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Best Sermons Plugin for WordPress: Building It

WP Sermons WordPress Plugin Development
WP Sermons logo and plugin development in Steven’s “kitchen office”.

There is no ideal sermons plugin for WordPress. The plugins that exist now are either unattractive in appearance, lacking features, buggy and unsupported or don’t work with all the WordPress themes that are available. This is what I’ve observed and this is what I’ve been told by people over the years. The sermon WordPress plugins available now are not useless, but they are not ideal. Churches using WordPress deserve a sermons plugin that meshes perfectly with their theme, that is easy to use and that does everything they need.

We are working on such a plugin and it is called WP Sermons. This is our vision for it.

We’re Developing the Best Sermons WordPress Plugin

For a long time we’ve put off developing a plugin specifically and only for sermons that will work with virtually any theme because of technical limitations in WordPress. “Universal Theme Support” is difficult to achieve in a plugin publishing with a custom post type (i.e. sermon posts). Few plugins of this type have pulled it off elegantly simply because there is no generic template that theme authors can prepare for plugin authors’ custom post types. But it is possible.

Church Content WordPress Plugin Ratings on WordPress.org
Church Content plugin ratings on WordPress.org

Shown above are ratings for our Church Content plugin on WordPress.org. The idea for WP Sermons is to pull off this kind of result while supporting all themes and not just themes made specifically for our plugin (only about a dozen). WP Sermons will also add many “missing features” such as the ability to post non-sermon media (Sunday school, conferences, worship, etc.), automated publishing, live streaming tools, app integration, advanced podcasting and customizable views.

We are putting everything we’ve learned over the last eight years working with about 15,000 churches into WP Sermons.

Sermons Are Unique to a Church Site

The one unique aspect of a church website is sermons. The Gospel.

And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.”

Mark 16:15 (NLT)

Yes, events, leadership profiles and locations are important. But let’s face it, there are several good events plugins for WordPress that a church can use. There are also plugins for maps and team profiles. WordPress’s “Gutenberg” block editor and third-party page builders are also sufficient for publishing most non-sermon church-focused content.

Sermons should be published, podcasted and live-streamed with absolute excellence on every church website. We believe this is a reality for most users of our church WordPress themes and Church Content plugin. We also see many big churches with sizable budgets achieve this with a professionally built custom website. But we don’t see this happening with most other churches using WordPress. This can change with WP Sermons.

Making Every WordPress Theme into a “Church Theme”

Did you know there are more than 20,000 WordPress themes to choose from? The most popular theme marketplace sells 11,000+ WordPress themes. Other marketplaces combine for several thousand more. The WordPress.org theme directory lists 3,945 free and “freemium” themes. And then there are hundreds of independent shops like us that account for thousands more. Of all the themes churches can use, we offer less than 0.025% of the options.

What if a church wants to launch a beautiful, full-featured sermon archive like they can with our church themes while not using one of our themes? After all, there are 20,000+ other options out there. The fact is that while we are the largest seller of church WordPress themes, most churches do not use one of our themes. And that means they are probably not presenting sermons in the most ideal manner because an ideal sermons plugin doesn’t exist yet.

We want to empower every church to make their best possible website, a website that meets their particular needs and that is suited to their preferences. Imagine church websites using an ideal sermons plugin for WordPress in combination with one of the most popular themes out there and a powerful events plugin. Their website will be exceptional. Right now all that’s missing is a high quality sermons plugin for WordPress that works with virtually any theme.

A Quick Favor Before Continuing

Please enter your email address to get notified when WP Sermons is released. We’ll begin sending out news as we get closer to completion. This mailing list is separate from our ChurchThemes.com list so don’t miss out. Thank you.

What Churches Need in a Sermons Plugin for WordPress

We’ve traded tens of thousands of emails with our customers over the years. This is where feature requests happen. We keep track of what our users would like to see and prioritize new feature development having in mind which requests are more popular than others. This is to say we’ve had a wealth of feedback useful for developing the absolute best standalone sermons plugin for WordPress. Here’s a summary of features we have planned for WP Sermons.

Blocks and Page Builder Integrations

None of the existing sermon plugins for WordPress support the new Gutenberg block editor. It’s been out for almost two years and our themes have supported it all along but there is still no sermons plugin providing churches with blocks for the new editor in WordPress. WP Sermons will let you construct your sermon-related areas with blocks. Avoid messy shortcodes and see what you’re creating in real-time.

