Publishing your church plant website has become an important part of the planting process here in the States. Everyone is going to check out who you are and what you’re about through your website, and usually very early in their relationship with you. Having a website establishes you in the community, helps you communicate, and helps create credibility.
What’s the Problem?
In every instance that one of my church planters has gotten free web design, it has come back to bite them. Hard. As in that’s-gonna-leave-a-mark hard.
Here’s the scenario: you have a buddy who does websites for a living. Or a cousin. Whomever. They’ve offered to do your website for free, or maybe you asked them to do it for free as a way to support your plant. This part sounds great!
Then it quickly goes south. What I’ve seen happen every time is that the planter gets back-burnered to the designer’s other, paying projects. Websites get delayed, communication slows to a crawl, and relationships become strained. You’re desperate to get your site up to be ready for the big community event next weekend, and suddenly you can’t get a hold of your buddy. Or he shines you on and keeps saying, “I’ll get to that tomorrow,” but drags it out for weeks.
One planter heard my caution and decided to set up a contract and pay the buddy to create accountability. That only sort-of worked. I wouldn’t recommend it, as there was still plenty of relational strain.
Worst case scenario: you also let him buy the domain name for you and now he holds the keys to your online destiny. Even though the website and your branded email accounts are relatively unrelated because they come through different providers, they are both controlled by whomever bought the domain name. So while you agonize for weeks over your delayed website, you likewise can’t even go about setting up your church email accounts.
What to Do
Buy you own domain name. Absolutely refuse to let anyone else buy it on your behalf, no matter how much of a web design pro they are.
And hire a third-party designer that you have only a business relationship with. Seriously. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an exception to this buddy-backfire scenario.
If you’re early in the process, say just starting your fundraising, and want a simple starter site, post your own from a template for free using Weebly, Wix, Jimdo, WordPress.com, Blogger or any number of other free design platforms. They’ve become stupid-easy to use (though may not be the best long-term, permanent solution for your church plant). Then pay a designer to do your permanent site after you’ve gone through contextualizing and branding your church plant.
I’m not sure why exactly this particular arena is so subject to becoming a relational trap. Yeah, it may be a little awkward to decline your buddy’s offer up front, but you will glad you did in the long run.