In last week’s blog, I observed that while many parishes are updating their websites to more attractive designs, they are not upgrading their websites to be channels of pastoral ministry or hospitality to visitors. A number of readers commented on the blog and I have grouped my reflection on their comments into four areas.
1. Audiences and message priorities
The audiences of an evangelizing website are visitors, new comers, seekers, inactive Catholics and members. This last group is the only one that will easily click into the site to get the information they need. The others need to see what they are looking for or a direct link to it on the homepage.
A close look at the homepages of parishes indicate that most are addressing members and often members only, and that their message priorities are usually one of the following:
- Repeat, expand, re-enforce Church/bulletin announcements
- Promote online giving or other fundraising
- Recruit volunteers or participants for parish activities
Less often I see parish websites provide original content to enrich the faith of their members. And even fewer welcome visitors, new comers, seekers or inactive Catholics in a way that is truly warm and engaging.
2. Staffing and management
Most parish websites are built using CMS (content management system) which allows people at the parish to input the content. The choice of who will provide content to the website is very much related to the audiences and goals. If the website is an online version of the parish bulletin or an outlet for ministry announcements, the parish secretary, business manager or volunteer usually copy and post the content from the bulletin or the weekly announcements.
If the parish website is seen as part of adult formation and evangelization ministries, then a person trained in pastoral ministry oversees, creates and sometimes even posts that content. These are often pastors, pastoral associates, and deacons, directors of adult faith formation, religious education and liturgy. The parish secretary, business manager or volunteer still posts the calendar content and announcements, etc.
3. Functionality of the website
The organization of the website and the menus also reflect how the parish intends the website to be used. The language and the logic determine how user friendly a parish website is. Some parish websites are not user friendly. They are confusing. Often they are organized to serve the parish staff and ministries rather than to quickly address the needs of the visitor.
4. Selection of provider/designer
Finally, the selection of a company or an individual designer (professional or volunteer) depends on cost and vision for the website. A website can be an investment in outreach to welcome and invite others to Christ and this Catholic community, a resource for members who want to grow in their faith and expand their involvement in the Church. An attractive website needs a financial investment. An attractive, engaging and evangelizing website requires more time and effort than one that is not. It also requires a design template that serves this purpose.
That’s enough from me. Thank you to everyone who took the time to comment on last week’s blog and I welcome more comments this week.