WordPress is a powerful framework that is widely supported and constantly updated. Almost all major hosting platforms including Godaddy, Bluehost, and Hostgator allow you to install it on their platform easily and quickly even if you aren’t a developer. The software itself is free of charge which is why many online ministries and theme developers have developed church themes for WordPress.
With a growing community of developers around the world and with the free price tag it only makes sense that many ministries today are turning to WordPress for their online presence.
When it comes to church themes, the WordPress community has churches covered. There are plenty of great looking themes on Themeforest and in other places that do just about everything you would expect from a church’s website today. They’ll manage your events, speakers, staff, etc, but there still remains one major flaw in most if not all of those themes. They tie all of the vital aspects of the ministry into the theme. Over the past 3 years I’ve personally built 4 different WordPress websites for churches and I’ve run into this same issue all 4 of those times as I’ll explain below.
A Separation of Themes & Plugins
One of the mistakes that many developers and non-developers make is thinking that the purpose of a theme is to contain all of the functionality of the website. A theme is not synonymous to a website and unfortunately many churches have had to find that out when they decide to change their theme.
If you have all of your website’s functionality built into the theme then the second you switch your theme all of that functionality goes out the window with the old one. Obviously this is a problem, especially if your ministry plans on changing the website every few years or so.
So then why would anyone build such functionality into a church theme? The answer is simple, because there are few plugins to choose from for church theme developers, and the options that do exist aren’t always what a theme developer wants. In any other instance the theme would be separate from the core functionality of the website as is the case with plugins such as WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, and Yoast SEO.
The Purpose of Church Themes is User Experience
So this brings up a good question, what is the purpose of a WordPress theme for your church? Well as the title suggests, the purpose of a theme is to direct the user’s experience and that’s it. Church themes were always meant to be the design of the site, and not the brains of it. One analogy I often use when talking to clients is that if you take the process of building a home; the foundation, framing, and roof would be the functionality of the site, whereas the brick, and paint colors would be the design.
Once the foundation is laid, its painstakingly hard to move it around. This is the reason that many churches have relied on other online platforms for their online ministries. It’s just simpler to manage when all of the content is separate from the design, which systems like Ekklesia 360 implement.
WordPress Plugins to the Rescue!
This brings us to a follow up question which is “What should be done about functionality that is critical to ministry but shouldn’t be included in my theme?”.
The obvious answer is that it should be built and maintained separately in a WordPress plugin, period.
WordPress has developed into a multi-faceted ecosystem of not only themes, but plugins which are built to target specific tasks. A plugin has the ability to travel alongside a theme for a given period of time and then remain when the new theme is applied. It serves as a bridge between the gap of functionality and design. Until a solid plugin is developed this issue will persist.
I’m not writing this without a reason, I believe that it’s crucial for churches and ministries in the future to be able to provide their users with new and clean designs that are updated as the times change. Right now there are very few plugins available to WordPress church themes, and for the most part they don’t present an easy way for developers to build on top of. With all that said, I will be releasing what I hope to be the solution to this problem in the near future.