The Village Church and WordPress

At times, the blog can be a bit like Audrey II — never really satisfied until it’s sucking the “life out of you”:http://wavcentral.com/cgi-bin/log/log.cgi?id=4252&sound=/sounds/movies/little_shop/lshfeed.mp3. I exaggerate, but the feeling of blogger’s guilt that kicks in after successfully maintaining an online presence for the better part of three years can be a powerful motivator. The fact is, being brilliantly original and witty — and doing it for free — is difficult to sustain unless you, oh say, take a 6-week “vacation in Europe”:http://www.posegate.org/russ/topic/france_2005/index.php. Of course, the only thing worse than a prodigal blogger is one who whines about his inability to make blogging a priority, so let’s move on.

So what have we been up to? Well, I recently discovered that Schmoo is swapping animal stories on two or three message boards now. I gently guided her to contribute something to Our Story (“Are you telling stories on these message boards that could be on our blog??”), so watch for that sometime soon. When I haven’t been working at the new gig, I’ve been working on any number of side projects. Like the manufacturing business idea that my Dad wants to start. Or the coffeehouse ministry in Newark set to launch sometime next year. Or building an extremely tech-savvy and innovative web presence for The Village Church. Let alone the family stuff like making time for my bride, making sure the electricity stays on, and — oh yeah — we almost moved again.

Of those things, the Village Church site has certainly been the most technically interesting and fulfilling. The migration to a highly accessible, semantically meaningful, and CSS-driven website last year felt pretty good in and of itself (“before”:http://web.archive.org/web/20040920153241/http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/, “after”:http://www.villagechurchnyc.com). But, in fact, was simply one small step towards a flexible and sustainable architecture for the long term. I spent about three months evaluating Content Management Solutions and am currently in the process of migrating the site to WordPress.

This is one of those tech decisions you make after a long, thoughtful cost/benefit analysis. We could have gone with another CMS product such as MovableType — I even had permission from Six Apart to use a not-for-profit free license and already had a full two years’ experience with the platform — but the fact is that WordPress has too much going for it to be overlooked. While WP is generally regarded as “just a blog tool,” it’s elegant codebase, flexible plugin system, “effective leadership”:http://www.photomatt.net, and thriving “open source ecosystem”:http://www.loudthinking.com/arc/000484.html positions it as a leading contender for publishing on the web today. The kicker for The Village Church, though is that *three years from now*, we will continue to benefit from the technical and political stability of the WordPress community. ??Mark Pilgrim?? noted in his seminal “Freedom 0”:http://diveintomark.org/archives/2004/05/14/freedom-0 (which, arguably, was the tipping point for WordPress’ already growing popularity) that free software will persist because it is built on principles of openness: long after most commercial software ceases to be useful, open source will continue to thrive because of the communities that form around it.

Anyway, that sounded like something we wanted for the church. πŸ™‚

The decision to move to WordPress was also critical because we need the acceleration. As far as a web presence is concerned, we’re moving too slow. Every component of the site is hand-rolled HTML and CSS (with the occasional dash of PHP), so simple posts “like this”:http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/news/2005/07/village-life-deux/ can chew up a good couple of hours of copy, paste, upload, preview, edit, upload, preview, tweak, upload, preview, post. A good portion of the site is chunked up into include files that help with writing content in one place and having it show up in several other places (a design I learned with MovableType and intend to leverage for WordPress), but only enough to keep from absorbing even more time. Even our process of updating the site through CVS — which is otherwise a brilliant technology — is far too high a barrier for a non-techie.

But, aside from “making things easier to post,” WordPress is showing some pretty interesting potential in its core functionality. Take, for example, the hierarchical categories for posts. The plan right now is to tag any new content we post into a main site section using categories: news, sermons, events or ministries. Each of those pages will then show the “posts” for that category, which is kind of nice. But, because we can drill down even further, we can create “book” and “topic” sub-categories for sermons. So, for each sermon that Sam preaches, we will be able to associate it with the book on which it was preached (say, “Genesis”) and an overarching topic (“marriage”). Our pastor already has a taxonomy of categories he uses — we would just need to integrate it. The benefit? Being able to look at sermons preached by book or by topic, as well as chronologically listed. And all that by clicking two checkboxes.

And, yes, there will be Podcasting. Which, incidentally, is why doing this all by hand is too slow: Podcasting is huge, now. People in my Bible study are reading about it “in the Times”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/28/technology/circuits/28pogue.html?ex=1123214400&en=874553f0af6bd6b5&ei=5070&emc=eta1 and downloading the goods “in iTunes”:http://www.apple.com/podcasting. If we’re out the door with a Podcast any later than September, I fear we’ll miss the buzz window. I mean, people will still be able to find us in iTunes, and the site will certainly advertise the feature, but that “wow” reaction you hope to get with cutting edge technology slowly turns into a “you, too?” after only a few weeks.

Anyway, this is just a little bit of the online geekery I’ve been up to lately. When we go to launch, you can be sure that the Village Church will announce it on the homepage and that I’ll have an even geekier blog than this to share the gory details.

In the meantime, I’ll try posting some of those 54 links I have stacked up in my Backpack for the blog!

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11 thoughts on “The Village Church and WordPress

  1. woot! signs of life = good news.

    I swear I am going to start blogging again soon. I just have to get around to setting up some simple wordpress mojo goodness. maybe this weekend if I can finish my day job first.

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  2. Good to see you posting again Ken.

