Churches today have to meet people where they are and that means having a website, just like most other businesses and organizations. However, for the website to serve the church well, it must be well thought out and easy to manage.
WordPress is the perfect Content Management System (CMS) for churches to use because it is easy to set up and flexible to meet the different needs that churches may have. Whether for a simple brochure site simply listing the services and other basic information, or for a fully featured website including multimedia and membership, WordPress can help get the job done.
This article will walk you through what you need to do to set up your church website and get your information organized and looking good so you can start spreading your mission.
Examples of Beautiful Church Websites
Before we get into how you can set up your own church website, let’s take a quick look at some well designed church websites running on WordPress.
First up is the Aloma Church, which is using a custom theme built on the Cherry Framework. The crisp, modern design features a clear navigation scheme and a homepage slider with information about service times. A bold calendar and a clear link for newcomers makes it easy for visitors to get involved.
Next is the Community Bible Church, using a premium theme called The Retailer from Get Bowtied. The design is very clean and presents the content in a simple fashion. The slider at the top of the homepage presents the values of the church beautifully. Right below that we can see immediately the service times and the address of the church. Further down the page they have presented recent sermons you can click through and listen to.
Finally, the Glad Tidings Church, which uses a custom theme, is very clean and professional-looking. It features a prominent link for people new to the church. The slider uses images and quotes of happy church members and links to their stories. Below the slider, the site provides an easy way for visitors to get more information on getting involved with various groups or through donations.
Now that we’ve been inspired by these examples of beautiful church websites built on WordPress, let’s get you started on your own website journey.
What You’ll Need
Here’s what you will need (and what we will cover below) before you get started:
- WordPress: We already said we would be using WordPress, so you’ll need it installed either locally or on your web server.
- A plan for your website: Notice we mentioned navigation in the examples? You need to plan your website before you start.
- Some content: Besides the basic information, consider pulling together some inspirational images and multimedia materials (e.g. sermon recordings).
- A beautiful church theme: We will show you some themes that could work well and explain why you might choose a premium theme rather than a free one.
- Some plugins: Nothing to worry about. We will tell you what plugins you should consider adding to your website.
So far it’s not too complicated, right? If you’re ready, let’s go!
Setting Up Your Website
The first thing you will need for your website is hosting and a domain name.
Hosting is basically where your website lives on the internet, and the domain is the address that points to your hosting space so your visitors can get to your website. Most web hosting packages will include a domain name. Be sure to check out our article on choosing a good domain name for your website before you select one.
Step 1: Choosing Website Hosting
A variety of hosting types exist and the quality can vary.
Basic shared hosting can suffice for very small sites with little traffic, but as your website grows, you may want to consider WordPress-specific hosting and managed hosting. Both may cost a bit more but are well worth it in terms of peace of mind and security.
If you’re on a tight budget, shared hosting may be the way to go for you. You can look at some popular options like:
Specialized WordPress managed hosting offers advanced (premium) features such as ‘done-for-you’ upgrades and backups, so you won’t need to worry about that part of running your website. Especially if you have no technical people among your team, consider managed hosting for your website.
Some of the managed hosts offering great packages for WordPress hosting are:
If you need some help figuring out what kind of hosting is best for you, we took a look at whether managed hosting was really worth the money.
If your church is a USA registered 501(c)3 organization, you may actually be able to tap into free hosting offered by several companies. Usually, you will only need to fill out a form and show proof of your organization’s charity status and then you will be given free hosting. Here are a couple of the participating hosts:
Step 2: Installing WordPress
Installing WordPress is pretty easy. The process, however, will vary depending on the hosting setup you chose in the previous step. If you went with a managed host, WordPress is typically preinstalled, so you don’t need to do anything other than give your site a name and get to configuring.
If instead you opted for shared hosting, you will have the choice of using your hosting control panel to install WordPress, or carrying out a manual install. We have a complete guide to installing WordPress which will take you through both of these options. But don’t worry, even a manual installation is super easy due to WordPress’ famous 5-minute install.
The other option is installing WordPress locally first, then transferring it to your hosting account when you are ready. Installing WordPress online means that you have no extra steps before making your website live to the public. Once you are ready with the theme and content, you can start sharing your URL with people.
The advantages of working with WordPress locally include being able to make changes to your design, content and functionality without affecting your live website. This means you can test things like WordPress updates or new plugins without fear of breaking your website.
Setting up WordPress on a local machine is not super complicated. but it typically includes some other software that needs to be installed. We have some guides for installing WordPress on a Mac computer and doing the same on a Windows computer. Just follow the steps and you will have WordPress up and running in no time.
Once you have finished working on your site, you will need to transfer it to your online hosting. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. As soon as you have installed WordPress, take a look at our checklist of things you should do right after installing WordPress.
Now that you have your hosting setup and WordPress installed, we can move on to the really fun stuff!
