Top Ten Tips for Parish Web Sites
Tip # 1: Pick the right point person for the site.
Parishes sometimes try to run their website by committee. This breaks down quickly because there is no one person that is known for being the liaison for the site, and priests and parishioners don’t know where to turn when content needs to be added or there’s a technological issue. The point person can be tasked with maintaining the records of such things as ownership, account usernames, privileges and inventories.
The parish council and/or priest should look for someone who: has time and energy, knows enough about websites to run one (but not necessarily the techie guru of the parish), is consistent and known for following through with his/her commitments, and has a good relationship with the priest, church secretary and parish council. More than some parish jobs, this is one requires a steady babysitter. Nothing makes a parish look sleepier than a website featuring Pascha photos that are three years old, or service information that’s inaccurate.
Tip # 2: Pick the right system for the site.
Parishes always have limited budgets, and it’s a shame when they overpay for their site, or get sucked in to an overly complicated system with more customization than is needed. Many free or very inexpensive platforms are quite adequate for a basic parish site, and they are generally designed with web beginners in mind. Even if a parish has an expert capable of building something fancy, that person may not always be available, so the site should be simple enough that the priest or the Khouria can take over basic maintenance if necessary.
The bottom line? A simple site that works and stays up-to-date is more impressive than a fancy site that doesn't.
Tip # 3: Pick a back up person, and make sure he/she also knows the systems in place.
How many times does one person in a parish hold all the critical information such as how to refresh the site or who to contact when the site’s broken? If there isn’t a second person in the loop, the parish is vulnerable should the web editor move, or switch parishes, or become ill or less involved. As IT expert Archdeacon Sokolov (OCA) says, “At any given moment, you can browse the world wide web and find once-beautiful parish web sites that are basically defunct because a volunteer left the parish or the Church, or simply has lost interest. The priest and parish council cannot get in and update the calendar of services and events.“
Tip # 4: Keep it simple. The top priorities are:
- Contact information and directions to the church
- Schedule of services and other events
- An "About Us" page, which could include parish background, parish history, priest's biography and links to the Archdiocese, and
- Some basic Orthodox apologia is helpful for inquirers, as well as links to sites for more information about the Faith.
These pages should be easy to create and maintain. Other features such as parish news updates, outreach stories, photo galleries, videos, blogs and such are certainly nice. But they require more effort and maintenance, and should be attempted only if adequate time and talent is available
Tip # 5: Make sure your most essential information on the site is always accurate, up to date and easy to find: hours of services, addresses and phone numbers, clergy and leadership information.
Tip # 6: Pay special attention to the uninitiated. Include a well-written introduction to Orthodox faith and practice somewhere on the site, such as Frederica Mathewes-Green’s Twelve Things I Wish I’d Known. You can always link to the archdiocese website for many resources, as well as your own diocese site if such exists. Many people today now encounter Orthodoxy for the first time via the web, and many will meet your parish for the first time this way as well. Informal surveys of priests indicate that more and more visitors research a parish through the church website before ever setting foot in the door.
Tip # 7: Make sure your graphics and photos accurately represent your parish. People will remember what they see on your site even if they don’t remember the text. Choose photos of your parishioners and make sure some are always sprinkled on your home page. By all means post a photo your priest, but make sure he’s wearing a pleasant expression! The parish patron saint is another indispensible image that should appear prominently.
Tip # 8: Keep your links clear and simple, and your layout intuitive. Navigation is key—think of how people are actually using your site as you design and lay it out. Don’t clutter the homepage or bury important information four clicks in where folks won’t find it. Make sure your brochure information is front and center—your menu, your important phone numbers, directions to the parish. And resist the impulse to prominently feature sound, slow-to-load animations or video, and pop-up links. Research shows that these are displeasing to many web users, especially on a front page.
Tip # 9: Have parish council appoint a technology liaison who will work closely with the web editor. The liaison must be a tech-savvy person from the parish who supervises all the technology—the parish computer systems and internet providers, the data base, the software used to maintain records and finances, even the copy machines and phone systems. All information should be recorded and kept secure by this liaison. This person can become the go to for the web editor if he/she is stuck on an issue related to the site.
Tip # 10: Plan a site maintenance schedule and stick to it. Test the links on your site to make sure they’re live; check in with your site host for any needed updates; touch base with heads of ministries to make sure your information is current and accurate, refresh photo galleries and schedules as needed.
With thanks to Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov of the OCA for his website article Using Technology in Service to the Church.