Scanning Parish Websites in my New Neighborhood

by Sr. Susan Wolf, SND on November 13, 2012

in website

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

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Sr. Marilyn Marie Ellerbrock, SND November 13, 2012 at 8:11 am

One of our parishes here in Toledo just launched a new web site that I believe has many good features. Check it out at http://littleflowertoledo.org.

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn November 13, 2012 at 11:16 am

What a great post and review of sites. In the world of church social media, I often worry that parish websites get the shortest shrift, but need the most attention.

Kristi November 13, 2012 at 11:43 am

Love the Little Flower website, Sr Marilyn. The parish I used to work at has a clean, informative website here: http://www.saintcecilias.org/
The challenge is keeping it informative but not cluttered.

Sr Susan, we’ve also moved recently, and done the web search for local parishes. It is amazing how little of parish life translates online. I wonder if it’s because staff think they have to do it all, when I would think the best websites have a committee of staff/parishioners to lead the digital and print communications…

Kathy November 13, 2012 at 1:32 pm

I would welcome any feedback on our cluster website. We have been working hard to build it up to keep up to date with 21st century features. http://www.blessedtrinitycluster.org

I really enjoy this blog!

Meredith Gould, PhD November 13, 2012 at 4:27 pm

I’m very proud of this website I worked on for the Diocese of Easton: http://dioceseofeaston.org/ We (my web developer and I) used WordPress. We got it done within 3 months because there was one point person with the authority to gather intelligence from others and makes swift choices and decisions. The one we’re creating, also on WordPress, for a Roman Catholic parish is now going on 6 months and probably will lag another 2 because of stuff internal to the parish. Personally, I dread working with committees comprised of well-meaning folks with no skills in marketing communications.

Kirste Moline November 13, 2012 at 7:59 pm

I have been working hard on our parish website at St. Thomas a’Becket (www.abecket.org). We started out small, but our site now has over 500 pages. We have also expanded our use of Facebook (www.facebook.com/abecketcanton) and YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/user/abecketcanton). There is so much more we can do. I feel like we’re just touching the tip of a very deep iceberg.

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND November 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm

So many good comments.
Sr. Marilyn–the parish website you shared is very fine as is Kristi’s.

Kathy, I commend you and the parishes in your cluster for doing a joint website. I love the welcome to new members–so warm and inviting!

Kirste, you certainly have been working hard on your website. There is a lot of information and warmth there. I love your welcome to new members–but my preference is to welcome them to belong first and then later to get involved. Promoting ministries and committees before they have even joined can be intimidating to people especially to those who have just moved in. Give them some time to get acclimated.

Meredith, I know the joy of working with the decision maker and the frustration of working with a committee that cannot agree. The website for the diocese is a very good site. Uncluttered, clean, warm and clear navigation. Thanks for sharing it.

Jim McGovern November 15, 2012 at 1:46 am

Most parish web sites fail to list other helpful sites, even the site of the USCCB which has some really helpfull info on marriage. In Canada and the United States generally speaking the New Evangelization lacks legs. Most dioceses are poor communicators. The Anglicans in Toronto arranged to have their clergy take computer classes on Saturday morning at a local community college…. great idea. Keep up your terrific work. Jim

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND November 15, 2012 at 7:02 am

So true, Jim. The “New” Evangelization is getting “old” (we heard about it before the turn of the century) and we Catholics–leaders and people–for the most part have not integrated it into our life or ministries. I do not know the explanation.

As for communication, you are also correct–we are not good at that either.

We should not be surprised that we are slow to take to the Internet which is one of the most far reaching tools for spreading the gospel that we have and the primary source of information and inspiration for a growing number of people worldwide.

Elina Simon November 16, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Aloha Sr. Susan,
Last year a core team from the Diocese of Honolulu embarked on a make-over of our former site (still visible at catholichawaii.com) with the help of a local marketing company. We wanted the new site to emulate and be a tool for “new evangelization”. The new site http://www.catholichawaii.org has content updated almost daily and our weekly eNewsLetter links back to the website. The new site was launched Oct. 8 in time for the canonization of St. Marianne and the opening of the Year of Faith. While we don’t have metrics for the new site, I’m showing a more than 50% open rate and over 60% click rate for the newsletter, which means that the people who opened the newsletter, clicked a link back to our website. While not cheap, comments have been wonderful and coming from as far away as Dakar, Italy, South America, Africa and all over the US.

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND November 19, 2012 at 4:39 am

Aloha, Elina!
Your diocesan website is very nice. Your team’s hard work paid off. Congratulations and thanks for sharing it with us.

Therese Rich, OSU December 3, 2012 at 11:05 am

We are working for a presence, both as a website and Facebook…Would appreciate a “visitor’s” response….

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND December 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Dear Therese,

Please give us the web address of the site you want us to visit. Thank you.

Sister Therese Rich December 12, 2012 at 7:03 am

Our website is

http://www.saintedwardparish.org

Thank you

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND December 12, 2012 at 9:08 am

Dear Therese,

The Saint Edward Parish website is very welcoming and easy to navigate. You have a lot of good and current content. I love the fact that you have made a number of audio resources available for download to MP3 players. Your writing is clear,simple and inviting. Good use of images/photos.

My only suggestions: 1) add a paragraph about if you are new to the parish in addition to the one for those have been away from the sacraments-welcome them to parish as well as the website 2) See if you can format the YouTube videos to fit your sidebar better 3)The December 16 reflection came up with a “Gnarly dude” message, you may want to fix that 4) When I click on a upcoming event, what pops up is “squished” together–probably needs some formatting or something.

Good job. It is very clear that a lot of thought and work went into the site. Thanks for sharing it.

Therese Rich OSU December 16, 2012 at 9:05 am

Thank you…will work on it!

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