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Your church website is one of the most important components of your church’s communications.
Most people will visit your website before they visit your church in person for a worship service. And most of your church members look to your church website for information about upcoming events, serving opportunities and ways to grow their relationship with God.
Every church website has to be hosted on a server that’s connected to the Internet, but what exactly is church web hosting?
And with so many web hosting providers out there, how does one decide which church web hosting services are best for their church?
These are important questions which a lot of pastors and church communications struggle with. There is a lot of information online about church web hosting, much of it is written by techies for techies using a lot of technical jargon.
In The 2020 Ultimate Guide to Church Web Hosting, we’ll teach you all you need to know about church web hosting in plain English. From this, you’ll be able to evaluate both your congregations web hosting needs and the various web hosting services available, so that you can be confident in selecting the church web hosting services that are best for your church.
The Ultimate Guide to Church Web Hosting includes the following sections:
- What is Church Web Hosting?
- Choosing the Right Platform for Your Church Website
- Disk Space and Bandwidth Explained
- Backup Services
- SSL Security Certificates
- Ministry Partner
- Moving to a New Host
Let’s start with with some basic web hosting terminology…
Every website resides on a server.
A server is a computer that is always on, always connected to the internet, and always ready to send web pages (and other website information) to anyone who requests it.
A web host or web hosting company is the company that manages the server, makes sure it’s running well, makes updates, and addresses any questions or issues the website owner has.
Web hosting or web hosting account is the service provided by the web hosting company. Church web hosting is a web hosting service specifically designed for church websites.
To use an analogy, if you wanted to open an ice cream shop, you would need to rent a storefront in a shopping plaza from a property manager. For a website, the server is like the shopping plaza, the web hosting account is like a storefront in the shopping plaza, and the web hosting company is like the property manager.
How to Choose the Best Church Web Hosting?
Imagine for a moment you rented a storefront for your ice cream shop, and then the power kept going out, the lock on the front door broke, and customers for the other shops in shopping plaza used up all the parking spots, which kept your customers from getting to your shop? Imagine how you would feel if when you tried to call the property manager, he was rude, or unhelpful, or didn’t answer at all?
Just as there are bad, good, and outstanding property managers, there are also bad, good and outstanding web hosting companies. In fact…
Your web hosting company can literally make or break your website.
From this point forward, each section of the Ultimate Guide to Church Web Hosting takes a look at a factor to consider when selecting the best church web hosting provider for your church.
The platform you use for your church website has a big impact on web hosting.
What is the platform for a church website?
The platform is the technical term for the system use to build a website.
While there are many website platforms to choose from, the first thing you have to decide before building a new website is how you want to build it. There are three approaches. These approaches apply for all organizations, but we’re going to focus here on church websites.
3 Ways to Build a New Church Website
1) Hire a professional church website developer to build a custom website
This approach is best if any of the following describes you:
- You want a unique website, customized to your specifications
- You know someone what you want your website to look like and do, but you’d like a professional to guide you and make recommendations based on your church’s unique mission and culture.
- You don’t know a lot about websites and don’t want to risk building a website yourself that might end up looking poor, giving visitors a poor user experience, or having security issues.
- You don’t have time to build a website yourself
Since this option includes hiring a professional, it’s also the most expensive option, but if you select a good website developer, you are almost guaranteed to end up with a website that looks good, functions well, and doesn’t sidetrack you from all the other important work you have to do.
When it comes to web hosting, some website developers also provide web hosting, some have a partnership with another web hosting company, and others ask their clients to get a web hosting account on their own before development starts.
Tip: If you hire a web developer to build a custom site for your church, make sure you ask about web hosting before you sign a contract. If the developer offers web hosting, also ask if you can move your website to another web host if you should want to do that in the future
2) Purchase web hosting and build your own website from scratch.
This approach is best if the following describes you:
- You are good at installing and configuring software
- You have experience building websites
- You have the desire to learn how to build websites and a lot of time to learn
- There isn’t enough money in the budget to hire a professional
Designing and building your own website from scratch can be the least expensive approach if you know what you’re doing. This has also gotten a lot easier since the early days when this required coding everything yourself in HTML. Today, a person can install a content management system like WordPress, install a free or inexpensive theme, and install dozens of plugins to get the functionality desired.
