Kick’in the Tires on Drupal

As most of our family and friends know, Casey and I attend Grace Baptist Church in Grand Forks. We’ve been regular attendees for over three years now, and can’t say enough good things about it.

I inherited the church website from a friend in late 2004, and managed to do a complete overhaul of it in the first half of last year in between work and my accounting class. On the backend, I used a web publishing system called ExpressionEngine to keep track of the content. EE is pretty good at what it does, which is mainly managing blogs. However, using it to organize very un-blog-like stuff requires some extra work and a lot of smashing square pegs into round holes.

Grace Baptist Church Website

Since publishing the initial redesign last summer, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve hardly touched it. We posted sermon audio for a short time and the church staff posts weekly announcements, but otherwise things are pretty stagnant. I have a lot of ideas for what the Grace Baptist website can and should be, so I’m looking to make this a regular ministry again.

To accommodate some of the new features I want to add, including sermon podcasts, a real event calendar, staff blogs, study materials, and more, I’m considering ripping out the site foundation (ExpressionEngine) and replacing it with something else. Since I successfully relaunched the Edutech using Movable Type last year, it was my initial front-runner. Even more than EE however, running a fairly complex website on Movable Type requires some imagination and compromise. I love it for blogging (it’s powering this site), but the thought of using it as the back-end of Grace’s website doesn’t site very well with me.

So, I’m considering a new option: Drupal. I’ve heard that name many times during my career as a web developer, but never took any time to investigate. Then, two weeks ago I heard a very good conversation about it on an Inside the Net podcast while scraping wallpaper off our bathroom walls. Jeff Robbins of Lullabot talked about the virtues of this open source content management system, including its ability to handle practically any kind of data you want to throw at it. This means we could store sermon information in a format that makes sense instead of just putting everything in a weblog entry body.

The prospect is exciting, but I don’t want to get too enthused until I’m convinced making the move would be worth the time and effort. Looking at the Drupal documentation is daunting, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to easily create a theme that looks and acts how the site currently does. The templating appears to be done in pure PHP, so it shouldn’t be all that difficult.

I’m hoping to do a little prototyping this week to determine if this is an idea I should stick with, or should dump now instead of later. Here’s hoping it turns out!

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