What is the lock in effect?

Churches have a ton of different options to create their website. There are a lot of things to consider when choosing which option is best for you (price, necessary design work, etc.). One thing most churches should consider but don’t often think of until it is too late is how much their website will be locked in by the system they chose.

This is often referred to as “lock in effect.” Designers use this term to describe how much of the information is locked into all or part of a particular website system. The term is a bit confusing. The info isn’t actually locked away permanently, but it does make the information a bit more work to get.

Most folks don’t think about this when they create their site, but they definitely will be aware of it when they try to update their website. Sites with a smaller amount of lock in effect will be much easier to update because the info can be easily transferred to a new website design. Sites with a larger amount of lock in effect will require much more work when it comes to recreate their website. You can usually cut and paste text from your old site to your new.

Every website option has some lock in effect. There is no way to completely avoid it. Our goal with this post is to make you aware of the lock in effect so you can make a more educated system.

Proprietary Web Site Systems Lock In Effect:

Many of the church website systems (Clover, Bridge Element) use their own proprietary backend system to create a website. They make some stunning sites with it. Because everything is proprietary, this means they have a bigger lock in effect. This might not be a big deal for you if you stick with the company system. Many of these companies offering updates every couple of years as a part of the website package they offer.

If you don’t like the new options, feel like you are no longer getting the best value from this company or the company goes out of business, you will feel the lock in effect because you will have to basically recreate your website in a new system.

WordPress Lock In Effect

Our site is devoted to WordPress. I you have read it at all you know that there are a ton of different WordPress options these days. This can be a blessing because you can use a variety of different themes or plugins to create your site. All of them have WordPress backends so it can be sometimes be really easy to transition from one website design to another.

However, the lock in effect still occurs in WordPress. The reason is that each theme and plug in is created slightly differently. You have probably noticed this if you have ever tried to switch themes or deactivated a plugin. Some of the information on your home page or in a widget may disappear until you reactivate the item. This occurs because some of your information is locked into or embedded into the theme or plugin’s special code. You may not necessarily lose the information. Often times, you can get it back when you activate a deactivated theme (not a deleted one).

How can you minimize the lock in effect in WordPress?

1) Use church specific plugins:

Plugins are little extra programs that can control things like calendars, sermon management, etc. The information you create in a plugin is stored in that specific system. Plugins are often designed to work with many different themes. This means your information can often be moved more easily to a new design.

Two words of caution about plugins. You don’t want to go overboard with plugins because they can slow down your website performance (10 or less is awesome, 15 or less is usually acceptable). Also, you must realize that plugin developers can chose to discontinue updating them or they can change their business model. Often plugin developers will create a plugin and offer it for free and then transition so features to a paid version.

2) Stay with same theme company.

You can also minimize the lock in effect by sticking with the same theme company. Each theme company tends to build their church themes on similar code. This means that most of your information is in similar formats. This means it is usually minimizes the amount of work you have to do when transitioning between website designs.

Bottom line:

There is no way to completely avoid the lock in effect. It is embedded it into every system. You usually won’t feel it until you want to refresh your website design. It is something that should factor in when choosing what system you want to use for you new site!

How have you experienced the lock in effect? What tips would you give beginners?

Here what others are saying on the topic!


Brad started ChurchWP.net in 2013 to help churches get online with WordPress. He is a pastor and also operates a web design agency called Frugal Fox Design.