Recently, I have been looking at parish websites from the perspective of the visitor. What makes me feel like an outsider as opposed to a welcome guest? Does the website look like a member-focused website that the visitor can “look at,” much like many of our parishes which accept but pretty much ignore visitors, guests, or passers-by?
What is the focus of the website, the welcome message if there is one, the menu items, the news updates, the calendar of events? Are we talking to ourselves or are we reaching out, inviting, including, welcoming in?
How do we represent ourselves? Many parishes post their mission statement. I was really impressed with the mission statement of the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland. It is “Love God. Love others. Make disciples.” That is pretty simple. If you check out their website: http://www.churchnativity.tv/ you will find a modern and very simple (yet sophisticated) presentation that says welcome on every page. They use clear everyday language and lots of great photos. The information is provided in short, easy to understand sentences. Nearly every page provides an action step: call, register, email, schedule a tour. This website is about making requests easy and inviting visitors to begin where they feel comfortable.
You will notice that the website is dot TV. The parish broadcasts their Sunday 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Masses live as part of their “Online Campus” (http://live.churchnativity.tv/). During this program a parish staff person moderates/hosts a live chat about the celebration with viewers. They record the “message” delivered at the Mass and make it available online. This is the homily when Fr. Michael is presenting it or an after Communion message if delivered by a staff member. You can view past messages at http://www.churchnativity.tv/#/messages-online-campus/watch-past-messages. This is all very impressive.
The truth is we cannot have a website that genuinely welcomes unless we are a welcoming community. The more that welcome characterizes the life of our parish, the more pervasive welcome will be on our website. If you read the book Rebuilt written by Rev. Michael White, the pastor of Nativity (who blogs at http://nativitypastor.tv/), and Tom Corcoran, his Pastoral Associate, you will learn the trials and tribulations (some very funny) that led them to start focusing on the people not in Church and challenging their community to do the same. They are the first to tell you that their (now growing) community is still a work in progress and that they have not figured everything out. But that has not stopped them from moving forward to carry out Jesus’ mandate to go and make disciples.
The solutions they have found for their parish fit their community. It is the challenge of every parish community to find the solutions that will work for them. Based on parish websites, I would say many of us have a long way to go.
What does it take to be a truly welcoming parish? How is that translated on websites?