Introduction to WordPress Plugins for Church Websites

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It is no secret that plugins are one of favorite features of WordPress users. Similar to smartphone app stores, there is an ever-expanding market of WordPress plugins. Because WordPress is open source, and resources are readily available for developers, there are both free and paid plugins for virtually any feature or function your website might need. With the use of WordPress plugins, you can add amazing features to your church website.

What is a WordPress plugin?

Simply put, a plugin is an add-on for WordPress. It is a bundle of code that when loaded into a special folder inside a WordPress installation, will provide additional functionality to the website.

Plugins come in all shapes and sizes and are created for a wide variety of uses.

In the early days of WordPress, one of the founders created a simple plugin, Hello Dolly, which has no real practical use. This simple plugin displays a random line of a song in your dashboard. At the other end of the spectrum, WooCommerce was created to provide websites with a full-feature eCommerce store, compete with robust inventory management, shipping, and payment management. Woocommerce has a globally distributed company behind it.

Some plugins are created to add design or front-end features that your website visitors will see or interact with. Other plugins provide back-end functions or tools for website builders. Some plugins provide performance enhancements, and others integrate with third party services. Plugins are all over the map which makes WordPress such a versatile option.

Are WordPress plugins free to use?

Many WordPress plugins are free. Some plugins are not. Some plugins require an ongoing paid subscription. There are many plugins that provide a free version as well as a paid or “pro” version of the same plugin – offering either more features or better support, or both. While there are thousands of free plugins, this does not necessarily mean they are lower quality. As I mentioned above, WooCommerce is one of the leading eCommerce solutions in the world and their core plugin is completely free.

Are plugins safe to use on my website?

This is a great question and it is always good to be cautious when adding third-party code to your website. There are two main issues a plugin could introduce to your website: issues of security and issues of compatibility.

Plugins and Website Safety

While WordPress plugins are “use at your own risk”, most plugins are trustworthy, reliable, and safe. There are times when a vulnerability is discovered in a plugin, but if the plugin is well-supported, it will be remedied quickly. There are indeed some bad actors out there, so it’s good to be aware.

If this all sounds a little scary, don’t worry! There are best practices you can use when selecting and using plugins that will keep your website solid, safe, and secure. Remember that thousands of reputable plugins are currently running on thousands of websites.

You might think of plugins like visiting a large city. Yes, there will be some crime and neighborhoods that are not safe to visit at night. Using common sense and being informed will keep you safe and allow you and your website to reap the benefits of plugins.

Plugins and Compatibility

Many like to say: Just because you can use a plugin, doesn’t mean you should! There are times when a plugin will have a conflict with another plugin or with your WordPress theme. This can happen for many reasons. The plugin may be poorly coded. The plugin may be too similar to another plugin that is active. Or you may just have too many active plugins running on your website.

Will plugins slow down my website?

Yes and no. WordPress is light weight and fast and can handle many plugins. So, depending on the collection of active plugins on your site, your WordPress website may get bogged down, or it may be just fine. It also depends on your hosting environment, what type of caching is employed, and other factors. If your website slows down due to plugins, it usually is due to having too many, having too many of the same type, or having one or more that are just not coded very well.

See the best practices below for guidance on installing plugins.

Where do I find plugins for my church website?

There are two main ways to find plugins for your WordPress website. The first is to search the curated WordPress.org Plugin Directory. The second is simply to do a web search.

Searching for plugins in the WordPress.org plugin directory

The WordPres.org plugin directory can be found at https://wordpress.org/plugins/. It is the largest collection of free and open source plugins on the internet. In order for a plugin to be added to this directory, it has to undergo a rigorous review by a special team. This ensures that the plugins in this directory meet certain quality and security standards.

After typing in your search term, you will be able to review all the relevant plugins along with a lot of additional details to help with your research. The WordPress.org plugin directory can also be accessed directly from your website’s WordPress dashboard, which is pretty handy.

Searching the internet for plugins

When it comes to building a website with WordPress, Google is your friend! Google (or any other search engine) will be great way to find plugins for your website. Need a gallery plugin? Search “gallery plugins for wordpress”. Need to research a plugin for online giving? Search “best online giving wordpress plugins for church websites”. There are countless websites and blogs (like the one you are reading now!) that love to review different plugins to use. You are likely to come across a number of articles that will help you discover the best plugin for a specific feature that you need.

Once you find your way to the plugin’s website and locate the download links, you can download the plugin .zip file to your computer. You then can upload and install this on your website.

How do I install a WordPress plugin?

Ok, so you now found a plugin you would like to try out. What happens next? You will need to install and activate the plugin on your website. There are a few ways to go about this, depending on where this plugin is made available. Plugins from the WordPress plugin directory can be installed directly from your dashboard. If you downloaded the plugin’s .zip file to your computer, this can be uploaded to your website through the dashboard, or via FTP (which is a bit more complicated, and isn’t necessary in most cases).

How to install plugins from the WordPress dashboard

When adding a plugin, you will see prompts both to install and to activate. Installing a plugin means it will be added to your website. Activate means it will be turned on. A plugin can exist in your plugin library, but be inactive. Keep in mind these are 2 separate actions.

