Perhaps you’re planning to redesign your church’s website this year. You’ve heard that WordPress is a good solution for churches and now you’re ready to look for the right theme. How can you determine which themes are best for you to use? There’s more to the equation than just design quality and cost. After all, you know what looks good right away and most WordPress themes are within a reasonable price range.
I propose asking seven questions when deciding on a WordPress theme for use on your church’s website. These are not obvious, but they are important. Let’s think about things like Google and mobile testing, refund policies (which says a lot about who you’ll be dealing with), how easy it will be to switch away from a particular theme in the future, licensing and gauging a theme provider’s level of technical support — before you buy.
Having answers to these questions will help you choose the right theme and build a great new WordPress-powered church website — without wasting a dime or spending unnecessary time starting over.
7 Questions to Ask
Here are the questions to ask yourself and the WordPress theme developer you have your eye on:
1. Have you used Google’s Mobile Tester to confirm that it is mobile-friendly?
It is critical that your church’s website is mobile-friendly. You know that virtually everybody has a smartphone these days and about two-thirds of all searches begin on a smartphone. That means many of the visitors to your website are seeing it on their phones. Google also uses mobile-friendliness as a search ranking actor. Simply put, more people will visit your church if you use a WordPress theme that is truly mobile-friendly.
Don’t take the theme maker’s word for it. Test it yourself. First, go to their theme’s demo on your phone and browse around. Does it loads quickly? Is it easy to navigate? Second, paste the demo’s URL into Google’s Mobile Tester to see if Google sees it as being mobile-friendly. It’s important that it is both mobile-friendly to humans and to Google so that they will classify it as such. Otherwise, you’ll be lower down in search results. Fortunately, you can test this yourself before paying.
2. Does the theme seller offer refunds?
You don’t want to end up stuck paying for a theme that falls short. Not every WordPress theme seller offers refunds. It is sometimes argued that since a downloaded file cannot be returned, no refund can be offered. I cry foul. I’ve sold themes for five years and it’s the easiest thing in the world to process a refund. It’s only a matter of pushing a few buttons. There is nothing to ship, fix or repackage so it’s very easy from a seller’s perspective.
Make sure you’ll be able to get your money back for any reason so you can use it to purchase the right theme if your first attempt does not work out. Check the seller’s website and ask them what their refund policy is if you cannot find details. A “no questions asked” refund policy is the best. Independent shops are usually more likely to offer this than a large marketplace. Try to deal with a provider that does not count their chickens until they’re hatched.
3. Will it be easy to switch to another theme in the future?
There is something called the lock-in effect. Basically, it means you cannot easily switch themes in the future because some of your content will disappear. You don’t want to end up manually re-adding a bunch of sermons later. This happens when a theme adds content features and functionality like you see below directly to their own theme instead of supporting a plugin that multiple themes can support.
- Custom post types (sermons, events, etc.)
- Contact form
- Google Analytics tracking
These features are good but are plugin territory and not for themes to provide. Ask the theme seller if their theme includes any of these things directly in the theme rather than by supporting a plugin. By asking this, you’re asking if they are following WordPress theme development standards, which is to your benefit.
4. Are the features our church needs included?
Here are some features church websites usually need. You might not need all of these but make sure the theme you are considering supports what you need. Consider also what you might want to start using in the future. Some of these things are accomplished by the theme supporting a plugin and others come from WordPress itself. Check the theme details page and look through the demo to see how well it presents these things.
- Sermon archive – See the demo to see how the supported sermon plugin looks in the theme.
- Sermon podcasting with iTunes compatibility – Check that the supported sermon plugin has this.
- Event calendar – Support for a plugin with styling to match the theme is common.
- Map and location – Another plugin-provided feature that is helpful.
- Staff profiles – Likely provided by a plugin, styled by the theme.
- Ministries – Usually accomplished with regular pages from WordPress itself.
- Blog – Virtually all WordPress themes support this.
- Pages – WordPress lets you create unlimited custom pages.
- Photo gallery – WordPress core provides this; see how it looks in the demo.
- Online giving – You can likely use any solution but some mention of it is reassuring.
You can use a general WordPress theme or a theme made specifically for church websites. The latter has these benefits.
- Support from a theme maker that understands what churches specifically need.
- Supports and provides styling for plugins that church websites commonly need (like sermons and events).
- Shows these features in the theme’s demos (you probably won’t see sermons demonstrated in a regular theme’s demo).
- Sample content often includes church-centric content, giving you a solid starting point.
- Presentation of church-centric content (e.g. showing service times by a map in the footer).
I had mentioned theme cost not being a significant factor with themes. Do consider the cost of plugins, though. A theme will often support a free plugin for something like events but that plugin may have paid add-ons for extra functionality like recurring events or registration. These costs are worth considering.
5. Is the seller covering their costs or putting you at risk by betting the future?
In the early days of commercial WordPress themes, almost every seller provided lifetime support and updates for unlimited websites. That, of course, could not last forever. After a few years, theme sellers were finding themselves with a mounting number of customers to continue supporting and providing updates for but without a recurring source of revenue with which to fund these things.
Now many theme sellers include one year of support and updates and ask for an annual renewal. This is responsible because it keeps the boat floating for their customers. Stick with a theme provider that is operating on a sustainable business model like this. You don’t want to find yourself without support or updates in the future because your theme seller made unrealistic offers for too long.
6. Does the theme offer the same freedoms as WordPress itself?
Do you know what the GPL license is? It’s the license that WordPress and many other open source software projects use. It offers certain freedoms to use the software as you see fit. You can read the license here. The WordPress Foundation asks that all themes and plugins for WordPress use the same license, entirely. That means “100% GPL” licensing, not “Split GPL”, the ThemeForest Regular license or any proprietary license.
All plugins and themes available on WordPress.org are 100% GPL. Commercial themes and plugins are not available on WordPress.org so you need to check with each provider on this. Ask if their theme is “100% GPL licensed.” This will ensure that you are getting the same freedoms with that theme as you are with WordPress itself. There’s no valid reason (in my opinion) for commercial theme providers not to do as the WordPress Foundation wishes.
7. What can I expect from technical support?
Most commercial WordPress theme makers will provide support and documentation (not usually the case with free themes). It’s very likely that you will utilize one or both during the course of building your website and even after it is done. So, make sure these things are sufficient before you buy. You can do this in several ways.
- Find out what typical response time is. Within 24 hours on business days is good.
- Test support by sending in a message before you purchase. Are they fast, knowledgeable and polite?
- Browse the support section on their website. Is it thorough and clear? Does it have screenshots? Videos are a plus.
Take some time to get these answers and you’ll be able to make a more informed decision when choosing a new WordPress theme for your church website. Sometimes it’s easy to find this information while other times you’ll need to ask and wait. Consider that an opportunity to test how quick and helpful the provider is. Making this effort now could save you time and money down the road.
Now that you know what to look for in a WordPress theme, see Best Church WordPress Themes for some options that I personally recommend. Also, read ChurchTechToday’s helpful article, Popular WordPress Themes That Your Church Should Avoid for additional information on this topic.