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The Effective Design of Church Web Sites: Extending the Consumer Evaluation of Web Sites to the Non-Profit Sector


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Web sites are becoming an important gateway for churches to attract new members and communicate with the membership. Research has focused on developing guidelines for web site design in the for-profit world, but little has been said about non-profit web sites. This study uses an established instrument to elicit over 1100 responses from parishioners who evaluated a random sample of 250 church web sites. The results provide some guidance about which features are most valued by church members.
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Information Systems Management
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The Effective Design of Church Web Sites: Extending
the Consumer Evaluation of Web Sites to the Non-Profit
Charles Zech a , William Wagner a & Robert West a
a Center for the Study of Church Management , Villanova University , Villanova ,
Pennsylvania , USA
Accepted author version posted online: 15 Feb 2013.Published online: 14 Apr 2013.
To cite this article: Charles Zech , William Wagner & Robert West (2013) The Effective Design of Church Web Sites: Extending
the Consumer Evaluation of Web Sites to the Non-Profit Sector, Information Systems Management, 30:2, 92-99, DOI:
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Information Systems Management, 30:92–99, 2013
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1058-0530 print / 1934-8703 online
DOI: 10.1080/10580530.2013.773800
The Effective Design of Church Web Sites: Extending the
Consumer Evaluation of Web Sites to the Non-Profit Sector
Charles Zech, William Wagner, and Robert West
Center for the Study of Church Management, Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania, USA
Web sites are becoming an important gateway for churches
to attract new members and communicate with the membership.
Research has focused on developing guidelines for web site design
in the for-profit world, but little has been said about non-profit
web sites. This study uses an established instrument to elicit over
1100 responses from parishioners who evaluated a random sample
of 250 church web sites. The results provide some guidance about
which features are most valued by church members.
Keywords non-profit web sites; church web sites; best practices;
TAM model; web site design
Church web sites have become a critical component of
church life. This is true for current members as well as poten-
tial members. Technology is a mainstay in most people’s lives.
Members of church congregations regularly turn to the inter-
net to find the information that they need. An effective web
site can provide that information and keep members engaged
with the church community. Non-members are no different,
making an affordable church web site one of the best mod-
ern outreach tools available. This is especially important in
this time of both declining church membership and the contin-
ued pattern of church switching. The Yearbook of American &
Canadian Churches, in its 2011 yearbook, reported that mem-
bership in 9 of the 15 largest denominations responding reported
decreases in membership from 2009 to 2010 (Lindner, 2011).
Furthermore, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and
Public Life’s (2011) “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” 44%
of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from
being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a par-
ticular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious
tradition altogether. They also found that one in four Americans
between the age of 18 and 29 say they are not affiliated with any
particular religion.
Address correspondence to William Wagner, Center for the Study
of Church Management, Villanova University, 800 Lancaster Ave,
Villanova, PA 19085, USA. E-mail:
One study has shown that the web site is the first place
that many people look when searching for a place of worship
(Goodmanson, 2009), whether they have moved to a new city or
they are considering changing churches. It is especially true for
younger members, many of whom would never visit a church
without first having viewed its web site to determine if it is a
place where they could be comfortable. Web site features such
as videos or podcasts of services could be effective in providing
this information. A church has only one chance to make a first
impression, and for many, that first impression is through their
web site. One researcher has also called for more research on
the ways that different churches use or “spiritualise the Internet”
(Campbell, 2005).
Just as in business, the church web site serves as a “front
page” for the church, providing important factual information,
such as schedules and directions. But it can be much more than
that. The web site can serve as a window into the heart of a
church. It provides the church with an opportunity to express its
values and culture. A web site can be a tool for communicating
a church’s vision. It can reflect the core of who they are and
what they are about.
