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A Church Website Powered by WordPress: What to Know

It’s possible you’ve heard of WordPress. It powers tens of millions of websites and is a popular solution for church websites.

The WordPress project began as a tool for blogging and has developed into a full-blown content management system (CMS). All types of websites use it, from online stores to restaurant websites and, yes, church websites. This article will tell you what you need to know – advantages, considerations, costs and how to get started by choosing the right WordPress theme for your new church website.

Advantages of WordPress for a Church Website

There are many advantages of using WordPress to power a church website.
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  • WordPress is a proven website solution (ten years and 70,000,000 websites)
  • WordPress is free because hundreds of web developers contribute to the project
  • Many themes are available for giving your church website the look you want
  • There is a huge availability of plugins (30,000) to add  features (giving, newsletters, etc.)
  • It can be setup to allow multiple staff and volunteers to manage content
  • Your church owns its site and has full control over it (use the web host of your choice)
  • Your church can do anything with its website because WordPress is open source
  • Building and updating the site can be done with zero design and programming skill

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Things to Consider with WordPress

Using WordPress means you have the freedom to choose providers of themes and hosting. You will want to add up the costs since you will be paying multiple companies. It’s also a “do it yourself” solution so there are responsibilities that need to be considered.

Costs to Know

Costs vary depending on the theme and hosting provider you choose. Here are a couple scenarios to give you an idea of the costs involved.

Lowest Cost – A free theme and DreamHost’s free hosting for nonprofits (more on that below). You only pay about $15 per year for your domain name (e.g. yourchurch.com). Everything else is free.

Middle Cost – A $50 church WordPress theme that includes one year of support and updates (renewable at $25/year), regular shared hosting under $10/month and a domain name for $15/year. Your one-time cost would be $50 and your annual recurring cost would be about $150.

Higher Cost – A $100 WordPress theme, $30/month for a host specializing in WordPress such as WP Engine and a $15 domain. Your one-time cost would be $100 and your annual recurring cost would be about $400.

I recommend the “Middle Cost” scenario for most churches because free themes do not include support and WordPress-only hosting is several times more expensive than regular hosting. Regular hosts like Bluehost and DreamHost are recommended by WordPress.org and work just fine for most websites.

Responsibilities to Consider

Unless you hire somebody to build the site for you, building the site is your responsibility. I’ll go into more detail on that in the next section. In my experience, it’s something most people are able to do when using a good church theme that includes support and documentation.

Your church’s staff or volunteers will also be responsible for maintaining the church website. This involves making sure WordPress, your theme and any plugins being used are up to date. This is similar to keeping software on your computer up to date. Updates include bug fixes and enhancements.

Your staff or volunteers will also need to update the website’s content (adding sermons, blogging, keeping events current, etc.) which is a matter of pointing, clicking and typing. Publishing content is similar to writing a document in word processing software with buttons for formatting text, adding links, inserting images, etc.

It will also be your responsibility to back your site up. Every website should be backed up. Most web hosts have a backup feature that you can use. There are also free and commercial WordPress plugins that can make backups for you. The solutions are available but it is your responsibility to make sure they are used.

WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com

It’s important to know the difference between self-hosted WordPress (often called “WordPress.org”) and WordPress.com. With a self-hosted installation of WordPress, you choose your own web hosting provider and have the freedom to use any theme and plugins you want. There are tens of thousands of them so this is the most powerful option.

WordPress.com on the other hand is a service provided by Automattic, a company started by one of the WordPress co-founders. They provide free WordPress hosting but you must use their smaller selection of themes and plugins. There are currently no church themes available on WordPress.com while there are dozens of church themes available for self-hosted installations.

You can read WordPress.com and WordPress.org for a full explanation. This article assumes you will use a self-hosted installation of WordPress on the host of your choice.

Building Your Church Website with WordPress

Everybody starts somewhere so I’ll introduce you to the process of building a church website using WordPress and a theme made for churches.

An Overview of the Process

First let me say that WordPress is made for regular people. I like to point out that the owners of those 70,000,000 WordPress-powered sites can’t all be geniuses. I’ve seen thousands of pastors, staff members and volunteers build their own church websites with WordPress and a good theme in the last two years.

  1. The first thing to do is pick a theme (read below).
  2. After that, you will need to sign up for web hosting with the provider of your choice. WordPress.org recommends Bluehost and DreamHost (free for qualifying nonprofits). The web host will also help you register your domain (e.g. yourchurch.com).
  3. Many web hosts have one-click installation of WordPress so you’ll use that feature.
  4. After installing WordPress, you’ll log into your site’s admin area to install the theme.
  5. At this point you can start adding your content to the site (pages, sermons, etc.)
  6. Polish the site off by adjusting appearance settings (menus, widgets and design settings such as colors and your logo, if the theme supports these things)

There are a few more tasks that you should make sure are taken care of before launching. Read Eight Things You Should Do After Building Your WordPress Site for guidance.

Picking a Church WordPress Theme

Examples of WordPress themes from churchthemes.com
Examples of WordPress themes from churchthemes.com

Since step number one is picking a theme, let’s look at that in more detail. Remember that a theme controls how your website appears. It is the design of your church website. Here are some absolute musts:

  1. Make sure support and documentation are available.
  2. Make sure the theme has the features you need. Sermons, events, locations and staff are common. WordPress provides a blog, photos and pages for other content.
  3. Choose a theme that has a responsive design (mobile-friendly). Phones and tablets are a big deal these days!
  4. Choose a theme that avoids the lock-in effect by asking if post types are registered in the theme or a plugin. Post types belong in plugins for easier theme switching.

There are some other things I suggest looking for but are not essential if you are comfortable.

  1. Find out if the theme uses the Theme Customizer in WordPress so you can adjust colors, fonts, etc. Being able to do this with pointing and clicking is helpful in making your website match your church.
  2. Avoid theme sellers that promise “lifetime” or “unlimited” anything. This is almost always an unsustainable business model. You want them to be in business tomorrow so they can help you.
  3. Check if the theme seller has a money back guarantee. This is something I believe all theme sellers should offer. It’s very easy to refund a digital product if for some reason it’s not a match.
  4. Does the maker of the theme profess to be a Christian? They wouldn’t have to be to make a good theme but a web developer involved in a church will have a better idea of what church websites need.

There are tens of thousands of WordPress themes available with dozens being made specifically for churches. I recommend using a theme made specifically for church websites. My theme shop is churchthemes.com and meets the recommendations above. Others that I recommend are the Forgiven theme by BoxyStudio, WP for Church, Outreach Pro by StudioPress and the Uplifted theme by UpThemes. See ChurchWP (a website by a WordPress-savvy pastor) for other possibilities.

Wrapping Up

WordPress is a low cost website solution (thanks to volunteer developers) made for regular people. There is a variety of WordPress themes designed specifically for church websites. Good theme providers and web hosts have one-on-one support and thorough documentation to help you when you need it. Because of the popularity of WordPress, there are also many online training resources available.

Is WordPress the right solution for your church website? It is for tens of thousands of churches and it might be for yours – or it might not be. I hope this article has provided the information you need to make a good decision.

What are your thoughts on using WordPress for your church website? We’d love to hear comments from those who have done it and from those who are considering building their new church website with WordPress.