In reviewing random parish websites, I am sensing that the content on many of these sites was written consciously or unconsciously for active parishioners. But active parishioners are not the only ones looking for information from parishes. The Internet provides a platform to go out to the highways and byways and bring others in. Some parishes are making an effort to welcome visitors and attend to their needs. However, using the website in this way has not occurred to others. I categorize parish websites as addressing three different audiences.
1. Websites for Passers-by
These are websites that are online versions of a directory listing or a Yellow Pages ad usually created by third parties, diocesan agencies or bulletin publishing companies. There may be an image along with some very basic information: names of the pastor and staff, Mass times, address, phone number and a link to directions. This type of site is sufficient for visitors, travelers, and people passing through looking for a church for Mass. Many parishes have this type of website, unfortunately for some of them, it is their only website.
2. Websites for Active Parishioners
a. The news and information version of this type of website usually has a lot of pages with details about ministries, organizations, and activities. It contains calendars and schedules and publicity about upcoming events. This type of website was most evident where the welcome letter by the pastor began: Dear Parishioners. These parishes are enthusiastic about themselves and the good work they do. They provide insiders easy access to information.
b. The adult-faith formation version of this type of website includes content which is updated regularly and enriches the spiritual lives of members. It invites feedback and online discussions.
Both of these sites are often supported through social media sites. These websites are helpful to staff and insiders, but outsiders, strangers, people on the margins or new comers may not find any genuine welcome or care about their needs here.
3. Websites that Welcome Others
The third type of parish website shapes its content around the theme “Welcome, we are here to serve, we are disciples of Jesus.” These websites anticipate the needs of visitors and offer hospitality. They are quick to answer the visitor’s questions: What are Mass times? When are confessions? How do I get there? Do you have a Catholic school or religious education program? How do I arrange for a funeral, a wedding, a baptism, or someone to bring Communion to a home bound family member or friend? How do I register? How do I get a baptismal certificate or a sponsor’s certificate? What good word do you have for me right now that will lift my mind and heart to God? How do I become a Catholic? How do I return to the Church? Who do I call for information? What are the office hours? These are evangelizing websites.
This type of website also includes information about parish activities and the necessary details for those in ministry, but that is background to the more important welcome message to those who don’t belong or aren’t part of the “inner circle.”
What do you think of these categories? Whose questions does your parish website answer?