Welcome to the Geeks & God Static Archive. Read more »
" "

Drupal Church Distribution


You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

Drupal is a powerful tool to build websites. But, for most church tech volunteers and staff looking to build a good church website it isn't the easiest tool for the job. Drupal provides a framework to build a site. For developers this is fantastic flexibility to build amazing sites. Your typical church tech person isn't a developer crafting sites for a living.

This week we talk about the idea of a drupal distribution for churches. A tool that collects information at installation and builds a church website. This would contain the full power of drupal while providing a simple interface a church volunteer could understand.



Not sure this is the proper reference, but the Palantir is the orb that allows the wizards (and Aragorn) in the Lord of the Rings to communicate with others who have the orbs and "see far distances", etc...


You're Right

And you win... bragging rights.

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host

Yes, I am the geekiest of the geeks :)

Except I'm not a Trekkie. Stargate, yes, Star Wars, absolutely. So, I'm also a designer, not a programmer, so I think I'm more of a psuedo-geek.



Actually the Seeings Stones were used by the Kings of Gondor first and later were taken by Sauron and Saruman when they captured locations that had the stones. Aragorn could use the stone because he was the rightful heir to the Kingdom of Gondor.


Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, was also using the stone, unwisely, and Sauron was manipulating him through it. I would assume the reference for Matt's employer is that the company is "visionary"...


BZR on shared hosting


Hey Guys,

Great Episode, just wanted to make a coment to Rob where he was talking about wanting to use version control but said he may not be able to on shared hosts. From what I've seen most hosts offer svn so you can create a local repository, it just means you can't access it over http. I use BZR on HostGator, it's not usually on ther but because it is written in python, any linux shell that has python installed should run it.

When I first went to install it, I had problems because the version of python was too low but there's a sneaky way around that to alias in a new version of python so you can use a later version without having permissions to install new software. At work we use SVN but I think that BZR is the way to go ! (Hopefully I haven't just started a flame war the size of the editor wars !)

Cheers guys.

Drupal Distribution

This is something that has been on my heart for a long time. I am the web guy for a non-profit organisation in Canada that caters to youth ministry and I see a lot of youth group websites that are either non-existant or based on static html which means they never get updated. I started a post here where I ask what the best way would be to meet this need so when I heard was listening to this podcast on my way to work on the bus I had to control myself from saying "yes" out loud - haha.

Originally my idea was to create a drupal site with OG module and allow each church to create their own OG and that would serve for their youth site, however I like the idea of a distribution and would like to be involved with it. I totally agree with what you guys are saying about requiring $$ to do it as it is a very time intensive project that is being considered here.

There are many items that need to be considered, some of these are: How can we be guaranteed a return on our investment? Because the project would be web based and the people working on it would be all over the world I think there might be a concern about accountability and people would have to be assured that they are not going to get scammed (this could be a concern). Also how can the result be guaranteed? If someone is giving money I am likely going to assume they want to know that the project will be completed which means that all the money would have to be accounted for before the project begins which means that the money they give might sit there for a few years before the project starts. Probably the best way to do this would be to ask for pledges that would become due when the project starts.

This is a project that has been on my heart for a few years and I would like to try to move forward. At this point moving forward essentially means having a big discussion about what this project would look like and what some of the steps are required to getting it done. Honestly I feel the success of this project will be more based on fundraising/administration/management and less on technical coding/theming (because you can hire people to do this).

Let me know if you want to discuss further. I'll send some emails out to people I know that work at church conferences to get their input.

We are interested

If you listen through the podcast you'll know that we are very interested. We came to the same conclusion that it's a money/admin type thing more than technical.

We would be glad to talk about solving this problem.

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host

Version Control


Coming from a programming background version control is an issue very close to my heart. Working at my church I have come across several projects where there are fifteen different versions of the same file and no one has a clue what the most recent or authoritative copy is. Obviously this is a recipe for confusion.

On programming projects I typically use Subversion because it is fairly simple, widely supported, and any computer programmer worth their salt is going to be able to look at the commands and have a fairly good grasp of what each does.

When working with non-programmers I have had a terrible time finding a version control system that is intuitive enough for a new person to come on board without a terribly steep learning curve, yet feature filled enough to be able to work with a large number of people without everyone being frustrated. Here are two solutions I've found for version control when not dealing with a team of programmers.

