One of the best things about technology today is that it’s faster, it’s cheaper and it’s better than it’s ever been. All of these qualities are a boon for the small, medium and large church because we have nothing but opportunity now to engage with our congregation, reach our local communities and expand our message unlike we’ve ever done—and again, we can do it on the cheap.
That’s why I’ve been a fan of WordPress for the church for a long time. Did you know that WordPress now powers over 17% of the top 1 million sites in the world? The growth curve is unbelievable and your ministry has everything it needs to leverage a best-in-breed technology with an extremely low bar.
But just like the first time you change a tire, it can be daunting at first glance and I hope I can provide some context and some top plugins that can help you get a robust church website up and running in no time flat.
There are tons of themes out there and you really do have your pick of the litter. The biggest challenge here is to not overdo your decision-making process. There are some themes that appear to have all the tricks and features that you might want but I challenge you to start simple. In fact, the simpler the better. Especially if this is your first time venturing into WordPress you want to make that transition as easy as possible. In fact, I recommend using one of the themes that come standard with WordPress. Just use Twenty Twelve to start and you’ll be fine. You can always upgrade and change out a theme but you’ve got to learn to walk before you can run!
Most ministries have a calendar of events and one of the best plugins to do this is Events Calendar. It’s free to download (although you can go “Pro” with a paid account later) and should be everything you need to get up and running quickly. The setup is easy, the installation is flawless and they’ve got a robust support documentation to boot.
Newsletters still work, especially when you need to communicate key dates or events with your members and congregation. Wysija is where you should start. It’s also free and is simple to use and implement. They have great video overviews to get you sending newsletters to your congregation in no time. There is also a premium version available but smaller congregations shouldn’t need to upgrade (at least not now!).
4. Images and Media
One of the best things that’ll keep your congregation engaged with your blogging efforts is robust and creative media from social networks and services like Flickr, Instagram, 500px or even Dribble. A new plugin that was released recently is called Uber Media that natively integrates those great services right into the post layer. You can easily insert images into your blog posts and pages via the media manager in a simple and intuitive interface. You can even filter out NSFW content in a “safe mode.”
5. Blogging Calendar, Editorial Management
As you solicit help to write content and create an editorial system and process there’s only one plugin that you’ll need to get started and that’s EditFlow. This robust editorial workflow system has everything you need to create a calendar of blog posts, manage your authors, create feedback loops for your content, and even notifications and story budgeting from a brilliant interface. Use it a few times and you’ll be hooked and never be able to use another WordPress blog and site without it. Some of the largest editorial online publications use it and swear by it.
People have to find your church and be able to get there on time. So you’ll want an interactive map and there’s nothing better than this Google Map plugin. You’ll be able to create a local map to your church with simple and helpful tooltips along the way. With full documentation, shortcode builders and even authentication for directions, you’ll never have someone text message your lead pastor Sunday morning asking for directions.
Need to create a directory of your members or even your church staff? Look no further than Connections Business Directory. Built right into the admin and dashboard you’ll be able to see anniversaries, birthdays, and more about your members and staff. With controls over private and viewable content you’ll be able to organize them by groups as well. Done and done.
For sermons, start simple. There’s one audio plugin that I trust with my life and that’s WP Audio Player. You won’t be able to create a mega-wide database of sermons but the simplicity of this plugin (one sermon per post) cannot be matched. Start here and then upgrade to a bigger podcast/music plugin if you ever need it.
Get to Work
This list of core themes and plugins should be seen as a generalized starter kit for a church to get up and running quickly with WordPress. For every category there are plenty of other options—share your favorites in the comments. There’s almost limitless possibilities so be wise and always think of the easiest and simplest solution to a problem.
Good luck and I can’t wait to see your ministry boost its web presence this year with WordPress!
Not sure if WordPress is for you? Check out our post comparing WordPress with hosted content management systems.