BRAINTREE -- Parish websites in the Archdiocese of Boston fall into three categories, according to Domenico Bettinelli, creative director of Pilot New Media.
"There are several parishes with strong websites, a large number with average sites, several with outdated content and appearance, and 48 of our 291 parishes without a website at all," said Bettinelli.
His remarks came during an address to a gathering of more than 80 parish leaders assembled for an Oct. 26 seminar entitled "Creating Excellent Parish Websites."
"Generally speaking, there is a great opportunity to improve the way we communicate the Church's everlasting message to people in the 21st Century," Bettinelli said.
From its creation as part of the Catholic Media Secretariat in June 2010, one of the mandates for Pilot New Media has been to assist parishes in the archdiocese with creating and maintaining their websites as essential tools of communication with parishioners and non-parishioners alike.
Scot Landry, Secretary for Catholic Media, said, "Both Blessed John Paul and Pope Benedict have reinforced the importance of the Church evangelizing the new 'digital continent' and to 'give a soul to the Internet.'"
He added, "Cardinal Seán clearly saw that new media has created a fundamental shift in communications comparable to the printing press. This was one of the reasons he established the Catholic Media Secretariat."
As one of its first activities earlier this year, Pilot New Media embarked on a comprehensive survey of the websites of the archdiocese's 290 parishes, bringing in graduate intern Karla Goncalves to grade them on 68 different attributes in three broad categories: appearance, content, and functionality.
Each parish leader at the forum received a completed assessment of their parish's website as of May 1, 2011, and other parishes were to receive theirs in the mail.
In addition to finding that 48 parishes had no website, Goncalves also determined that nearly one-third of all parishes had websites that were not being updated.
"In general, websites rated good or adequate on appearance, but were weak on both content and functionality," said Goncalves, who has now joined the Catholic Media Secretariat on a full-time basis.
"Knowing where we were," Landry told the forum, "we turned our attention to assisting parishes with website upgrades."
He said there were three options: buy a small web development company; build a website development service internally; or partner with an organization with the resources to accomplish the goal.
Landry said the clear choice was to find the best partner available.
He said they found it in Our Sunday Visitor's (OSV) Offertory Solutions division, which recently acquired Radius Web Tools, a website development firm. OSV was founded in 1912 by a Catholic priest to serve the Church and now returns all its profits to the Church through grants.
A group of representatives from OSV attended the seminar to share their vision for parish websites and to demonstrate the power of Radius Web Tools.
Aaron Winn, one of the co-founders of Radius, showed how easy it is to create and maintain a website all through a web browser without any special programming skills. Others showed how easy it is to deploy a new site, showcased some of the features, and discussed the low cost compared to other solutions: $500 for initial setup and $50 per month thereafter.
Bettinelli also shared how to create excellent parish websites based on the best practices as found in the research of Charles Zech of the Villanova Center for the Study of Church Management and his own decade-plus of experience in the field.
In addition to sharing what content parish websites should offer and what users of those websites are looking for, Bettinelli advised participants that design and appearance matter. He then showed them how to choose an effective and intuitive website address and how to create internal processes in the parish to ensure that a well-designed website also stays up to date.
After the forum, the guests from Our Sunday Visitor also participated in a broadcast of The Good Catholic Life radio show, hosted by Landry, in which the discussion of parish websites and their importance for communications continued.
All of the handouts and resources, as well as a video, of the forum are available online at www.pilotnewmedia.com/parishwebsites.