I was taught growing up that the shortest verse in Scripture was, “Jesus wept.” The priest lauded both its succinctness and depth. In just two short words, you learn so much about who Jesus is.
I recently attended Mass at a parish other than my own. Within a few short minutes, I knew so much about the parish. The ushers were respectful, liturgy was reverent, the homily was relevant and the people were relatable. I decided to visit the parish website when I got home to find out more about the community.
But the site was confusing, bland, out-of-date and cold. It didn’t feel like the parish I had just attended. I may attend Mass there in the future, but I have no need to ever visit that website again.
Here are some tips to help you make sure your website reflects your parish:
Put yourself in the shoes of someone visiting your site. Most people are coming to your site looking for something specific. What are they looking for? How easy is it for them to find it? Do they really need or want the information you are putting out there?
Get Rid of the Welcome Mat – your site doesn’t need a six-paragraph welcome letter from the pastor on the home page. Get to the point and give the information people are looking for. (A link to the pastor’s welcome letter is nice, though!)
Look at the Numbers – Use a free tool like Google Analytics to find out what pages of your website are viewed most often. Or better yet, ask the Parish Secretary what questions she gets asked the most often on the phone!
Avoid “Church-Speak” and Acronyms – words like “exegesis” are a given, but even words like “ministry” and “catechesis” may not be familiar to everyone. Don’t assume that everyone knows what an EMHC is. And remember – RCIA means nothing to a non-Catholic!
Menus That Make Sense – make sure the menu helps people find what they’re looking for in 2-3 clicks. Imagine if you were visiting a parish website – where would you expect to find the information you’re looking for?
Headlines, Headings and Highlighting – most people don’t read websites, they scan them. Use short, concise headlines and sub-headings to make it easier for people to find what they are looking for. And don’t be afraid to highlight the key words.
I saw a beautiful page on a local parish site advertising their vacation bible school this past summer. The images had pictures of kids smiling and laughing, singing and dancing. The stage and environment looked professionally done. The page was filled with text that read, “great friends”, “amazing music”, “fun crafts”, “funny skits”, and “awesome videos.”
But nowhere on the page did it mention God, Jesus or even the Bible.
Whether it’s a Bible study or a potluck dinner, let the user know how this will help them to grow in their relationship with Christ and with one another. Otherwise, why are you doing it?
Relevance can be understood in two ways – content and end-user expectations. Relevant content must first of all be up-to-date. Make sure your site is updated and the information is accurate. Answer the questions that you know a visitor will ask and make sure the important stuff is there, such as contact info and forms.
And don’t forget that people have expectations of websites. Make sure your site is clean and easy to navigate. Take advantage of all of your site’s capabilities – forms, videos, links, downloads, calendars, etc. And don’t forget to check and see how your site looks when viewed on a smartphone or a tablet.
Does your site connect with me as a Catholic, as a parent, as a young adult? Does it encourage and entice me to get involved and participate? Will it connect me with other people who share the same joys and struggles that I do?
Use photos of parishioners and events, not just standard religious images. Have a place where visitors can sign up to get on the parish email list. Make sure to have links to your social media pages – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. Use online forms to allow people to register or sign-up right from the website. Make sure email addresses and phone numbers are easy to find.
Remember, it’s about building relationships. And relationships are about two-way communication between people, not just information on a screen. Your website is a window into the parish community, not just the church building and programs.
What kind of faith community do people see when they visit your website?
Photo by Luke Boote. Used with Creative Commons License.