It is still rather time-consuming, though, and you’re on your own. Your web hosting company may provide support for a lot of things, but they are not going to help you fix problems with a website you built. Also, if you build your website from scratch, you are responsible for making all the updates and keeping it secure.
Tip: Don’t put your church at risk by making your church’s website the first website you ever build. Your church’s mission and communication is too important! Build a website for your family or a hobby first to work out the kinks and make sure you can do it well.
3) Use a DIY (Do It Yourself) church website builder
This approach is best if any of the following describes you:
- There’s not enough money in the budget to hire a professional web developer
- You have some technical aptitude, and are already familiar with a particular website builder or don’t mind learning a new tool
- You have a good idea of what you want your website to look like and do
- You’re ok with your church website looking similar to other church websites
Church website builders offer a powerful, affordable middle option between hiring a professional and building a website from scratch. The downside is they don’t offer as much flexibility and options with the design (theme) or functionality. But for most churches, a website builder allows them to do 95% of what they want, and that’s worth the time and cost savings.
Companies that have a DIY website builder, include the website builder and the hosting together in one package. It’s worth noting, however, that you usually can’t move a website built with a web builder to another web hosting company. And some DIY website companies don’t give full access to the web hosting account, so you may not get FTP access (file transfer protocol), be able to edit your .htaccess file, or get email accounts (sorry to get a bit technical there).
Tip: Decide first what your website absolutely must have (functionality and aesthetics). Because DIY web builders have limitations, research whether each web builder you’re considering meets each of those requirements.
Choosing a Church Website Platform
Once you decide which of these three approaches is best for your church, then you can look at the options within each approach – which church website developer to hire, which church web hosting service to use, or which DIY church website builder to use.
Your church website is one of your most influential outreach tools. Invest in it accordingly. -Mark Steinbrueck
Disk space and bandwidth are two terms that are often misunderstood, so let’s talk about them and why they matter in web hosting
What are disk space and bandwidth?
Disk space is the amount of space in a web hosting account for storing files. These files may include images, text, audio, video, software and even email.
Bandwidth is the data transferred each month to and from a web hosting account.
And just to explain a few terms of measurement:
1 byte is the space it takes to store 1 letter of a text document
- 1,000 bytes = 1 kilobyte (KB)
- 1,000 KBs = 1 megabyte (MB)
- 1,000 MBs = 1 gigabyte (GB)
- 1,000 GBs = 1 terabyte (TB)
For example, if you have an mp3 audio file for a sermon in your web hosting account which is 20 MBs, it takes up 20 MBs of disk space. If that sermon is downloaded or listened to 100 times in a month, that uses 20 MB x 100 = 2,000 MB or 2 GB of bandwidth.
How much disk space and bandwidth do I need for my church website?
Generally speaking, documents, images and software use very little disk space or bandwidth. The only things that use significant amounts of disk space and bandwidth are audio and video.
Here are some general guidelines.
- If you don’t plan to have any audio or video on your website, any web hosting account will meet your disk space and bandwidth needs.
- If you plan to store less than 5 years of sermons in your account and combined those sermons will get more than 1,000 downloads/listens a month, any web hosting account will be fine. However, more than that, and you should do some calculations to estimate how how much disk space and bandwidth you’ll need and make sure the web hosting package you select meets that need.
- If you plan to plan to store a few videos in your account, any web hosting account will be fine. However, if you want to store videos of each week’s sermon or full service, you’ll definitely need to run some calculations to estimate your disk space and bandwidth needs. Alternatively, you may want to consider a video hosting service like YouTube or Vimeo.
For more specifics, you can find disk space and bandwidth calculations here.
Be Wary of “Unlimited” Disk Space and “Unlimited” Bandwidth Offers
Some web hosting companies and some DIY web builder companies, will tell you they provide “unlimited disk space” or “unlimited bandwidth” with your account. But that is just not possible. If you tried to run a video streaming service like Netflix from a $10/mo web hosting account or a $20/mo DIY web builder account, they would shut you down.
If you plan to host a lot of sermon audio or some sermon videos and one of the church web hosting providers you’re considering offers “unlimited” disk space or bandwidth, we highly recommend contacting the company and asking for specific details on the limits.
