Get Your Church Online: Where Do I Put My Stuff?

This is a guest post by Tom McFarlin.

Coming up with a unique, creative, memorable domain name is tough. Luckily, checking its availability is not.

Of course, registering a domain name is only half the battle.

Once you’ve got that squared away, you have to find a place to actually store your stuff. You need a web host. And selecting one can be a challenge. There are a lot of terms associated with hosting – bandwidth, databases, sub-domains, file-transfer prototcol, analytics, logging – and you’re trying to make sense of this stuff so you can spend your money wisely.

No worries.

It’s completely possible to get an affordable web host without breaking the bank that is your offering plate and without getting bogged down in all the terminology.

All you really need to know is what makes up a cost-effective hosting platform and what to look for in a good host.

Ready to get started? Learn more after the jump…

What’s a platform?

In terms of web hosting, a platform refers to the software that powers the website behind the scenes. For those that are interested, two main types of hosting platforms that you’re likely stumble across are those based on Microsoft Windows and those based on some variation of Unix or Linux.

I’m not endorsing either of these two options. But I do know that, as a church, we’ve got a budget.

On top of that, it’s not at all unlikely that the people that will be managing your website won’t be actual web developers. They need tools that are going to help them get stuff done without having to write a bunch of code.

Ideally, you need an inexpensive, reliable host that supports many of the popular, free frameworks on the web today (and that we often discuss on ChurchCrunch).

What are you looking for?

There are a lot of web hosts out there. I mean, running a Google search for “web host” returns something like 180 billion results. Come on. Few of us actually have time to sift through 12 results.

As such, we’ve narrowed it down to give things to consider when selecting a web host.

The Must-Haves

PHP. Simply put, PHP is an application that runs on the web server and is what allows developers to write powerful, dynamic applications. Making sure that your web host supports PHP is important as many of the popular, free content management systems and blog platforms – such as WordPress – are written in PHP.

MySQL. MySQL is database software. It allows applications like blogging platforms to save and retrieve infromation. Whenever you publish a blog post, write a comment, or save preferences on a website, the data is stored in a database.

Email Server. In most cases, you’re going to want to maintain an email address (or addresses) associated with your site. There are two ways that web hosting services usually distinguish their email functionality (though many offer both in their plans):

  • Forwarding is when email sent to an address at your domain – say [email protected] –  is sent to the person’s actual address. This is important to note because it means that if I were to respond to the email, the response email would not be sent from [email protected] It would be from my actual address.
  • POP, SMTP, IMAP are three protocols used to send and receive email on the web. This is different from forwarding in that all mail sent to an address – again, like [email protected] – will reside on the web server. This mean you can send and receive email from any email application (think Thunderbird, Outlook, or even Gmail).

The Nice-To-Haves

Subdomains. Say you’ve got several ministries at your church and you’d like to give them all a custom web address. That is, you’d like to have BreakingBread.YourChurch.com or DrinkingWine.YourChurch.com. “BreakingBread” and “DrinkingWine” are subdomains and most hosts offer them. Subdomains are worth considering if you’re looking to segment your various ministries across your site.

cPanel. This is an application that makes it incredibly easy to manage your web host. You can administer email addresses, subdomains, FTP accounts, databases, and so on from within cPanel. Some installations also have the ability to setup WordPress, Joomla, and other applications with a single click. If a host doesn’t have cPanel, it’s not a deal breaker; however, it’s a huge win for anyone that may be responsible for maintaining your site – it makes certain tasks incredibly easy.

Got any recommendations?

Obviously, there’s a lot to consider when looking for a web host. There are many more options that various hosts offer, but we’ve tried to outline some of the core features you should consider when shopping around.

Of course, talking about web hosts is one thing, but making recommendations is another.

This is where the ChurchCrunch community can help: If you currently maintain a website (Church-affiliated or not) and are happy with your host, share it in the comments!

Hopefully we can get a nice list of reliable hosts for people that are getting started with their site.

Once you’ve got your domain and host setup, it’s time to determine how you’re going to build your site. Are you going to hire someone, use a content management system, pray for an HTML miracle, employ a blogging platform, or utilize some other framework?

Next, we’ll talk about some of the free tools that are available to help you develop and launch your site.   

John, a web developer by trade, gifting, opportunity, and choice, has been “doing” online for more than 14 years, first for numerous Fortune 50 businesses and now as the Creative Web Director for North Point Ministries. A social computing strategist and technologist, he enjoys challenging and encouraging others to see how web technology is changing how we do ministry. He blogs frequently at ChurchCrunch.com and Human3rror.com and finds Twitter (@human3rror) both a fun little nuisance and vehicle for connection.
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