Changing the home page of your church website

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The homepage is an important starting place for visitors. It needs to tell them

  1. That this is the website they’re looking for
  2. That it’s current, not out-of-date
  3. How to find out more information

We’re going to change the home page from the default (a list of posts, great for a blog) to a welcome message and a calendar.

We already have a fantastic interactive calendar page, courtesy of the tool we installed before. But we can put calendars anywhere we like, thanks to shortcodes. The simplest shortcode for the All-In-One Events Calendar is this:

[ai1ec]

So to change the home page, we’ll create a new page that will become the homepage, use the Customizer to tell WordPress we don’t want the post list on the home page, and have a new page that lists posts (which we’ll link on the menu).

The calendar has too many options to memorise them all. So use this page to help you get just what you want.

Watch this helper video to go through the whole process step-by-step:

Headings (this is a Heading 2)

We’ve also discussed using headings well. Headings are helpful to visitors, and they’re helpful to search engines that guide people to the best web page. Every WordPress post has a title, and that will become “Heading 1.” So if there are sections in a post, they should each have a title that’s a “Heading 2,” and any subheadings in a section will be “Heading 3,” and so on. Most common word processing software will support “Styles,” but a lot of people are in the habit of modifying fonts to do the same job (perhaps using bold type and a bigger size to indicate a heading). That’s a bad idea online! It means that the look and feel becomes inconsistent, and it’s not clear to search engines how to direct visitors. So just adopt a good habit and stick to it!

Season 1 Episode 14: Adding an interactive church service and event calendar

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Most church websites will need a great calendar. To make that job easy, we need a great WordPress Plugin, and the one I recommend is Timely’s All In One Events Calendar. This is a freemium plugin. The basic functionality is free and should be all most churches need, or you can pay to enable extra features. Install the plugin via the Dashboard, activate it and start adding events, such as regular or occasional church services.

The plugin creates an interactive page you can add to your menu. It’s clever: for people who use electronic calendars, they’ll be able to add an event to their calendar with just a click, or send a link to someone who might be interested.

As with many plugins, there’s a way to add calendars to your posts and pages. The main WordPress way to do this involves a shortcode. All In One Events Calendar shortcodes look like this:

[ai1ec]
or [ai1ec tag_name="Ideal for children"]

(We’ll start using this later on. For now, just be aware that we can use calendars and add event details to posts and pages in creative ways.)

This video takes you through each step.

https://youtu.be/WvRYvac8lNo

Season 1 Episode 13: Starting to build out your free church website

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Shownotes

Quick settings

There are some important settings to change early on:

  • Set the Language to English (UK)
  • Set the time zone appropriately (in my case London)
  • If you like, choose Sunday as the first day of the week
  • Set the date format
  • Set “Permalinks” (the usual way that web addresses are chosen) to Post Name

Then, to make sure that our free WordPress website takes advantage of secure connections, a capability we set up in the free web hosting, we’ll find, install and activate the Really Simple SSL plugin, and ask it to force every web page to use security automatically, so visitors don’t keep seeing warning messages.

This video takes you through each step.

Adding Posts

Posts are individual entries such as news, events etc that build up over time.

Posts need a title. You edit a post, choose their link text (or use the default, which is usually based on the title), and usually, you’ll want to set a Featured Image for a post. They’ll usually be real photos from your church and community. For now, I like to use the image search at Bing.com, finding images labelled as being in the public domain. Then your chosen theme will use that image to create an attractive view of your post that incorporates the image.

You can preview a post, save a draft to protect your work and then publish it to the web. By default, your home page will gradually fill out with posts, the most recent first. We’ll change the home page, but come back to this very useful feature.

Adding Pages

Working with pages is very similar to working with posts. One important difference is that, generally, you update pages by editing them, whereas old posts tend to be left unchanged. A good example of a page is “About,” which most websites have and visitors expect. Usually the About page has key information gathered together, and there may be links to go deeper. If the information changes, it would be confusing to keep lots of versions, so you’ll edit the page.

Pages can also have a Featured Image, and your chosen Theme will use this in a consistent way, so that the website always feels well-designed.

Pages are usually accessed via a menu or by direct links, for instance from another page. Menus are created and edited via the Customizer, which allows you to see the effect of changes as you make them. So we’ll start by making a menu with Home and About, so people can find our new page easily.