There’s no such thing as “unlimited” disk space or bandwidth in web hosting. “Unlimited” just means they won’t tell you at what point they will shut your account down or make you upgrade.
With Church Web Hosting, there’s one thing nobody thinks they need… until they desperately need it.
Web Hosting Backup Services
99.9% of the time making regular backups of your website is meaningless.
But then there’s the 0.1%…
- There’s the church whose website got hacked after the web administrator picked up some keystroke-tracking malware on his computer.
- There’s the church that had a disgruntled website administrator who deleted the church’s entire website before leaving the church.
- There’s the church whose web administrator thought they knew what they were doing but accidentally deleted a bunch of important pages from the site.
These are not hypothetical situations. These things actually happened to clients of ours. Fortunately, because we provide automatic backups every night, we were able to restore all of these church websites within a few hours.
When deciding on a church web hosting company, make sure the web hosting service they provide includes backups with the following features:
- Daily – A backup should be made every day.
- Kept for a month – Sometimes you may not notice something that’s broken or missing from your website for a week or two. You want a backup service where you can go back restore data that may have been lost up to a month ago.
- Off-site – Some web hosting companies will back up your website, but they put the back up in your web hosting account. If your hosting account gets hacked or corrupted or God forbid there’s a natural disaster that impacts the data center, you’ll lose the backup along with your website. The best solution is to have your web hosting account backed up to a data center at another location.
RAID is another backup solution some web hosting companies offer. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks.
A RAID backup system includes two identical hard disk drives. When data is saved, it’s saved to both drives. In the event the primary hard drive crashes, the secondary drive takes over. If a web hosting company offers daily off-site backups but has no RAID backup system, if a hard drive crashes they can restore sites from backup but it usually takes many hours and even days to do so leaving your website offline during this time.
Therefore we recommend choosing a web hosting company that has RAID systems in place or a cloud system with hard drive redundancies built in.
Be Safe, Backup
Backup systems are one of the areas some web hosting companies skimp on in order to cut costs and offer their customers a lower price. They will tell you, you should backup your website to your own computer regularly.
If you invest thousands of dollars in a custom church website or dozens of hours building your church website yourself, it would be a shame to lose all of that because there was an incident and you had no backup of your website.
Always have a backup plan. –Mila Kunis
Your church web hosting company can have a huge impact on how you secure your website is, because every web hosting company handles SSL certificates differently.
SSL Certificate Overview
An SSL certificate is what encrypts data sent to and from a website. Websites with an SSL are accessed using https:// while websites without an SSL are accessed with http://
Just a few years ago, the general consensus was that only websites that sent and received private information like credit cards, social security, and account information needed to an SSL certificate to encrypt data.
Today, we recommend every website have the security of an SSL certificate. What’s changed?
- Website Security – Even if your church website only provide information about services and ministries, your website has a login page. Without an SSL certificate, your username and password are transmitted unencrypted and vulnerable to hacking.
- Google Chrome – Google decided it wants every website to have an SSL certificate, so they updated their Chrome web browser to show “not secure” in the address bar of every website that doesn’t have an SSL. So, now if you don’t get an SSL certificate, you may end up scaring away visitors.
- Google Search – Google also decided to give a boost in search rankings to sites with an SSL certificate giving added incentive to get one for church SEO reasons.
The 5 Steps to Setting up an SSL Certificate with a Church Website
No matter what company provides your church web hosting service, there are 5 basic things that must be done to get an SSL certificate working with your website.
1) Purchase the SSL. Some web hosting companies are partners or affiliate of SSL certificate providers which enables their customers to purchase an SSL from the hosting company. If not, you have to find an SSL certificate company and purchase from them.
2) Configure/Verify the SSL. Once the SSL is purchased, you have to provide information about your organization and verify you own the domain name for which the SSL was purchased. This can be complicated. It’s a good idea to find out if a web hosting company will do this for you, or help you with it if you have to do it yourself and run into problems.
3) Install the SSL. The SSL certificate then needs to be installed on the server where the website is hosted. Again, this can be complicated. Some web hosts will do this for you, others don’t.
4) Update Your Website to HTTPS. Once the SSL certificate is installed and working, your website will be accessible at https:// URLs. However, the menu and other links on your website which were originally http need to be updated to https.
