This post is an interview with Steven Gliebe, a web designer who recently launched his site churchthemes.com as a full-time business developing and supporting WordPress themes for churches.
In case you haven’t noticed by now, I’m strongly of the opinion that WordPress is a great solution for church websites. The challenge in setting up a church site on WordPress has been both finding a good-looking and functional theme, and making it easy enough for church volunteers, staff, and pastors without any web development training to update and maintain the site once it’s up. I think Steven’s model with churchthemes.com of selling both a theme designed specifically for churches and low-cost support is a great entry into the market. Enjoy the interview!
Let’s start with a little about you personally. What’s your background, both in the church, and professionally?
First and foremost, I’m a follower of Jesus Christ (about 10 years now). I’m a layman in the church married to a seminary graduate who works in family ministry. Thanks mostly to my wife’s path, I have many friends who are pastors. This background has provided me with some insight into the needs of a church that I might not otherwise have as the volunteer who shuttles churchgoers around the parking lot in a golf cart.
Professionally, I am a self-employed web designer and developer. I started off as a freelance web designer about 10 years ago. These days I don’t work directly with clients to build their websites but provide them (and other professionals) with tools to help them build their own websites using WordPress.
What inspired you to get into designing WordPress themes for churches?
My interest first was with WordPress themes in general, then I saw that there were some made specifically for churches. I also saw that the selection was limited and in part outdated. That’s when I gave a shot at making my own church WordPress theme. I put it up on a theme marketplace more than a year ago and now several thousand churches are using it. This confirmed to me that WordPress themes are indeed a cost-effective and useful solution for church websites.
I’ve spent the last year preparing to launch a theme shop dedicated to church WordPress themes (the story of this is on my personal blog). We launched churchthemes.com last month and are off to an encouraging start. Our first church theme is called Resurrect and more will follow as this is my new full-time job.
Talk about what a church theme is. Why should a church pay for a WordPress theme specifically intended for churches instead of just using a free theme or even the default theme that comes with WordPress?
WordPress is a content management system. You first sign up for hosting, which is the space on the Internet where your website lives, then install WordPress there. You can then log into WordPress to build your website without any design or coding experience. A theme changes the appearance of a WordPress site. Therefore, a church theme helps you build a church website.
Free themes are an option for simple websites. They typically do not have the same visual appeal or specialized features that paid themes provide. For example, with churchthemes.com you get functionality designed specifically for churches: sermons, events, locations, staff, etc. There is a Theme Customizer that lets you match the look of your site to your church by adding your logo and changing colors, fonts, background, etc. You also get step-by-step guides showing you how to use the theme and one-on-one support for any questions that you have.
What’s unique about ChurchThemes.com, and what’s your vision for the future of the site?
As far as being a church website solution, what’s unique about churchthemes.com is the low cost. WordPress itself is a free, open source project and you can buy one of our themes for $50. [Update: As of November 2016, themes are now $99. Still a great deal!] Web hosting for your WordPress site can be had for about $10/mo (there is free hosting for nonprofits [Ed. note: If you’re looking for free non-profit hosting, check out Dreamhost] ). It ends up being less expensive than both fully custom sites (usually several thousand dollars) and hosted church website solutions (typically several hundred dollars upfront plus $20 – $100 per month).
What this means is that churches of all sizes and budgets can have an attractive and full-featured website. It’s a less expensive solution, but not because of lack of design or features (if you use a good theme). A paid WordPress theme can have several months of work put into it. That equates to thousands of dollars worth of features and design. Since multiple churches share the cost of one theme, each church pays only a small amount. Furthermore, WordPress itself has been under development for 10 years now and provides a solid backend for managing the site.
Another reason the cost is low is because it is a “do it yourself” solution. That doesn’t mean you’re totally on your own though. With churchthemes.com, each theme purchase includes one year of one-on-one support. Updates to the theme (new features, bug fixes, etc.) are delivered automatically with one-click. Renewal of support and updates costs 50% of the current price per year. Also consider that 60,000,000 websites (about 20% of all new websites [Ed. note: GoodChurchWebsite.com is a WordPress site]) are powered by WordPress and the people that run them can’t all be geniuses. It’s a tool made for regular Joe’s. All you need to be able to do is point and click your way around. No design or programming skills are necessary.
Our vision for the future is to produce a series of church themes for WordPress. All of our themes will utilize the Theme Customizer for appearance customization, but we want to offer multiple themes with widely varying appeal so there is something to fit every church. For example, our first theme (Resurrect) is an urban-inspired theme. We plan for our next release to have a more classic look and feel.
Finally, what are some of the biggest challenges you see churches facing today with their websites?
One very big concern for almost all churches is how much it will cost to get a website built. Not every church can afford to pay a web designer and not every church can afford the upfront, ongoing or add-on costs of hosted church website solutions. Not every church that does have the budget needs to pay for these things either. WordPress with a church theme is a good solution for nearly all church websites.
Another challenge is getting a website built that is usable both by the visitor on the front-end and church staff or volunteers on the backend. With a custom site, the level of usability is sometimes not understood until after the fact. With a WordPress theme, the church can have a good idea of what they are getting beforehand. We provide a full demo of the front-end and offer a 45-day money back guarantee so churches can experience building their site and managing content without risk. That way they can be sure that what they are paying for will be useful.
Thank you for your time, and blessings on the launch of ChurchThemes.com!
I hope you enjoyed reading that interview. Right now, the only church WordPress theme Steven has available is the responsive Resurrect theme, but I’ve played around with the demo of it, and it’s highly customizable. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next theme will be like. If this theme and support sounds like something that would be a good fit for your church, check it out at churchthemes.com.
Affiliate Note: In the interest of openness and authenticity, you should know that I’m registered as an affiliate for ChurchThemes.com, meaning if you make a purchase after clicking one of my links to them, I get a commission, which goes towards keeping this site going. That said, I do think they have a great product, and I would likely recommend them without any commission.