Making a Website That Works for You- Part I

by Sr. Susan Wolf, SND on March 8, 2016

in website

web-977861_1280Every day parishes, dioceses, religious communities, organizations and ministries decide that they need a new website. They may not have a website now or their current website is outdated, difficult to keep up or just looking like something from the last century. What do they need to do to get a website that is contemporary, effective, engaging and easy to maintain?

To create a successful website takes more work than most people realize. I have been helping organizations, parishes, religious communities develop websites that work for them—for nearly twenty years. Over that time the technology has changed dramatically and the expectations of the people who visit our sites have also changed. In addition, we are more and more realizing the potential that an engaging website has for extending our mission to a larger audience. We are beginning to feel the urgency of having a high quality presence on the Internet where people are looking for us.

Unfortunately, Church groups have not kept up with the technical changes that are happening every day and in some ways are oblivious to the “digital continent” as Pope Benedict XVI referred to the online world. They often do not have people with the appropriate ministry knowledge and technical skills to bring their digital presence forward and they end up with “new” websites that use old models.

When a leader decides that the organization needs a new website, there are four areas that have to be addressed and integrated:

  • Mission and Goals
  • Content
  • Technology and Design
  • Ongoing Maintenance

Today, I want to write about mission and goals. In upcoming articles I will address the other three areas.

The mission of a Catholic website is the same mission that we all have: to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ into every aspect of society.

Obviously, we are limited in the audiences we will actually reach, but if each of us reaches the audiences we can—the digital continent will be a better place for it.

A particular website communicates how the community it represents embodies the gospel message and lives it out in its own concrete circumstances. For example: the mission of a parish website is to offer the inspiration and information needed by visitors and members to grow in holiness and live their everyday lives as disciples of Jesus. Or the mission of a religious community website is to share its charism and ministry with colleagues, friends, families and those seeking to learn more about them.

The goals for a website are related first to the visitors, second to the members.

What does each group need from you? Your goals are to meet those needs. Most of your homepage will be addressed to visitors—as they are not likely to go beyond the home page if nothing speaks to their needs. Most of the internal pages will provide content for the members who are quite content to click a link to get there.

Some websites are obviously staff or department driven—they are all about activities and/or online giving. While staff are pleased that they are getting the word out—very few people are interested. Some websites are bulletin driven—they are the digital version of the Sunday announcements. Again, this may make the staff feel good, but it doesn’t do much for visitors. It is clear to a visitor when your organization is more about you and less interested in their needs or the other way around–in other words when it is mission driven.

Balance and Proportion

Do activities (even online giving) have a place on your website? Yes, but they are always secondary to welcome and how-can-we-serve-you-messages. If you always keep your mission in mind, you will find and keep the proper balance and proportion in your messaging.

After we clarify the mission, our next task is to address content realizing that today’s websites are less about lengthy explanatory text and more about visuals, storytelling, brief descriptions and links to essential information.

Your comments are welcome.

Note to parishes planning to get a new website:  Check out my before-you-get-started-conversations webinar.



{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruth Viens March 8, 2016 at 9:56 am

The link to your webinar “Before You Get Started” doesn’t seem to go further than one page with nothing else there to go further. I’ve been receiving your emails for quite a while now and enjoy them. I created my parish website in 1998 using MS Frontpage a program that is no longer available – though I still have the program on my computer. I have no background in technology or programming language and have been considering an update to our parish website – but one that is EASY that I’ll be able to understand 😉 My parish website is Saint George’s Church in Worcester MA
Ruth Viens
Worcester MA

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND March 8, 2016 at 10:44 am

To get more information, click on the Green Button at the bottom of the page the link takes you to. Provide your name and email and you will receive more information. That particular service is a one-on-one conversation with me and the parish web manager or team that is specific to their needs. I am thinking about providing a more general webinar with best practices and guidance for planning a new evangelizing website for parish leaders and web managers in the future. One of the most important keys to success is a good plan. Let me know if that would be of interest to you.

Ruth Viens March 8, 2016 at 10:55 am

Thanks very much for the reply. Will check that out.

Jim McGovern March 8, 2016 at 9:49 pm

Sister thanks for your helpful suggestions.
Answer appreciated:
1. I am nearly 84 and have health problems. Should I just let the site die? Not in good standing – left before ordination.
2. In 2004 I wrote LUMEN CHRISTI + on CD ROM
Meant for RCIA and others – did not sell one book.
Now listed as a free down load on http;//www.comeaside.
Would anyone be interested in freely listing on their sites?

Pat Sylvester March 9, 2016 at 5:15 am

Thanks for another great article Susan. As someone still feeling like a beginner in the computer field, I appreciate the content as well as the ease in understanding it. Another “model” for a great website!

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND March 9, 2016 at 9:31 am

You are the best person to decide whether to retire your website or not. There is no shame closing a ministry that you can no longer attend to.
This may also be a time in your life to give top priority to your health. I will keep you in my prayers. God bless you. Sister Susan

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn March 9, 2016 at 3:40 pm

I’m bringing this post to a meeting this afternoon – I will let you know how it goes! Thanks Susan!

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