Parish leaders prepare for Catholics Come Home

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | October 28, 2009

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Julie Birr, management support coordinator for the Diocese of Green Bay’s Department of Communications, guides parish representatives through the process of launching free parish Web sites using Microsoft Office Live. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

In addition to a series of three commercials, viewers will be guided to the Catholics Come Home Web site, www.catholicscomehome.org. From there, they can link to parish Web sites in their communities.

Since parish Web sites play a key role in providing information and welcoming people back, diocesan leaders are sponsoring workshops to help parishes enhance their current Web sites or build a new site.

On Oct. 22, about 40 parish representatives turned out at Holy Cross Church for one of five Web site regional workshops. Leading the fall workshops are Renae Bauer, director of communications for the diocese, and Julie Birr, management support coordinator for the Communications Department.

Bauer was instrumental in the redesign of the diocesan Web site, www.gbdioc.org, and continues to oversee its updating. Birr, a member of St. Casimir Parish in Krakow, created her parish’s Web site, www.stcasimir.net, using free Microsoft software.

During her general presentation, Bauer discussed Web site audiences. She described the diocesan Web site and how it serves two general audiences: internal, which includes Catholics and diocesan employees, and external, the general public. Parish Web site audiences also fall into those categories, she said, and parishes should try to reach out to both.

People expect to view information quickly, so breaking up information into short paragraphs or item lists is helpful. “We are a society of skimmers,” she noted.

Parish web sites should also use conversational language, suggested Bauer. “Be sensitive about the language we use,” she said, reminding people to avoid religious jargon used in church circles. “Are we using language our next door neighbor will understand?” she asked.

Other points she made included:

• Make the home page welcoming;

• Use pictures, especially of people who look happy;

• Clearly identify the parish and its mission;

• Give people compelling reasons to visit your site;

• Choose font types carefully and avoid using all caps and italics.

Bauer said that it is important for parishes to take precautions in posting children’s photos on their Web site. “Be careful about how much information is used,” she said, recommending that no names or only first names be used.

According to diocesan statistics, only 86 out of 159 diocesan parishes have Web sites. During the presentation, attendees whose parishes are without a Web site learned about the process of creating one from scratch. According to Birr, software packages allow novice Web designers to create a Web site for little or no cost. Using a PowerPoint presentation, Birr described the process she used to build her parish’s Web site with Microsoft Office Live.

Birr said parish Web sites should offer a basic level of information, including Mass and reconciliation times; contact information and directions; and parish staff and leadership information. She suggested that they include at least three digital photos: one of the pastor-parish director or entire parish staff; one showing people of various ages involved in a parish activity; and one showing a parish landmark, such as a statue, bell tower or steeple.

Other items might include a mission statement, upcoming events, a list of parish groups, religious education information and parish history.

According to Birr, she built her parish Web site over one weekend in June 2008, starting with four pages. Since then, the Web site has grown, with links, downloadable weekly parish bulletins and monthly parish calendars, and even a parish Twitter account link.

Birr explained that the cost of building her parish’s Web site totaled $14.95 a year. That fee covered the cost to register a domain name (the Web address). She provided handouts to parish representatives interested in building a site and walked them through the process of creating a site using Microsoft Office Live.

Birr noted that other free software is available for creating Web sites. The advantage of using Microsoft Office Live is that the learning curve is minimal for those familiar with other Microsoft applications.

Among the workshop attendees was Marsha Hadden-Phillips, administrative assistant at St. Paul Parish in Plainfield. She and Deacon Bob Precourt drove about 75 miles to attend the workshop. Hadden-Phillips said the materials presented was informative and helpful. She said the parish has been considering a Web site for some time, and with Catholics Come Home on the horizon, it was a good time to begin the process.

“I hope it will help many people in our area have a good link” with the parish, she said.

Carlos Herrera, pastoral associate at St. Therese Parish in Appleton, said his parish has a Web site, but he was interested in learning ways to improve it. “This is related to Catholics Come Home, so we are really trying to be welcoming to everybody,” he said. As a leader in Hispanic ministry, Herrera said he is enthusiastic about Catholics Come Home’s potential in the Hispanic community.

“There are more Hispanic people trying to look for a place to worship,” he said. “The Internet and Web site are really good tools that they are looking to. Right now we are trying to make our Web site better to try and encourage the people to come.”

Kristina DeNeve, spirituality and evangelization director for the diocese and Catholics Come Home coordinator, said the workshop presentations are intended to assist parishes with limited resources.

“Parishes that don’t have a Web site are most likely to be smaller and have fewer resources of people and money,” she said, “so how can we get one up without having to devote a lot of energy and time learning software and a lot of money to have it happen?”

She said the Catholics Come Home steering committee spent one day last July discerning ways to make the campaign a success.

“That group said that if a parish does nothing else, it ought to make sure that parishioners know (lapsed Catholics) are coming,” she said. “Secondly, they ought to look at how they can strengthen what they are doing well – in Web sites, worship and welcome.”

One final Web site workshop is planned for Nov. 10, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at St. Mary of the Lake Church in Lakewood. To register, contact DeNeve at (920) 272-8281.

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