How to choose a domain for your church website – A Beginner’s Guide

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On the surface, the concept of a domain is simple. It is the address for your website. However, when you look under the surface, the topic goes quite deep. The domain you choose for your church website is a very important decision. In this comprehensive guide, we will cover the entire domain selection process: from understanding what domains are, to thinking through what domain to choose, and the final registration process.

Crash course in domains

What is a domain?

It is common mistake to confuse a domain with a website. A domain (sometimes called a domain name) is the address of a website – not the website itself. You might think of a domain like the license plate for a car or a cell phone number assigned to a mobile phone. It requires a special registration, is unique, can only have one owner, and can be connected with any website you choose.

If you’ve ever heard the term URL, this is another term that means the same thing. URL = domain = website address.

Domains are registered through a domain registrar (a company that manages domain registrations) and added to the registry (a database of domain names). Once registered, there will be a public record that can be viewed through a whois (think, who is?…) search. This enables anyone to find out who owns a domain and how to get in touch with them. Check out Apple.com’s whois results as an example. This entire system is overseen by a non-profit organization called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).

What is DNS

DNS stands for Domain Name System. DNS is a way for devices and servers to find and communicate with one another on the internet. There are different types of DNS records which work differently and exist for specific purposes. Website owners typically do not need to be concerned with their domain’s DNS servers except for a few common situations. If you have your domain registered with one company but need to connect it to your website at a different company, you may need to adjust the Name Servers or A records. If you are setting up hosted email that will make use of your domain, you may need to set up MX and a few other types of records.

If you want to see some live examples, type any domain into the search bar at whatsmydns.net. This will give you a readout of the which DNS records are being detected by servers around the world.

What to know before registering a domain name for your church website

Within a matter of minutes, anyone can find a registrar and register a new domain. That said, there are some important things to keep in mind about how domain registrations work before committing to a domain registration.

Do I have to use a .org domain for a church website?

The part of a domain that comes after the dot is called the TLD or extension. (i.e., churchsitehero.com – the .com is the extension) TLD stands for “Top Level Domain”. Most are familiar with the common TLDs: .com, .org, .net, .gov, .edu. There are more than 1,500 TLDs that can be used for a domain. For a church website, you will not run into any restrictions for the type of TLD you use. Extensions are chosen based on the type of website the domain is being used for. Most churches use a .org extension given that their church is a type of organization. It is also becoming more common to see churches uses the .church extension which has been available since 2014. NameCheap offers both .org domains as well as .church.

Can I ever change my church’s website address?

As we discussed above, a domain is similar to a cell phone number or license plate for a vehicle. Once registered, they cannot be altered. If you accidentally registered a domain with a typo, or with a mistake, you will not be able to change it. To fix a mistake in a domain, you must register a new domain name. Different registrars have different cancellation and refund policies, so pay attention to that. The worst case scenario is you are out the cost of a bad domain, which is a relatively small expense.

What can I include in my domain name?

You can use numbers, letters, and hyphens in your domain. Domain names also do not take into account capitalization. While you can use capitalization in promotional or marketing materials, they will be ignored in a web browser. For example, I can advertise my website as ChurchSiteHero.com, but typing this into a browser will be viewed the same as churchsitehero.com.

Do I need to use “www” in my website address?

This is an interesting topic. Using “www” in your website address is not actually required and is seen as many as an unnecessary and an outdated practice. At one point years ago it was necessary to differentiate websites from other protocols that were utilizing the internet. It is still somewhat common to see domains appear in a browser with the “www” as well as displayed in marketing material with the www, but it is more of a preference or expectation. Most domain providers will allow you to have both the “www” version and “non-www” version of the domain direct to your website, and then allow you to choose which of the two is display in the browser.

Tips for selecting a domain for your church website

Now that we have a foundational understanding of domains and how they work, we are ready to start thinking through domain ideas. Your church domain will be utilized in a number of ways, including printed material and verbal promotion (such as Sunday morning announcements, or in conversation). Here are a few guidelines to help you think through the process.

Avoid making your domain too long

Many experts suggest that a domain name should not exceed 15-17 characters in length. There can be a temptation to use your full church name as your domain name to ensure there is no confusion for which church the website belongs to. If your church happens to have a lengthly name, this can make it difficult to use for your website address. While it may not be difficult to say verbally, it can be cumbersome to type a long domain into a web browser.

For example, let’s say your church is South Main Street United Church of Christ. The following domain would not be advisable: southmainstreetunitedchurchofchrist.org.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get creative in order to shorten the domain. The most common way to shorten your domain is to use initials (such as southmainUCC.org). In fact, you may already refer to your church with abbreviations like this.

Another alternative is to use a town or street name, some other phrasing within the domain, or even a slogan or motto. A great way to get ideas is simply to see what other local or regional churches are doing. Here is a list of ideas to inspire you:

  • southmainUCC.org
  • weareUCC.org
  • cometoUCC.org
  • UCCHouston.org
  • southmainUCC.church
  • UCClovesHouston.org

Avoid confusion or ambiguity

Be aware that the use of “1st” versus “first” can be a point confusion. You might mention to someone in conversation to visit your church website: 1stUMCTopeca.com. It may not be obvious that they will need to type in “1st” rather than “first”. You then may need to clarify this each time the website is mentioned.

I will note that this may not be completely avoidable as “First” may be part of your church name and essential to include in the domain. Just be aware that how it is used may require that bit of explanation.

