According to John Connell, sales and marketing director at Elizabethtown, PA-based Elexio, three CMS characteristics are most critical among today’s churches: simple, scalable and “platform-agnostic.”
Simple. “Without question, a CMS should have tools that are easy to navigate and update,” he emphasizes. Although Connell acknowledges that church-based users are more tech-savvy than ever, they’re also exposed to a wide range of Web-based applications — “and we can’t be subject-matter experts in all of them.”
Additionally, since most church help is voluntary, CMS needs to accommodate a wide range of skill levels. “Easy block updates, drop-in widgets and straight text updates with basic word processing knowledge should all be mandatory for a rich CMS platform,” according to Connell.
Scalable. Because a healthy, growing church is more complex than just a single weekend service and some Bible classes — extending to youth ministry, women’s groups, outreach, small group studies and beyond — the next non-negotiable CMS criteria is scalability. “A scalable solution can handle everything you throw at it, including unlimited pages, ministry ‘faces’ and so on,” he points out.
“Who you are today isn’t who you’ll be a year from now.”
Platform-agnostic. With the variety of devices used to access Web pages these days, features such as responsive design become really important. “[Such capabilities ensure] your website will look equally great on a large monitor or on a tablet,” he points out. “Site content that responds to changing displays is an indication of a CMS that’s designed for today’s and tomorrow’s needs.”
4 steps to a solid choice
Choosing a scalable package that meets the church’s needs is critically important. To that end, Connell recommends the following steps:
- Determine if the current system has an upgrade the church has neglected to take that will improve its performance. “If not, consider the advantages of moving to a new CMS platform,” he suggests. “Will you get more media storage? Easier content management? Fresh designs?”
- Investigate CMS providers that focus specifically on the local church. “They need to understand its vision and be able to provide the tools to reach it,” he says.
- Remember: You get what you pay for. Connell contends this adage is true even when it comes to website CMS platforms. “A ‘free’ solution potentially means little or no support, incorporation of ads in your church website, and other ways of offsetting the provider’s costs.”
- Assess the platform’s limitations. Details including page and design limits, and the SEO value of the final product, can all be significant depending on a church’s vision for its website, he advises.
— RaeAnn Slaybaugh