If I type in “Mormon” into Google, once I scroll past the Wikipedia pages I come across the Mormon portal online, complete with large colorful pictures, an easy to navigate design, simple links to all of the basic issues that anyone would be wondering about. All on the front page.
In comparison, Vatican.Va obviously hasn’t heard that the drop down menu was invented at least 30 years ago. All of the links (that all have almost the same exact font and color despite being on all different parts of the page) are spread out across the page so as to take up as much space as possible, and 90% of them are irrelevant (I’m a missionary and I still can’t tell the difference between an Apostolic Constitution, Apostolic Exortation, and Apostolic Letter). There are Latin words on the page that practically nobody in the world can translate. Francis is the word that jumps out right away, and the words Catholic, Christian, and Jesus are nowhere to be found. Oh yea, and the background reminds me of ugly yellow crinkled paper, kind of like the 10 commandments or all those laws and rules that the Church seems to be about.. The webpage screams “clerical,” it reads more like an index than a front cover.
If I had any questions, the search button looks helpful, but after clicking it, it brings up a separate Google search. I asked a typical question a seeker might have, “who is God?”, which led to thousands of results, mostly encyclicals and really academic looking papers. Not exactly what I’m looking for… just a couple sentences would do.
If I were a seeker and interested in the Catholic Church, I’d be turned off. Is this a website about Pope Francis or the main page of the Catholic Church? Where can I learn about what the Church teaches? Why should I be Catholic? Who is Jesus? What is the meaning of life? What is the Gospel?
The Vatican is looking to improve their methods of communication, and I’m really excited about it. As a 22 year old Catholic, I’m easily frustrated by the Church’s progress on the technology and media front. The secular media tells everyone the stories in an often anti-Christian bend (especially anti-Catholic – as evidence I can’t even count how many times major news outlets have misinterpreted Pope Francis with major news headlines, and he’s only been pope for 9 months), and the Church never gets its point across to anyone other than weekly mass goers who read what the Pope and bishops (and the occasional priest) say about controversial issues and hot topics.
The Catholic Church can’t just sit back and wait for people to come to it anymore. This should be obvious for practicing Catholics, but sometimes we need that reminder. The Church is for everyone, not just for people who happened to be born to Catholic parents. One of the best ways to do that is to have a simple and welcoming home page online. Nowadays when people don’t know something, they’ll often look it up online before they ask a friend or open up a book. A Google search is second nature for anyone 30 and under.
So what should we do? I’ve got some ideas to help the Vatican website become an active part of the New Evangelization…
Applify. Take notes from other successful marketing campaigns like Apple. The website has to be intuitive, for the people, and in a beautiful manner display the Gospel and Catholic way of life. Apple doesn’t sell music playing devices. They sell iPods: a portal to a life of happiness and excitement with your friends. In the same way, people often think that the Church only offers rules and doctrine. What the Church needs to get across to your average Joe is that the Catholic faith isn’t a set of rules, but a way of life in relationship with God, with Jesus! If companies can sell you THINGS by making you believe that your life will be better with them, shouldn’t the Church be able to market FREE ETERNAL SALVATION and FRIENDSHIP WITH A GOD WHO LOVES YOU even more effectively?
Answer the questions clearly. We need an online version of the Catechism, but the “for dummies” version with pretty pictures and video. Use clips from Fr. Robert Barron‘s Catholicism project and Word On Fire ministry, the quick hit videos by Chris Stefanick and talks by Catholic Lighthouse speakers like Fr. Mike Schmitz. Answer the basic questions like how the Catechism does it: “who are we?”, “who is God?”, “who is Jesus?”, “why Catholic?.” Answer the tough questions and common misconceptions.
The Church is big. That can be a bad thing, but it can also be a beautiful thing. Having different pages for different languages makes sense, and even tailoring it to each language would make a lot of sense – Catholics from different countries and continents have different needs and wants with regard to the Church’s website. Take advantage of the different charisma’s of Catholics around the world to showcase the beauty of the faith, especially in the saints, to people interested in learning more. Share the stories of faith and how it’s inspired people to live their best life like OneBillionStories.
Reach out to people through an active and united social media presence. It’s a great first step that Pope Francis has a personal twitter account (and in different languages!). This was spectacular because now He can get points across directly to the people without being filtered by the media. I’m sure that many people are surprised at how beautifully he puts the faith in his tweets when compared to all the corruption and doctrine that the media portray the Church as. The next steps are for Pope Francis to have his own Facebook page, and for the Catholic Church itself to have a twitter feed and Facebook page. It’s hard to capture everything about the Church in a single feed, but if one feed can constantly update fans about the Chicago Bulls on Facebook and Twitter, why can’t the Church do a similar thing? On the main webpage, make it easy to see what the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, bishops, leading priests and sisters, and other leading laymen and women are saying on social media.
Make resources available. The best bible online. Church Fathers documents. Ecumenical Council documents. Encyclicals and all that good stuff. Have one giant hub with the documents of our faith. Continue working on putting more of those old books and documents online for the public to see. While you’re at it, make all of these resources available on apps for smart phones, iPads, etc.
Respond to and frame public issues in the light of faith. Take advantage of all the great communicators in the Church and get the Church’s opinion on issues out there! If there was a single hub that provided the best responses of the Church to contemporary issues, then we could really dialogue with the world. Think of all that the Dominican preachers alone could do if given a platform to speak to the entire Church on major issues. Right now, they could have given the best speech in the world, but chances are that nobody heard it outside of the church they were at and the little Dominican/parish website that they are on.
Open the webpage with a welcome video from Pope Francis. Boom baby!