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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.
[list style=”list2″ color=”blue”]

  • 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.

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Tools & Resources

Preview WordPress 3.8 Features You Can Test Drive TODAY

WordPress 3.8 is scheduled for release on December 12th. YAY!

WordPress 3.7, released about a month ago, was all about functional improvements. We saw plenty of  “behind the scenes” features  like automatic updates to help simplify and streamline workflow.

WordPress 3.8 features are focused on enhancing the user experience. The church Web worker’s user experience. Lots of exciting visual and accessibility improvements to the interface are on tap.

Unlike previous WordPress updates, the “cool factor” for this release is that some of the new features have been developed as plugins. That enabled contributors and developers to work in tandem on their projects.

You can test drive these plugins now. But a word of caution: since they’re still in development, I don’t recommend using them on a “live” website. If you’re feeling adventurous, take them for a spin in a development environment.

New WordPress 3.8 Features

Visually Overhauled Admin Area

The WordPress Admin area hasn’t seen a major visual upgrade since WordPress 2.7. The MP6 plugin is currently in use on WordPress.com websites, and greatly simplifies the Admin user interface. Approved for core, MP6 gives WordPress 3.8 a complete visual overhaul right out of the box.

[image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”3090″ caption=”Wordpress 3.8 Default Color Scheme” alt=”Wordpress 3.8 Default Color Scheme” align=”left” width=”628″ autoHeight=”true”]

The updated interface sports the Open Sans font, cleaner styles, flatter elements, and lots of spacing among elements. The upgrades work together to create an interface that’s very user friendly and easy on the eyes.

In Users » Profile, you can choose from eight beautiful, high-contrast color schemes to customize your experience.

[image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”3092″ caption=”Wordpress 3.8 Ectoplasm Color Scheme” alt=”Wordpress 3.8 Ectoplasm Color Scheme” align=”left” width=”628″ autoHeight=”true”]

Redesigned Dashboard

When I activated the Dashboard plugin, I was like, “Whoa!” My Dashboard went from this:

[image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”3097″ caption=”Current WordPress Dashboard” alt=”Current WordPress Dashboard” align=”left” width=”628″ autoHeight=”true”]

To this:

[image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”3098″ caption=”Wordpress 3.8 Dashboard” alt=”Wordpress 3.8 Dashboard” align=”left” width=”628″ autoHeight=”true”]

As you can see, this new feature rearranges, tightens, combines, and cleans up the Dashboard nicely.

So what’s changed?

  • WordPress Blog, Other WordPress News, and Plugins are now combined to form WordPress News.
  • Recent Comments as well as your scheduled and recently published posts have been merged into Activity.
  • QuickPress and Recent Drafts are now Quick Drafts.
  • Number of columns screen option is removed and replaced with a new responsive Dashboard. Now, the appropriate number of columns will automatically display based on your screen resolution.

A few extras are also added, including that  fun little smiley in Activity if you delete all posts and comments.

Simpler widgets area interface

I work a lot with the Striking Theme by Kaptinlin. The theme is packed with widgets and sidebars. On top of that, the ability to create custom sidebars is built in. I love that! Then, some of the plugins I use add even more widgets to the Widget area. I love that too. But, the current layout and “drag and drop” functionality has always made working with widgets and sidebars a pain in the neck.

This problem is solved beautifully with the new Widget area User Interface. The new Widgets Area Chooser allows you to simply click a widget and choose where it goes. Juggling lots widgets and sidebars will definitely be made a lot easier.

[image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”3107″ caption=”Widgets Area Chooser Plugin” alt=”Widgets Area Chooser Plugin” align=”left” width=”628″ autoHeight=”true”]

If you try out the plugin, be sure you have the MP6 plugin installed and activated first. The developer of the Widgets Area Chooser notes that if you don’t “things may look a little wonky.” This is a true statement.

Better theme browsing and full-screen previews

The Themes area is currently very text heavy and overloaded with information. The THX38 plugin transforms the WordPress Themes experience into an interface that’s uncluttered and easy to use. And when previewing a theme, you’re now able to completely collapse the sidebar for a  full-screen theme preview.