Most churches have a web presence of some kind (Barna
Group, 2008). Unfortunately, a large number of them fail to
reach their potential. Often, a church creates a web site in
response to the social pressure to establish a presence on the
internet. Too often, the web site is nothing more than a glori-
fied Sunday bulletin. Little effort is made to engage the online
When done well, a church web site can serve as an exten-
sion of the church’s office. This is particularly useful when a
church has grown to a certain size and needs to find ways to
care for the needs of its members while easing the burden on
the staff. An effective web site can facilitate communication,
collaboration, and delegation. It can offer online services such
as event promotion and registration, prayer request submissions,
targeted e-mail distribution, and much more. Of course, for all
its potential benefits, it needs to be emphasized that a church
web site can never be a substitute for face-to-face contact at
both worship service and fellowship activities.
One issue that churches must address in creating web sites
is the recognition that the web site needs to serve multiple
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audiences. The web site can be an important tool for facilitat-
ing communication with current members. It also needs to be
an evangelization tool and be regarded as inviting by potential
members. At the same time, it should be relevant to the various
demographics and ethnicities that comprise the church’s current
and potential membership.
A second issue is that churches often don’t have the
resources to create complicated web sites that use e-commerce
features. While a particular church might desire more com-
plicated features, the necessary resources might not be avail-
able. In order to control costs, some churches utilize their
Church Management System (CMS). Many of these not
only assist churches in their accounting, payroll, member-
ship tracking, and scheduling, but also provide free web site
and e-mail accounts. As an alternative there are a num-
ber of sites on the internet ( and are two examples) that ser-
vice the “do it yourself” market and allow churches to purchase
a template that the church webmaster (typically a staff member
or volunteer) can use to update the content. While not state of
the art, these templates serve as a cost-effective approach for
churches just starting their own web sites.
The role of the church webmaster should not be overlooked.
In addition to keeping the web site’s content up to date, the web-
master needs to understand the different options available for
the church’s web site and which of these are most appropriate
for this particular congregation. In larger churches, the webmas-
ter might be a paid IT professional. However, in many churches,
because of cost considerations, the webmaster, as noted above,
is a staff member or a congregation member serving as a volun-
teer. One possible advantage of this latter approach is that the
webmaster may have a better sense of the congregation’s needs
and desires for their web site.
This study examines the various design issues involved in
constructing an effective web site using measures previously
identified in the for-profit e-commerce research. This exist-
ing body of web site design research was used as a guide
for our analysis of church web sites. It was then applied to a
random sample of church web sites taken from a national sam-
ple of U.S. Catholic parishes. In the section that follows, the
characteristics of an effective church web site are presented.
Following that, the sample of parishes is described and the
analysis of their web sites is undertaken. A national survey of
parishioners forms the basis for the next section of the article,
which identifies the web site characteristics that are most valued
by parishioners. The article concludes with a series of observa-
tions. This article represents the first attempt to rigorously study
how churches actually use web sites and to better define what
users of non-profit web sites find most useful on these sites.
The study of effective web site design has been an impor-
tant topic of research for some time. Up until now however,
this research has focused almost exclusively on the for-profit
world. However, as usage of the web grows, web site design is
becoming more and more important for the non-profit sector as
well. Past researchers have attempted to derive measures and
standards for web site design. Some have tried to determine the
critical success factors (CSF) for web site design (Korgaonkar,
O’Leary, & Silverblatt, 2009) by surveying web site developers.
Others have surveyed web site consumers directly to see what
they found to be most successful (Aladwani & Palvia, 2002;
Cox & Dale, 2002; Ivory & Hearst, 2002; Kim & Stoel, 2004;
Loiocano, Watson, & Goodhue, 2007; Long & Chiagouris,
2006; Muylle, Moenaart, & Despontin, 2004; Palmer, 2002).
All of this research focused exclusively on the for-profit side of
Much less has been written about the effective design of non-
profit web sites. Non-profit organizations such as churches and
charities have been slower to realize the benefits of the internet,
but as the cost of developing web sites continues to decrease,
they are increasingly looking at how they can integrate web sites
into their overall mission. One study in the U.K. looked at how
environmental charities could use web design best practices to
better market themselves on the internet (Wenham, Stephens, &
Hardy, 2003). Some informal studies of the impact of the web
on churches have been published in trade publications such as
Christian Computing. The only other academic publication was
a conference paper that described the increasing importance of
the internet for churches in general (Wyche, Hayes, Harvel, &
Grinter, 2006).