  1. Log in to your WP Admin dashboard and navigate to Plugins
  2. Click Add New
  3. Click Upload Plugin to upload the .zip file, or search for plugins to install directly from the WordPress.org plugin directory
  4. If uploading, click Choose File to locate the file on your computer. Click Install Now. Then click Activate Plugin.
  5. If searching, click the Install Now button, then Activate

What kind of WordPress plugins are available for my church website?

A church website can get pretty far just by using WordPress’s built in features. However, plugins can be used to expand beyond basic text, photo, and video content. Click on the buttons below to see what plugins come up for certain searches. This will give you a taste of what is available. These buttons will take you to the WordPress.org plugin directory.

There are plugins that have been designed specifically for church websites such as plugins for managing small groups and online sermons (as seen just above). There are also plugins that contain a full suite of features to enhance church websites such as Church Content Pro or Church Admin Plugin. As I shared before, Google is your friend when it comes to plugin research. If you can’t find what you are looking for in the WordPress plugin directory, hit up Google to expand your search!

What to expect when researching plugins

The downside to having hundreds of relevant plugins to choose from is that it can make the plugin research process tedious. It is normal to expect plugin research and testing to take some time. After all, you first need to find a plugin that does what you want. You then need to do some due diligence to make sure it is a reputable plugin to install. This is where Google can help as you often can find helpful articles which summarize and review plugins in a specific category. Plugins are never permanent, so if a plugin does not work as expected, you can remove it and try another one.

Best practices for adding plugins

It can be easy to go overboard with adding plugins to your WordPress website. What some people don’t realize is that your WordPress website grows in complexity with each plugin you install. This can increase the risk of code conflicts, affect performance, and slow down your website. With these best practices, most issues can be avoided.

When researching and reviewing plugin options, here are some helpful things to consider.

When was the plugin last updated?

If a plugin has not been updated for a long time (say, 6 months or longer), the developer may not be actively managing it. This is a sign that bugs or other issues are not being addressed. If this is a simple plugin, you might get by using it without any issues. However, adding a complex plugin that doesn’t seem to have anyone maintaining it is generally not a good idea.

How many active installs does the plugin have?

If a plugin is being used on thousands – or even hundreds – of active websites, this can give you peace of mind. This tells you that the plugin is useful, that it runs well, and that it is being well supported by the developer.

Make sure it has been tested with the latest version of WordPress

The core WordPress software is regularly updated to keep up with browser changes, feature additions, security, and more. It is important that plugin developers update their plugins to ensure they remain compatible. If the plugin has not been tested with the newest version of WordPress, it still may work, but be cautious.

Check the reviews

In today’s online world, reviews carry a lot of weight – and for good reason! Check out the reviews on a plugin. Don’t just consider the overall rating. You can learn a lot about a plugin by reading the reviews. You can see what features are liked or disliked, or just missing altogether.

Here is a screenshot of a popular plugin, GiveWP. You can learn a lot about a plugin from this single page.

WP Give Plugin Page Example

A few additional tips for using plugins

Do not use more than one plugin that performs the same function

Let’s say you want a fancier way to display images in a gallery. You might install two or three gallery plugins to test them out. You might like some of the unique features of each plugin and decide to use all of them. Since each plugin is integrating with the same elements of your website, there is a good chance that these will be in conflict with each other in some way. In general, it is better to stick with only one plugin that performs a specific job.

Keep plugins updated

Plugins are designed to integrate with the code of WordPress. WordPress is regularly updated – meaning, the code is changed. Consequently, this can cause your plugins to not function properly. In most cases, this does not cause any catastrophic event. That said, it is always good to keep your plugins updated. WordPress offers an auto-update feature which will keep your plugins (and themes) updated automatically.

Use only the plugins you need

We’ll end with the big question. How many plugins is too many? It is common mistake to thoughtlessly add plugins over time without ever removing old plugins that are not being used. As I shared before, this can greatly affect your websites performance and functionality.

A great rule of thumb is to use only the plugins you absolutely need. If you want an exact number, let’s say: 12-15. It really does depend on what type of plugins they are and how much integration they have with your website. If you are getting into the 30-40 plugin range, it’s time to do a plugin audit and rethink your website set up!

Keep backups of your website

There may come a time when installing a plugin causes your website to crash. You may even see a message regarding a fatal or critical error. This can be quite scary and induce panic! In most cases, this does not mean your website is forever broken, erased or deleted from the internet. It may only mean that something is interfering with the website loading properly.

Having a way to back up your website regularly can save you in cases like this. Many hosting providers will provide an automatic backup and one-click restore process. Hosting providers also may provide support for this, with the ability to deactivate a problematic plugin from their end, thus restoring the website. There are also (you guessed it) plugins designed for backing up your website!

Either way, having a way to restore a backup of your website is the safe way to go, no matter what platform you are using.

Plug away!

Congratulations! If you have made it this far, you now have a working knowledge of WordPress plugins and how they can benefit you and your church website. I hope this guide has helped to demystify the world of WordPress Plugins. Whether you are thinking about using WordPress to build a church website, or you are ready to take your church website to the next level, plugins are here to help you achieve your goals.

There are many steps to creating a church website and it can be overwhelming. Take out the guesswork with the Free Roadmap!

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