Category Archives: Non-Profit Web Sites

Guides related to building and promoting non-profit web sites.

Church Website Help

I decided to include this church website help article as a service to Churches so they can build quality sites for the Internet. I’ve designed and hosted a number of Church websites and learned much about some internet applications that can provide church website help to many.

Christian Web Hosting?

I don’t believe in applying the title “Christian” to a product. Web hosting is a computing technology and is no more Christian than an automobile or blender. The larger principle that a Church ought to consider is the quality of the service for the price offered and being good stewards of their money. In my web hosting ratings, there are detailed reviews of features to match differing site needs. Service, reliability, and value for the money are all Biblical business principles. I looked at the web hosting services that call themselves “Christian Web Hosting” and found their prices to be too high for the service offered; hence, they did not appear in my top web hosting ratings.

Recommended Products and Services

I recommend the following services and products (as appropriate) for your website needs:

Hosting ICANNWholesale – this might seem a strange choice but I’m not a big fan of bundled services that include the domain name with the hosting.  I think you ought to retain full DNS control of your domain so you can take advantage of some services (especially Google Apps).  Also, this host does not oversell its products and the amount of storage/bandwidth received are appropriately priced with no gimmicks.
VPS or Dedicated Hosting Again I recommend ICANNWholesale: VPS Plans, Dedicated Plans.  Ensure you really need this much power.  Shared plans are usually sufficient for your Church web hosting needs unless you’re running processor intensive applications on the server.
Domain Name Registration ICANNWholesale – fully featured at a great price.  Retain full control of your domain and host with them too.  No gimmicks.
HTML Editor Dreamweaver
FTP Client CuteFTP Pro
Content Management System (Church site) WordPress – There are some really nice plugins that make setting up a nice Church site very simple and easy to maintain. The Podpress plugin is an incredible tool for managing your Podcasts and publishing to the web and iTunes. Finally, the community support for this CMS is exceptional.
Content Management System (Advanced) Joomla! – This is an extremely powerful CMS that is more feature rich than WordPress but is not for the faint of heart. Very large Churches may consider utilizing this for the more advanced features as Joomla! is a true content management system while WordPress is a blogging platform that has sort of morphed into one.

Choosing Domain Names?

You’ve probably already experienced the frustration of finding a .org name that was available for your church. A good tool to research available domain names is to search for domain names through a registrar like ICANNwholesale. You can try different domain name combinations and they suggest domain names you might consider. Read the article choosing a domain name for more help. Once you’ve settled on a name, don’t forget about the idea of buying additional domain names that may direct folks to your site that are easy to remember. What if you already have the domain name podunkgracechurch.org. If your Church is in Podunk, see if you can get the names podunkchurch.com and podunkchurch.org. You can use those names as aliases for your main Church website and perhaps redirect folks that were just looking for a Church in Podunk.

A Plan with Lots of Storage and Bandwidth for Streaming Audio?

It has become commonplace for many Churches to provide the ability for website visitors to listen to sermons or teaching online. The process is not too technically complicated nor is it expensive. Real Networks, Microsoft, and others allow the download of free tools that convert .mp3 or .wav files into formats that can be uploaded into a Church website and then streamed for visitors to listen to.  If you plan on converting files regularly then I recommend a product called dbPowerAmp, which I use for all conversions of file format.  Please view the web page how to podcast to learn the details on how to create, upload, publish, and advertise your own sermons and teaching.

The key consideration for a Church website is space or storage available for your web hosting plan. Most websites are less than a megabyte (MB) in size and ICANNWholesale is recommended. If the Church is thinking about streaming audio then assume that each 30 minute sermon or audio file is going to take about 10 MB in storage space.
Churches that want to reach many visitors with their streaming audio need plans with generous storage and bandwidth. Assuming the average size of a sermon or teaching series is 10MB, even the basic plan at ICANNWholesale could hold almost one hundred sermons and easily stream that amount.  You can check out the Web Hosting Reviews List for plans with more storage and bandwidth if you really believe you will exceed this amount or upgrade your account at ICANNWholesale as your needs increase.

Create a Quality Website

Just like any organization that has a presence on the web, a Church should seriously consider how its website looks to those visiting it. I’ve seen a lot of websites built by members with some computer experience but little web design experience. Many Church websites look very unprofessional and are difficult to navigate. There’s much more to a good Church than a great website and horrible Churches can have great websites and vice-versa. Nevertheless, if you want to use the Internet as a portal to reach people then seriously consider whether you have the requisite talent in-house. If you have somebody strong technically but are weak on the design side then think about using a website template. Churches with larger budgets that want a unique site with great impact should consider hiring a professional website designer.  I’ll also be developing a “How To” for Churches to deploy a web site using WordPress.  I’ll create some common themes that will be available for installation “out of the box”.

