We recently had the pleasure of joining members from the Catholic Media Secretariat in the Archdiocese of Boston for a forum on "Creating Excellent Parish Websites". Pilot New Media had completed the survey of parish websites across the archdiocese and the forum was to present results to parishes and make recommendations for web site best practices. The entire presentation may be viewed at: http://www.pilotnewmedia.com/parishwebsites/.
Website reviews covered three broad categories: Appearance (such things as Inviting and well-organized), Content (including parish address, mass times, directions, faith formation materials), and Functionality (such as calendar, interactive map, electronic offertory). The team also referenced the study conducted by the Villanova University Center for the Study of Church Management: "What Do Parishioners Value in Parish Websites?"
The next presentation focused on what makes a great web site for a parish. Dom Bettinelli, Creative Director for Pilot New Media provided valuable information starting with how to select a clear and memorable domain name. I liked the general recommendation to use www.parishsainttown.org or .com. For long saints names, abbreviate, but include the town or city you are located in. This helps people differentiate between your St Marys parish and the one across the country! Make sure your parish name and the address of the parish are prominently displayed on the site. The Archdiocese of Boston recommends a line under the parish name that states: A Parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston to help create an overall sense of community and identity. Include a photo image of the church, plus a map with directions.
Those are the most straightforward recommendations. But Boston went further: Include news feeds, links to Online Giving, information for new members and for returning to the church, and importantly, information about the faith, what we believe, the sacraments. Provide parishioners information they need to know and an easy way to find it. Make the website a useful educational tool and not simply a listing of location and mass times.
Scot Landry, Secretary for Catholic Media, says in Chapter 7 of 'The Church and New Media':
"Every one of the churches media vehicles is a 'virtual front door' to the church and we want it to be welcoming, well cared for and worthy of someone's visit..."
Let's make it worthwhile for everyone to visit our parish websites, including parishioners and those searching for a home! For an example of a website that adheres to the best practices outlined by the Archdiocese of Boston, please visit: sampleparish.org