The Parish Website: Is It Up to the Job?

Posted on June 30, 2016

Your Website Makes a Strong Impression.

What Does Your Site Say?

Today, the image a church portrays is so much more than just its physical appearance. A church’s, or any organization’s, web presence can play a key role in attracting and maintaining members. So just as you wouldn’t want the church landscaping become overgrown or the front desk to be left unattended, you don’t want to neglect the church website.

Is your parish’s website doing it’s job? Check out these questions and tips for improving your parish’s web-presence, and see where your parish’s website stands:

1. Is it mobile-friendly?

Pick up a smartphone or tablet, and browse to the parish website. How does it look? If the webpage is so small that you’re reaching for your reading glasses and mis-clicking on minuscule links, we’ve got a problem.

With the prevalence of mobile technology, it’s important that websites are designed in a platform with a responsive web design that auto adjusts for the dimensions of the device in use. Without a responsive design, a site can be very difficult to use, and if a website is frustrating, people are less likely persevere to find the information they need.

2. Is information up to date?

Try to find the church location, contact information, mass times, schedule of events, information about programs for children and youth, and basic mission statements or affiliations (e.g., to what diocese do you belong)? Is all of this information easy to find? Is it accurate?

The most important aspect of the site is its usefulness. Those who visit come to gain information, so if what they’re looking for is hard to find or (worse) out of date, they’re no better off for having found the website.

Make sure that it’s someone’s task to update information on the website. If there’s so much information that it’s difficult to stay on top of, consider a less-is-more approach. Eliminate pages and information until the website is a manageable scope for staff. It’s better to be contacted by someone looking for information than to be misinforming people with out of date material.

3. Do members have access to helpful tools?

We rely so much on online interactions that allowing parishioners to engage with the church on its website can be quite advantageous. To make your site helpful to members, invest in tools like the ParishSOFT Family Suite with it’s integrated My Own Church and Giving modules, which will help parishioners take care of church business wherever and whenever they need to.

  • Make it easy to give and pay fees for events and programs. Provide an online giving system so that members can donate at anytime and from anywhere, set up recurring gifts, and manage their giving statements. This is a huge benefit for parishioners, and will ease staff workload for processing gifts. The parish website should link out to your parish’s secure Online Giving portal, which should be tailored with a welcome message and your parish identity to give members complete confidence they’re in the right place.
  • Offer online registration to all the classes in your faith formation or religious education program. Members expect this level of convenience and efficiency, which can significantly reduce your administrative and mailing costs as well as make the website even more valuable to your entire parish. Having less paper to fill out, deliver, receive, and process is easier for them — and your parish staff!
  • Give parishioners the ability to volunteer for ministries online. This gives you to opportunity to make sure no tiny slips of paper, filled out during mass, get lost (or worse: that the parishioner who has finally raised his hand never receives a follow-up call to guide him to the next step). All signups are digitally logged and stored, so nobody gets missed. And the electronic signup works beautifully with any online marketing you do from email or your social media sites.
  • Give parishioners the ability to specify their own ministry preferences and availability online. Let’s say Rosa and Marcus need to serve at the same masses as their children, who are altar servers; but don’t schedule Rosa and Marcus for the same masses as the Johnson family, because they keep each other’s small children from getting unruly while mom and dad are serving . . . oh, and they’ll be on vacation July 2 through 15, so don’t schedule any of them to serve then. Whew! It can get really complicated. Let your ministers set the criteria for when, where, how often, and with whom their family members serve. Don’t worry — we’re pretty sure you’ll still have plenty to do at the parish office without having to manage all of this.
  • Let parishioners update their own records online. You really want your records to be accurate, but between filling out paper forms and entry into your database lies opportunity for mistakes. Did they skip some fields on your form? Can you read what they’ve written? Did a typo make its way into the spelling of their last name? Have they moved or changed their email? Have new members joined their family? All of these are things parishioners can update themselves and submit to you. If their updates look good, a great system like My Own Church lets you accept those changes directly into your database without ever having to rekey any records. It’s so easy!

4. Have you thought about SEO?

Pretend you’re looking for information on your parish (or churches like yours), and do a quick Google search. What do you find? Is your website at the top of the search results? Is it on the first page?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is important for any website because it helps websites show up on Google, Bing, or other search engines. Search engines evaluate websites based on the newness and quality of their content. Here are a few ways to improve your parish’s SEO:

  • Update information often by posting new announcements and information and reworking content as needed.
    Link to “fresh” sites that are posting new content regularly (for example, your diocesan website, Catholic News Service, Busted Halo, etc.)
  • Link to the church’s social media pages that are actively updated.
  • Start a church blog and post new content regularly. This is a big task, but it can really boost SEO if done correctly. Check out our 3-part blog series, developed with our partner company LOGOS, for tips on creating a church blog.

Maximizing the website is worth it!

For many, the parish website is the front landscaping and welcome desk. When searching online for a church, the homepage is the “landscaping” that greets them and the physical welcome desk is replaced by a website’s layout and navigation that either points them in the right direction and provides accurate information or leaves them bewildered or misinformed. So go the extra mile, and make sure that your church’s web presence is what you would have it be!