    Wow. hand rolled is impressing. Almost a thing of the past.

    My current goal is developing a site that uses subversion for management purposes, XML/XSLT (processed into XHTML server side, so i don’t have to worry about clients supporting XML properly), The XSLT will be generated from a templating system on the fly. (XSLT is limited, and has no notion of query string, cookies, and other things that allow pages and templates to work well).

    A lot of this is working locally for testing purposes, but the code isn’t anywhere near stable enough to show off yet. Hopefully by the end of the month (or maybe the end of september) i’ll have the new version running my site.

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  3. Hey man, good to hear your voice. New versions, projects six deep on the desk, no time to do the stuff you love… Sounds like you need the 7 hour days, annual 4-week mandatory vacation (Try to buy something in August, just try)and tri-weekly national holiday off that my VAT taxes (19.6%!!!), gas prices ($4.00 a gallon is cheap here) and highway tolls (similarly obscene) have been supporting here in People’s Republic of Overrated Wine these 5 weeks past.

    Just kidding. Things here are nice, I just can’t wait to catch up with y’all in a room full of people who are fluent (and gracious) enough to participate in a little advanced usage of the English language. Also cards, I really miss cards…

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  4. You rule! This surely is evidence that 1 Cor. 10:31 is possible! Man, I could almost imagine you singing Alelulia! as you typed.

    Thanks for being faithful to your call, thereby blessing TVC so very, very much.

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  5. Ken,

    I tried to post a comment on an old post (http://www.kennsarah.net/2003/09/25/more-thoughts-on-web-community/), but understandably, you had comments closed (don’t you hate comment and trackback spam?)

    That post was almost 2 years ago, but I am embarking upon a little research to see how I might do something with helping to implement blogs and RSS for online church community…and have been starting to re-read some history of the Church of the Saviour as a worthy candidate , since they have been a model for me not only as church, but also in their style of narrative as the writings of Elizabeth O’Connor so wondrously capture. I have posted several times about them and her books of late on my blog in the past weeks. I really determined to take a much more theological bent on my blog than the political dissent I was epxpressing (which was BECAUSE of my theological concerns, but after the election, I determined to focus on what the church needs to be rather than all my criticisms of the Religious Right)

    I started reading Bonhoefer, and along the way, Stanley Hauerwas, who wrote a book dealing with Bonhoefer (Performing the Faith), and I’m now reading Bonhoefer’s biogrpahy, after reading several of Hauerwas’s writings. Both Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas are very strongly ecclesiologists, which I feel is needed , as always. Related to this, the blog and the possibilities it holds for the church ‘s “telling of its story” is a tool that the church needs to take VERY seriously. I believe it is one of the best tools , if not THE best, to get people’s stories ‘out there’ as narrative.

    I was so glad to see that you got employed again after your period of anxiety about that. Anyway, I just wanted to reconnect, and let you know I’m right there with you on this

    Dale

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  6. “Mike”:http://www.kennsarah.net/2005/07/28/tvc-wp/#comment-1079, you said, “Wow. hand rolled is impressing. Almost a thing of the past.” I don’t know if the hand-rolling is too impressive — except for maybe that there are still people dumb enough to do it. πŸ™‚ I mean, some good design practices aside, I’m doing the same thing that people used to do for their “home pages” back in 1996. Here’s hoping the WP migration moves a lot quicker.

    I’ll be taking my laptop on vacation with me because getting this stuff done *is* like a vacation for me. πŸ™‚ I’ve got a local copy of WP running (and MySQL, Apache, PHP, etc) on the Mac, so I can make all the template changes I need and then upload to the production site. We love Apple.

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  7. Hi “Dale”:http://theoblogical.org/! Long time, no type. πŸ™‚

    Yeah, I killed commenting on a lot of entries. I haven’t done it since we migrated to WP, but with MovableType, it was a must to avoid getting saturated with spam.

    Regarding “stories,” ultimately I hope to make the Village Church site a creative outlet for any of our congregants by hosting blogs (or aggregating — because many people already have them); posting what I’ve been calling “worship artifacts” such as music, photography and artwork; and, of course, hosting the sermons (currently in MP3, possibly also in text at some point). I’ve got a 1-page roadmap that I’ve been passing around to anyone that might be interested and already my pastor is excited about “GooglEvangelism.” πŸ™‚ I should post that roadmap up here sometime.

    It would be nice to have more help, though. The Village Church site is pretty low on the totem pole of priorities, so whatever happens with the site gets done in my spare time.

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  8. Stumbled across this post while looking for information on sites for churches powered by WordPress. The site looks fantastic, Ken. I’d really like to know how you did the meta-data for the sermon archive. It is all done just using WP custom fields? I’m in the process of desigining a site for a church right now, and this is the part I’m hung on.

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  9. Nikolas, thanks for the feedback and the kind words. We’re actually not running WP just yet, so what you’re looking at now is done by hand. We’ll be launching WP by the end of the month, but doing a phased approach. So, the first rollout will be meta-data dumb — which is to say that we won’t be using custom fields.

    The 1.1 WP rollout will involve custom fields holding stuff like Who and Where the sermon was preached and on What Passage or in What Series. I’d love to generate archives based on a “series” of, say, 1 Corinthians sermons. That way, I won’t have to kludge together tables by hand like I had to do with this one:

    http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/news/2005/07/1cor-outline/

    I’m targeting the end of August to get this out the door, so stay tuned for the full writeup (probably over Labor Day weekend). πŸ™‚

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