Popular page builders like Elementor and Divi will also be supported.

Perfect Blending with Any Theme

WP Sermons will strike an ideal balance between flexibility and ease of use in order to allow for practical style, color and font customization. It is a main priority that WP Sermons meshes beautifully with nearly every WordPress theme available. Settings for appearance will be available in the Customizer so that you can see your changes in real-time.

Flexible Sermon Archive Presentation

Blocks will be used to list sermons, show a filter/search bar, current series, podcast buttons and other sermon-related content. WP Sermons will allow for the selection of different “views” when displaying multiple sermons (and for single sermons). For example, choose to show sermons as cards in X columns or in grid format and so on. It will be easy but flexible.

Filter Example on Amazon
Imagine a filter bar on top or at the side as Amazon does

Index pages will be assembled similarly for browsing by series, topics, speakers, locations and other taxonomies.

Jubilee WordPress Theme Sermons Archive
Our Jubilee theme (and others) currently has index page templates for topics, series and other taxonomies. WP Sermons will add locations, services and browsing by chapter/verse.

Optimization for Search Engine and Social Media

Each sermon will have its own URL and page. This seems obvious, but it’s not so easy to pull off while maintaining compatibility with all themes and so not every sermons plugin does it. It is necessary for search engines to be able to crawl your sermons and for users to be able to share links. Having every sermon indexed by Google is essential.

WP Sermons will generate structured data (using JSON-LD) to the maximum, feeding as much extra information to Google as possible in order to expand the exposure of your sermons.

Open Graph and Twitter Card meta data will enhance sharing on Facebook, Twitter and others to maximize your presence on social networks. Social sharing buttons will also be able to be added to encourage sharing.

Complete and Utter Categorization

As you’d expect, you’ll be able to categorize sermons by Topic, Series, Books and Speakers. Choosing a Location and Service (Sunday, Wednesday, etc.) will also become a possibility. You will have control over the naming of these taxonomies and may also create non-sermon resources (more on that below).

WP Sermons will allow you to specify scripture passage(s). Categories will be able to show their own image (particularly useful for Series). These two things have been much requested. The ability to organize and present sermons will be comprehensive in this sermons plugin.

Unlimited Supplemental Resources

Right now, with our current products, we provide the ability to upload one PDF for each sermon. This could be sermon notes or another resource. With the WP Sermons plugin, you’ll be able to add an unlimited number of associated resources to each sermon — and not just PDFs. For example, sermon notes, bulletin and links to pages on your site or other sites.

Upcoming Sermons and Series

Our customers have given us the idea to allow for publishing previews of future sermons. Imagine featuring “Next Sunday” or previewing your entire current series. We are going to explore tying this into automatic sermon publishing (add an upcoming sermon with details then auto-publish it from YouTube or another source).

Non-sermon Media Publishing

We’ll have to come up with a better term than “non-sermon” (any ideas?) but the point is that that churches publish other media in addition to sermons that do well being organized in a way similar to sermons. For example, classes have a speaker like a sermon and can also be assigned a topic and various scripture passages. Here are some of the use cases from our customers.

  • Sunday School Lessons
  • Classes and Lectures
  • Conference Sessions
  • Worship and Music
  • Bible Studies
  • Testimonies
  • Interviews
  • Question and Answer
  • Devotionals
  • Articles

In short, a church will be able to create multiple additional media archives in a format similar to their primary sermon archive. We’re asked about this very often and are eager to begin providing it with WP Sermons.

Multiple Feeds, Podcasting and App Integrations

With what we offer now, users can create one sermon podcast. That works for most churches but some want to do more. Feeds are what make podcasting (and apps) possible, so WP Sermons will allow the creation of multiple custom feed URLs to use with podcasting platforms like Apple and Google. A custom sermons feed will also be useful for configuring with a church app provider. Here are some possibilities for feeds.

  • Sermon podcasting (audio as usual)
  • Video podcasting (which often requires a second feed)
  • Multiple podcasts (e.g. sermons plus a pastor’s own podcast)
  • Showing sermons in a church app (Tithe.ly or Pushpay, for example)
  • Non-sermon feeds (e.g. a feed specifically for devotionals)
  • Integrating with any other service requiring a feed

Any Media from Any Source

Upload or embed, audio or video, self-hosted or hosted on a third-party service – no problem. We provide this now with our products at ChurchThemes.com and will do it for WP Sermons as well. Publishing media will be even friendlier and more automated with our new sermons plugin for WordPress. Multiple media items will be supported (imagine separating worship from preaching).

