Why A Free Website Is A Bad Idea

“Now wait a minute, Steve,” you say. “Didn’t you just tell me last week how I could help a missionary get a free website? And now you’re going to tell me a free website is a bad idea?”

Hmmm… I did mention that last week, didn’t I?

Maybe I should explain.

I understand you’re excited about this new ministry of yours, and your passion is contagious. Your friends and family wish you well and ask what they can do to help. One of them is quite technical and offers to set up a website for you.

It’s tempting to jump at the offer. After all, this is one of your good friends – or maybe even a partner in your ministry. He wants to do something to help. You’re not exactly basking in free time or rolling in money – especially while your work is in its infancy. Having someone else set up a website for free seems like a perfect opportunity.

But accepting a free website like this can lead to a road of regret.

What’s wrong with a free website?

When someone gives you a website for free, a lot can go wrong. The concerns I list below are not only things that could happen. They are from actual reports from real missionaries who accepted the generous help from a volunteer web designer. Then they found themselves stuck.

notdone1. Hey! It’s Not Done

Building a website from scratch is a lot of work. Most businesses charge a minimum of $250 just to get a generic shell created without any content. Even at that price, the setup fee is sometimes offered at a loss because the maintenance fee of $20 or more per month for even a simple, unchanging site will make up the income over time.

OK,  you’re not paying these costs, but knowing the value of a website is important as you try to understand what your friend is willing to do for free.

When someone offers to build a website for you, they may be offering just the initial setup – not including any content. When they’re done, you may see a beautiful looking site – full of “Hello World” and “Menu 1, Menu 2” and “Edit this page to describe your first product” or “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet….” You may even end up having nothing more than a raw domain name (that part of the internet address that ends in .com or .net) with no actual website at all.

You don’t always know what you’ll end up with when someone says they’ll “create a website” for you. When they’re done, you may still have a lot of hard work left before you can show it to anyone.

wheredyougo2. Hey! Where’d You Go?

If you’re lucky, that friend may actually take it all the way. They may help you secure your domain name, set up the shell of your website, and even create all of your pages for you. You just might have a super-generous friend who really does intend to walk with you all the way through to the finish line!

But that’s the next problem. Your website project has a finish line.

For them.

After the initial excitement dies down and you’re serving miles away, that friend is on to the next project. Meanwhile, your ministry is growing and changing. It’s time to update your website, but nobody is available to help. Even if you can find another ministry-minded friend who is willing to volunteer their time to help you maintain your website, they can’t do anything without the administrator username and password.

Time to ask that old friend and see if they can find it for you.

If you can reach them.

didntwork3. Hey! That Didn’t Work!

But maybe, just maybe, your friend was extremely prepared. You have the username and password. They even left you a document explaining how to keep your site up to date.

You open the document, click a link, and log in with your username and password.

Success!

But when you start walking through the instructions, your victory is short-lived.

What you’re seeing on your website doesn’t match the document. You don’t know whether your friend forgot to write down some steps, whether the website management system changed after the document was written, or what. All you know is that following the document isn’t working.

You start to think that you’re just not technical enough to change your website.

So, feeling defeated, you let it sit. Over time, it starts to resemble an abandoned house, getting more and more out of date.

At least some of what it says about your ministry still makes sense.

pwned4. Hey! Where’d That Come From?

Then, the unthinkable happens.

You get an email from a member of a supporting church. “Your website is just a picture of a skull. It says you’ve been PWNED. What does that mean?”

Or worse – “Did you know your website has links to pornography sites on it?” (Yes, this really happened.)

Your website was built using common website management software. Long ago, the company that wrote that software released fixes to prevent hacker attacks like these, but nobody has applied those fixes to your website to protect it. Your website is still vulnerable.

And embarrassing.

And that free website has suddenly become a serious problem for your ministry.

OK, What Do You Suggest Instead?

free website has hidden dangers and risks like those I just mentioned. On the other hand, a Free* website (note the little star) has limits, obligations, or expectations that are explicitly stated somewhere in fine print.

Those limits, obligations, and expectations are what allow a Free* model to remain sustainable. They help whoever is making the offer to be around when you need them later.

Your questions after last week’s article reminded me that I had forgotten to include the little star (*) after the word “free” in Edify Hub’s offer, and I failed to explain how Edify Hub’s Free* website works. I should take care of that now.

So here it is:

* See Website FAQ at https://www.edifyhub.com/website-faq for details.

Clear?

Um, Thanks. Could You Summarize That For Me?

Sure. I’ll summarize. Here’s the gist of Edify Hub’s Free* website offer:

  • The five-minute setup process creates a customized, complete starter missionary website at no charge.
  • The missionary is allowed – even encouraged – to create new content to personalize the website. There is no arbitrary limit on the number of pages, menus, blog posts, photos, etc.
  • No payment information is collected during setup.
  • Edify Hub places no forced advertising on the missionary’s website.
  • Edify Hub offers free access to the support center, containing detailed, up-to-date instructions on managing website content.
  • The website continues at no charge for as long as the missionary continues to keep it updated.
    • Under the Free* plan, websites with no updates for thirty days may be deactivated or deleted. (Advanced notice and reminders will be given before a website is deactivated.)
    • Blog posts and changes to pages, menus, or widget content are all considered “updates.”
  • Additional features are available as paid upgrades.

It’s those last two points that make the biggest difference between Edify Hub’s Free* website and a free website from a friend.

Making paid upgrades available provides a source of income to cover the costs of keeping the Free* websites running and protected from hackers. That income also provides the funds to continually improve the support center and to make future features available, streamlining missionary communication even further.

Requiring frequent updates for Free* websites does two things. First, it keeps the missionary engaged so they never forget how to manage their website. Updating monthly, they’ll always feel completely empowered to handle their website communication. Second, this requirement supports good stewardship. Edify Hub will keep paying for the Free* websites only when they’re actually providing value for someone.

Yes, it sure seems like a great idea to accept the offer of a friend to create a free website for you. If you expect to stay in ministry for a while, you may want to look into a Free* one instead.

Take Action

Are you a missionary looking for a website? Do you know of one?

Find out how you can get an invitation code to create a Free* missionary website from Edify Hub.

 

(* See Website FAQ at https://www.edifyhub.com/website-faq for details.)

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