  • Google Apps for Office Documents
    An often overlooked segment of the version control topic is Office Documents. The majority of the data that a church or non-profit organization needs to keep track of will typically fall into the realm of word documents and spreadsheets. Google Apps provides a great, intuitive interface for dealing with version control and to allow real time collaboration on most office documents. It's intuitive enough for a novice, but also very feature filled.
  • Dropbox for Multimedia Projects
    I've recently been using Dropbox on several projects where I need to collaborate with designers (love my artsy friends, but notoriously terrible at using version control). Dropbox doesn't require the use of commit and checkout commands like more developer centric solutions tend to. Instead Dropbox monitors the file system and when there is a change to a file it automatically updates the repository as well as everyone's local versions of the file. This has several benefits but a lot of disadvantages. I'll go write a review on the gandg Dropbox review if your interested in hearing my complete list of advantages and disadvantages (biggest disadvantage is not being able to exclude files from versioning imho). But still at my church we are using this in several projects, from developing the Sunday Service to developing the website, across staff and volunteers and we love it.

Sorry so verbose, but I wanted to throw my two cents in. The church centric drupal distro is an excellent idea. Loved this episode.

Hosted SVN

I've found that WushNet is an easy and cost-effective SVN host. Their support has been great.

We use this for a complex document authoring/sales force/support team repository for one client. With little admin or maintenance effort, we just had to supply brief "cookbook" directions for OS file integration, browser access, and preferred SVN clients by OS, and the widespread, non-coder users have found the flexibility and functions to be very effective.

(No affiliation, just a happy customer.)

Please Talk About Version Control

You guys teased us a little bit with version control. I, for one, would love an episode devoted to using version control in a web development environment—including all the technical and practical details you didn't want to get into in this episode. Thanks for all your hard work. :)

Interesting podcast

Interesting podcast, and although I have not yet taken any steps in using Drupal, I certainly intend to soon. MF is obviously not Mr Spock, as he never said "Live long and prosper" or "That is illogical". Thus it would be illogical to conclude that MF is Spock.

May you both live long and prosper, and enjoy your summer break from the podcast. It will also give me a chance to catch up on some of your old ones. I am going through the Drupal series, as I really want to get into this, and recommend it to my church.

Very interested in a church distro

Hey guys,

This was a great podcast. I just started professional Drupal development but have been a PHP developer for seven years now. I am also responsible for developing my church's website and initially looked into doing it with Drupal. Unfortunately, because of the steep learning curve, I was afraid that it would be too much to maintain for the team.

Anyway, I'd be very interested in developing a church distro with you guys. I know you needed sponsorships more than volunteers right now but I was so inspired by this episdoe that I wanted to offer some help in whatever way I can.

Happy vacationing!!

Getting the ball rolling....

The idea for a 'distribution' customised for churches does excite me, it appears logical that there is a 'business model' makes sense...

However, here are a few ideas to think about....


  • 30 - Conservative number of churches who 'may' choose this distribution...
  • 20 - Conservative number of churches who want their website hosted...
  • $5000 - Average website to set-up
  • $250 - Estimated price ($20/month) for hosting per annum

Income Calculations

  • $150,000 - Value of 30 churches paying for set-up of distribution
  • $5000 - Value of 20 churches hosting per annum

I started writing this thinking this was a winner... Then I carried out a quick analysis of the numbers...

The bottom line, this is a BIG commitment that without a number of large benefactors, the costs may outweigh the benefits...

There is a lot more to think and pray about before we move to the next step, and I hope I have helped contribute in a positive way to this discussion.



  1. http://www.squarespace.com/pricing
  2. http://acquia.com
  3. http://www.bryght.com

distro not biz plan

We weren't looking for a business plan for a distro. There are companies that build drupal sites for churches (like Mustardseed Media) and can stay in business.

When you get into hosting and a managed hosted distro you get into support which is a big deal. If you are going to do that well it's a huge commitment.

When we were talking about a distro it's for someone to download and install themselves. It's not a business plan. A distro would not be tied to a business. The play is not to make money. It's about helping churches get better sites. It's about doing this inexpensively as a group and helping the church support each other.

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host

Money money money...

Hey Matt,

I 'did the numbers' not as a business plan, but to prove to myself that it would be easily possible to promote this to 'investors' (developers, churches, etc) as a worthy opportunity..

I believe the challenge in this idea (IMHO) will be the ongoing support, not raising the money for the development...

