Every WordPress site runs on a theme, which dictates how many aspects of the site work: what does the header look like, what features does the site have (without adding plugins), how customizable is the site—these are the types of things controlled by the theme. Mennonite.net provides a number of our own themes that offer useful features for churches, (you can go here to see the themes we have available) but you can use any theme you want on your WordPress site. However, there are a few considerations that are necessary when choosing a new theme.
Many themes are not free. Even the ones that appear when clicking “Add New Theme” in the WordPress dashboard (Appearance > Themes > Add New) are often light version of premium themes. What this means is that what you will actually get after installing the theme may look quite different from the demos provided by the theme companies. Often times, many of the customization options or features that may make the theme a good fit for your site are only offered in the paid version. This is one reason why we recommend using one of our Divi themes, which provide plenty of customization to make the site your own. Either way, this is something to look out for when installing a new theme.
Previous Theme Data
When moving from a previous theme, the data that theme contains will also be transferred; this can also cause the installed theme to look differently than expected. For example, when using a theme built on Divi, each of the different page elements—such as sliders, text blocks, image containers, etc— are actually WordPress shortcodes that Divi knows how to display in order to make the page look right. (To learn more about WordPress shortcodes, visit this link.) Since other themes don’t know how to display these shortcodes correctly, the content just appears as a bunch of meaningless text. This can also be very surprising when moving from a Divi theme to a more traditional theme, and is another thing to consider.
Even when considering all of the things that may cause a theme to not look as expected after first installing it, it will probably still require customization and fine-tuning to get it looking exactly as desired, and this customization takes time. For that reason, new themes should always be installed on a development site, not on a live, active website. A development site is simply a copy of your current site at a different URL (for instance, dev.example.com rather than example.com) that you can edit and customize as you wish; once your dev site looks as desired, it will be moved over to your current site. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a dev site for you.
When changing your site’s theme, these are the pieces to keep in mind. Doing so will save you from some scary situations, like changing a theme on an active site and realizing that the whole thing has become unreadable. (Luckily, if this does happen, you can usually fix it immediately by simply switching back to the previous theme). Happy theming!