5) Redirect http to https. Even after you update the links on your website to https, the pages of your website will still be accessible at the old unsecure http URLs. To stop this, some code should be added to the .htaccess file to redirect all http URLs to https.
Some web hosting providers help with steps 2 and 3, but very few help with steps 4 and 5.
When deciding on a church web hosting company, consider whether you want to go with a company that offers a “full service” SSL certificate, where they take care of the configuration, verification, installation, website update and redirect, or whether you are OK with doing all of those things yourself.
Peace be within your walls and security within your towers! -Psalm 122:7
Email – it is still the most reliable form of mass communication.
In the past, web hosting accounts included email service, so that if you setup web hosting for MyChurch.org, in the same account you could setup email accounts like info@MyChurch.org and PastorBill@MyChurch.org
After providing web hosting for more than 2 decades, we can tell you that email accounts are the most problematic, frustrating and time-consuming component of web hosting services. There are just so many moving parts – the user’s computer, email software/tool, spam filters, ISP, email account on the server – that setting up email accounts and fixing problems can be very challenging.
For this reason, many web hosting companies have started charging extra for email accounts (Sqauarespace, Wix), and some don’t offer email services at all (Clover, MyChurchWebsite).
As a church, you have 3 options when it comes to email:
1) Every man (and woman) for him/herself. Every person gets their own email account with Gmail, Yahoo or whatever service they like best. This is the easiest option, however, the downside of this is it lacks branding and authority. If a person visits on a Sunday, it looks much more organized if they get an email the next day from PastorBill@MyChurch.org than PastorBill007@gmail.com. You also don’t have the option to setup accounts like info@MyChurch.org or youth@MyChurch.org for specific purposes or ministries.
2) Specialty email services. Some companies have developed email services that are independent of web hosting. These include G Suite by Google and Office 365 by Microsoft. I don’t know about Microsoft, but Google has a program in which it makes G Suite available for free to nonprofits. This is a good solution if your church is a registered 501c3 and you’re willing to go through the application process.
3) Web Hosting with email. This is the traditional solution where email services are included in the web hosting solution.
There’s no one email option that is best for all churches. However, you need to decide which option you church is going to go with, and if you want your church email accounts to be handled in your web hosting account, you need to make sure your web hosting account includes email.
Email has an ability many channels don’t: creating valuable, personal touches – at scale. -David Newman
After you’ve whittled down the list of possible church web hosting providers by looking at the factors we’ve discussed so far – platform, disk space, bandwidth, backup, SSL support, and email – you’re still going to end up with dozens if not hundreds of viable options.
But, the fact of the matter is, none of those things really matter if your website is down or experiencing technical problems. Therefore an important factor to consider is…
Church Web Hosting Support
The challenge is… how do you evaluate a company’s support before you start using their services? Try asking these questions:
- What support methods do they offer? Every web hosting company provide support via email or help desk, but what about phone support? What about live chat? If one or both of those are important to you, make sure the web host you choose offers that.
- When is support available? It’s important to make sure your web hosting provider is available when you need support. Some web hosting providers say they offer 24/7 support, but that could be only for certain methods of support and not others.
- Who provides the support? Just about everyone has had a nightmare customer service experience where they called a company and got routed to a call center in India where they had a very frustrating conversation with someone who didn’t speak or understand English well. If that’s a concern, make sure the church web hosting provider you select, has only native English speakers providing support.
- What are their ratings? Another thing to check is what do their current and past customers say about them? Check online reviews and ratings.
An even better option is to talk with a church web hosting providers clients. Find out what their experience has been like and if they would recommend them.
There’s one more support-related factor to consider which runs deeper than all of the above…
Do you want just a transactional relationship with large company whose primary objective is to make money for its owners/shareholders?
Or do you want a ministry partnership with an organization of fellow believers whose mission is to advance the Kingdom of God by helping you live out your mission online?
A ministry partner is staffed with Christians who understand the needs, challenges, ministries and mission of the local church.
A ministry partner gets to know your specific church – its strengths, challenges, vision and goals – and helps you select the services that are the best fit for your church. (Rather than making cookie-cutter recommendations or trying to make the most money from each customer)
A ministry partner goes above and beyond the normal reactive support, proactively initiating support when they notice there’s an issue, and even offering free insight and recommendations that will help your church be more effective in its communication and online outreach.
