At ChurchWP.net, we have started a unique Designer Interview series. It is a great way for our readers to learn about some of the great church website designers and get some practical content and design tips from them too! In this episode, we interview Justin Scheetz of Scheetz Designs. He is the man behind some of the most popular church WordPress themes on ThemeForest. Click here to read our review of his soon-to-be-released Forgiven theme.
How long have you been involved in web design and what got you started?
I’ve been designing and developing for the last 16 years. I got started in my early teens and fell in love with it. I have always had an artistic eye and I quickly discovered how much I loved the technical side of art. This led me into graphic design, Flash animation (yikes!), and finally pure HTML/CSS web development. Then, upon discovering WordPress about 5 years ago, I fell in love all over again.
When did you start Scheetz Designs? How did this process come about?
I was one of the first few authors to submit my work to ThemeForest. I submitted some basic HTML templates at first, but—like I said before—once I discovered WordPress, I jumped in head first. WordPress themes were a rapidly growing market at the time and the pool was filling up quick. I figured if I got a head start I could stay ahead of the crowd and get myself known before the market got too saturated.
How did you get interested in church websites?
When sales got slow a few years ago, I decided to take a hard look at what my next theme should be. I scoured ThemeForest for hours, looking at hundreds of themes, trying to see why the popular ones where so popular. To be honest, there really isn’t a special formula. Not one that I could see, anyway.
But I did discover one strategy that’s worked for me over the last few years: find a category on ThemeForest that isn’t too saturated with products, but produces a lot of sales. I came across the Church category—which only had about 5 or 6 themes at the time—and they were all selling really well. I decided that this was my next market and created three church themes within 3-4 months (and a few more later) and it’s worked out really well so far. I also felt strongly that churches deserved a great website that had the features they needed on a frequently limited budget.
Why do you think churches should use WordPress to create their website?
Above all else, WordPress is intuitive. You can pick it up and learn how to add posts/pages within an hour, and the specialized theme-related stuff within several more. Every theme is different of course, but I try very hard to keep mine intuitive, both in the setup process and the actual use. The folks editing these church websites are not always tech savvy, and it helps that a lot of the themes are just as easy to use as WordPress itself.
Why do you like selling themes through ThemeForest?
ThemeForest is great because it takes care of most of the marketing for me. I could sell my themes on my own, but I don’t have thousands of people visiting my site. I sell through ThemeForest for the exposure, the community, and the repeat business. I have a lot of fantastic customers who will buy any theme I produce simply because they trust me. I’ve gained this trust through good products, but even more so, my support once they purchase. Helping your customers is arguably more important than the products themselves. I’ve learned this the hard way many times, and now I put a lot of effort into my support. I even built my own premium support system called Ticksy that I’ve made available at a small monthly fee to anyone who wants to use it.
What makes your themes unique? Why would one of your themes be good investment for churches?
My themes are unique because I usually stick to a niche. I don’t create multipurpose themes with 100 features. I create themes for specific niches that need only certain features. For example, my Espresso theme is for restaurants. It includes a custom menu builder and some other restaurant-related features.
My church themes include easy ways to add events, sermons, galleries, etc. Forgiven, my latest church theme, integrates and includes several great plugins, but I chose those plugins only because I thought they would be useful for churches. They could certainly be useful for other businesses, but when I build a church theme, I build a theme specifically for churches.
Where do you see design trends headed in the next couple of years? What elements will become more important?
“Mobile First” has been a trend that I think is getting rapidly more and more important. I hesitate to even call it a trend because it’s really just the way things are heading. We’re going to see a lot of themes soon that not only include a responsive layout (if any), but full-on mobile specific child-themes.
As far as design trends go, “flat” will continue to conquer for a little bit longer but once that tires we’ll see some breakouts that extend the flat trend. Polygons are one of those. Still flat—but not. Polygon-esque logos and background patterns are starting to show up everywhere now!
What information do you think every church website should include? Why is it important?
I’ve added more and more features to my church themes as the need arises, but it’s come down to 5 very important parts: sermons (audio, text and video), a schedule of events, a staff member template, galleries (video and photo), and a blog. Anything on top of that is just gravy (donations, fundraiser campaigns, etc.), but those 5 items are must-haves for any church theme.
What is the critical info that should be on every home church’s homepage? Why is it important?
This would be almost identical to the previous answer, but basically it’s a “lite” version of the items described above. An introduction (either in a slider or text-based) at the top, a quick way to see upcoming events, recent blog posts and sermons, maybe a featured staff member. All of these give the end user an easy way to know what the church stands for, who’s involved, and what’s happening right now.
Are there any mistakes you see churches make with their websites? Anything churches should try to avoid?
The biggest mistake I’ve seen is not spending enough time and effort into creating a nice website. These days, with $50-$60 and some decent web knowledge, you can get a really nice church site set up and running within a week. There’s just no excuse anymore for a really bad website.
And even when a church has a great site, another mistake that’s made is putting way too much content on the homepage. I’m talking paragraphs of text, usually with sections called out in different colors and sizes. It’s just information overload with no structure. When you purchase a WordPress theme, pay attention to how the demo is laid out. Usually the designer/developer lays out their demo in a way that is structurally and aesthetically pleasing. Use it as a guide!
What do you like to do when you are not developing WordPress themes?
My wife and two kids are very patient with me when I’m finishing up a theme or project–I’m usually huddled away quite a bit during those times. However, when I get my head out of the screen, I love spending some quality time with my family. When it’s not freezing cold outside (like it has been for a while here), I love hiking, biking, running, etc. Anything active, really; I think it’s very important to keep yourself moving. I also have a love for photography and driving and spend a lot of time behind a camera and my car. GoPros are a blast for both hobbies!