Six weeks ago, I moved from Maryland to Northeast Ohio. Like most Catholics who move into a new neighborhood, I went looking for “my parish.” I first went to the Internet and searched for Catholic parishes in or near my zip code. Several popped up. Five of them were within a 10 minute drive. (I realize that there are parts of our country where there is only one Catholic parish for miles. I am grateful for such an abundance of churches here.) I checked out their websites.
The good news is that the parishes had websites. The websites were poor to good quality in my estimation. They all had basic information: Mass times, location, and contact information. Only one parish had interactive elements. And not too surprising: none of these parishes hosts a blog or uses Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. I think these parishes mirror where most parishes are today when it comes to using the Internet for communication and ministry.
Here is what I found:
Holy Family The website is a simple WordPress template. It is well organized. All content appears up to date. Bulletins are posted by the bulletin publishing company and can be viewed online and subscribed to. There is a welcome to new members and directions to call or stop in the Parish Office on the Home Page. Names and emails for all staff are posted.
St. Anthony of Padua This is a simple eCatholic website. All the basic information is there, clearly organized and easy to find. Bulletins are posted weekly. New members are invited to call or visit the parish office for registration information. They have a Year of Faith page, but not too much on it. No staff information is provided, not even the names of the priests. Contact info is the parish office phone number and email.
St. John Bosco . The website is not professionally designed. It is very unattractive. However the basic information is there and the weekly bulletin is uploaded to a connected site by the company that publishes it. Parishioners can also subscribe to get the bulletin in their email. They do have an engaging mindset in some of their content, which is good. There is an Ask Father discussion forum, but no new questions since December 2011. There is a current survey on the site for parishioners to fill out. There is a place where one can find the minutes of six different committees/groups. Only one is up to date. There is no welcome to new or prospective members or any registration information. No staff is listed other than priests and no email addresses are posted although these do appear for all of the staff on the parish bulletin.
St. Charles Borromeo This is a simple eCatholic website. All the basic information is there, clearly organized and easy to find. There is an area called e-Community where downloads are available—but this is not too developed.
St. Francis de Sales This website is an rc.net template. It has not been updated since December 2011. Basic information is given: address, phone and Mass times, etc. No email addresses are listed. The website for their elementary school is much better.
I have been to nearly all of these parishes for daily Mass and a few for Sunday Mass. Their weekly bulletins are six to twelve pages long, plus inserts. A lot is happening at these parishes—but I wouldn’t know it from most of their websites. If I were a prospective or returning Catholic, I would not find a welcome or help on how to proceed except for one (St. Charles lists a Catholics Returning Home program on their website). Not utilizing the Internet for communication and engagement with members and visitors and outreach to seekers is a missed opportunity.
If I were new to your neighborhood, what would I learn from visiting your parish website?
If your parish website is attractive, welcoming, engaging and current, please give us the link. We need good examples. Thank you.
Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net