"...a huge hit with our congregation."
— Dan Odle What They Say

How to Choose a Church WordPress Theme

Sticky Questions

There are many church WordPress themes available today. You might think the only difference is how they look. After all, that’s what WordPress themes are supposed to be for — giving your church website a certain appearance. But there is more to consider when choosing a church WordPress theme.

Here are some questions to get answers for when looking at any church WordPress theme. Some answers may be easy to find. Others may require asking the theme seller specific questions.

Questions to Ask

  1. Is it a church WordPress theme?
  2. Are the church-centric features sufficient?
  3. Does the provider specialize in church WordPress themes?
  4. Does the theme avoid the lock-in effect?
  5. Is there a money back guarantee?
  6. Is support included and documentation thorough?
  7. Is the provider’s business model sustainable?
  8. Is the theme developer involved in a local church?
  9. Is the theme mobile-friendly?
  10. Does the theme avoid bundling plugins?
  11. Is the WordPress license respected?

Is it a church WordPress theme?

I recommend using not just a WordPress theme but a church WordPress theme. The developer of a church WordPress theme anticipates the needs of a church website and attempts to satisfy them. A non-church theme is not likely to consider things like sermons, service times, events, locations, etc.

These are not WordPress themes that are ‘styled’ for churches, they are built with them in mind! That’s why they make it easy to add a map with directions … sermons, events, staff, blog, galleries and even podcast.
Eric Dye, speaking of our themes on ChurchMag

You could try multiple plugins to add those features but they are not likely to match the theme’s design unless the theme considers them. You may end up wanting a church-specific feature and if there is no plugin for it that works nicely with your theme, your only option will be to pay for custom development — and that can end up costing several times more than the theme itself.

Since church WordPress themes are available, it makes sense to use them.

Are the church-centric features sufficient?

Church websites need to present sermons (with options for text, audio and video), events (as a monthly calendar and/or list), people (staff/leader bios with contact details) and locations (consider multi-campus support). Our Church Theme Content plugin provides this functionality. Another feature to consider is ministries. This can be handled by using WordPress’s pages feature but a theme can improve presentation by providing a template that auto-lists ministry pages.

Two other features for churches to consider are a contact form (does the theme demonstrate styling for a contact form plugin?) and online giving (it’s nice to see that a theme nicely handles a plugin or third-party service). WordPress itself provides other things like blogging, photo galleries and video embeds. It’s always a good idea to give a church WordPress theme’s demo a good browse to see how it styles various features, whether from a plugin or WordPress core.

Does the provider specialize in church WordPress themes?

A few WordPress theme sellers specialize in one type of theme such as restaurant themes, photography themes, store themes or church WordPress themes. Most commercial theme developers make a variety of themes in order to capitalize on as many different audiences as possible.

Consider that specialists usually understand the needs of their target group better than generalists. If you want serious help with your bicycle, a bicycle shop employee will probably provide more expertise than one of the associates assigned to Walmart’s sporting goods department.

A provider that specializes in church WordPress themes is also more likely to maintain and improve their product for churches because they haven’t moved onto making another type of WordPress theme. They’re still catering to churches. That’s what they do. That’s who you want to buy from.

Does the theme avoid the lock-in effect?

How easy will it be for you to switch to another theme in the future? There is something called the lock-in effect that results when theme developers do not follow WordPress standards.

The lock-in problem is when a user is forced to continue using a theme because their data would be lost to them if they switched to another theme. Justin Tadlock, article on post types

Read last week’s article on how to Avoid the Theme Lock-in Effect.

Is there a money back guarantee?

Ask the provider about their refund policy. Some offer refunds, others don’t.

How many times have you bought a theme that would look perfect for your next project only to discover it’s not the right fit?
Jeff Chandler, article on refunds at WP Tavern

Theme providers that don’t offer refunds often argue that files cannot be returned and therefore refunds are not offered. I say, so what? Just push the button and give the people their money back. It’s easy and all WordPress theme shops should offer refunds. It tells you, the customer, that the theme shop believes in their product and cares about their customers.

Only buy from theme providers that understand your reasonable need to try the theme before committing to using it permanently.

Is support included and documentation thorough?

You will usually get support and documentation when you pay for a church WordPress theme, but by what means and to what extent varies.

