Dan Rogers from Mission by Design knows a thing or two about websites. For weeks this winter, Dan called and interviewed parishes about church websites — learning about what churches are doing, what they’re looking for, and, most importantly, how they can improve and grow.
Dan was kind enough to join us for a conversation about church websites … and common mistakes he has seen.
Q. Why do websites matter?
A. Websites matter because we live in a digital world. The internet is the primary way that people discover new restaurants, attractions, things to do on the weekends and … churches! Websites are the #1 method of communication between people of similar experiences, and they are the method by which people discover.
Q. Websites vs. social media … what’s your perspective?
A. Often parishes prioritize using websites like an online bulletin board, thinking that parishioners are logging on and seeing what’s new on a website every day. But that’s not how websites are used. Think of them more like brochures: glossy images of what you’re like or what’s inside.
Social media, text, email, those mediums are the better ways to communicate events and up-to-date stuff. Sometimes parishes get these two mediums tangled up, and it muddies the website.
Q. What should we think about when laying out a new website?
A. When laying out a website, it’s important to think about the end user and their user journey. Remember that your website exists for other people to use, not you, so make it as easy to use and as simple as possible for your visitors.
Here’s an exercise: Think like a person who has never seen your website before. Who is visiting your website, and what are they looking for? Write out a few potential audiences. For instance:
- You’re a visitor getting married, where do you find information about sacraments?
- You’re someone on vacation looking for Mass times, can you find them? Are they updated?
- You’re new to town and looking for more information on where to park.
Think about common questions, common reasons that people are looking at a website.
Q. How do I know what to put on my parish site?
A. Think about what most people are looking for on your parish website.
Some ideas include:
- Mass times
- Bulletin (with up-to-date information)
- A calendar
- Ways to donate to your parish
I would say that the most important thing is pictures of people smiling. Catholicism often gets a bad rap for being a religion of heads-down, quiet prayer. We want people to see that our religion is joyful, and our community is joyful. It’s critical to talk here about fallen-away Catholics. Why might someone go to a different church? Because people seem happy there, it’s more welcoming, its more joyful. You want your church to be the one that attracts in that way.
Q. What shouldn’t be on a parish website?
- A picture of an empty church.
- A picture of the Mary statue.
- A picture of the outside of the church. (It can go on there, but not on the front page).
- A drone shot going over an empty church.
And I say this because: buildings are not warm and welcoming, people are. There isn’t anything wrong with statues or interiors, but they don’t convey the warmth and life of your community.
I also think that there shouldn’t be too many links to things like Catholic news or theological content. There are other websites that are updated daily with incredible theological content, let other people do that for you. And you? Focus on keeping your website simple, inviting, and easy to use.
Q. What is a common mistake that many parishes make when it comes to layout and design?
A. I have three.
First, a home page that has a big banner of text announcing an event. So, instead of seeing smiling faces I see a pixelated very big thing that says, say, “Fish Fry next Friday.” Right away that says to me, “I only care about my parishioners, and I don’t care about anyone else.” We need to be thinking about making our parish inviting and welcoming so we can fulfill the great commission.
Second, outdated information. When parishes are trying to keep up with daily updates, they can too easily become outdated. Save your daily updates for social media, email, and texting. Your large seasonal announcements can go on your website.
Third, a non-mobile friendly site. Over 55% of people are hitting your website on mobile phones. People on vacation or new to town are probably on their phone, and that is an audience you want to reach. So, you want your website to be attractive from a mobile perspective.
A friendly heads up about mobile friendly sites: Google is now actively penalizing websites that are not mobile friendly by not listing them as high in the search results. If you want your parish to grow, people need to find you, and they’re going to look on Google. Reach out to a communications savvy member of your community to ensure that your website looks good on a phone. Still stuck? LPi’s team can help build a website that is mobile friendly. Now is the time!
Q. What kinds of things belong on a parish website?
A. Some things that I love to see:
1. Smiling people of different ages and backgrounds.
As a visitor, I’m looking at a picture and thinking: Will I fit in here? This is a human response to life, wondering if there is space for me in this community.
I also like to see pictures of your liturgy, pictures of your small groups, and pictures of people interacting and thriving in your parish setting.
Short stories from parishioners about what they love being a part of your parish community belong on your website. These could be as simple as, “My parish community is welcoming to my kids. I’m nervous about brining my kids to other parishes, but We’re always welcome at St. Pat’s.”
If I was a millennial and I saw and heard that, I would immediately believe them and want to bring my kids there to find out.
Q. Thank you so much! What closing thought do you have for our parishes?
A. Don’t be overwhelmed. You most likely didn’t go to school to be a professional parish web person. This might seem daunting, but you don’t have to do this alone. Look for help in your community. There are a lot of people out there who want to help — like LPi!
LPi loves helping parishes improve their web presence. If you’re interested in learning more, reach out.
Dan Roger’s company, Mission by Design, offers non-profit strategy for communications and fundraising.