Fleecing the church

Got Wool?

Originally, I was going to title this "Wolves in Sheep's Clothing," but I think that would be taking Matthew 7:15 a bit out of context. Still, sticking with the sheep theme, I thought I'd do a different play on words. No doubt you're familiar with the NBC segment called "The Fleecing of America." Basically, it is a piece they run to show how money is being wasted in our great nation.

To that end, I will attempt to explain how some churches are being taken to the cleaners (okay, enough cheezy expressions). Awhile ago, a friend at seminary asked me what I thought of the E-Zekiel CMS. Unfortunately, at the time I didn't know enough about it to give him fair warning. Also, this was about the time my wife and I were preparing to move cross-country, so I myself did not have time to do a church website for him.

Now that I've done my homework so to speak, I was surprised fo find just how much money is being spent on what I consider to be an out-moded and sub-par service. Without getting into all the technical aspects, this system is very 1990s. That being said, I'll cover briefly why you should care from a monetary / business standpoint.

The business model is such that if you use E-Zekiel to run your church website, you are essentially renting the right to have a website from them. For the sake of brevity, I will examine their top of the line, Platinum plan. With a 10% discount for paying yearly instead of monthly, it will cost you $1511.46, plus a $100 setup fee. Compare this to a regular hosting plan at DreamHost and you'll see that as far as hosting features, you're not getting much.

The benefit of E-Zekiel is that you get a point-and-click interface, so that little technical savvy is necessary to keep your site up to date. To their credit, they do have some nice looking sites out there. That is, until you View Source and realize it's all laid out with nested <table> tags. For the end-user, this is no big deal, as you probably won't be able to tell the difference. For a developer though, it's a bit disconcerting considering the amount you're paying.

For my money, if I was a church pastor, I would much rather use ExpressionEngine by the company pMachine. While it isn't explicitly Christian, it is a much better product. Of course, you would still need to hire a developer to get everything set up for you. I'd say that even after that initial cost, you'd still be saving money in the long-run, and you wouldn't be paying through the nose for a system that's antiquated.

Raw Numbers

Okay, I'm sure you want some stats to back up my outlandish notions of going against the status quo. Fair enough. Consider the cost of buying a non-commercial license for ExpressionEngine, $149.95. Also, realize the benefit of being able to pick your own hosting service. I'll use DreamHost as an example, because that's what I'm familiar with. Two years of pre-paid hosting will set you back $190.80. So far, the price comparison is as follows:

2 years, E-Zekiel  = $3122.92

2 years, elsewhere =  $340.75

But wait, you might be saying - What about the cost of hiring a designer or developer? You're right, they like to eat too. So, that leaves you a difference of $2782.17 to work with. Considering that many design agencies offer a discount to non-profit organizations, you could probably get away with paying quite a bit less than that, and still have some money to spare.

Please don't feel like I'm trying to push the ExpressionEngine here, that is not the point of the article. Quite the contrary in fact, as I don't want to see churches fiscally tied to any particular system (which you wouldn't be with EE). I just see it as an excellent alternative for large-scale site management.

In the past, to further knock down costs for churches, I've used Textpattern, which is open-source and entirely free. This works great for smaller sites, such as the one you're on now. Another good free option is WordPress, which is a one-click installation on many hosting services. Additionally, for a little bit of money, you can use TypePad, which is what Asbury Blog runs on.


Without belaboring the point, I just wanted to give everyone a heads-up as to other options that are available. I realize that for many pastors and churches, not using E-Zekiel simply isn't a viable option because of denominational contract restrictions. Like I said earlier, no big deal because it still gets the job done. However, if you are considering a church website and are able to shop around a bit, please do. I would encourage you not to just follow the herd, unless you want to be led to the slaughter taken to the cleaners.

Note: The purpose of this article is not to drum up business for myself. I've currently got a few side projects occupying my time. If you want to hire a good web developer, check out the list of people on my resources page.