Pope Francis is constantly urging us to reach out beyond the sanctuary, beyond church walls to bring the Gospel of Jesus to those not celebrating with us. He is calling us to witness to the mercy and tenderness of God in our daily lives and in the public square. He and his predecessors have pointed out repeatedly that the Internet provides an immense opportunity to share our faith with the wider community.
Today, people looking for a church or a faith community where they will be able to grow closer to God, raise their family, worship, and serve with faith-filled people, look on the Internet before they pull into the parking lot.
With a little effort on the part of parish leadership and a website designer, seekers will find on the homepage of the parish website a warm welcome and the basic information they need to take the next steps, namely the Mass schedule, directions to the parish, parish office hours, parish physical address and phone number, etc.. They will also see links to pages within the site that answer some of their questions i.e. what do I do to get my baby baptized, get married, register, or return to the sacraments. These answers will be written with warmth and a minimum of legalese or church jargon.
The warm welcome needs to focus on the visitor: we are honored by your visit, we appreciate your seeking us out, we are here to answer your questions and help you find a faith community where you can feel at home, etc. A gracious welcome goes a long way in starting a relationship, which is what we want to do.
On a welcoming homepage, visitors will see photos that give a glimpse of parish life and the people who make up this community. Ideally they will find some inspiration for their lives right now through a scripture reference, short reflections on faith, or the life of a saint that has been provided by the local parish or has been embedded from another source of which there are many. We do not have to provide a library of resources, just a little something to add a spiritual lift to their visit.
Active members seldom visit the parish website. When they do, they are looking for specific information: the parish bulletin, the date/time of some event, a schedule, a phone number, etc. They go to the website and click right through to the information they want. If they spend any time on the homepage, they feel proud to see how welcoming their parish is and how attractively it is presented. They will also appreciate the spiritual lift.
There can be a calendar and some brief announcements of current activities on the homepage, a few quick links to items that will serve members as well as visitors. But if the homepage is basically and solely promotions of parish activities, what distinguishes this site from the site of any good non-profit service organization?
Evangelization (bringing the good news of Jesus Christ into every strata of society) is the essential mission of the Church. Our parish website can be one of the ways we carry it out. If you haven’t thought about it in those terms, I invite you to think about it now.
Your comments are always welcome.