Do you want a church web hosting provider who will treat you like a customer or a ministry partner? –Paul Steinbrueck
The most common question people ask about church web hosting is:
How much does church web hosting cost?
It’s a difficult question to answer because there are so many factors involved, but in this article we’re going to help you assess what a good price for church web hosting is.
At the beginning of this Ultimate Guide we compared web hosting to renting a storefront for an ice cream shop. Asking how much church web hosting costs is kind of like asking how much it costs to rent a storefront.
It depends, right?
It depends on the size of the shop, the location of the shop, are utilities included, are cleaning services included, is there a backup generator, how good and responsive is the maintenance…
The same is true for church web hosting.
Many of the factors that should be looked at when choosing a church web hosting provider impact the web hosting provider’s costs, and therefore are likely to impact their prices. Let’s look at some of them:
- Platform – If you build your website using a DIY website builder, your web hosting service provider has to not only provide support for the server and hosting account but also for the website builder. For this reason, prices for DIY website hosting services are usually higher than if you just get hosting and build your website from scratch.
- Disk space and Bandwidth – the more you need, the more your hosting will cost
- Backup – web hosting services that includes daily off-site backups and RAID are usually a little more expensive than those who do not.
- Email – many web hosting providers don’t offer email accounts or charge extra for them
- Support – The more comprehensive the support and the more US-based it is, the more it will cost.
Putting the cost of church web hosting into perspective
Church web hosting prices can range anywhere from free to about $30/mo.
Yes, you can get free church websites at places like Wix, Weebly, and even with us a OurChurch.Com. But they lack a lot of significant features and support that are crucial to helping your church succeed online. Some web hosting providers do offer full-blown web hosting services for free to 501c3 nonprofits who go through the application process.
Most web hosting services that don’t offer a website builder cost in the neighborhood of $5-$15/mo. Those that support a DIY website builder tend to be in the $15-$25/mo range. Most of them also offer significant discounts if you pay annually.
So, the bottom line is typically a difference of about $10/mo or $100/yr between a cheap web hosting service and an excellent web hosting service with quality service and support.
- How much is it worth to ensure that when there’s a problem with your website, it gets addressed immediately rather than hours or days later?
- How much is it worth to not have wait on hold for 30-60 minutes when you call with a question?
- How much is it worth to speak with native-English speaking support person?
Finally, how important is it too you that your church web hosting provider be a Christian ministry partner that understands the mission and challenges churches face and shares your ultimate mission and values?
Most church communications experts will tell you…
When choosing a church web hosting provider, support, reliability and mission are far more important than trying to save a few bucks a month.
We’ve now covered most of the factors to consider when choosing a church web hosting provider. But…
What if you now want to switch to a new church web hosting provider?
This is an extremely important question, because if this is not done right your website could go down for long periods of time, you could lose content, and if one important step is neglected you could ruin your church SEO and lose your search rankings!
This is a big topic and could have an Ultimate Guide all on its own, but we think understanding the transition process could impact which church web hosting provider is best for your church. So, here’s an overview of the process.
7 Steps to Transition to a New Church Web Hosting Provider
1) Order a web hosting account from your new provider
2) Build/install your new website.
- If you’ve decided to switch to a DIY website builder, you’ll need to go through the initial website building process and select your theme.
- If you’ve decided to build a new site from scratch, you’ll need to install the software for your content management system (WordPress?) and install your theme.
- If you’ve decided to have a web developer build a new custom site for you, they’ll take care of this for you.
- If you have a website you can move to your new web hosting account, you can skip this step.
3) Transfer content into your new website
- If you’re building a new website with a DIY website builder or from scratch, this involves copying text from pages on your old site into your new site as well as downloading images and other media from your old site and uploading them into the new site.
- If a web developer is building your website, you’ll need to send content from your old site to the developer or at least include links to all the content you want copied to your new site.
- If you have a website you can move to your new web hosting account, you will export the database, zip up the old site into one big zip file, upload that file into your new hosting account, unzip it, and import the database.