Church E-mail

I don’t know how many Church websites I’ve visited that have website addresses like www.churchname.org and then you click to e-mail the pastor and his e-mail address is [email protected] See my discussion about domain e-mail. When your domain is hosted, nearly all web hosting plans allow you to set up POP e-mail addresses or forwarding rules for your domain. It is much more professional and memorable for your Pastor’s e-mail to be [email protected] It also frees up his personal e-mail address from becoming cluttered. If your web hosting provider does not let you set up e-mail accounts then switch to one that offers this very basic feature.

While you’re at it, you can set up e-mail forwarding rules to give e-mail aliases to everybody in your congregation if the Church is small enough. In my last Church, I set up e-mail forwarding rules so people could e-mail [email protected] and the e-mail was forwarded to the members’ personal e-mail addresses. It made it easy for everybody in the Church to remember other e-mail addresses once the forwarding rules were all set up.

How to Podcast

Podcasting is all the rage these days. MP3 players are ubiquitous from teenagers on skateboards to old people on elliptical trainers in the gym. Stationed overseas, I became more and more weary of the poor content on AFN and finally purchased an MP3 player so I could listen to better.

Because the Apple iPod quickly attained a position of dominance in the MP3 player industry and Apple came up with a great, simple way for users to listen to content, the process of “broadcasting” audio and video content via Web download has come to be known as Podcasting. This article will cover, soup to nuts, what podcasting is and how you, your church, or your organization can both use and/or publish your own Podcasts.

What is a podcast?

Wikipedia defines podcasting as the following:

Podcasting is the distribution of audio or video files, such as radio programs or music videos, over the Internet using either RSS or Atom syndication for listening on mobile devices and personal computers. A podcast is a web feed of audio or video files placed on the Internet for anyone to download or subscribe. Podcasters’ websites also may offer direct download of their files, but the subscription feed of automatically delivered new content is what distinguishes a podcast from a simple download or real-time streaming (see below). Usually, the podcast features one type of “show” with new episodes either sporadically or at planned intervals such as daily, weekly, etc. Besides that there are podcast networks that feature multiple shows on the same feed. Podcasting’s essence is about creating content (audio or video) for an audience that wants to listen when they want, where they want, and how they want. Subscribing to podcasts allows a user to collect programs from a variety of sources for listening or viewing off-line, whenever and wherever is convenient. In contrast, traditional broadcasting provides only one source at a time, and the time is broadcaster-specified. While podcasts are gaining ground on personal sites and blogs, they are not yet widespread. One easy way to find podcasts is to use the Podcast Directory in iTunes; these automatically-updated podcasts can then be synchronized to a portable multimedia device, such as an MP3 player, for off-line listening.

How to Podcast – Equipment and Software

There are a number of ways to record your own podcast. Remember, all that is being talked about here is recording audio (or video for others). The process of recording an MP3 file is no different for podcasting than any other process. Some might think that since it’s called a podcast that the process is somehow different. It is the same.

If you are recording from home and publishing your own musings on life, religion, politics, etc then you simply need a computer with an audio card (do they sell them without one anymore), a microphone, recording software, and encoding software. If you already have nice recording software then the odds are that the encoding software is built in to the recording software. I’ll add that you should find a quiet place to perform the recording in case it’s not apparently obvious to the casual observer. A popular free recording software program is Audacity.

A recommended method for a Church, organization, or individual that has the budget is the use of a digital voice recorder. I recommend this as the easiest, fastest, and most economical method of getting your sermons on the site. Today’s digital voice recorders are relatively inexpensive and because they are portable, they can record conveniently in any setting (church, special meetings, open-air, etc). The recorded audio can be quickly transferred to a computer and then converted to the MP3 format suitable for Podcasting. You can use a digital voice recorder with a lapel mic or a line-in from your existing sound system to record. You then transfer the audio as a WAV file to your computer. Below are some examples of digital voice recorders sold by Amazon:

Encoding and Saving the Podcast

Once the audio file is on your computer (either recorded via microphone or using a digital voice recorder), then it may need to be encoded to the MP3 format. Some digital voice recorders allow one to record directly to MP3. Most audio recording is done to the WAV format, however, as it is lossless. MP3 encoding converts the audio format to MP3 that can compress the file dramatically based on how much sound fidelity one is willing to sacrifice to save space. Fidelity is typically measured by the encoding rate and the number of bits used to encode. The faster the encoding rate and the more bits used to encode will produce the highest quality audio (but will also produce very large files). CD audio is encoded at 44 KHz (44,000 cycles per second) with 16 bits per cycle (this is what is meant by 16 bit audio). A sermon or any other spoken recording that does not require such fidelity can be encoded at a much lower rate and even at just 8 bits and still have acceptable quality. The choice is yours – experiment with what you like but if your web hosting storage space is limited then you might want to stick with lower rates/bits to produce smaller files. My general rule of thumb is that if I want a nice sounding music audio file without noticeable compression then I use 128kbps MP3 encoding, for just a voice recording 32kpbs is acceptable. I utilize a program called dBPowerAmp to convert MP3 to MP3 or Wav to MP3 (or a variety of other formats). I’ll usually record at 128 kbps MP3 and then re-encode to 32 kbps before placing a podcast on the web. A 32 kbps MP3 file typically takes up about 10 MB in size.

