The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the verb to welcome as “to greet (someone) in a warm and friendly manner.” A gracious welcome, whether it be to our home, our school, our workplace, neighborhood, religious community, social group, or parish, opens our world to the other person and invites them in. It helps the visitor feel at ease and lowers the anxiety of those who may be hesitant to enter.
Whenever, I look at the home page of a parish website, I look for the word welcome. Frequently, it is not there. The websites that have the word welcome have varying degrees of “warm and friendly.” The most pleasing websites are the ones whose welcome is genuinely reaching out to the visitor and expressing pleasure in their visit. These are the most hospitable.
There are others that have only the word welcome and no real welcome message or whose welcome message is clearly for members only. Some have hidden the welcome under the “About” section of the website rather than introduce it on the home page. And there are those who use the word welcome to quickly move on to promoting online giving or to recruit volunteers for our “many ministries.” These are welcomes with a hook. Some welcomes are “all about us,” and say nothing to make the visitor feel at home.
A parish with a true sense of hospitality and desire to reach out to visitors, new comers, people seeking a faith community or Catholics wanting to return to the practice of their faith communicate their desire to meet the needs of the visitor on every page of their website beginning with the welcome message on the home page. It is clear to the visitor that this parish cares about them and wants to serve them. Warm and friendly websites are also attractive to your active members. Keep them in mind too.
In recent weeks, I have been talking to the owners of several different parish website design companies and they all tell me that while they encourage their customers to see the parish website as a vehicle of outreach to a larger audience than those in Church on Sunday, the contact person often gets caught up in the information they want/have to share or the tasks they have/want to promote (online giving, ministry recruiting or parish activities mostly). In many cases, the parish ends up skipping or minimizing the welcome on the home page because they don’t know what to say.
At the suggestion of Dave Gambino from Connecting Members, I am providing some sample words of welcome for a parish website:
For the Home Page:
Welcome! Whether you are a visitor or new to our parish, interested in becoming Catholic, seeking to return to the practice of your faith, or an active member of our parish, we are pleased that you have come to our website and we will do all that we can to assist you. [Read more.]
For the Inside Welcome Page
Inside, you can continue with a short conversational description of your parish (not your formal mission statement) if you wish. This could include year established, number of households, areas served, what your parish is known for in the community (such as prayerful, family-friendly, generous to the poor and needy, etc.) Keep it brief and simple–a few sentences. Then continue on…
If you cannot find the information that you are seeking on this website, please call our parish office [insert parish phone number] during office hours [insert parish office hours here] or email us at [insert email address] and we will make every effort to help you.
Please join us on the weekend for Mass [include Mass times here]. We would love to meet you in person.
God bless you! We hope to see you soon!
Signed by the Pastor.
Feel free to use the above language or your adaptation of it on your parish website.
Let me know what you think. If you have other wording to suggest, please offer that as well.