03 - Deciding on a Site Outline

In this post I’ll compare the template against our goals for the site, and make some structural and navigation decisions.


So far we’ve made a case for using ExpressionEngine for a church site, and discussed using a pre-made design template or designing and coding one from scratch.

I’‘ve decided on this template for the project at hand, so now it’s time to compare the navigation that it comes against my goals for the site and see where things end up.

The template comes “out of the box” with the following navigation:

Main Navigation

  • Home
  • Ministries
  • Our Staff
  • Worship
  • Our Beliefs
  • Events
  • Find Us

Utility (top) Navigation

  • Site Map
  • Audio Messages
  • Contact

Bottom Navigation

  • Home
  • News
  • Contacts

Home Page
For church websites the home page needs to serve two distinct audiences - current attendees and potential visitors.  I think this template works pretty well for these audiences out of the box by showing the upcoming special events and welcome statement.  Events are of equal interest to both audiences, and the welcome statement—if well-written - can help potential visitors tell what kind of church this is both in denomination and personality.

The Join Us paragraph is going to be mainly of interest to potential visitors however, and by only listing the service times we’re only giving them half of what they’d need to attend.  The other half - the location of the church - the site visitor would have to click the main navigation item of “Find Us” to get.  So - let’s instead also plan on listing the location right on the home page with the service times, also figure on adding a map to the “Contact” page - and lose the “Find Us” main navigation item.

Another plan for this site is to use a weblog - both to encourage interaction on the site (with comments) and better communication from the staff.  So I’ll plan on both a “Weblog” main navigation item and changing out the “Our Mission” section of the home page for the latest post from the weblog.  The Mission Statement type stuff will be better located in the Our Beliefs section, if posted on the site at all.

I’ve never liked the “ministries” as a main navigation item - as it’s a really churchy word and I worry that it communicates well to someone who isn’t a church attendee.  But it’s also hard to find a non-churchy word that communicates the same thing.  I’ve tried “Programs” and “Groups” etc. in the past and they seem equally as vague just in a different way.  So for this project I’ll stick with Ministries and figure that a churchy word is sometimes ok for a church.

This section will have some subnavigation as ministries are usually grouped by those for kids, teens, men, women, etc.

Our Staff
I go back and forth on this one.  I know some churches are “personality-based” in that people come to the church because a certain person teaches or is on staff - but I’m a bit uncomfortable with that as the staff shouldn’t be the main focus of a church.  In this case I’ll also have a weblog, and each post there will be from a staff member so site visitors will able to get familiar with the staff in that way.  I’ll also need a spot in the main navigation for some other items, so I think it’ll be best to pull the Our Staff out of the main navigation.

Another approach is to list staffers on the Contact page - but that sort of makes the one page try to do two things.  What I’ll plan on is a dedicated staff directory page, linked to from the bottom navigation as a “Staff Directory”.  I’ll also link to it from the Contact page, positioning the Contact page as general purpose and the staff directory for use when you know who you want to contact.

Many churches have multiple services with different personalties - a traditional style and a contemporary style for example.  What this page will do is allow the church to explain the services, their style and who generally they target.  Since I’m also planning on delivering podcasts via the site, I’ll find a way to list the latest couple of podcasts for each service on this page.

Our Beliefs
This will be a straightforward section - either one page or a typical index page with subnavigation.

I’ll implement an events calendar here - which will also feed the events section on the site home page.

By moving the Staff section out of the main navigation I’ll have room for listing the Photo Gallery there. I think photo galleries do a great job in communicating for both potential audiences - for the current attendee they allow people to see parts of events they may have missed or email links to photos of friends,etc.  For potential visitors photos can answer questions like “Who goes to this church”, “Will I fit in”, “How should I dress”, “What kinds of things do they do”, etc.

So my revised main navigation will be:

  • Home
  • Weblog
  • Ministries
  • Worship
  • Our Beliefs
  • Events
  • Photos

The utility navigation as shown on the template will remain as is, linking to an overall site map, the archive of message podcasts, and the contact page.

In the bottom navigation I’ll lose the News link as all news will be posted in the Weblog that I’ve added to the main navigation.  I’ll add in the Staff Directory - so the updated bottom navigation will be:

  • Home
  • Staff Directory
  • Contact Us

Of course all these decisions are tentative and may be revised during actual site production - but for now they’ll provide a basis to move forward on.  In the next post I’ll lay out the back end components—the ExpressionEngine Architecture—that will be required to implement the site as I’ve laid it out here.

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Previous Comments

Picture of tzTrainEE

by tzTrainEE

Date: Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008
Comment: #1

Great analysis of functionality for a church site.
The amount of time required to layout the EEA is really amazing even for a newbie. The actual coding of the layout, gets a bit more tough. It’s going to be interesting to see the features implemented that don’t come with the free core version of EE.
thanks mike, keep the twitter’s on ;)

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