The immediate goal of this research was to conduct a formal
study of church web sites in order to better gauge their effec-
tiveness and overall usage. Since there was almost no formal
existing research on this specific topic, it was decided to incor-
porate the best research instruments from the for-profit web
site design research. All of the various for profit studies cited
above broke web site design down into multiple dimensions that
usually included content and usability factors.
One of the most thorough and commonly-accepted instru-
ments is the one developed by Aladwani and Palvia (2002). Like
the WebQual instrument (Loiocano et al., 2007), this instrument
has been extensively tested and validated. It breaks the concept
of web site quality down into three main dimensions: technical
adequacy, web content, and web appearance. These dimensions
are used to group a total of 14 other contributing factors that
have been identified in the literature and via interviews with
various web professionals. The dimensions and factor sets were
further refined using the Delphi technique.
For the purposes of this study, the Aladwani-Palvia instru-
ment was modified and updated slightly to better reflect the
concerns of church users and also to reflect changes in tech-
nology. While technical adequacy issues would presumably
be important to all web site users, content would certainly
vary. For example, church members would not be using their
church’s web sites for some of the common commercial uses
of web sites, such as comparing prices. Drawing upon their
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combined expertise in information technology, the article co-
authors (working in conjunction with one church IT adminis-
trator) evaluated this instrument for currency and made a few
minor changes. This entailed dropping factors such as web page
load time and adding search engine ranking to the instrument.
Besides using it to evaluate the overall quality of the web site,
many purely descriptive questions were added (e.g., yes/no
questions such as “Were directions to church posted?”). These
questions were deemed of interest in tracking the overall evolu-
tion of church web site functionality. Once the aforementioned
panel was satisfied with the modified instrument, they used it to
independently evaluate 10 church web sites. Their ratings were
then compared to see how consistent they were for the same set
of church web sites.
The analysis using the modified Aladwani-Palvia instru-
ment was performed on a sample of U.S. Catholic parishes
drawn from the National Parish Inventory (NPI) that is main-
tained by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate
at Georgetown University. Of the approximately 19,000 U.S.
Catholic parishes, the NPI contains information on 18,697 of
them. A random sample of 250 parishes was chosen for analy-
sis. Table 1 compares the parishes in the random sample with
the parishes in the entire NPI.
From the table, we can see that the parishes in our sample
tend to be about the same size as parishes in the overall sample,
both in terms of number of registered households and paid staff.
The parishes in the sample are growing at a similar pace.
Each of the parish web sites in the sample was analyzed by a
member of the team of researchers on two general dimensions:
the extent to which it is user-friendly and web site content. The
findings on each of these dimensions are reported separately.
Web Site Quality Dimensions
The Aladwani and Palvia (2002) instrument identified three
major categories of characteristics for web site quality. The
Aladwani-Palvia instrument was especially appropriate for
this study because it was designed to capture key web site
Comparison of parishes in random sample with
parishes in entire NPI sample
Characteristic Random Sample Entire Sample
Average Registered
1164 1123
Average Paid Staff 4.04 4.49
Baptisms/Funerals 2.00 1.92
Quality dimension ratings (scale 1 to 7)
Characteristic Rating
Technical adequacy
Ease of navigation 5.33
Interactivity (e.g., submission of forms) 4.33
Search engine list accuracy (e.g., Google) 6.21
Valid links 5.73
Web content presentation
Usefulness 5.14
Clarity 5.16
Currency 5.33
Conciseness 5.17
Accuracy 5.26
Web appearance
Attractiveness 4.86
Organization 4.98
Effective use of fonts 4.83
Effective use of colors 4.70
Innovative use of multimedia (e.g., photos
videos, animation, audio)
design characteristics from a user’s perspective. Through their
literature review, they compiled key web site characteristics.
This was then refined by a team of scholars using the Delphi
Method. After three rounds, 55 web site quality characteristics
remained. Aladwani and Palvia then tested these for validity.
After some minor modifications and updates, the Aladwani and
Palvia instrument was used as the basis for analyzing non-profit
web sites. Users were then asked to rate each of the charac-
teristics using a scale of 1 to 7. Summary results for the three
dimensions are presented in Table 2.