[image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”3113″ caption=”Wordpress 3.8 Themes Experience” alt=”Wordpress 3.8 Themes Experience” align=”left” width=”628″ autoHeight=”true”]

As with the Widgets Area Chooser, if you want to try out this plug, you’ll need to have the MP6 plugin installed and activated first.

Other goodies on the way

Omnisearch

Omnisearch enables users to search once and get results from all of your posts, pages, comments, and feedback. The plugin is currently available for JetPack plugin users. But, it’s still “in development” for core, and won’t be included with the new WordPress 3.8 features.

Twenty-Fourteen Theme

Twenty-Fourteen is a beautiful magazine layout theme that is scheduled for release with WordPress 3.8. It will become the default theme for the new year. A customizable Featured Content area and stunning treatment of Featured Images are just two of the many design changes, performance tweaks, and UI enhancements rolled into this great looking theme.

[image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”3119″ caption=”Twenty-Fourteen WordPress Theme” alt=”Twenty-Fourteen WordPress Theme” align=”left” width=”628″ autoHeight=”true”]

If you want to take a peek, a live demo is available. A beta release is available at GitHub, if you’ve got a hankering to get your hands dirty.

Which features are you most excited about?

I hope you’re as excited as I am about the new features coming with WordPress 3.8. Actually, I have a confession to make. The new Widgets Area Chooser made me squeal! {blushing}

Do any of the new features make you especially giddy? Please let me know by leaving a comment below.

And, if you found this post helpful, please be sure to share it with all of the WordPress lovers you know!

Categories
Tools & Resources

Urban City Theme Review

I am starting a new, hopefully weekly, feature were I review various church website services and offerings. This week I wanted to take a look at a WordPress theme from ChurchThemes.net. I was initially very impressed with their offering and designs. It appeared to me that maybe finally a theme company could put great efforts into their design, and functionality, not only in their code.

Does Urban Theme deliver what your church will need? Keep reading to find out.

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Tools & Resources

8 Best WordPress Themes for Churches or Non-Profits

[icon style=”calendar” color=”blue”]Last updated on Jul 7, 2015 @ 6:58 pm[/icon]

I love WordPress. When done right, using WordPress for your church website is a great choice for a CMS. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of choices when it comes to beautiful WordPress themes for churches. I spent some time digging for quality WordPress themes churches could use, and I found eight that stood out over what is out there. All of these are paid themes and their features vary.

Have a WordPress theme you love? Share in the comments! Enjoy!

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Tools & Resources

7 Donation WordPress Plugins for Your Church Website

Developing your church website on WordPress is a great solution for most churches. It’s free, there are thousands of great themes, and you can extend the functionality of your site by using plug-ins. Today I wanted to share with you my favorite donation WordPress plug-ins. Online giving is a huge reason to have a church website. Online giving makes giving convenient for your church members to give regularly.  So enjoy this list of the best WordPress donation plugins.

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Tools & Resources

Why Thesis Theme Rules

Recently we posted a list of top content management systems for churches and ministries. While all of these systems are great for building your website on, for me one platform stands out: WordPress. There are many reasons to build a website using WordPress. First, it’s free. All you need to do is download a copy, upload to your webhost and you’re set. WordPress.com now supports the ability to map your domain to your WordPress hosted site! Second, the amount of free themes available are simply crazy, if you setup your website on WordPress you will have thousands of great design choices.

For the next few weeks I want to take you through my process and why I am building all of my websites utilizing an amazing framework for WordPress called Thesis. I can literally design, build, and launch a website within a matter of days, not weeks or months. Ready to see how Thesis will change your life? Good, keep reading.

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Tools & Resources

Outreach and Genesis WordPress Theme Review

Studio Press is a WordPress template company that has over 20 different WordPress themes that are ready for your WordPress site. StudioPress is also one of the few providers that have created and are actively selling church themes. All their themes are build on the Genesis framework, which provides first time WordPress users the ability to easily update and modify their site.