By Alan Hayes
Published: January 2006
Last month, in addition to my physical visits to churches around Niagara, I itinerated the entire diocese virtually, through the Internet.
Every parish in Niagara has its own six-part parish page at www.niagara.anglican.ca. This lets each church give lots of information about itself in a very compact space: address, phone, and email; driving directions and times of services, mission statement, names of staff members, special events and timely announcements, and helpful information about such things as parking lots, accessibility, and policies about baptism.
There's a picture, too. Too often the church represents itself by a rather unartistic snapshot of a church building. I like what St. Alban's, Acton, has done. It features a fascinating picture of the congregation. The camera looks down from an elevated angle, and sees some very interesting people looking back up.
Many church-shoppers will decide which churches to visit by using an Internet search engine. The diocesan website, I've noticed, gets a pretty high position at Google, which means that lots of people visit it. So if your church wants visitors, make sure someone is looking after your parish page.
In particular, I hope your church will update its announcements and special events. Otherwise, the default screen that visitors will see is one I've learned to dread: "There are currently no Announcements. Please check back soon as this page will be updated shortly." No announcements? I've never seen a Sunday church bulletin in Niagara without announcements. Let's be candid. The church has announcements, but it's content to restrict them to the few people that come on Sunday morning. Don't bother to "check back soon," either.
In addition to the space they can use at the diocesan website, many churches maintain their own parish website. They can then link the parish website from the diocesan website. I counted 104 parish pages at the diocesan website, of which 43 had links to parish websites. That doesn't count five parish pages with broken links. Nor does it count five links that simply open a new browser window that displays the same page you just left. Nor does it count one that produces the screen, "This site is currently under construction."
Two years ago when I counted, the diocesan website had 115 parish pages and 40 operating links. So a greater proportion of churches are maintaining websites.
I looked at all the parish websites that were linked. If your church has a parish website but doesn't link it from the diocesan website, I didn't read it.
Unless my record-keeping has confused me, which is very possible, I found several newcomers since 2003. One is St. Alban's, Acton, whose website looks professionally designed and is quite attractive. Another is St. James', Guelph, which provides quite a number of congregational resources online, including bulletins and parish newsletters in Adobe Acrobat format. St. John's, Niagara Falls, is another new site, very colourful, with lively text.
Most parish websites introduce their churches quite well. In addition to the basic information found on the diocesan website, they typically explain how their worship services work; they display pictures of staff members and others in the congregation; they introduce their various ministries and activities; they post newsletters and other documents; and they summarize their history.
Making your church look appealing is, of course, good marketing. The website for St. Andrew's, Grimsby, has a banner reading, "The Church is its People," with rows of high-quality, standard-format headshots of its members. It makes you want to go to St. Andrew's to meet these interesting people. Very effective....
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