Among the factors which the researchers thought that
Catholic parishes were strongest included accurate listings on
search engines and content that was presented in a useful, clear,
and accurate manner. Although church webmaster resources are
sparse, the existing hyperlinks in the web sites were accurate
and the content was generally current. One of the primary crit-
icisms of many church web sites is that they are not kept up
to date, primarily because of a shortage of staff (Dolan, 2007).
This was not the case for this sample of parishes.
The researchers gave generally low ratings for the web sites’
appearance. They tended to not be particularly attractive or
well organized. By far, the lowest rating went for their use of
multimedia. Parishes were not very innovative in their use of
media. As noted above, many parishes feature just one picture
on their web site—the church building. Few parishes in this
sample took advantage of innovative technology to reveal who
they are and what they value. The lack of innovation could be a
direct result of a scarcity of staff and resources. It was clear that
some parishes had outsourced the building and design of their
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web sites—perhaps an indication that the pastor saw the value
it could provide.
Another low rating was for interactivity. One of the primary
benefits of a web site is that it allows two-way communi-
cation. Parishioners can download and submit forms, register
for events, and so forth. Unfortunately, the parishes in the
sample tended to not take advantage of this important fea-
ture. Interestingly, the few sites that did have highly interactive
features were often linked to CMSs.
If one could sum up the findings for the quality analysis
instrument, it appears that many parishes use their web sites
as not much more than glorified church bulletins. Information
is provided in an organized, concise, and clear manner, as one
would expect to see in the church bulletin. Little attempt is made
to utilize some of the strengths of a web site, such as its abil-
ity to enable interactivity or to provide innovative multimedia
content. Neither of these features is available with a church bul-
letin, and neither is typically employed on the church’s web site.
A similar theme emerges when web site content is examined.
Specific Web Site Features
While the ease of use dimension required the researchers
to make judgments to rate each feature on a scale of 1 to 7,
the analysis of the specific web site features merely asked the
researcher to indicate whether a particular feature appeared or
not, without judging its quality. As with the quality dimensions,
the content of the web sites is separated into several categories.
This was done so as to gain a more complete picture of the cur-
rent state of church web sites and also to set a baseline for the
further study of the evolution of church web sites. The results
are displayed in Table 3.
Focusing primarily on those topics that appear on more than
half of the parish web sites in our sample, the vast majority
are informational—one-way from the parish to the parishioner.
A total of fourteen topics appeared on more than half of the web
sites. Of these, nine would be considered merely informational,
including the posting of Mass times, parish financial informa-
tion, the Sunday bulletin, and staff profiles. Four are links to
other sites, such as the Vatican or opportunities to serve the poor.
The other concerns the provision of age-specific content. Only
the provision of links to other sites and the provision of age-
specific content touch the potential of the parish web site. The
nine informational items reduce the web site to not much more
than a glorified Sunday bulletin or parish newsletter.
