Who Designs Ministry Websites?

by Sr. Susan Wolf, SND on July 29, 2014

in website

Website DesignA variety of designers are responsible for our current websites for ministries, parishes, and religious organizations. In broad strokes we have: 1) volunteers, some trained and others not; 2) the staff person who takes it on trained or not; 3) niche website companies that provide a range of services from templates to custom designs for either parishes or church organizations; 4) professional website companies that do all kinds of sites and 5) the individual professional website designer or developer. (I am not including the directory style website pages that are provided by third party contractors in this discussion.)

Any one of the designers listed above could create a good website, but not by themselves. They need a ministry focused partner/coordinator who assures that the design is serving the content and that the content is meeting the needs of the intended audiences. The content person has a lot of work to do before a designer is selected. This is a step often neglected by the uninitiated and it shows on the websites.

Websites by Volunteers

I have not visited every parish or religious community website in the U.S. but I have looked at quite a few and my impression is that most volunteer created websites including those created by staff (whether they are trained or not) are the weakest and they sometimes appear amateur. Most volunteers or staff do not have the advantage of being in the website design business full-time which means that they have a steep learning curve and often do not know the latest developments. Their websites often lack the finesse and the functionality of the professionally designed website. There are exceptions to this, but overall, if a parish can afford to hire and work with a professional website designer, they are better off. (Be careful here, too, not every “professional” designer, can do what you need.)

Niche Website Companies

I have not reviewed the portfolios of every ministry website company, but I have looked at several. While they are usually a step above the volunteer’s work, many provide good, but not great sites often through the use of templates. Because the technology for websites continues to evolve, templates can become outdated quickly. Niche website companies can get stagnant and are sometimes reluctant to upgrade as quickly as the rest of the field does. Some websites created by niche companies are less than stellar because the client does not do their part in the project and just expects the company to create the website without any real guidance. You can get a good website from a niche company, but you must be fully engaged in the project.

Professional Designers/Developers

As for professional designers, individuals and companies, they are all over the place in terms of quality. If you choose wisely and do your homework first (determining what you want to say, the impression you want your site to make and the functions you want i.e. forms, subscriptions, etc.), you can get a very good design at a reasonable price. Today, you want a designer who will provide a content management system (CMS) that you will be able to maintain and update on your own. Check out the designer’s other websites (It doesn’t matter if they are ministry websites or not.) and see if you like what he/she does. If you don’t like what you see, keep looking. The advantage of working with an individual professional designer or large design company is that they have to keep up with the technology in order to stay competitive.

My Experience

These are my observations from working with both individual professional designers and large design companies.  I did create my first Catholic Web Solutions website myself using a free WordPress template (it was a lot of trial and error), but turned to a professional designer for the upgrade. I have never worked with a ministry niche website company. My preference at this point is to work with the individual professional website designer. If you would like to view some of the websites I have helped to develop since starting Catholic Web Solutions, click here. In a few weeks, I will be adding a parish website to that portfolio.  Stay tuned.

What is your experience? Tell us in the comments below. Thank you.

FYI: I am taking a little summer break and my next post will be September 9. Have a great rest of the summer!


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

bob lucas July 29, 2014 at 8:54 am

I am a retired IT person that administers our website. My biggest issue is that we use catholicweb.org and it is limited in the tools it supplies. You can override these tools with HTML, but there us no way to test it before putting it on line. Any suggestions?

Frank Koob July 29, 2014 at 9:28 am

I do. And I am the DRE. I use Weebly templates and tools. I also have a Facebook page and a Twitter account.
I also designed a website for the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago. I trained their admin to update and create. That was 3 years ago and they have been working with it since.
I do not know how to improve what I do except run with any upgrades Weebly develops and offers.

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND July 29, 2014 at 10:11 am

Dear Bob,
Your comment points to one of the challenges of “niche” websites and the tools available when you use any template. If your parish ever decides to redesign or upgrade your website, make a list of all of things you would like to be able to do and find a template (from a company) or a designer who can provide them for you. But right now you have to work with what you have.

marika donders July 29, 2014 at 11:30 am

I took a quick look at your portfolio. Very nice. May I suggest that you hyperlink the website addresses so we can easily surf to the actual websites?

In the past have worked with individual web designers using a content management system that was very clunky. I think in any case it is helpful to have the person (or team) who manages the content to be familiar with html and basic coding to override/tweak the limitations of the CMS tools.

I think it is also helpful to make notes as we surf the web of design details and functionalities that we like or work well (or conversely that we find annoying) so that we can stay up to date on trends in webdesign.

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