Your Parish Website: Street Preacher or Welcoming?

I remember the first time seeing a so-called “street preacher” outside of a concert as a kid. This guy had a little-folded metal stool, a neatly starched suit, and a box of pamphlets overflowing near his feet.

“You’ve got a make a choice, son! A choice for heaven or hell, right here and now. What are you waiting for?” Of course, people continued looking downward as they shuffled their feet along the pavement. His conversion rate was probably very low because he lacked a few essential qualities: an approachable tone, potential for rejection, and a warm invitation.

Your parish website, too, can become like this street preacher. “THIS SUNDAY, 9 AM KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS BREAKFAST” or “REGISTRATION FORMS DUE NEXT WEEK FOR THE RETREAT. DON’T MISS OUT.” Yelling. Shouts of excitement that the $4 you’ll spend on pancakes will certainly benefit the parish council. You’re probably nodding your head because you know these lines. When asked about the apparent allegiance to the caps lock and the bold font, the parish website editor answers: “Well they are very important, you know.”

But let’s be honest, it’s so easy to think that our event, sign up, volunteer opportunity or fundraiser is the most important – and we’ll assume that it is – but we need to think critically about how our message is delivered and most importantly – how it will be received.

Let’s use our three critiques of the street preacher and pose a few leading questions for reflection:

An approachable tone

Does your communication (announcement, flyer, or text on a webpage – for this example) encourage people to engage? Can someone just returning to Church approach it and understand? Is the language full of churchy words that require a certificate in Theology to understand (Examples: catechesis, catechetical, catechumenate, RCIA, CCD, and maybe even Diocesan) – does it speak to real people?

Potential for rejection

Obviously, it would be great if someone attended your event, but is the communication worded in a way that subjects the viewer to guilt if they must deny the request? Does it make them feel like a “second-class Catholic” or “Not an active Catholic” if they can’t come? This sounds like a no-brainer, but check out bulletins and posters in your parish – you’ll be surprised.

Invitation first

Going hand in hand with number 1, keeping an invitational mindset is very Biblical, but more importantly, encourages and promotes action by extending a hand of welcome to the viewer. It connects real names, faces, human experiences – all to make a connection with the viewer that tugs on their heart, inviting them to make a choice. It’s willing to accept a “no” but hopeful in a “yes” because of X, Y, and Z (those are encouraging reasons for why the viewer will be changed, transformed, or overall more happy by coming.)

Look, I get it. We get excited about events or announcements. But so is the street preacher. He walks from his car to the square each morning, refreshed and fired up – not because he wants to yell but because he is passionate and excited. He’s not a bad guy! But with a little direction, an intentional effort to use an approachable tone, accept possible rejection, and to extend a real invitation… well, he’d be far more successful.

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