Every 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 They may not have a website now or their current website is outdated, difficult to keep up or just looking like something from the last century.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
- 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.