The same can be said for hyphens. In general, I advise to avoid hyphens in any domain if possible. This, too, may require explanation each time you mention your website verbally.

What if the domain I want is not available?

If you search for a domain to register and it is not available, this means that someone else already has registered that exact domain. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about this short of contacting the owner and asking to buy the domain. This can sometimes be frustrating, especially if the domain is not actively being used on a website.

If you find that the domain you want is already taken, you will need to choose another option. At this point, it can be tempting to throw a hyphen into the domain, therefore making it unique. But again, I advise looking for other alternatives before using a hyphen.

How to register your church website domain

There are many domain registrars and they are not all equal. If you do some web searching and check a few out, you may notice a wide range of price points.

If you want a recommendation, I suggest NameCheap.com. This is what I use for many of my domains and I have never been disappointed. NameCheap is recommended by many professionals as a reliable and affordable option for managing domain names. GoDaddy.com is another great affordable option and they offer discounts. Both NameCheap and GoDaddy support .org and .church domains.

As I shared above, don’t worry if your domain is registered somewhere different from where your website is hosted. This will not be an issue as you can still seamlessly connect your domain to your website. That said, both NameCheap and GoDaddy offer hosting, so it is certainly an option to have your website and domain managed under one account.

Going through the domain registration process

To get started, visit either of the above links, or any other registrar of your choice. There will be a search bar on the front page where you can type in your desired domain to see if it is available. Most registrars provide some handy tools for browsing through different domain ideas and alternatives to help in the selection process.

You likely will see some discounts offered – especially if this is your first domain. Pay attention to the discount amount as it often is only offered for the first year. After that, the domain will renew annually at the full price.

Once you select your domain, you will be taken through the registration process. During this process, you will be required to provide contact information. To ensure you can be reached by the domain provider, you will be required to verify the email address you use for your contact information. So be sure to check your email and click the link provided or else this may hold up the domain registration process.

About Domain Privacy and SSL Certificates

Domain Privacy is an option that registrars will offer in order to hide your private contact information. Domains are listed in a public database and anyone can view certain details about any domain. When Domain Privacy is enabled, the domain provider will be listed as the proxy owner and they will act as the go-between for anyone who wants to reach you, the domain owner. Without domain privacy you are also susceptible to being hassled by spammers, which can be quite a nuisance. NameCheap, as well as other providers, will offer this feature for free. Other providers charge extra for this.

SSL (Secure Socket Layer) Certificates are also commonly offered by registrars. These are important to have for security reasons. SSL Certificates offer encryption for information flowing between the web server and those visiting your website. This is generally a best practice on the internet. The main thing to keep in mind here is that your hosting provider may provide you with a free SSL Certificate, even if your domain name is not registered with them. For example, my domain is registered with NameCheap, but my website is hosted with SiteGround. SiteGround provides me with a free SSL Certificate so I don’t need to pay for it at NameCheap.

To see this in action, take a look at the address bar of your browser. You should see something similar to this when the website you are visiting has an SSL Certificate.

A lock and an "s" in "https" indicates there is an SSL Cirtificate and the website is secure.
The lock and the “s” indicate that this domain has an active SSL Certificate

A few more tips for registering and managing your domain name

You can register your domain any time – even if you are not ready to build your website. Many people who build websites will register a domain name the moment they have an idea for a website. When you are ready to launch your website, you can then connect your domain to it. Registering your domain sooner than later can help ensure you get the domain name you want.

Nothing is permanent. While changing your domain name down the line might not be ideal (especially if you have it printed everywhere), it is certainly an option. You may have a different idea for your domain, or your church may undergo some type of name change or merger. So rest assured that you are not stuck with your domain for life.

You can transfer your domain from one provider to another. If you decide that you want to move the registration of your domain from one provider to another (maybe for a lower cost, or different features), you can do so. Keep in mind that brand new domains cannot be transferred for 60 days (this is a standard restriction that providers must follow). Also, if you transfer a domain, then change your mind, you also have to wait 60 days. Domain transfer processes are generally the same across providers and can take anywhere from 1 to 7 days to complete.

Cancelling a domain can cause you to lose the domain forever. Woah – I know that sounds drastic! However, it’s good to know what is at stake. If you cancel a domain, it can be registered by someone else and there is the risk you can never use it again. Be careful when cancelling a domain. If you want to move your domain from one provider to another, the better option is to transfer the domain (see above). The one possible exception to this is if you can cancel the domain immediately after it was registered. Before doing so, consult the domain provider to find out if the domain will be released right away and if a refund will be offered.

Domain expiration can cause you to lose your domain. Make sure your billing is up to date and that you are being notified of upcoming renewals. If your domain is not renewed because of a payment issue, there will be a grace period, but eventually the domain will expire. This can cause many issues, including your website going down, email going down, and the potential loss of the domain. To avoid this, set up automatic renewals for your domain provider and set reminders on your calendar to ensure you are paying attention when the renewal comes around each year.

Final thoughts on choosing a domain for your church website

I hope this guide has been helpful in helping you understand and make it through the domain selection process for your church website! Just remember that nothing is permanent. Discuss your ideas with different people to come up with a domain that makes sense for your church. Pick something that sets you apart from other churches in your area, and one that let’s your community know who you are.

When chosen well, you can use this same domain for decades to come! In the end, it has the potential to become a destination for people to find your invitation to community and hope.

There are many steps to creating a church website and it can be overwhelming. Take out the guesswork with the Free Roadmap!

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