At the other extreme are those topics that appear fewer
than 10% of the time. There were also 14 of these. Nine of
these involve innovative uses that approach the full potential
of the web site. These include the ability to complete and sub-
mit sacramental forms interactively, the use of video games to
instruct in the faith, the provision of chat rooms, the ability
to hold meetings online, and links to social networks. Other
innovative uses of the web site, which appear on a small
Specific website feature evaluation
Content item
Percent of
Special log-in for parish members 8.0
Search facility for site 19.6
Hover capability over links 6.0
Directions to parish (map) 64.8
Age-specific content 67.2
Post sermons 15.2
Post daily devotional 20.0
Post mass times 95.6
Post times for other worship events 61.2
Post sacramental schedules 74.4
Sacramental forms available to print 12.4
Sacramental forms interactive 2.0
Webcasts/podcasts of mass 7.6
Electronic giving available 16.4
Security for electronic giving 0.0
FAQs about beliefs 13.6
Video games, trivia, etc. to instruct in faith 2.8
Links to scripture study or other devotional
On-line learning communities 12.4
Catechesis 31.2
Rite of Christian initiation for adults 60.8
Links to Vatican or diocese 62.0
Links to other faith-related sites 72.8
Links to religious education services 78.8
Links to commercial vendors selling
religious books and other goods
Newcomer’s page 36.8
Service/volunteering 5.6
Links to opportunities to serve the poor 58.4
Links to non-faith related volunteer
Space for prayer requests 14.0
FAQs about parish history 56.0
Blogs/on-line forums allowing for responses
by parishioners
E-mail link for questions/comments 41.2
Links to counseling services for parishioners 22.4
Links to other services for parishioners 31.2
Pastor’s page 28.0
Post mission statement 49.2
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Content item
Percent of
Information on parish ministries with contact
Post schedules, meeting minutes, and other
internal communications
On-line calendar available 57.2
Ability for parishioners to sign up for
Post parish financial information 41.2
Post Sunday bulletins 75.2
Staff profiles and position descriptions 71.6
Photos/video album of parish activities 37.2
Photos used to communicate welcome 20.8
Chat rooms available 0.4
Ability to hold meetings on-line 0.0
Site makes use of Wikis 0.4
Site makes use of RSS feeds 6.4
Social network links 1.2
Parish newsletter posted 14.8
Multilingual content 20.8
minority of parish web sites, includes blogs and online forums
(10.4%), the ability for parishioners to sign up for activities
online (14%), the capability to search the site (19.6%), and a
video album of parish activities (37.2%). Clearly, parish web
sites are underutilized when it comes to providing content that
taps the full potential of the internet.
One would be hard-pressed to find a web site user who
doesn’t value the technical adequacy, web content presentation,
and web site appearance characteristics listed above. But some
of these might be more important to users than others.
With limited technology budgets, parishes must make some
choices as to what technical characteristics they should be
putting on their web site. To address this issue, a national sample
of Catholic parishioners was asked to rate the random sam-
ple of parish web sites. The parishioners were selected from
12 parishes in 12 different regions of the United States, as
defined by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Pastors
in each of these parishes were asked to select 10 parishioners
who would each evaluate 10 different parish web sites on the
basis of their content. Some parishioners failed to submit their
ratings, so a total of 1104 individual web site ratings were
received for the 250 parish web sites in the sample. Each web
site was rated by at least three parishioners. The average age
of those submitting completed ratings was 49. Sixty percent
were women. As a group, they were highly educated, with 86%
possessing a college degree. By comparison, the 2010 Faith
Communities Today survey of 395 U.S. Catholic parishes con-
ducted by the Cooperative Congregations Study Partnership
(Thumma, 2011) found that the median age of active Catholic
parishioners was 51, with 60% being women and 40% possess-
ing college degrees. The average rating awarded to the parish
web sites, on a scale of 100, was 82.5.
Web Site Quality Dimensions
The analysis was conducted by employing partial correlation
analysis between the parishioners’ rating scores and each of the
dimension characteristics listed in Table 2. The partial correla-
tions were calculated after controlling for the respondents’ age,
gender, and education. The correlation between parishioner rat-
ing and age was –.09, between rating and gender was .23, and
between rating and education was –.07. Older and more edu-
cated parishioners tended to rate the web sites lower, women
tended to rate them more highly. The results can be found in
Table 4.
As expected, all of the technical characteristics were signif-
icantly related to the parishioners’ ratings. Parishioners value
a technically effective, user-friendly web site. But some char-
acteristics are more highly valued. Possessing valid links and
usefulness both exhibited partial correlation coefficients greater
than .20. Displaying current information was also highly valued.
Quality dimension partial correlations with parishioner rating
Characteristic Coefficient
Technical Adequacy
Ease of Navigation .11∗∗
Interactivity (e.g., submission of forms) .18∗∗
Search Engine List Accuracy (e.g., Google) .07
Valid Links .21∗∗
Web Content Presentation
Usefulness .21∗∗
Clarity .18∗∗
Currency .19∗∗
Conciseness .16∗∗
Accuracy .18∗∗
Web Appearance
Attractiveness .15∗∗
Organization .13∗∗
Effective Use of Fonts .16∗∗
Effective Use of Colors .12∗∗
Innovative Use of Multimedia (e.g., photos
videos, animation, audio)
Note:Significant at .05 level; ∗∗Significant at .01 level.