The ongoing support will require LONG TERM commitment from a large group of very dedicated people...

I encourage the G&G community to GET BEHIND this project, I would be prepared to seed some money to get this started, perhaps in the form of a most requested FEATURES page...

Anyway, hope this helps!


Drupal Distributions


Developmentseed just release Open Atrium (drupal distro) yesterday. It can be found at http://openatrium.com/. I am already testing it at the university I work at for group collaboration. This may also be a great tool for church small groups.. ala the site that Matt and Rob setup for their church a couple of years ago.

Check out the docs for Open Atrium and how they have set it up for expandability. I think this is a great example of doing a distribution right (at least the launch). Many things we can learn from for a church distro.

On the revision system discussion. Would be great to do more on this in the future. I use SVN because there are GUI clients for my buddies who need that and there is so much documentation on creating deployment system with Drupal using SVN. git may be in my future, but it will be a bit of time for my core VCS.


Mark Shropshire "shrop"
Geeks & God Forums Moderator

Southern Baptists

The Southern Baptist Convention has a very good vision for reaching the world and has attempted to stay current in web trends. It seems someone like them would be a good supporter. As an active member of the SBC I would gladly offer them this info. They are currently using http://www.sbc.net/redirect.asp?url=http://www.lif... who charges a significant chunk of change for their services. Can anyone good with numbers estimate the savings over time of a free drupal "Christro"?

Drupal for Churches "Features WIKI" at groups.drupal.org

To get some traction, I have started a WIKI over at groups.drupal.org feel free to add/edit to the feature suggestions.

I hope we can start moving...


Money, Money, Money

My post did not mean to suggest it was all about money. It obviously is about Mission. However if a church organization is paying 10,000 a year for web integration and their means of encouraging churches within that organization is to "see the people that do our web stuff" to set up your site, money could be a motivating factor for them to support the project knowing it will be easy for other/new/missionary churches to hop on board. I would think that the idea of a denomination-wide site(s) that is/are very similar yet allows for distinction from church to church or culture to culture would be very attractive. I think the money issue will surely be important but not as important as Vision.

Individual vs Large Scale

I think there is a difference here between an individual instance and the ability to set this up on a large scale.

For a denomination to roll out a bunch of sites it's not all that hard once you have the first site thanks to Bryght/Raincity Studios and Development Seed. If you have a drupal distro or install profile there is a set of tools for managing them and rolling out new sites with a few clicks of the mouse.

So, you take a distro (like drupal for churches) and set it up with the tools for managing mass sites and you're ready to go.

To take it from a single church using this to a larger scale isn't all that hard. It's just an extra layer of work.

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host


Did anyone hear the recent lullabot podcast on distributions? Seems like they too are realizing it is hard but they are hoping it will be much easier in D7 and that more people will start making distributions. They also discuss the potential 'forking' that can happen if people only play with their distribution and don't contribute back to drupal.org.

Giving back

I agreed with those lullabot sentiments. Any distribution we do would have anything we can being contributed back. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host

Hosted Option

Great podcast and great idea.

I think the biggest challenge is on the "user" side... who will be able to install it and, more importantly, update security patches, etc.

Even if it is simple to install and simple to update, you will still have large numbers of churches who don't update, or keep up with updates, or just assume "no one would want to hack my church's site..." Or, the person who originally installed it and had the technical expertise is no longer there or doesn't have time to watch it anymore...

I think the best way to support churches is to provide a hosted option, where the sites are maintained and patched and the church is only responsible for the content...

Don Cranford
Sterling, VA

No Argument

A hosted option is not as easy as it may seem. Bryght, which offered a drupal hosted option, recently closed it's doors. Lullabot is working on Buzzr but, it's taking the route of a hosted website building platform on top of drupal. This is the kind of thing a church would need and it's not so simple to build (even with drupal), maintain, and support.

But, churches seem to be willing to pay a fee for this and there are several companies that provide hosted church building solutions.

I just want people to appreciate that it's not simple, it's not fast to create, and it's not cheap.

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host

It is absolutely challenging

I couldn't agree more. It is a huge effort to create and maintain. But then again, none of it is truly easy. Even building the website is very complex and requires a lot of knowledge, thought and effort. Anyone can throw some pages up on a server, but when you start looking at design, information architecture, SEO, semantics, coding, and on and on, it can become extremely involved and complex.