Cover images for video will be automatic and there will be other ways that we can make publishing sermon media via WordPress better. It’s going to be delightful, however you want to handle your sermon media.

Live Streaming Tools

The COVID pandemic has made all of us more aware of the need for live streaming church services. We’ve been guiding churches on live streaming approaches more this year than before, that’s for sure. There are many fine live streaming services. Some cater to churches. Some are free. The availability of solutions is great but implementing live services on a church’s website is not always so easy.

We have some ideas for helpers built right into WP Sermons to assist with making your live stream known to website visitors. Embedding is not always straightforward (especially from Facebook or YouTube). We can help automate this. We can also help embed a chat box beside your stream as well as provide space for users to see your bulletin, worship guide, sermon notes, giving opportunities and more. And not every stream has to be live. You can pre-record and “premiere” at a scheduled time in order to be better prepared. We can help with this too.

We’ll provide ways for churches to announce to website visitors their upcoming and currently live services. Blocks, notice bars, popup notices and utilization of a countdown are all ideas. We thought of making these tools a separate plugin but decided to make it part of WP Sermons since every live streaming church ought to have a sermon archive and there are so many possibilities for integrating these two important parts of a church website.

Church Online Platform Live Streaming Example
Imagine something along the lines of Church Online Platform (shown here) but directly on your WordPress site and connected to your sermon archive

Automated Sermon Publishing

How would you like to automatically publish sermon media on your website when it’s published on YouTube, Vimeo, Soundcloud or elsewhere? Or, how about publishing it from your live stream right after your broadcast ends? Our upcoming sermons feature will let you pre-define the categories and other details.

There will also be possibilities to make audio sermon publishing faster by taking advantage of embedded ID3 data in audio files. Or, how about auto-generating audio from a video so that you only have to deal with uploading one type of media? We are going to do what we can to make publishing and syndicating sermons as easy as possible with various integrations.

Tools for Importation and Migration

It will be easy to migrate from another sermons plugin for WordPress or to import your own database of sermons in a proprietary format. These tools will save some churches dozens of hours of manual work and will make it easier to jump right into using what we intend to be the best sermons plugin for WordPress.

Just Enough Settings

Appearance-related settings will be in the Customizer with a live preview. Other settings will be on a regular settings screen. You can expect things like the ability to change wording for “sermons” and categories (make “speaker” into “preacher” or “topic” into “category”, for example). We’ll strike a balance between flexibility and ease of use when it comes to settings, much like we’ve done with our current products.

Engagement Analytics

Statistics has been a popular request. Wouldn’t you like to see how many people watch or listen to each sermon? We think that’d be fantastic and have certainly be asked about it before.

And So Much More

  • Complete ability to browse by book, chapter and verse
  • Advanced series presentation (change order, set image, “More from Series”, etc.)
  • Speaker profiles with portraits and grouping options (e.g. Staff, Guests, etc.)
  • Automatic file size reduction for uploaded audio will be considered
  • Video caption support is also a possibility we’re exploring
  • Previous/Next navigation within specific categories (versus cycling through all sermons)
  • The ability to separate worship and sermon media and skip to either
  • Right-to-left support for Hebrew and Arabic-speaking churches
  • Accessibility is a priority in consideration of disabled persons
  • Printer-friendly output
  • Support for popular multi-lingual plugins
  • Agency Mode and bulk pricing much like we have now

The best way to help you imagine what WP Sermons will be like is to view our Jubilee theme demo’s sermon archive (and index pages) and picture it on steroids with all the new features from above. Now imagine it looking equally beautiful with any theme. We’re using popular preachers’ sermon archives like at Desiring God and Grace to You as inspiration. We will give you that kind of organization and help you present it on your website in a “wow” way that blends seamlessly into your theme’s design.

Starter Church Sites Powered by WP Sermons and Popular Themes

One reason so many churches choose us, though we provide less than 0.025% of the WordPress themes on the market, is that we provide an all-in-one type of solution. Themes, sermons, events, locations with maps, starter content and so on – all rolled up into a nice neat package for a reasonable price. That’s attractive to churches because it’s easier than starting from scratch and cobbling together a theme and plugins from multiple providers. The “cobbling from here, there and everywhere” approach is usually not ideal unless a professional is involved in putting it all together. Most of our customers are not professionals.

