Though I still dabble to stay fresh, I’m somewhat retired, at least for now, from the business of full scale design of church websites. But when I was developing sites for clients of all sizes, I built 95% of my church websites on WordPress. I’m so passionate about it, I built a website called WordPress for Ministry (which I’ve since sold). According to WordPress’ own website:
WordPress is web software you can use to create a beautiful website or blog. We like to say that WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time.
The core software is built by hundreds of community volunteers, and when you’re ready for more there are thousands of plugins and themesavailable to transform your site into almost anything you can imagine. Over 25 million people have chosen WordPress to power the place on the web they call “home” — we’d love you to join the family.
And it isn’t slowing down in terms of its growth in popularity. I’ve attempted to convince some rather reputable clients that WordPress is the way to go. Often I’m met with skepticism. How can anything so… free… actually scale to meet the needs of a large organization? Well, ask the tech team at CrossChurch, a church running over 8,000 in weekly attendance in northwest Arkansas. They’ve developed all of their web properties on WordPress.
So how can you get started? Here are the basics…
You Need a Domain Name
And you need one that is basic and memorable. I recommend going with a .com. The .org is intended for nonprofits, so it doesn’t hurt to grab both versions, but when it comes to domains, people expect a .com most of the time. You can usually score a domain name for less than $10 using GoDaddy or another registrar. (I use GoDaddy for domain management, but nothing else.)
Typical cost: $7.50 per year
You Need a Web Hosting Package
There are plenty of options here, but one of the easiest companies to work with is Hostgator, where you can usually score an adequate space for your church’s website for under $5 per month if you pay ahead.
Typical cost: $5 per month
You Need WordPress
And WordPress works like any software, but it runs on a web server rather than a computer. You can download WordPress for free from WordPress.org, but with Hostgator and many other companies, you don’t need to do so. Rather, after you’ve set up your hosting account, you will be able to install WordPress with just a couple of clicks through the hosting control panel.
Cost of WordPress: FREE
Before moving ahead, it’s a good idea to have some reference help handy as you dig into the inner workings of a WordPress website. It’s simple to manage, but the capabilities of a WordPress-driven church website are virtually limitless, especially as you learn more about the system. I would recommend grabbing one or two of the reference guides listed below:
- Become a Rockstar WordPress Designer ($29)
- Digging Into WordPress ($27)
- WordPress Starter Guide ($27)
- Building Killer Websites With Wordpress ($27)
- Become a WordPress Wiz ($16)
- WordPress Central Station (Various Video Tutorial Packages)
You Need a Nice WordPress Theme
A WordPress theme is like a website template, except better. With most website templates, you buy a set of html files, then you start filling in your website content in the html code, duplicating pages and creating, by hand, an entire website. But with a WordPress theme, you simply upload the theme via the WordPress administration panel (a couple of clicks) and click “Activate.”
WordPress stores your website’s data in a database, separately from the theme or design files. So theoretically, you can add all of your website content, then change the design theme multiple times and it will have no adverse effect on your data at all.
There are a ton of WordPress themes to choose from. Some are better than others from a coder’s perspective and some are certainly better than others from a communication and design perspective. I’ve listed a few of my own favorites that I feel offer strong, solid coding plus a good communication platform for churches. By that I mean that the way that these themes present content flows with the way stronger church websites present content.
WPChurch is available through the Themeforest marketplace, and offers an incredible look that really captures the arrangement of information churches need to be utilizing, including a “next service” countdown clock in the top right corner and a sweet slideshow.
Quantum ($49, but 2 for the price of 1)
Quantum is an extremely cleanly-coded theme by ThemeTrust and provided the basic framework upon which I’ve built Grace Hills’ website (though I’ve radically altered the graphics). It comes with a built-in slideshow and several skins.
Outreach Theme ($79.95)
Outreach is actually a “child theme” which simply means that you would first upload the Genesis theme framework (included with the purchase) but not activate it. Then you would upload the Outreach child theme and activate it. Outreach borrows its functionality from Genesis, the parent theme, both developed by StudioPress.
Platform Pro ($95)
Platform Pro, by PageLines, has a special advantage. You can move the layout around and design your site using a special drag-and-drop interface from within WordPress. This makes it a strong contender as well.
Headway Theme ($87)
Headway, like PageLines, has a drag-and-drop design interface, which makes it very user friendly in one sense. In fact, it has a visual editor that overlays the live site. On the other hand, you’ll need to take some time to become familiar with the leaf system they’ve implemented. It may be more of a blogger’s theme, but because of the visual editor, I wanted to mention it here.
Standard Theme ($49 for a single license)
I mention Standard Theme primarily because of its popularity among well-known Christian bloggers. I don’t think it’s the best solution for most church websites, or even for most bloggers for that matter. It’s a bit more complicated to use than the average theme, and modifying its base code can be rather tricky. Nonetheless, for the sake of inclusion…
And there are plenty of other places to find great premium WordPress themes as well.
- Up Themes
- Woo Themes
- Obox Themes
- Elegant Themes
- Themedy (Child Themes for Genesis and Thesis
- Mojo Themes
- Church Themer
Are there free WordPress themes that are good for churches too? Absolutely, but you’ll have a little harder time finding them simply because you have to sort through so many to find the good ones. I would recommend checking out the list gathered by Smashing Magazine which is edited by Paul Andrew, a guy who knows.
You’ll Need Some WordPress Plugins
Plugins extend the functionality of WordPress. You upload them, similar to the way a theme is installed, and they add more functionality to the administrative side of your church’s website. There are way too many (thousands) to cover, but the plugins I’ve found most helpful for both blogging and building church websites would have to include:
- Gravity Forms (I can’t tell you how much I have relied on this one for creating contact forms, building mailing lists, collecting event registrations, etc.)
- Church Admin (Just heard about this one from Andy Moyle and it looks like it is loaded with church-specific features such as directories, small group management, SMS and email list building, etc. and he’s improving it even more very soon.)
- Align RSS Images
- Audio Player
- Contextual Related Posts
- GigPress (For listing events and speaking dates.)
- Press This Reloaded (Creates an awesome “bookmarklet” for posting stories to your blog quickly from anywhere on the web.)
- Simple Image Sizes
- Editorial Calendar
- WordPress SEO (Indispensable!)
- WPTouch (Creates a mobile-ready site)
And again, there are many more, but those are fairly essential to most of the church website projects I’ve worked on.
Is it really as simple as getting a domain, a hosting account, installing WordPress with a click or two and uploading a theme? Yes and no. Yes, that’s all it takes to launch a site. But you’ll find that while WordPress is super easy to use, it’s also very robust in its capabilities, so the learning curve is simple on the “getting started” side, but complex on the “wow, I didn’t realize I could do that” side.
And is it really better than the other popular open source content management systems out there? Just read this comparison between WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla.
Total cost: $50 to $150 to be up and running.
If you don’t already have a logo, or if you are looking for a more customized website solution, contact me. If I can’t help you right away, I will know someone who can.