I think of it kind of like playing the guitar. It is really easy to learn to play the guitar, but it is really, really challenging to truly master the guitar.

Don Cranford
Sterling, VA

Yup, hosting is really hard to do at scale

Acquia has been working pretty hard to figure out large-scale hosting for Drupal. You may have seen that we have previewed a project we're code-naming Gardens. The goal of Gardens is to be for Drupal what WordPress.com is for WordPress (the open source project): A place where anybody can come, point-click, and have a Drupal site.

We've spent a great deal of engineering time to build up a hosting capability that supports "many" Drupal sites. The details would be gruesome to hear. Let's just say that doing something like Bryght, or ..., is not for the faint of heart, nor for those without a large sum of cash to invest.

Note: To accomplish this, Gardens won't be like your standard shared hosting, where you can do whatever you want with your site. It'll have bounds. Which means that it won't be obvious how to deploy this "Church Distribution" within Gardens - at least in R1.

Note 2: Building a "distribution" is surprisingly hard. Ask anybody who has tried to do so. The issue isn't building it once; the expensive and hard part is keeping up with it every time the code that makes up the distribution changes. For instance, we commit to putting out an updated version of Acquia Drupal within 24 hours after the Drupal security team issues an update for any module included in our distribution. Packaging that distribution in all the versions we provide it (.tar.gz, .dmg, .exe, .zip, etc.) takes a few man-days, including not just the packaging but running a set of tests against both the code and the packaging. This, of course, assumes the security patch doesn't have side-effects on other modules. You need to have built your business around the economics of doing this - or it will eat you alive. (It's still unknown whether it will work for us, though we're making a well managed attempt at it.)

I don't want to be a nay-sayer here. A Church Distribution would be excellent, IMHO. I've been trying to figure out how to move my church's website to Drupal - something that sorely needs done. A distro would really help.

So I'm quite supportive of this. But - whomever is saying this is going to take somebody to fund the development of it was absolutely right. A large denomination with a healthy budget would be a good thing.

@katalyst. I think that what

@katalyst. I think that what you present is exactly how you can generate some extra income to pay for hosting and ongoing development - You charge a nominal fee to upload the files to ftp and setup the mysql database and you can also charge to install the updates.

First Thing - Funding


I totally agree that funding must happen, and that isn't likely to happen by mistake.

Sounds like the first thing that is needed is a fund raiser. (Well, right after project manager.) Someone who is skilled in the area of "development" in a non-profit sense (Read: professional money gatherer) would have a strong idea of how to get this opportunity presented to major potential donors such as the SBC mentioned above or others. The money is out there, but it needs to be found and finding it requires someone with serious skills in this area, much like was talked about with photoshop skills, project management skills, etc.

Technical people, are rarely good at raising funds. (I can assure you this from personal experience.)

On a side note, I'd also hope to see a lot of opportunity to give back to drupal in order to make distribution building easier. It is really a pain to put one together now. I expect that'll settle in and become a point of interest post-D7.

Drupal.org page updates

I did a bunch of edits to the groups.drupal.org wiki page on this topic. The resulting table got so long that I did a bit of reorganization to group topics into functionally-related areas.

I also double-checked the (old) Church Drupal Best Practices wiki page to make sure all the concepts from there got rolled into this one - or nuked some as appropriate....

Hopefully this was helpful.

Also pulled in concepts from The City

I footnoted The City at the bottom of the Wiki page. Zondervan publishing bought out a SaaS provider operating this service that helps Churches organize their members.

In grand open source tradition, a good Drupal distribution could obviate the need for this commercial offering. (Or, a commercial SaaS service could at least compete with it.)

Thanks for the update

Thanks for the updates to the groups pages.

I agree that a good drupal distro could compete with something like The City. I'm curious what the interest would be from end users (church tech people) for such a distro and a SaaS for the distro.

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host


Hey guys,
I just wanted to give a big kudos on the work and discussion that's happened on this topic over on groups.drupal. It's awesome to see people stepping up and throwing around ideas!! I'm thinking this podcast break has been a great way to let others step up a bit on these issues.

Thanks for all the work on this! Here's to hoping it can materialize into something in the coming months or years!

-Rob Feature
Geeks and God Co-Host

Hey Rob, Can you provide a

Hey Rob,
Can you provide a link to the discussion on groups.drupal? I haven't run across it there.


Hey Dude