Today’s designer interview is with Dallas Bass (Twitter), founder of Churchpr.es.  It is a great new church website option for churches.  It is a managed website service based on WordPress.  This means they help you set up your WordPress site and take care of all the back end and installation and maintenance stuff.  They also include other features to help secure and speed up your site and provide personal support.

Dallas has teamed with ChurchWP to offer our readers a special offer for those who sign up for ChurchPr.es!

Use the CWP2014 coupon code and save $50!

How long have you been involved in web design and what go you started?

Growing up, I always enjoyed most things about computers, which lead me to take as many computer classes as I could in high school. One of the classes I took focused on Photoshop and another class I took was an intro to HTML/CSS. I really enjoyed the web design class so I stuck with learning more HTML/CSS on my own and it eventually turned into a hobby. I discovered WordPress while I was in college and started learning how to build custom themes and picked up my first freelance client in 2010.

How did you get interested in church websites?

I have been a Christian since a young age and practically grew up in church so an intersection between the church and my technical abilities was bound to happen sooner or later. I didn’t necessarily consider web design/development as a career option, it was always just a hobby. In 2010, when I built a website for a friend’s dad and was paid for my hobby, I realized I could actually get paid for doing something I really enjoyed.

When I decided to start freelancing I really wanted to focus on building church websites, simply because the need is great. It’s disheartening how many churches neglect their website and think of it as nothing more than a digital brochure. In reality, a church website can be a very powerful ministry tool if utilized correctly. Understanding that a church can offer gospel centered sermons, blog posts, and resources to people literally all of over world is a great motivator for focusing on improving and building church websites.

How does your faith impact your design?

One aspect that makes the Bible so interesting is that it deals with ordinary people. Yeah sure, there are some pretty high profile guys but for the most part, the “main characters” are your everyday adults working in some secular field. Even King David, one of the greatest kings in history, started out as a shepherd, right? All of these amazing people in Biblical history all had a vocation, a career. Peter was a fisherman, Luke was a doctor, Priscilla and Aquila made tents, Lydia was a businesswomen etc. etc. They didn’t hang out at the temple all day or devote themselves to public religious exercises like the Pharisees did. They were ordinary people who loved Christ, loved people, and made it point to form their life and career around the Gospel. Much like the reformers, they had a theology of vocation that essentially turned their career into another form of God glorifying actions.

It’s odd to think that building church websites or even a website for some random business should have a God glorifying outcome but that’s the point right? Even though the context is a little different, Paul is pretty clear in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Am I slacking off on a website, am I griping and complaining about a client, or am I taking those opportunities to use my God given abilities to glorify Him and show Christ-like love to those I encounter? It’s hard to answer this question without going too in-depth but I guess the short version is that my faith, my worldview, must be the very foundation and framework that my career is centered around.

Why do you think churches should use WordPress to create their website?

WordPress is really interesting for a couple of reasons. Primarily, because it’s so easy to scale in terms of features. By that, I mean a church can start off with a very basic small website built on WordPress. As time goes on, if they want to add additional features like online donations/tithing, sermon uploads, an events calendar etc. etc. it’s possible to include those things in the current website instead of having to completely rebuilt the website. Another great feature is that WordPress is a completely open platform. This means, if a church wants a custom feature added to their site, all they have to do is hire a WordPress developer to built it for them. With platforms like Clover or other hosted solutions, the amount of customization and level of features is entirely dependent upon the actual company.

When did you start Churchpr.es? How did this process come about?

Officially, Churchpres launched last year but went through a complete overall just recently. It’s pretty tough to get an accurate reading of what your customers want and need before they are, well actually your customers. Being able to interact with and get real time feedback from people who where actually using Churchpres was a huge help in being able to make some necessary changes.

I’ve spent a lot of time around churches and ministers and there are two main things that usually accompany small to medium sized churches. The staff isn’t technical at all and they have a very small budget for websites and technical expenses. When I think about that, it’s crazy because I see churches being separated from technology instead of using technology but logically I understand the reasoning. Websites are messy and time consuming. As easy as WordPress is, it’s still a huge pain for non-technical people to set up a WordPress website. You have to buy a domain, find a web host, mess around with CPanel or some other confusing software, find a WordPress theme, figure out what in the world all of the options do etc. etc. It’s a never ending journey of confusion and frustration. Pastors and church staff don’t have time for all of that and they shouldn’t have to worry about plugin updates or server insecurities. That’s where Churchpres comes into play. I saw that pain point in the small to medium sized churches and wanted to build a solution that would offer services to cover everything on the technical side of managing a website. That means, all the church or ministry has to do is sign up for an account and send over their content. Churchpres handles content entry for the initial site build, server set up, domain registration if needed, backups set up, analytics set up, basically everything technical.

