The Best Church/Ministry WordPress Themes & Plugins
Making a new site for your church or ministry can be a daunting task. After making several of this sort of website, I have distilled some of my most frequent pointers into this brief post.
Picking a theme is such a vital step in the process. WordPress is the functional foundation of your site and it provides you with a user-friendly back end through which to modify and update your website. The theme is the high-level design aesthetic to your site. You are likely to get what you pay for, but there are several other factors to look at. Has it been purchased by a good number of customers who have been pleased enough with it to give it a good review? Does the demo function well on desktop, tablet, and mobile? Is it being sold on a reputable theme store?
When you buy a less popular or less fully featured theme, what you gain in less code and faster speed you pay for in lack of easy customization options and often bugs. If you are a church or ministry, there are themes out there that are geared specifically for you. ChurchThemes is the best out there in this niche. My two favorite of their themes are Maranatha or Saved. They also limit your customization options, but they are not buggy, and the customizations are less needed than other lightweight themes because they built the theme with your kind of organization in mind. However, their themes are starting to show their age. I would like them to update the look of their themes or come out with new ones more often.
If these cons lead you to look for a more robust theme, I recommend one of the following:
These are my favorite popular themes, but they try to do too many things. You can have ALL the customization options you could want and in a user-friendly interface. The trouble is, all that function can be there only by means of a lot more code. More code means more load time. More load time means worse user experience and lower Google search rankings. My solution is to install it, make sure is to only use the bundled plugins that I need, ALWAYS compress every image I upload to the site (Compressor or TinyPNG work great), and set up my media files such as images and sermons to upload to Amazon S3.
Once you have the form, its time to set up any additional function you’ll need. You don’t want to go overboard on plugins, but for churches and ministries, these are some of the most important plugins to use.
If your church/ministry has an address that is relevant for people to know, you want the instances of that address to be coded in such a way (schema) that will catch the attention of Google. Yoast’s local plugin helps Google understand where in your site is the address of your ministry. Yoast premium also comes in this bundle and is hugely helpful in keeping your focus on the right things to jump through all of Google’s hoops and end up higher on the search results. Buy it, install it, learn how to use it through their copious tutorials, and use it to the greatest extent you can.
Just like your address, your ministry’s events need to be in a proper format to help Google understand the content of your site and do cool things like put your events right under the pin in Google Maps, or feature your events in several other places in a way that grabs people’s attention. But Events Calendar Pro has a more fundamental function than just providing the proper schema for your events. It presents your events in a very attractive manner. Sure, you could just embed a Google calendar onto your site. That will help your own church members find the info they need. But if you have any desire for people who aren’t already members to want to visit because of an event, you need to present that event in a way that says, “you, visitor, are welcome”. Also, this plugin provides lots of addon functions, like integration with Eventbrite, paying for tickets, making some events recurring, etc.
AMP is a way to drastically improve load speeds for your site when people access it via mobile devices. Google is really pushing this one and gives sites who use it properly a boost in the search results. It’s a bit of a learning curve, and the documentation on it is not geared to the WordPress newbie, but it is worth using if you can.
If you use both Events Calendar Pro and Amp, you should set up this integration of the two.
As mentioned above, this addon for Events Calendar Pro integrates your events to your Eventbrite events. Eventbrite is a great platform and can help get your event out to more people, and adds functions that are great for things like conferences like Apple Wallet admissions passes.
Popups are annoying, but modal popups can be used in tasteful ways. Sometimes you also would like to add a footer bar for a Call to Action or a snow closure announcement. ConvertPro can be used in a lot of ways, and it works so very well. It can be used in ways that are annoying to users and not tasteful at all, so use it wisely. But do acquaint yourself with what it can do for you. Use their lite version if that’s all you need because it is free and comes with several premium WordPress themes.
Did you ever go to a website and have a real person try and strike up a chat with you on the bottom right corner chatbox? Some people like it, some don’t. It is pretty easy to ignore if you don’t want it, but it is a really convenient way to get to a real person if you have a question. You could even use it as an evangelistic tool if you’re careful not to use it in a creepy way (ie. you can see what visitors are typing and it can be very strange when you accidentally answer their question before they’ve officially sent it to you). When they message you, you can use desktop software or a mobile app to continue the conversation. Best of all, while there are several competitors who offer this chat feature for your website, they’re all expensive and less good than Tawk, which is free. Check out their business model. It’s pretty cool.
You need to be constantly revising and adding to your site. No website should ever sit for years just collecting dust and bugs. But why not focus all that energy into blog or podcast content instead of having to remember to go in weekly and make sure your plugins and themes are up to the currently available version? With this plugin, that will be taken care of for you automatically.
Of all the plugins that help speed up your site, this is my favorite. They help check off many of the things GTMetrix wants you to do to speed up your site. Again, a faster site is a more visited site.
Yes, giving online to a ministry rather than giving cash or writing a check can come with processing fees. This online giving plugin is not only the most robust and well-designed plugin I’ve seen, but they even give the customer a quick and easy checkbox to cover those fees so that your ministry still gets as much as they had intended to give.
SermonAudio should be used by every church that agrees with their core beliefs, and I hope yours does. This sermon site expands your listener base across the world in ways I’ve not seen possible anywhere else. They also have tools to integrate things like live steamed sermons onto your website. I recommend providing a link to your sermonaudio page on your site, but not using their recent sermons embeddable widget as your only means of providing access to your past sermons. When you do this, it is easy and functions similarly to what I recommend, but if this is all you do you are missing out on a huge opportunity for refreshing content on your site that makes Google happy. Best practice: set up your site with its own post type for sermons. There are plugins for this but I don’t really like any of them. Stay tuned for ChurchThemes standalone sermon plugin. I’m expecting it to be better than the alternatives out there. You can set up your SermonAudio account to automatically be updated with new sermons uploaded to your site. If you want to be super awesome, type out a little intro to what the sermon will be about. You can also use transcribing software to make a text version of the whole sermon. This will require editing and a lot more time, but the search ranking dividends will be worth the effort.
What have you found to be the most helpful themes and plugins to work with? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!