Re-Thinking the Mission of the Parish Website

by Sr. Susan Wolf, SND on May 20, 2014

in Catholic evangelization, parish, website

Evangelizing Parish Website RWB_8131Parish websites are evolving. We are re-thinking their mission. We are becoming much more attuned to our audiences and our messages. We are thinking more and more about the evangelizing potential of the parish website.

Until recently, most of us thought about the parish website in terms of staff, services and parishioners. What does the staff want to say to parishioners about the services they are providing? While much of the content on a parish website can be useful to active members, parishioners usually have other sources for the information they seek, such as the parish bulletin. Even if they do refer to the parish website from time to time, they don’t visit it on a regular basis unless there is something pulling them there such as a blog by the pastor or a staff person, or links on social media or email. It is good to have information available to parishioners on the website–but on the home page it needs to be secondary to the “Welcome! We are so glad you’ve come to see us!” message.

If we rethink the mission of the parish website in light of our call to be an evangelizing community, we will realize that the most important people who come to our website are visitors, new comers and inactive Catholics who are thinking about returning. What they find when they come to our site can be a positive, encouraging moment in their lives. It can help them decide whether they will be with us in church next weekend, sometime in the near future or never.

Part of my ministry at Catholic Web Solutions is to help parishes re-imagine their parish websites in light of the evangelizing mission of the Church. Here is a brief (1.04 min) video on what that means.

If you need help in re-thinking the mission of your parish website and/or developing a new website with an evangelizing focus, please contact me to learn about my website audits and other services.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski May 20, 2014 at 6:24 am

Sr. Susan, this is great! I love all your creativity. This is exciting! Keep inspiring us! SAAZ

Katie May 20, 2014 at 7:27 am

I’m impressed: lots of great ideas and suggestions. I must become more comfortable doing this and also become more able to do gatherings on line. There is a gathering on line of Biblical Storytellers via google and I just can’t get on and I know it’s me that is at fault. At present our web site is calendar and schedules! Yak!

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn May 20, 2014 at 10:05 am

Sr. Susan, last week I led a session that focused primarily on social media for evangelizing (this was at our big diocesan catechetical conference), but was also thinking about websites. Thanks for this great post and video.

I would like to add your name to a list of potential speakers for next year’s event, so unless I hear otherwise, I will do so. You would be a great addition to this annual event.

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND May 20, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Thanks, Sr. Angela. I enjoy trying new things. It is exciting for me too.

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND May 20, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Dear Katie,
If I have learned anything in my Internet travels, it is not to give up and to keep trying. When I get stuck, I just put a question in Google Search: How do I … and often an answer appears.

As for your parish website–almost all of us started where you are today, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Just take a few steps at a time and eventually you will be someplace better.

Christine Bacon May 20, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Dear Sister,
Do you have any examples of great evangelizing Catholic websites that we could look at as models for our own sites? Do you need payment to help us and if so what is that cost? I’m looking forward to our new evangelization!

Christine Bacon

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND May 20, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Dear Christine,

There are not very many parish websites that I have found that are welcoming, attractive and responsive to mobile devices. (Responsive designs are just coming into use–so many parishes had websites before it was available). Here are two that I like:

The Cathedral of St Andrew, Grand Rapids, Michigan

This is the soon to be new website for St. Thomas More in Sarasota Florida. I got this link from their current website which was not a responsive design.

If anyone else has examples of parishes that are welcoming, attractive and responsive, please list them in the comments. Thank you.

I am working with a parish right now that is developing an evangelizing website and by the end of the summer, I will have another site to show you.

My fees are based on the requirements of the project.

John J. Boucher May 29, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Here’s one I like a lot:

http://www.saintaloysiusonline.org/

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND May 29, 2014 at 4:02 pm

John,
Thanks for the link. This is a good example of a website that wants to welcome and serve visitors and newcomers as well as answer parishioner needs. One thing that would improve it, would be if it were responsive, that is be designed in such a way that adapts to mobile devices. My guess is that will come in time as they seem pretty attentive to their audiences.

Travis Gear June 2, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Sr. Susan – I agree with much of what you wrote in your article. Thank you for being a voice of digital enthusiasm within the Church!

My company is the one that put together the other site for St. Thomas More in Sarasota, FL. While I understand your critique of the site, I think it is important for me to point out that the site was designed prior to responsive design being a commonplace technology. Additionally, we gave them the opportunity to switch to a template that uses responsive design, but instead they chose to design their own site.

Here are a couple examples of our recent work that incorporate responsive design:
Diocese of Lincoln, NE: http://www.lincolndiocese.org/
Our Lady of Perpetual Help: http://olphconcordia.org/

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND June 3, 2014 at 7:48 am

Travis, Thank you for the background. Other developers have told me that very few clients request or know the value of responsive design also. We have a ways to go there. Please let me know of other church sites that you do with responsive design. I am always looking for examples.

Travis Gear June 4, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Sister – Here are four more examples of sites we have done with responsive design. They are not all parishes, but here they are:
http://www.camdenpriest.org/
http://religiouslife.com/
http://cmswr.org/
http://hfpmc.org/

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND June 5, 2014 at 8:11 am

Thank you, Travis.

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