Launched: The Village Church on WordPress

It’s official: the Village Church site is now running on WordPress, the open-source content management system. The migration didn’t take a lot of time, but was spread out over a number of nights and weekends. I’ll go into detail about the actual implementation, but, for the uninitiated, here are some the main advantages of using WordPress.

h3. Advantages

h4. Lowers the geek barrier

Anyone who can use the web can use WordPress. WordPress, in the vein of other popular blogging systems, makes publishing on the web as easy as writing a Word document. You don’t need a Computer Science degree to use it, or even to be very technical at all. This is huge in “democratizing” our web presence — it lets more people take ownership of it.

h4. Quicker updates to content

The overhead involved in updating HTML by hand is significantly greater than typing in a web form and clicking submit. Plus, kludging together HTML code by hand — even if it’s cleverly organized, efficient HTML code — just sucks. WordPress makes posting on the web quicker, easier, and, quite frankly, more fun.

h4. Huge development resources, sweet plugin architecture

When I constructed the Village Church web presence, the church was able to take advantage of my talent, background, and free time. When we implemented WordPress, we’ve suddenly tapped into the vast resources of a thriving open-source community _plus_ any third-party plugin developers. Yesterday, I found out that the “contact form”:http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/contact/ I wrote (“which had it’s own issues, anyway”:http://kennsarah.net/2005/09/14/secure-contact-forms/) broke after we moved over to WordPress. Whoops. That meant I had to slap together a quick replacement. I had it done in about 30 minutes by using a plugin which is more robust, maintained by much better developers, and is _way_ simple to implement.

h3. Implementation

So, on to implementation. The Village Church uses “Pages”:http://codex.wordpress.org/Pages pretty extensively for our static content (such as the “About”:http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/about/ section), which were able to reproduce the pretty URLs we had set up with the old site. Aside from the Contact form I mentioned above, the News and Sermons are the only “Post”:http://codex.wordpress.org/Writing_Posts content we have on the site. We’re using “Categories”:http://codex.wordpress.org/Manage_Categories_SubPanel to determine where a post should appear: if it’s News, drop it on the homepage, if it’s a Sermon, drop it in the “Sermon archive”:http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/worship/sermons/. We also have put conditions in the individual archive pages to change the display, based on what category we’re looking at (“here’s a helpful article on that”:http://lorelle.wordpress.com/2005/09/22/creating-multiple-single-posts-for-different-categories/). That way, Sermons and News items don’t look like each other. We’ve also set up a Featured category (which is a child of Sermons) which floats a copy of the sermon information to the top of the page, making it easy to feature or un-feature content. There is also a little include file that show the latest Sermon on the homepage (“using WPDB”:http://codex.wordpress.org/WPDB).

Initially, I thought our “Events”:http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/events/ page could work this same way, where each event would be a Post with an Event category. I found that after testing this, though, that it was very kludgy. WordPress is just not meant to be a calendar, and it’s *really* not supposed to be a calendar mixed with other content types as Posts. In the meantime, the calendar is still a page of hand-coded definition lists, but we’re looking for a better web-based calendar (and preferably one with an “iCal feed”:http://www.apple.com/macosx/features/ical/) to make our church administrator’s life easier. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Speaking of feeds, the Village Church is now sporting some spiffy XML goodness. WordPress makes it dead simple to syndicate any content by adding a /feed to the end of any URL. Want a News feed?

http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/news/feed”:http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/news/feed.

This makes Podcasting “laughably easy”:http://codex.wordpress.org/Podcasting:

http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/worship/sermons/feed”:http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/worship/sermons/feed

This link works in iTunes without a problem, so I published it to the iTunes “Religion & Spirituality” directory. You can now subscribe to the Village Church in iTunes. 🙂 We’ll hold off on announcing that, though, until I write some warm and fuzzy “getting started” content “like WNYC”:http://www.wnyc.org/about/podcasting.html has.

Migrating our site design wasn’t trivial, but wasn’t really hard, either. Since we’d already moved everything to valdiating HTML/CSS, putting in the WordPress tags instead of static content was just a matter of time. We also needed to work out some of the text formatting on the pages once we were done with the design.

The implementation of WordPress isn’t huge in terms of adding features or new functionality, but it does create a stable platform for us to build on as we continue to bring more of our community experience to the web. Things like comments, adding more types of “Worship” content (not just the Sermons), and involving other ministry leaders in posting their own material will enable others outside the church to see what the Village Church is all about.

10 thoughts on “Launched: The Village Church on WordPress

  1. As usual, way to go! I’d hire you in a second. Oh wait a minute, I did…

    FYI, when I click on the “listen now” link on the sermons page, I get an “Error 404 – Not Found” message on a strange page. Are you aware of this?

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  2. “Mike”:http://kennsarah.net/2005/11/03/launched-the-village-church-on-wordpress/#comment-1195, thanks! I had seen phpiCalendar, but I should take a closer look. I don’t think we’ll be able to set up iCal for our church admin (she’s on a PC), but if the web user interface is easy enough, this could be a good solution.

    Truth be told, I wish “Hula”:http://www.hula-project.org/ would get off the ground already. It looks cool, but it’s hard to tell if this is something we’ll be able to use. Those “37signals guys”:http://www.37signals.com/svn/archives2/should_calendars_online_look_like_calendars_offline.php are asking good questions about calendaring. If I were to redesign the template, I’m not sure if I would use the current design or try to do a “grid” thing.

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  3. Hula is a neat project, but it has several things that I view as a short coming.

    1) It uses its own mail smtp server instead of utilizing one that is already on the box.

    2) It uses mbox instead of maildir …. i’m kinda of torn on this one. mbox is faster for mailboxes with large number of files, and i like its behavior of not allowing folders and mail in the same mailbox. but maildir works much better with thunderbird. … i’m not sure why, since it is self contained with its own servers, why they didn’t use mysql (or some other database) to store everything. Takes away the file system limitations away …

    I have 120,000 emails in one of my folders. With maildir that would be too big to use commandling tools to manipulate the data. With mbox it takes forever to open the folder (its like 120gb file that needs opened then parsed) … a relational database just seems like a more sane solution for mail servers.

    Oh well, a little off topic. sorry.

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  4. YAY!!! I’m very very excited about the updates on our webpage, Ken. This is fantastic. I know Adam Browne and I have often discussed all the opportunities out there with the internet that would be great resources for The Fold (that’s what Sarah’s calling the praise band these days). Technology is so exciting!

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  5. Ken, Sunbird is a Mozilla project for calendar software. It is compatible with iCal calendar format, and should be usable for phpicalendar. I have used the 0.2 version (though I’m a Mac guy, so I generally use iCal). It seems pretty stable, and they’re doing simultaneous Windows/Linux/Mac releases.

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