Unitarian Universalist Association introduces church website template, with sample content for local congregations to adapt.
Screenshot of a sample page of the new UUA congregational WordPress theme. (© Unitarian Universalist Association)
You don’t get a second chance at a first impression, and for congregations that impression is increasingly being formed before a visitor even walks through the door.
“Every visitor to a church today checks out a congregation’s website before ever showing up on Sunday,” said Unitarian Universalist Association Outreach Director Carey McDonald. “Having a good online presence that effectively and engagingly communicates what the congregation is all about is absolutely critical for growth and outreach. And we know how hard it is to pull together a great, attractive, mobile-responsive, accessible website.”
That’s why on October 27 the Unitarian Universalist Association released a new tool to help congregations develop affordable, engaging, mobile-friendly websites.
The UUA WordPress Theme for Congregations, created by web developer Christopher Wulff and the Association’s Outreach team, was designed specifically for use by congregations, though it can be adapted for non-congregational groups. The WordPress theme acts as a template for a congregation’s website, simplifying the process of creating a professional and welcoming first experience for visitors by doing the design and technical work so congregations don’t have to. Congregations just need to add content. The theme is customizable and comes with a variety of widgets and plug-ins to help highlight upcoming events, sermons, testimonials, and more.
“The response has been tremendous—lots of positive feedback,” said McDonald. “We’ve developed it in ongoing conversation with the UU web user community, and we’ve tried to make it as easy to use as possible. Our goal is for every UU congregation to have a world-class website.”
Congregations can download the new theme onto their WordPress-powered websites for free through January 2016, after which the theme will be available for a small fee.
The Outreach team has developed a guide for creating engaging content, which includes sample material that congregations can download directly to their websites.
The Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, the UUA’s outreach associate for Digital Ministries, said interest in the UUA’s theme is high. “[We] filled up our webinar on November 21 with 100 sign-ups. Many congregations are very excited.” At press time, the theme had been downloaded more than 160 times.
The Rev. Matt Alspaugh, minister of the UU Church of Youngstown, Ohio, said his church is still implementing the new theme. “We were really happy to hear of this initiative because we needed to redo our website—primarily to support mobile devices—and were not looking forward to it,” he said, adding that so far they are “pleased with the template and the fairly detailed instructions that have been developed.”
Alspaugh recommends having what he called a “hackathon,” where a small group gathers to work on the site together. “It was a good introduction to the theme, and to WordPress for many of us, and we got a lot of site content written that day.”
Millspaugh pointed out that WordPress is easy to use once it’s set up, but said it helps to have someone with technical experience do the initial setup of the theme on your site.
The UU Church of East Liberty in Clarklake, Michigan, is already using the new WordPress theme on its website. The church’s minister, the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Landrum, has been reviewing the WordPress theme in depth in a series of posts on her blog, Rev. Cyn. Overall, her impression has been favorable. “I was looking for a theme like any other theme, but geared toward congregational use,” she wrote in one post. “This theme and its materials gave me SO much more that it’s like Christmas for my webpage.”
Of course, congregations can also create their own WordPress-powered websites. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Canton, New York, recently unveiled its new site, uucantonny.org. Announcing the launch on Facebook’s UU Website Lab group, Carol Smith Pynchon wrote, “We used WordPress, but were lucky enough to have a great committee and the services of a young adult who grew up in our congregation to build the site. We’re still working on some wrinkles, but it’s up and running.”
Download the UUA WordPress Theme for Congregations at UUATheme.org or learn more about it at UUA.org.
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Sonja L. Cohen is deputy managing editor of UU World and a lifelong Unitarian Universalist.