An important tool for effectively communicating the vibrancy of your parish
A parish website is not a plot of land on the Internet, a billboard, or directory listing of events. A parish website is a destination for seekers to learn more about Jesus Christ and parishioners’ window into their world of faith.
If your mission is to share the good news to all who will listen, it is necessary to take the role that your parish website has in that mission seriously. To understand how to reach that goal, there are ten vital components that make your parish website vibrant.
1. Offer brief catechesis and evangelization in an easy to digest manner
Highlight aspects of the Catholic faith or answer basic questions like, “Who is Jesus?” or “What difference does faith make?” For most parishioners the parish website is the only faith-based website they will visit. Seekers will come across your website and want to know why you exist at all. Both will present you with the opportunity to expose them to the Gospel and show them your community exists with a mission.
There are some simple ways to accomplish this with very little effort on the part of your parish team. Provide brief passages of text with graphics to highlight the Catholic faith or answer basic questions. Place videos on your home page from sources like Busted Halo and Word on Fire. Reference or post links to articles from reliable Catholic blogs and news services. All of these options provide a glimpse into the richness of the Church.
2. Welcome the first-time visitor
Parish websites are visited by all kinds of people outside of your parish. For many, it is the first and sometimes only opportunity for your parish to make a positive impression. Therefore, your parish website must be as welcoming as it is on Sunday in person. Provide your new visitors with a message on your home page or a clearly marked link to their own page in your site. In this space share basic facts about your parish, including your mission and vision, and show them you are happy they found you online.
3. Make your Mass times easy to find
If your Mass times cannot easily be found, then some who would like to will never come to Mass at your parish. Make your Mass times front and center and easy to find. Do not place them at the end of a long list of parish staff and requirements for receiving sacraments.
In the Catholic Church, it is at the liturgy where we celebrate the “source and summit” of our faith. Show all how easy it is to partake in the most profound expression of community in your parish.
4. Have a map with directions
It is too easy to place a Google or MapQuest map on your website. Without one you risk missing out on potential parishioners because they cannot figure out where you are, and choose a parish farther away because they can see where it is.
5. Give them a phone number to call
Place your phone number at the top of your website in a static header. Faith is personal, and when you only provide a generic email address with no names and no contacts you make your parish impersonal and generic.
6. Update your calendar
Nothing speaks to a lack of community and vibrancy more than an outdated or empty calendar on a parish website. Parishioners and seekers will have no chance to participate if they have no way of knowing what opportunities your parish offers.An easy tool to use is Google Calendar. Google provides you with the tools to feed the calendar to your site as a list of upcoming events. As long as you keep your calendar full and make sure you are sharing only the events your parishioners might need to know about, Google Calendar will take care of the rest, even removing outdated events from the list.
7. Highlight your parish and parishioners outside of Sunday Mass
Your parish is a place where people enjoy life and revel in their faith. Show that through your website. Otherwise, visitors will assume you are a community who only celebrates on a Sunday at Mass. Find a place within your website to show volunteers from your parish in the community. Put up pictures from the recent events. Show how your community is one that people want to join.
8. Provide a place for others to share their resources and talents towards the mission
Make it clear that your parish is seeking to live the stewardship way of life. This does not mean placing a PDF of a ministry guide or stewardship directory on your site. Instead, provide a page that shares the wide range of activities and ministries in which parishioners and visitors may share their gifts and talents. Consider adding testimonials and videos to make it more personal. In addition, your parish could include a place for volunteers to sign up for the next opportunity.
9. Be mobile-friendly
This means that your website is set up to be easy to read and viewable on a mobile device like a phone or tablet. The bottom line is, Google will push your parish link lower and lower in the list of results on a search page if your site is not mobile-friendly. Google needs to stay relevant by updating its search results to serve the masses using mobile devices. Your parish needs to do the same thing.
10. Designate one church staff person to manage your website and insure it is up-to-date
Too often, parishes cannot get updates or changes made to their website because the person who can do it is not around. Then, when the changes do get made, they are made on a website that does not truly reflect the life of the parish. That’s because the committee is made up of people that are not overly involved in the community or they have competing visions.
There should be someone who can be available to update a website at a moment’s notice, and that person should be on staff. Sudden events like births, closings, and tragedies should be easy to see and shared on your site. Having one person on staff does not mean they are the only person working on the site, but it creates a central place for all decisions and last-minute changes to be made.