A Useful Naming Convention

When you name your MP3 file, use a name that will help you organize your podcasts. For example, a naming convention I utilize is: YYYY-MM-DD-Title-of-Recording.mp3 (for example: “2008-06-14-Cut-to-the-Heart(Acts2).mp3”).

MP3 Tags

Be sure to fill out the MP3 ID3 tags after you save your MP3 file. ID3 tags store information about your audio file like: song title, artist (you), and genre. These tags are really important, since this is the information that will be displayed when listeners play your MP3 file in a normal audio player. I recommend a freeware program called MP3Tag for this action.

Upload your Podcast

When your podcast is finished, you need to put it online. If you already have access to a web hosting service, just FTP your MP3 file (podcast) there. As you add more and more podcasts you’ll want to organize them into directories on your web hosting account.

Create your Podcast Feed

With your podcast online, you now need to help the world find it and listen to it. A podcast basically consists of an MP3 file and a text file called an RSS feed. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication,” and the file tells podcatchers (e.g. iTunes) how to find and get your podcast. An RSS feed also lets people subscribe to your podcast and automatically get updates of your new content.

To create your RSS feed, open an html editor or a simple text editor, such as Microsoft Word or Notepad. Copy and paste the code below, and then replace all the red text with your own podcast information. (Note: In my WordPress How-To’s I intend to show how to create a site in WordPress, which includes a Podpress plugin to automate the below. This process is for those that desire to create their site as a standard HTML site.)

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>
<rss xmlns:itunes=”http://www.itunes.com/dtds/podcast-1.0.dtd” version=”2.0″>
<channel>
<ttl>30</ttl>
<title>Your Church, City, State</title>

<link>http://www.yourchurch.org</link>
<itunes:image href=”http://www.yourserver.com/YourPodcastPicture.jpg” />  <language>en-us</language>
<copyright>Year Your Church Name</copyright>
<description>The preaching and teaching of Your Church, City, STate.</description>
<itunes:author>Your Church</itunes:author>
<itunes:subtitle>Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ</itunes:subtitle>
<itunes:summary>Our Church is devoted to the teaching and the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  At Central Baptist Church we preach and fix our eyes upon Christ Jesus, the author and finisher of our salvation. </itunes:summary>
<itunes:owner>
<itunes:name>Your Church</itunes:name>
<itunes:email>[email protected]</itunes:email>
</itunes:owner>
<itunes:category text=”Religion and Spirituality”>
<itunes:category text=”Christianity” />
</itunes:category>
<itunes:explicit>no</itunes:explicit>
<itunes:keywords>Your Church Name, City, other keywords</itunes:keywords>

<item>
<title>This is just a test</title>
<description>A description of your podcast episode</description>
<itunes:author>Your Name</itunes:author>
<pubDate>Thu, 16 Jun 2005 5:00:00 PST</pubDate>
<enclosure url=”http://www.yourserver.com/podcast_file.mp3” length=”3905” type=”audio/mpeg” />
<itunes:duration>1:05:05</itunes:duration>
</item>
</channel>
</rss>

A few important details:

“PubDate” is the time you last updated and published the podcast.

“Length” is the size of the file in bytes. On a Windows computer, you can find this by going to the MP3 file in Windows Explorer and right-clicking on the file. Select “Properties.” The exact size of your MP3 is under “Size.” On a Mac, select the file and click “Apple+I” to see the file information. The file size will be shown under “Size.” Enter in this number without commas.

Note: Every time you add another podcast episode, you will need to create another podcast episode, or “item.” Copy all the code from <item> to </item> and paste this text after the last </item>. Now, update all the blue text with information for the new podcast episode.

Some other podcast directories have created their own code extensions to standard RSS. One example is the iTunes directory. For more details on adding iTunes’ additional code, visit the iTunes RSS specifications. The above RSS code is generic and will work with and support commonly used standards, including iTunes’.

After you’ve made these changes, save the file in plain text format and with the file extension “xml” (for example, “Podcast.xml”). Upload this file to your web host, just as you did earlier for your MP3 file.

Advertise your Podcast

Finally, share your podcast so that others can listen to it. List your RSS feed on podcast directories such as Yahoo! Podcasts, Odeo, iTunes, and Podcast Alley. Make sure you also tell people what the podcast is about by entering some genre and content categories. This will help listeners find your podcast more easily.

In addition, on your Church, organizational, or personal website you can create a link to the XML file that you created above for your RSS feed. You can create a simple text link or make a graphical link so that visitors can easily subscribe to your podcast from your web page. Ligonier Ministries has an xml link in the lower right page of their radio broadcast page. Subscription to their podcast is as easy as dragging the Podcast graphic into the podcasts folder in iTunes.