Planning Your Website’s Structure
One challenge with making it as easy to setup a website as WordPress does, is that many people jump headfirst without putting any thought into the website. Planning out your website structure before you start building enables you to determine:
- how visitors will navigate your site (menus and links needed),
- what content you need to prepare (text, images, multimedia),
- how your design needs to accommodate your content, and
- what functionality your site will need.
Skipping this step means your website will be a patchwork of elements stuck together, each added when you figured out you needed it.
For churches, you will find that your website will tend to mirror your organization. You will typically examine how your church is setup in terms of groups (e.g. youth ministry) and activities (e.g. weekly bible study). A key perspective is how someone new to your church would be introduced to the organization and what they would need to know.
Not everything about your church needs to go on your website, so it is equally important to think about what will not form a part of your website structure. Some aspects of a church community may be better shared in person but many can be shared remotely, such as the sermons given in service.
Choosing a Theme
The WordPress repository has thousands of free themes available for you to download and use with your WordPress website. Additionally, there are many premium themes available through marketplaces like Theme Forest, as well as through theme developers like Elegant Themes (that’s us!).
There is something to fit pretty much any design aesthetic you wish for your church, but you may want to consider a couple of things before downloading and installing your first theme. There are pros and cons to both free and premium themes.
Besides their price, free themes are easy to install through the WordPress administration interface and have gone through an official review process in order to be included in the WordPress repository. However, they often don’t come with much (or any) support and are not updated as often (which can pose a security risk).
Premium themes, on the other hand, though they can be pricey, are often better designed and coded, updated more frequently, and bundled with advanced functionality and support. That said, premium themes can be bloated with all that extra functionality and they don’t undergo an official review before being released.
On balance, we recommend premium themes if you are serious about your website.
When choosing a theme for a church website, you will want to consider first your plan from the previous section to make sure the theme can easily accommodate your structure without too much customization. Pay close attention to page layouts, menus and customization options. Most themes will have demos showing you how the the theme looks by default.
Other important considerations include how the theme uses images, whether it is enabled for multimedia (audio and video), and how it deals with events. If you have identified specific functionality that will be needed (e.g. e-commerce), ideally you want a theme that is designed to integrate well with plugins that offer that functionality.
We have selected a few themes you can take a look at, but remember there are many themes available to you:
- Charitas Lite (Free): Charitas Lite provides a simple, clean design for a modern eye-catching church or charity website.
- Risen (Premium): This responsive feature-rich, multimedia-enabled theme for churches is very popular.
- Avada Church Theme (Premium): Avada is a very ‘mature’ theme, very well developed and supported.
If you want to look at some more themes, this collection of over 30 church themes should help you find your perfect theme.
Last but by no means least, it would be remiss of us not to mention our very own Divi theme. Although it isn’t ‘church-specific’, per se, it is (in our humble opinion) the most powerful and functional premium WordPress theme available. You wouldn’t be the first church to use it either.
WordPress is very powerful on its own, so you don’t need plugins (which can extend its functionality in near-limitless ways) to get started. That said, there are some essential plugins that we think you should consider installing and activating to get the most out of your site, such as Yoast SEO for search engine optimization and Akismet for spam protection.
For a church website to be truly useful, it must go beyond the purely informational. In planning your website, you likely included some specific types of content or functionality that you want your site to have. This is where plugins can come in very handy. Some use cases (with accompanying plugins) that you might want to consider are:
Providing access to recordings of the sermons presented at your church is a good way to engage your website visitors and introduce them to your church. For those who may miss a service it is also helpful to be able to hear the message delivered in their absence. Plugins like Sermon Manager and Sermon Browser (both free) can help you to easily publish sermons online.
Besides the weekly services, most churches have other activities such as bible study, group meetings, choir rehearsals, fundraisers, etc. Displaying these events on the church website is a good way to get people involved in the church community and remind them of what is coming up. The Events Calendar is a very popular free plugin for managing events on your website.
Besides the tithes or collections taken during a service, your church may be interested in accepting donations on their website to further their ministry. Free plugins like Seamless Donations and Give make setting up and collecting donations quick and easy.
Prayer requests are one way to engage both your existing congregation and new visitors on your website. A plugin like PrayBox can help you manage prayer requests and display the prayers being requested.
A well thought out church website can go a long way towards serving the mission of the church. Creating a church website with WordPress isn’t difficult, and with the right plan it can be done very quickly using a great theme and some plugins.
We’ve given you a step by step approach to get you started. Following these steps, you could have your church website up and running before your next service:
- Get website hosting
- Set up WordPress
- Plan your website structure
- Choose a theme
- Install plugins
Have you set up a church website using WordPress? We would love to see it. And if you have any questions or suggestions or if you think we left out something, please let us know in the comments section below!
Article thumbnail image by Artisticco, Julia Tim / shutterstock.com