What makes Churchpr.es unique?

In my opinion there are three main things that make Churchpres unique. The first thing, is the fact that Churchpres is built on WordPress. This opens up the doors to all sorts of possibilities and allows me to very easily adjust to exactly what specific churches and ministries need. Each website comes with a specific list of features but that list isn’t 100% absolutely all that can be accomplished with a Churchpres website. If a church has a specific need, it’s possible to go in and build that specific feature into their site while not having to build it into every customer’s website or the core Churchpres platform. This allows Churchpres to have a limited open platform. If a church needs something we don’t offer we can work them to get it added to their site, but their site is still locked down enough to where one little change in the website dashboard won’t cause their site to come crashing down. Churchpres being built on WordPress also offers the opportunity to partner up with other WordPress developers. All of the themes Churchpres offers are built by independent developers and vetted for quality. This means, when we make money and gain customers, the developers who built the themes are also making money. While Churchpres is helping churches get great websites, we are also hopefully helping out the WordPress community of Christian developers make money and sell their products.

The second thing that makes Churchpres unique is what you don’t see, the server infrastructure. We are part of Microsoft Bizspark which is a Microsoft sponsored program for start ups. This allows Churchpres to be built on the Microsoft cloud platform Azure, the same platform that companies like NBC, BMW, and thousands of other major businesses use. With Azure, it’s possible to do all sorts of stuff in the background to make website fast and reliable.

What information do you think every church website should include on their site? Why is it important?

A discerning trend I see in church websites is more focus on programs than beliefs and theology. Of course, I think that is probably a small picture of a larger issue but I won’t jump down the rabbit hole with that topic. I think another piece of information that should be included is the overall culture of the church. Are you more of a flannel and coffee type of church or more of a suit and tie type of church. I have been a member at each type and love both but would be very uncomfortable if I attended either in attire appropriate for the other. People attending a church for the first time should be aware of what the overall feel of the church is. Another important feature that I often see left out on church websites is a good staff page. Who are the pastors, the youth/college ministers, worship leader etc. etc.? A picture and a name is pretty vague. What are their backgrounds? What theological training do the pastors have? Is the youth minister just a college kid pulled off the street? A detailed biography isn’t necessary at all but a paragraph or two is always nice for visitors.

What is the critical info that should be on every home church’s homepage? Why is it important?

Service times, location, and contact information should absolutely be displayed prominently. More often than not, a majority of visitor are wanting to know that information. This isn’t necessarily homepage specific but a good menu structure is also needed. People want information and they want it as fast as possible. If someone has to go through several pages to find what they are looking for, chances are they leave before they find the information they need.

Are there any mistakes you see churches make with their websites? Anything churches should try to avoid?

There are three main things I see.

The first thing is the flashy “relevant” website. Churches get websites with these crazy designs full of bright colors, random fonts, and all sorts of unnecessary animations. The problem with this is that poor design subtracts from quality content. There is a saying that goes, good design is invisible. I feel like a lot of church websites don’t really abide by that.

The second thing is the brochure website. I touched on this earlier but a lot of churches view their website as a static digital brochure. It’s set up and forgotten about. In reality, a church websites should be an organic dynamic ministry. Websites give churches the ability to share the Gospel with the world. It doesn’t take long to upload a sermon each week and write a blog post or two.

The last thing is the non-responsive website. Mobile browsing is exploding in popularity and churches need to make sure their website is able to adapt to mobile phones and tablets.

What do you like to do when you are not developing WordPress themes?

I love spending time with my wife, whether it’s just walking around the park, traveling, or just hanging out watching a movie together. In the rare occasions that pop up where I do have some free time I really enjoy a good book and hot cup of coffee. Other than that, the stereotypical nerdy hobbies such as movies, comics, video games all apply to me as well.