A web host is the computer on which the documents of your web site reside. There are many different options available for hosting a web site, ranging in cost from free to hundreds of dollars a month. This page describes some of the options and the suitability of each for a religious organization's web site.
There are two free hosting options many people are familiar with. The first is the web space that comes along with an Internet access account; this web hosting is intended for personal use. The other commonly known free web hosting solution is on a free web hosting service like GeoCities or AngelFire. I do not recommend either of these options for hosting the web site for a religious organization.
I advise against hosting your organization's web site in the bonus web space that comes along with Internet access because it usually has very few features and if you ever have to change Internet service providers, you'll have to move your web site. Also, because this web hosting is intended for personal use, it is not necessarily as reliable as other options.
The offerings of web hosts like GeoCities or AngelFire has changed significantly over the last couple of years, as those companies have discovered that all-free services isn't a very viable business model. Now, I believe, they offer a free hosting service with very limited features, and for-fee plans with more features. If you're thinking about paying a small monthly fee for hosting, then you might as well find a low-cost web host that better suits your needs.
This is the option that I feel is most appropriate for many religious organizations, in my experience. With this option, your organization goes out and contracts with a web host for web site hosting. Typically, contracted web site hosting is a separate service from internet access, though many ISPs offer web hosting as well, and may offer a discount if you get both your Internet access and web hosting from them. The point is, though, that you're explicitly paying for hosting services, and that it's not a bonus feature of your Internet access.
There are literally thousands of low-cost hosts available, and you can usually find suitable hosting packages for under $25/month. The main considerations are finding a web host that serves your current and anticipated needs, and a web host that seems reliable and stable. Some of the specific factors to take into consideration when finding a web host are explored below:
|Feature||Description and Comments|
|Disk space allotment||Most hosting plans offer a minimum of 20 megabytes of disk storage space for the files in your web site. That should be sufficient for most small sites, unless you have some specific disk space needs. It's good to know, however, what the fees are for exceeding your disk space allotment.|
|Allows your own domain(s)||Whether or not the web host allows you to point one or more domains at your web site. See Getting a Domain Name to see if this applies to your site.|
|Bandwidth allotment||Refers to the amount of bandwidth consumed each month by the total of all files requested from the web. Unless you have some specific need such as big file downloads or streaming audio or video files, it shouldn't be a concern: the common minimums of 1-2 gigabytes/month should be sufficient. It's good to know, however, what the web host's fee structure is for exceeding your bandwidth allotment.|
|Microsoft FrontPage Support||FrontPage is a common web site authoring tool. If you use it for your web site, you get all kinds of added features if your hosting account supports it.|
|FTP Access||Whether or not you can copy files to your web site using FTP. Important depending on how you author your web site. Most hosts allow FTP access.|
|E-mail features||If you have your own domain, then you probably want to have e-mail accounts using that domain. There are a variety of e-mail features that web hosts offer, including the number of regular e-mail accounts you can set up, if you can configure them yourself, if you can set up auto-responders and e-mail forwarding, etc.|
|Customer support||Most inexpensive web hosts offer minimal technical support, and it can take many forms: from FAQs on the web host's web site to live phone support. Decide what level of support the people who will be working on your web site are comfortable with.|
|Mailing lists||If you want people to be able to subscribe to mailing lists, for example of newsletters or weekly sermons.|
|Streaming audio/video||Useful if you want, for example, people to listen to recordings from your web site. I don't know much about streaming audio and video.|
|Shell/Telnet/SSH access||Command-line access to your web site. An advanced feature usually only for geeks.|
|Programming Features||There are a variety of programming features that you may want, including pre-installed scripts for doing things like feedback forms, the ability to run custom scripts, support for scripted web page languages like ASP and PHP.|
|Uptime guarantees and backups||What promise does the web host make about the availability of your web site or backups (you should always maintain your own backups regardless)|
|Web-based control applications||Some web hosts offer online tools for managing your site.|
A number of religious affiliations offer free or inexpensive web hosting for their affiliated groups. You should check to see whether such arrangements are available for your group. But, make sure to evaluate these arrangements the same way you would a commercial web host: reliability, features, etc.
We used to maintain a list of links to affiliated web hosting offers, but they are too numerous and change too often for us to keep up with. Our apologies. To find out whether your congregation's affiliation offers web hosting, we suggest you visit the affiliation's main web site, if it has one, and inquire there. Also, you might try searching on google.com for the words web site hosting plus the name of our affiliation. I did a search for web site hosting united methodist church, and it did return information about that denomination's web hosting offer for congregations.
Web hosting is a rapidly changing and competitive business. Our previous web host (for religiousresources.org and aphids.com) was sold two times in the space of about three years, with some amount of confusion and changing terms of service each time. It's tough to gauge whether or not a given web host is reliable and whether it will continue to be in business six months from now. Get recommendations and seek others' input whenever possible. A search on Google for 'web host reviews' turned up a number of sites that purport to review web hosts or offer forums for people to post their experiences. Those sites might be valuable, though I would approach those sites with skepticism. I suspect some of them are just fronts for particular web hosts or have business arrangements with particular web hosts to try to direct customers toward those hosts.
We host religiousresources.org and aphids.com and all the different web sites under those domains at FutureQuest. When we moved from our previous web host, we went through a lengthy process to identify our needs and to find a web host that met those needs (in our case, primarily bandwidth and programming needs). In addition, I investigated the reputation of the web hosts we identified. I selected FutureQuest because it got good reviews at a site that allowed people to post their opinions about web hosts and because, when I investigated the FutureQuest web site, they came across as very professional and tech-savvy. For instance, I noticed that FutureQuest offers forums where their customers can communicate about technical issues, which is nice. That allowed me to read posts from current FutureQuest customers (which was all very positive). Also, I noticed that employees of FutureQuest frequently responded to questions, and that the customers who posted to the forums seemed familiar with the FutureQuest employees and happy with their service. We've been very happy with FutureQuest.
Next topic: Promoting Your Web Site