Facebook cache so it grabs new data after you correct whatever was wrong.
Google for Nonprofits – Google offers their G Suite (formerly Google Apps) and some other products to nonprofit organizations at no cost. This means you can use their email service with the email addresses on your domain, Google Drive, Documents, Google Calendar, etc. for free. Their productivity tools can make collaboration much easier for your ministry team. Google for Nonprofits is available in many countries. So check the requirements for your nation. In the USA they require nonprofits to be approved 501(c)3 organizations. I realize churches are not required to be 501(c)3’s. But if yours is, this is a great service to tap into. A Google for Nonprofits account is required to qualify for a Google Grant, which could drive a ton of traffic to your websites at no cost. I’ll talk more about that in the Google Grants section of this chapter.
Microsoft Office 365 for Nonprofits – Microsoft also offers their flagship at a significant discount for nonprofits. You can get the same basic service as their Personal Office 365. But instead of paying $10 per month per user it’s only $3 per user per month. Considering that I paid something like $500 for Microsoft Office for Mac when I got my first Mac, $3/month seems like a great deal to me.
Here are a few additional services that didn’t really fit into the other sections of this chapter.
Stripe – Stripe was founded in 2010 as an alternative payment processor to address some of the challenges and hassles that people experience other companies (like PayPal above). The trade off is that using Stripe requires slightly more technical skills to get setup on your website than PayPal does. For example, Stripe requires the website to have an SSL security certificate installed (we offer those through our Tame.Domains service). But that’s really a good thing for a number of reasons. Plus many existing solutions such as Gravity Forms and WooCommerce (both listed above) integrate with Stripe via add-on plugins. We’ve been very happy with Stripe since we switched both our nonprofit and our business websites over to Stripe for payments.
PayPal – PayPal has been the easiest way to accept online payments for a long time. They are still worth looking at. However they have a tendency to have some challenges with nonprofits. That, combined with their history of holding the funds of organizations, often for very arbitrary reasons, may make it worth looking at other options. When I tried to get our ministry approved they claimed that we weren’t a 501(c)3 even though I had our 501(c)3 approval letter sitting on my desk beside my laptop. Rather than fight them on that I went right over to Stripe (listed below) and had no issues. That said, I’ve had very few issues using PayPal with my for-profit business over the past decade or so. Though I should point out their customer service can be maddening. Just know that going in.
NordVPN – A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, basically secures your computer’s internet connection to guarantee that all of the data you’re sending and receiving is encrypted and secured from prying eyes. With hacking and identity theft on the rise, it’s a good idea to secure your connection with a VPN whenever you are using a public wifi network. For example if you are working at your local coffee shop or whatnot, using a VPN can help keep your data safe. Also, if you travel overseas a VPN will allow you to use the internet via a server in your home country as if you were still physically in your home country. We use NordVPN for many reasons, including because we split our time between the US and the UK. For example, because NordVPN connects directly to the USA I don’t have to re-purchase everything in the UK iTunes/Apple app store that I already purchased in the US store. I can just connect my computer via our VPN account and update my software that I’ve already purchased as if I were still in the USA.
Domain Mapping on WordPress.com – This is the instruction page that I mentioned in the section about starting your website on a shoestring budget. The link is duplicated here to make it easier to find.
My focus for the decade plus I have been working online has been to work the organic side of the search engine. I have always built up free traffic using the system I spelled out in the pages of this book.
Throughout my time online I have never really done much of anything with paid advertising. For one thing the whole idea of learning how to be successful with paid advertising has always intimidated me a little. I completely understand that you if you’re not careful, or if you don’t know what you’re doing then you can spend a whole lot of money very quickly with little of value to show for it when it comes to buying advertising online.
I mentioned in the Practical Example section at the end of the Honey Bee Strategy chapter that I have dipped my toe in the waters of Facebook advertising. I’ve seen good results with that.
However, our ministry was recently accepted for a Google Grant and that’s really helped me see the value paid adverting brings to bear. Because of my positive experience with Google Grants, and because this book is aimed at churches and ministries specifically, I thought it worth mentioning the program. You might find it valuable too.
Google Grants is a program for nonprofits, including ministries, offered by Google where they offer $10,000 in free search advertising each month. Yes you read that correctly. It’s $10K per month in free search advertising offered to qualifying nonprofit organizations.
Believe it or not, one of the big challenges for most nonprofits is simply using all that advertising. From what I’ve read it looks like the average Google Grants awardee is only using about $330 per month. That’s basically just one day’s worth of the available free advertising each month.
However, if you can work out how to use the grant effectively it can drive a significant amount of targeted traffic to your website.
The question is, to what end?
I took some time to think that through. Obviously I look to God as my source, not to Google. One thing I’ve learned in my years working in the tech field is that Google, like other tech companies, can be fickle. They are known to change their rules and policies in seemingly arbitrary ways without warning and without recourse.
While I don’t expect it to happen any time soon, Google could theoretically pull their grant from us whenever they want. Therefore I thought about what would be the best way to take advantage of the extra traffic coming in from this free advertising.
For our website the traffic increase was significant. Our inbound traffic doubled overnight when I setup our first Google Grant sponsored search engine advertisements. As I’ve tweaked things with our ads the traffic has increased by another twenty five percent or so on top of that.
In our case I decided that the biggest immediate benefit I could see form that traffic would be to grow our email newsletter list. As I focused on optimizing our email subscriber conversion rate the number of subscribers we are seeing per day is up eight times what it was before we started with the Google Grant.
This way, if the grant ever does go away for some reason, we will still have something of significant value in our email list moving forward. In the same way I recommend you think through how to best utilize your grant should you decide to apply.
Google offers the program in a large number of countries around the world. If you go to their site at the link above you can see if your organization qualifies.
Basically to qualify in the USA your ministry needs to hold 501(c)3 approval from the IRS. Churches are not required to have a 501(c)3 designation by law. I appreciate why some churches elect not to get it. Just know that designation is required to qualify for a Google Grant.
Before your organization can apply for the grant you will first need to enroll in the Google for Nonprofits program. Once enrolled your ministry can use their G Suite (formerly Google Apps) products. That gives you access to free domain branded email addresses in Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive and Docs, etc. accounts for your entire staff, making it easier to collaborate and coordinate things with one another.
It also gives you access to a slew of other Google products such as YouTube, Google Analytics, Google Voice, etc. With your Google for Nonprofits account you can access features and services that are not available to the general public.
I get that, like most tech companies, Google is not a particularly godly organization. From my perspective, if they are willing to materially support what God is doing through our ministry without putting constraints on what we do, then I’m willing to accept their assistance. All in all we have found the program to be very beneficial to our ministry.
Let me just add a footnote now that we’re a few years on from when I first wrote this section. We are still very actively using our Google Grants to bring people to our website and help build our email list. Every month we see donations and new partnerships come in from those subscribers too.
And the Google Grants traffic is also helping us get the books we’ve published in front of more people too. We use Grants ads to bring in traffic to various articles on our website on topics that closely relate to the topics of our books. At the bottom of the article we place some information for that book. The OptinMonster service mentioned in the WordPress Plugins section above greatly simplifies the process for adding those promotions.
Our email list is still growing, new partnerships are coming into the ministry, and people are getting our books. All in all we have found the program to be very beneficial to our ministry.