  • Make sure the theme you are buying includes support
  • Browse their documentation to make sure it is sufficient before buying
  • Do they have a reputation for support (social media, reviews, etc.)?

Is the provider’s business model sustainable?

This one is important but not obvious. Businesses come and go and WordPress theme shops are no different. You want the provider of your church WordPress theme to remain in business so you have access to support and theme updates in the future. Some understand that a sustainable business model is important while others try to offer the world in order to sell as much as they can, as fast as they can.

Be wary of unrealistic offers such as “Lifetime” or “Unlimited” anything.

Responsible theme sellers will usually limit support and theme updates to a certain time period (usually one year) and for a maximum number of websites. It takes time and costs money to provide support and ongoing theme development. Charging renewal for access to theme updates and support keeps the ship afloat.

Avoid any seller that offers lifetime updates, lifetime support or support for an unlimited number of sites. These indicate an unsustainable business model.

You can read The Dangers of Pricing in WordPress Business Models by Tom McFarlin for the nitty gritty.

Is the theme developer involved in a church?

You might assume every person that develops a church WordPress theme is a Christian. I’ve been asked a couple times by potential customers if I am and I consider that to be a very good question. It’s not one that is asked very much. Should it be asked more?

Clearly a person does not need to be a Christian to develop high quality WordPress themes. Your church website has specific needs, though. And those needs will be best met by a person who is part of a local church. Because WordPress is so widely used (22% of all websites now) and niche theme markets are such attractive opportunities, you cannot make assumptions about the provider.

Is the theme mobile-friendly?

Added December 12, 2014

I’m updating this to add an eighth requirement because it has become so important. Google has said 65% of searches begin on smartphones. That is staggering.

People are very likely looking for a church in your area on their smartphones. If your website is not mobile-friendly, not only will it be hard to use, it will get less visits via Google search. Google has begun adding a “Mobile-friendly” label to websites that meet their criteria. Your church WordPress theme should have a mobile-friendly design (ie. a responsive design).

Does the theme avoid bundling plugins?

Added October 21, 2015

It has become a popular thing on theme marketplaces to bundle a premium plugin with a theme. The way this usually works is that the theme author buys permission from the plugin maker to distribute it. There are two problems. One is security and the other is support. Basically, you don’t have direct access to security updates and support from the actual maker of the plugin.

When you see a marketing gimmick like “free slider plugin included, $19 value” for a theme sold on a marketplace, consider it a red flag. Thousands of sites have been left with security holes (and many hacked) because of this bad practice. This problem unfortunately continues to this day.

The safest way to acquire plugins is to get them directly from their maker. For premium plugins this means buying them on the maker’s website. For free plugins this means getting them from the WordPress.org plugin directory, which is how we deliver the free Church Theme Content plugin used by all of our themes.

Is the WordPress license respected?

Added October 21, 2015

WordPress uses the GPL license and asks theme and plugin developers who build on top of WordPress to license their themes in the same way. Most themes sold on independent shops like churchthemes.com respect the WordPress license. Most themes sold on a marketplace do not. In short, when a theme uses the same license that WordPress does, they are giving you the same freedoms that WordPress does.

A huge number of marketplace theme sellers are actually barred from speaking at events sponsored by the WordPress Foundation due to their unwillingness to grant their users the same freedoms that WordPress does.

Conclusion

Now you should be able to make a good choice when choosing a church WordPress theme for your church’s new website. Read Best Church WordPress Themes for a good place to start looking.

Please post a comment with your thoughts on what to consider when choosing church WordPress theme.

4 Comments

  1. Steven,

    Great guide to choosing a church theme. It’s always tough to find someone that builds a product like this that truly understands the needs of a niche market like ours. I’m working on putting together a site that helps churches find and build the perfect website for their needs. I’d love a chat with you to discuss!

  2. Great list of issues to take note of, but I think it rather should be titled “how to choose a church WordPress theme PROVIDER”? I don’t think they provide any insight when it comes to choosing between the various themes that you provide on your site? Is it basically a matter of positioning, sizing and styling of elements, or are there any functional differences?

    • A lot of these issues relate to the provider but some are specific to the theme such as being mobile-friendly or the avoiding the lock-in effect. All of our themes sold on churchthemes.com avoid these issues so when choosing between what we offer, it is mostly a matter which design you prefer. They have the same core features.

      Please let me know if you have any other questions.

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