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At the same time, the web site appearance characteristics gen-
erated some of the lower correlation coefficients. The least
important, based on its correlation coefficient, was an accurate
listing on a search engine such as Google. Surprisingly, ease of
navigation was also rated relatively low.
Specific Web Features
As with the technical characteristics, it would be anticipated
that the vast majority of web site content items would be valued
by parishioners. But, again, with limited budgets and web
site capacity, parishes need to determine which content items
are most valued by parishioners. Table 5 presents the partial
correlations, again controlling for age, education, and gender,
from our parishioner survey on the web site content items listed
in Table 3.
A number of observations emerge from Table 5. First, some
characteristics that one might have thought to be valued were
not significantly related to parishioner ratings. Some of these
involve posting general information, such as times for liturgical
events other than Sunday Mass, committee schedules and meet-
ings, the Sunday bulletin, a pastor’s message, and the parish
However, many of the characteristics that were not signifi-
cantly related to parishioner ratings involved features that would
allow the parish to make full use of the available technology.
These include interactive opportunities such as special log-ins
for parish members, the ability to interactively complete forms
for sacramental registration or to sign up for activities, means
to instruct in the faith through the use of games and FAQs
about beliefs, and opportunities to communicate with other
parishioners through posting prayer requests, participating in
online forums and chat rooms, as well as with the wider com-
munity through social network links, links to online learning
communities, and links to service/volunteering opportunities.
One possible explanation for these findings is that parishioners
have not been fully educated in the potential contributions that
a parish web site can make in enriching the parish community.
Which content features were highly valued? The most highly
valued (as measured by the partial correlation coefficient) was
the posting of an online calendar of parish events (although as
noted above, the ability to register for events online was not val-
ued). This was followed by profiles and position descriptions for
staff members and an e-mail link for questions and comments.
Also highly valued were information on parish ministries and
their contact information. All of these relate to parishioners’
ability to be kept up to date on parish activities.
Along those same lines, some community-building infor-
mation was valued, such as photos or video albums of parish
activities and webcasts or podcasts of Sunday Mass. Age-
specific content (presumably intended for youth and young
adults) was highly rated. Only a few links were viewed as
valuable, notably those to other faith-related sites and to other
services that might be of interest to parishioners.
Website features partial correlations with parishioner rating
Content Item
Special log-in for parish members .00
Search facility for site .12∗∗
Hover capability over links .01
Directions to parish (map) .08∗∗
Age-specific content .13∗∗
Post sermons .09∗∗
Post daily devotional .09∗∗
Post mass times .09∗∗
Post times for other worship events .05
Post sacramental schedules .09∗∗
Sacramental forms available to print .07
Sacramental forms interactive .01
Webcasts/podcasts of mass .10∗∗
Electronic giving available .08∗∗
FAQs about beliefs .03
Video games, trivia, etc. to instruct in faith .05
Links to scripture study or other devotional
On-line learning communities .01
Catechesis .05
Rite of Christian initiation for adults .09∗∗
Links to Vatican or diocese .07
Links to other faith-related sites .13∗∗
Links to religious education services .00
Links to commercial vendors selling
Religious books and other goods
Newcomer’s page .08
Service/volunteering .04
Links to opportunities to serve the poor .04
Links to non-faith related volunteer
Space for prayer requests .06
FAQs about parish history .07
Blogs/on-line forums allowing for responses
by parishioners
E-mail link for questions/comments .14∗∗
Links to counseling services for parishioners .07
Links to other services for parishioners .10∗∗
Pastor’s page .02
Post mission statement .11∗∗
Information on parish ministries with contact
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Content Item Coefficient
Post schedules, meeting minutes, and other
internal communications
On-line calendar available .15∗∗
Ability for parishioners to sign up for
Post parish financial information .07
Post Sunday bulletins .05
Staff profiles and position descriptions .14∗∗
Photos/video album of parish activities .12∗∗
Photos used to communicate welcome .07
Chat rooms available .03
Site makes use of Wikis .02
Site makes use of RSS feeds .08∗∗
Social network links .04
Parish newsletter posted .02
Multilingual content .02
Significant at .05 level; ∗∗Significant at .01 level.
