In this final post I want to detail some of the core features that our brief required, and how we addressed each. This will hopefully be useful to other churches, as many of our functionality requirements will be common to most church websites.
As the site deals with personal information (including processing credit cards) it is important that our website’s identity is verified and data is transmitted through an encrypted connection.
Solution: We obtained a security certificate through our hosting company (Open Box Technology, who resell Digital Pacific for churches). We chose to have our entire site delivered over a secure connection.
Credit card donations
We need to be able to take donations, as well as charge for things like books on our bookstall and weekends away. This needs to integrate easily with our accounts systems.
Solution: After looking at different cost structures we decided to trial Stripe. Its advantages for us are low development costs (as all the processing is done on their servers), no need for a merchant bank account, and low per transaction fees. The downside of Stripe is that they have a rolling 7 day delay before money appears in your account (which they use to mitigate against risk of fraud). We also considered PayPal and eWay, and we still have the flexibility of changing over at any time.
Events and ticketing
Like many churches we need to sell tickets to events such as weekends away and special dinners. At the same time we need to collect various details from each attendee such as dietary information and preferences for the various programs.
Solution: We went with an off the shelf system called Event Espresso 3. This wordpress plugin allows people to register for events with multiple attendees, custom forms (e.g. dietary information) and complex discounts and additional options. It also integrates easily with Stripe.
With 40% of our visitors (and rising) using mobile devices it is imperative that the experience works well on small screens. This is all the more urgent as Google is starting to give preference to mobile friendly sites in search results.
Solution: We used the free WordPress template Generate Press as our base template to ensure mobile responsive design from the start. We can customise or move away from this as our design develops.
Sermons and media
We want to provide access to our sermons in audio and video formats. Our existing system was proprietary and very expensive to maintain (it was too fiddly for volunteer sound and video teams to upload sermons on Sunday, and hosting was quite expensive).
Solution: We now host our video on Vimeo and our audio on Buzzsprout. These are embedded in our website to make sure the latest video and audio is always available. The downside of this is that there is no easy search or indexing by Bible passage, for instance. But as over 90% of our users simply want the latest sermon we decided to sacrifice functionality for ease of keeping the sermons up-to-date. Our volunteer sound and video team now start uploading the sermon as soon as the preacher sits down.
In the future we hope to develop a hybrid system which combines ease of maintaining the content with added functionality. Stay tuned.
Church database and forms integration
Most of the “next steps” people can take from our website need to integrate with our church database, an excellent service called Elvanto.
Solution: The team has built some custom web scripts which pull content from the database to display, for instance, all the growth groups which currently have space for more members (see this for example). At the moment we mostly just embed our forms in the pages, which works but is a little clunky. The team is still working on producing native WordPress plugins which interact with Elvanto a little more elegantly.