Reflections on the Church Website

The church website. That a church should have one is all but axiomatic in our current context. This, of course, has happened in a fairly short span of time. As recently as a dozen years ago, most parishes didn’t have one. Now, it is considered far more important than the pages-formerly-known-as-yellow, and a cornerstone of parish outreach activities. As a leadership matter, however, the church website does present a number of challenges that merit consideration. I’ll begin by summarizing the positive elements of the church website. First and foremost, it is cheap. Hosting at a good provider, with sufficient space and bandwidth, can be had for under $100 per year. Nothing else come close to the value one receives for such a paltry price. Secondly, a website is malleable. There is no production deadline for changes in the ad copy. Changes and additions to the parish schedule can be made, and they are instantly visible to the world. Errors (spelling or otherwise) can be corrected immediately, rather than deferred to the next week’s printing.

The web has also become ubiquitous. Most of our readers have access to at least one computer at home or in the office, and ever-growing numbers carry them about on their person, in the form of smartphones. (One immediate consideration, though, is that many church websites look awful when viewed on mobile devices.)  This ubiquity and constant accessibility means that a great many people, myself included, have discarded printed phone directories in favor of search engines. In fact, catering to the dwindling minority of parishioners without web access, such as restricting critical information to printed materials instead of email or website, has a perverse result in an era of electronic communication. Namely, it relegates the parish newsletter to “junk mail,” as “real mail” (bills, bank statements, personal communications) is increasingly delivered electronically.  The newsletter may be a jewel, but it comes in a pile of material destined for the recycle bin. The prospects for it being read aren’t good.

The church website also has the ability to offer a multimedia experience. While deferring the negative aspects of this to a future piece in this series, it is absolutely clear that the web allows parishes to show themselves to the world in a way that isn’t confined to two column-inches of newsprint on yellow paper. We can tell the world about ourselves—what we believe, where we’re located, when we worship, and so on—in a way that goes beyond a slogan and the name of the pastor. We can show pictures of events, of our church, and many other things, and provide articles and other prose  that goes far beyond the tracts of old.

As already mentioned, these things are mostly “free,” and even more so with the rise of various so-called content management system (including the blogging platform WordPress and the more comprehensive packages such as Joomla and Drupal) offered without cost to the adventurous (or at comparatively low fees to those who need help). Suddenly, site content can be delegated to owners of the various sections. The priest doesn’t have to maintain the choir notices section. The webmaster doesn’t have to keep up with the schedule. Typical tasks are no harder than webmail.

In short, there is no question that the parish website should figure prominently in the church’s public face. However, there are limitations, and parish leaders should have proper concerns about several issues. I’ll begin taking up my own concerns next time.

Meanwhile, I ask readers of this blog to visit websites of other parishes (Orthodox and not) in their area. What do you think is valuable? What isn’t?