While we’re in the customizer, we’ll remove the “widgets” our theme gave us by default, and that are helpful for a blog but don’t fit our need at the moment. Widgets are really useful, and we’ll come back to them soon!

Season 1 Episode 12: Planning your new church website

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Shownotes for Season 1, Episode 12

Finding Role-Model Websites

The Premier Digital Awards (formerly Christian New Media Awards) include a “small church website” category. So use their shortlists to help you plan your website.

For 2018 the shortlist hasn’t yet been announced. In previous years:

 

2017 (“Most Engaging Small Church Site”)

Regeneration Church (Winner)
Coulby Newham Baptist Church (Runner-Up)
Christ Church Willaston
Emmanuel Medway Church
Minny Street Congregational Church

2016 (“Most Engaging Small Church Website”)

2015 (“Most Engaging Small Church Website”)

2013 (“Most Engaging Small Church Website”)

2012 (“Best Small Church Website”)

What to look for

  • What’s on the home page?
    • What’s there to engage new visitors?
    • How are the regular congregation supported?
  • How easy is it to find essential information?
  • What’s the style and tone?
    • Who is the site written for?
    • Is it consistent?
  • Is the information current?
    • What’s the evidence that the site is regularly updated?
  • What is the main “call to action” on each page?
  • How is photography used through the site?

Your homework

Find your top three (or at least one!) website in each of these categories:

  1. Just the best! (Even if it seems unachievable.) Look for the “wow” factor.
  2. A church with a similar “feel” to yours
  3. A church with a very different “feel” but connected to a (current or future) initiative of your own

Then decide what are the key topics to highlight on your website, on the home page and on separate pages that are easy to spot.

Season 1 Episode 11 – Learn how a WordPress website fits together

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Shownotes for Season 1, Episode 11

Think of a website being a bit like a journal full of varied and interesting stuff. In the world of WordPress:

  • post is like one nugget of information, perhaps a film review you’ve written
  • page is like a page in a journal – it could contain more or less anything (including a collection of posts, for example)
  • theme is like a new journal – perhaps it’s very plain and simple, or it could have lots of different styles of pages designed for different purposes
  • Plugins are extra features for the journal – gummed corners to hold a photo, or index tabs to find important information quickly

WordPress underpins websites that look and feel very different. Lots of people have created a huge variety of themes and plugins. We’re not going deeper into that world this time, because I want you to play with your website, particularly adding posts, editing or adding pages, and changing the theme. If it breaks, Episode 10 tells you how to remove it and start again. So don’t think of this as work, and don’t try and craft your church website. Just have a go, and get the feel of WordPress. Soon we’ll do more structured learning together, but for now, dive in and enjoy!

Episode 10: Where at last your website will arrive

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Show Notes for Season 1, Episode 10

This one has a number of steps. We’re going to press on through until we have a website!

To log in to your free web hosting package from TSO, look for an email with the subject line, “Hosting account live (setup information within).” That will help you log in to your “Cloud Control Panel.” (Or hop back to Episode 5 if you haven’t claimed your free hosting.)

If you registered your new domain with TSO, it should already be using TSO nameservers. Otherwise, log in to the service where you registered your domain name, edit the nameservers (or choose Custom Nameservers) and set Nameserver 1 to ns1.tsohost.co.uk, Nameserver 2 to ns2.tsohost.co.uk, and Nameserver 3 to ns3.tsohost.co.uk. (If you only have two entries, that’s fine, and entries after three should be blank.

Next comes making secure connections to your domain possible, and installing the WordPress software that will power your website. In this helper video you’ll see me complete these important setup tasks, step-by-step. More details below.

The help page from TSO for adding your domain to your hosting package is here. Your Cloud Hosting Control Panel should be available at control.gridhost.co.uk (check the email mentioned above).

Under the Manage Website option, to enable safe, encrypted communication with your website you need Let’s Encrypt.

Then you’ll want to Install Applications. The application you need to install is WordPress, which should be the first on the list.

For now, I’d like to encourage you to experiment, without worrying if you will break your website. In fact, I’m expecting you to break it. And if (when!) that happens, just go back to Install Applications, and click the Uninstall button. That will lose all your work, so uninstall / reinstall isn’t something we’ll be aiming to do later on. But for now, it’s safe to play around. So enjoy this new experience! And welcome to the web!