4) Create 301 redirects
One of the most often overlooked steps in transitioning to a new church web hosting provider is setting up “redirects” from the URLs of your old website to the URLs of your new website. Now if you’re moving your entire website, and the URLs of all of the pages will remain exactly the same, this is not necessary. However, if you are building a new website (or a web developer is doing this for you), the URLs of your pages will change.
For example, your old site may have the About page at MyChurch.org/about and the new site may have the About page at MyChurch.org/about-us/
If you don’t setup 301 redirects, search engines that have the old URL, websites that link to the old URL, and people who have bookmarked the old URL will get an error when the new site goes live. Additionally, your search rankings will drop because all the old URLs that had good search rankings no longer exist.
Setting up a 301 redirect pointing each old URL to the corresponding new URL, will automatically redirect search engines and visitors to the correct page on the new site. The redirects also help search engines to attribute the same search rankings the old URLs had to the new URLs.
5) Update your domain name’s nameserver settings
This step is what points your domain name to your new website and makes your new website live!
6) Setup an SSL certificate
In some cases, if your existing site has an SSL certificate, it can be “re-issued” to the new server, but it depends on the SSL. Sometimes they can’t be transferred, in which case, a new SSL needs to be purchased, configured, and installed.
7) Test everything!
You should test as much as possible before launching the new site, but some things can’t be totally tested until your domain name is pointing to the new site and its live.
If you’re not super technical, this process probably sounds complicated and overwhelming. To be honest, it can be.
Therefore, one more thing to consider when selecting a church web hosting provider is:
Which of these transition steps will my new church web hosting provider help with?
Every hosting company will help you order an account. Those that provide a DIY website builder will help you with the initial build of your website. But beyond that most don’t provide much help. (FYI, since we at OurChurch.Com want to make sure every transition goes smoothly, we offer content transfer services, 301 redirect services, domain transfer services and full service SSL certificates.)
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. –African Proverb
Church Web Hosting – Tips from the Pros
Judge a webhost not just by price or features, but by customer service. I’ll pay 2x-3x more for a webhost if I know I’m going to get outstanding customer service. If they have great customer service, then it’s likely that hosting is great too. -Darrel Girardier, darrelgirardier.com
As withy any tool, don’t choose a service based solely on your own technical skills, but also on the skills of the person who will need to manage it when you’re on vacation. -Kaitlin Rawley, flocknote.com
If your church is smaller and doesn’t have an IT staff, there are a lot of great options with managed hosting and maintenance plans where you can have someone else do the heavy lifting of backups, software updates, etc. -Kevin Hendricks, ChurchMarketingSucks.com
Don’t go cheap with web hosting. The “value” hosting solutions aren’t great solutions unless your website is super simple… Research the ratings… -Justin Dean, thatcc.com
When it comes to web hosting, this isn’t where you want to save money. That doesn’t mean it has to be expensive either. Using a trusted provider that is simple and stable is key. -Nils Smith, NIlsSmith.com
Web hosting is one of those things you don’t think about until something breaks. Sometimes it’s worth paying a little more for a service you know you can count on. -Matt Ehresman, CourageousStorytellers.com
One of the best things we can recommend when it comes to hosting is to work with a good website developer. The best developers will be your ‘go to source’ if emergencies or problems arise–such as the site crashing during weekend services. They will know the ins and outs, and often have direct access within the company, so issues are fixed quickly. -Dawn Nicole Baldwin, CookePictures.com
For best organization, make sure to register and/or move all your URLs to the same web host, also utilizing their hosting for your church website and any other blogs or ministry websites. Half the battle with hosting and domain names is having everything in one place. -Lauren Hunter, ChurchTechToday.com
You will thousands of web hosts online but the most important thing you can do is find the right one for you. Are you going to build a WordPress site? Looked for managed WordPress hosting. Are you wanting to build multiple projects? Look for a web host with a great cpanel. Overall, look for good customer service. I look for 24/7 chat support. If they have that, I’m in. -Katie Alred, ChurchCommunications.com
The Ultimate Guide to Church Web Hosting was written by the OurChurch.Com team which has been helping churches, schools, nonprofits and businesses live out their mission online with church web design, church web hosting, and church SEO since 1997.
We would love to work with your church and help you live out your mission online!