One surprising finding, in light of recent emphasis on church
accountability and transparency resulting from a series of high-
profile parish embezzlements, is that parishioners in our survey
assigned a negative value to the posting of parish financial
information on the web site.
The pattern that emerges is that the parishioners in the survey
most valued “inward-looking” content, such as items that pro-
vide information on parish activities or were related to parish
community building. They placed less value on “external-
looking” content, such as links to the Vatican or the availability
of a newcomer’s page.
It is not an understatement to say that U.S. Catholic parishes
are underachievers in terms of their web sites. Most use them
as nothing more than glorified Sunday bulletins, conveying
information purely in one direction. This study has shown
that few parishes use their web sites to reach and engage
parishioners. Features that some parishioners might value and
take for granted from commercial enterprise web sites, such as
the ability to register for events, submit forms online, commu-
nicate via e-mail links found on the web site, or even participate
in online forums, are typically absent from parish web sites.
Not only do parish web sites fall short in their content,
but so often their appearance leaves much to be desired. This
is especially important in attracting new members, who are
increasingly likely to view a parish’s web site before deciding
to visit it in person. If they are not impressed by the web site,
the chance that they will give the parish a personal visit is
much reduced. This is particularly true for younger members.
A parish has only one opportunity to make a first impression,
and frequently that impression is through its web site.
The basic problem with parish web sites is really two-fold.
The most obvious is financial. It can be costly to create and
maintain an effective and attractive web site. Most parishes
are strapped for cash and are unable to afford the services of
a professional web developer. As a result, they typically rely
on volunteers. While well-meaning, many of these volunteers
have only a cursory understanding of web site development and
limited time to devote to a project of this scope.
A related problem is that a volunteer webmaster may not
have the time or resources to educate parishioners on the types
of features that could be made available to them within the con-
straints of the church’s budget. Until parishioners recognize the
impact that a first-rate web site can have on enhancing their
religious life, it is unlikely that it will become a high prior-
ity with the parish leadership. Unless parishioner expectations
for technology in general and their parish web site in particular
match that for commercial web sites that they regularly visit,
parishes will continue to miss the opportunities that are avail-
able to them to enhance the spiritual and temporal lives of their
This research provides an important first step in helping
guide future efforts of churches in designing the most effec-
tive web sites given a general lack of resources. Given the
planned New Evangelization movement within the Catholic
Church in particular, studies such as this may provide use-
ful insights into the work needed to improve overall com-
munication. Subsequent research might further examine how
well a church web site communicates to its various con-
stituencies, including members, prospective members, visitors,
non-practicing members, and the general community.
This manuscript has been substantially improved by the com-
ments of three anonymous reviewers. Funding for this project
was provided by a foundation that wishes to remain anonymous.
Charles Zech is a professor of economics in the Villanova
University School of Business, where he has taught since
1974. He also serves as the Director of The Center for the
Study of Church Management at Villanova. He received his
B.A. in Economics from St. Thomas University (MN) and
his M.A. and PhD from Notre Dame University. He is the
author or co-author of 10 books on the topic of church man-
agement. He has served as a consultant to a number of U.S.
Catholic parishes and dioceses.
William Wagner is a professor of Information Systems at
Villanova University, where he has been teaching since
1991. He received his PhD in MIS from the University of
Downloaded by [Villanova University], [William Wagner] at 18:34 20 February 2014
Kentucky in 1992. While at Villanova, he has developed
over 30 innovative new MIS courses. He has co-authored
three books and many journal articles in the fields of CRM,
Enterprise Systems, Expert Systems, and E-Commerce.
Recently, he was the winner of the 2011 Meyer award
for Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship and a win-
ner of the 2011 Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship
Centers’ award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship Teaching
and Pedagogical Innovation.
Robert West, PhD, CPA, is an assistant professor of Accounting
at VSB and is co-author (with C. Zech) of “Internal Controls
in the U.S. Catholic Church.” Robert has spoken live to pas-
tors, business managers, and laity, as well as on radio shows
on the issues of internal controls and budgeting/finance at
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