We are planning to provide starter church sites that use WP Sermons with popular themes and plugins for events, maps and so on. This will serve multiple purposes. It will help churches save time and get a great result. Making complete websites will also double as a means for testing WP Sermons’ theme compatibility. It will help us understand how we can make WP Sermons be what it needs to be in real-world situations. Importing a starter site will take just a few clicks in your WordPress admin area. You’ll then only need to replace the starter content with your own.

These starter church sites will rival and even exceed what we are offering now on ChurchThemes.com.

Astra Starter Templates
Our Starter Church Sites will be similar to Astra Starter Templates (shown above) but specifically for churches. Just choose a pre-made site then edit to add your own content.

Free Trial and Monthly Option

Right now, we have a 45 day money back guarantee so churches can try our church website solution without risk. But, the customer has to pay in advance then request a refund. This has worked great and we’ll do this for WP Sermons but will also offer a free trial so that there’s no need to request a refund in the case that things don’t work out (which is rare). This will give churches more confidence to go ahead and jump right into trying our new sermons plugin directly on their own WordPress site.

We’re also going to offer monthly pricing. Surely most will go with annual pricing (with a discount) but we have had requests for a monthly option and think it is worth offering. It may also be useful to churches wanting to try for a couple months after their trial ends before committing. Upgrading to an annual period will be simple. Switching payment period, plan and number of sites will be very easy to do and prorated automatically.

An Essentialist Approach

We’re embracing the principles of Essentialism with the WP Sermons project. That means the focus will be on the product, on features, on what churches use and need. Marketing will be very secondary after an initial push at launch. Providing the most ideal sermons WordPress plugin will be marketing in and of itself. Exceptional support is marketing. Everything is marketing. This all creates word of mouth referrals. We’ve seen that with ChurchThemes.com.

Do one thing and do it well.

Unix Philosophy

In order to focus on the actual product, continually improving it, we’re intentional about spending time elsewhere sparingly. Not only will marketing be minimal but so will the website. It will be so simple that it won’t even use WordPress (ironic, yes). The e-commerce aspect will require little maintenance with Chargebee providing a hosted solution. Accounts will not have passwords (it’s magic). Our bookkeeping and business tasks will be intentionally “small” and infrequent.

If the answer isn’t a definite yes then it should be a no.

A leader at Twitter

We will pour our energy into WP Sermons the product, not the website or the complexities of business. We’re prepared to say “no” to the most tempting of opportunities that will distract us from building the best sermons plugin for WordPress. Focus.

Building the Best Sermons Plugin for WordPress Will Take Time

We already get a lot of requests asking when WP Sermons will be released (just got one from Vietnam while writing). We have the foundations laid but we are still early in development. We’re going to do this well and we’re going to launch a complete product that is both stable and totally useful for a church, regardless of the WordPress theme they’re going with.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24

There is a concept in product development dubbed MVP. It stands for Minimum Viable Product. The idea is that you develop something “good enough”, release it to your audience, then iterate improvements afterwards. One reason a business does this is to have revenue (and feedback) coming in with which to continue development. We’re not going to take the MVP approach because we already have revenue. We’ll launch with a complete bang.

WordPress development has become more complex, especially with the move towards block-based editing. There are newer, more sophisticated technologies to master and take advantage of. We’re going to take our time getting everything just right so that WP Sermons will truly be the best sermons plugin for WordPress. Our goal is to launch in the second half of 2021 but can’t make any promises. This is software development, after all.

WP Sermons plugin development in VS Code
A look at WP Sermons plugin development in VS Code

This is a good time to thank Ahmad Awais for encouraging me to make the switch to VS Code. As a Microsoft product, I had a hard time believing it could be the best code editor. After all, Microsoft was behind Internet Explorer, a thorn in the side of web designers since last millennium. VS Code really is the finest code editor available and Ahmad’s VSCode.pro course is exceptional.

Get Involved, Stay in the Loop

Help us make WP Sermons the best sermons plugin for WordPress.

You can do that by emailing to tell us what you want to see in the plugin. What does the Church Content plugin or your current sermons plugin not do that you want to see WP Sermons do? What do you like about your current solution that you want to see in WP Sermons and done even better? Please tell us what your ideas are.

Thank you for hearing our vision for the best sermons plugin for WordPress. Be sure to visit the WP Sermons website to subscribe and receive email updates as we move closer to launch.