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Six Sizzling Ideas for Your Web Site

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October 9th, 2009

 

It’s a Web, Web world for our teens, yet in youth ministry we’re often operating in the Stone Age.

Consider the world our young people live in today. Compact discs were introduced three years before they were born. They’ve never heard of an 8-track tape. They’ve always had voice mail, an answering machine, cell phone, and a pager. They’ve never heard of black and white TVs and wouldn’t know what to do with one that didn’t have a remote control. Almost everyone in your youth group has an e-mail address and logs onto the computer every day. For youth ministry today, it’s no longer a question of if we’re going to have a Web site; it’s a question of when?

As a youth leader for over 25 years, both in the States and overseas, I’ve never considered myself a computer genius. But I was intrigued by the incredible potential for ministry through the Internet, and that has become my life’s work. In my five years as a Webmaster for Reach Out Youth Solutions, I’ve seen some of the worst and best of Web design. During my career, I’ve unfortunately contributed my share of frustration to Web users, and I’d like to share some ideas to keep users from clicking that back button and surfing away from your Web site.

“Having a solid Web site as a resource for your ministry, you will not only have a greater outreach, but will greatly strengthen the flow of information to your people,” says Jeff Klutz of the First Baptist Church of Rosenberg, Texas, whose Web site has been up for five years. “I’ve had contacts from youth as far away as Northern Ireland asking questions about God and the Christian life.”

There are some unexpected benefits to having a quality Web site for your youth group. “One of my key youth found our Web site before moving into town. He saw the information about a summer retreat on the site and registered for it online. I hooked him up with the youth group before his family ever moved to Texas.”

Here are six tips for developing your own Web site:

Use Only Hot Stuff

Survey your students, parents, and volunteers to see what they want. “When I was in the planning stages of our site, I asked the students to tell me what issues they felt needed to be included in the site,” says Andrew Large, youth pastor at Mililani Baptist Church in Mililani, Hawaii. Visit theirWeb site to see some of his students’ suggestions in practice.

If your students and parents only want information about upcoming events, any tech savvy student could build a simple Web site. Get great information on designing a simple Web site here.

Simplicity is critical to any Web design. Your site should give students, leaders, and parents easy access to information. How many times have you needed to quickly get a retreat permission slip into the hands of a parent? “A good site will allow your people to download forms and obtain information and resources, providing a great service in reducing trips and phone calls to the church office,” says Klutz.

Fire Up Your Youth and Volunteers

Gather a team of students and an adult volunteer to oversee the Web site. With the resources and templates available today, you don’t necessarily need a professional Web master. The Web team could be made up of a writer, a designer, and a photographer, each working just a few hours a month.

“After listing several ideas, we enlisted many teens willing to write articles to support the site,” says Andrew Large. “I have my Web site divided into two main areas, one is for the students themselves and the other is for the adult youth workers and parents.”

Less is More

Hoping to dazzle your students with flashy graphics? In his book, Designing Web Usability, Jakob Nielson, the Internet guru, states, “A general principle for all user interface design is to go through all of your design elements and remove them one at a time. If the design works as well without a certain design element, kill it. Simplicity always wins over complexity, especially on the Web where every five bytes saved is a millisecond less download time.” Student Impact, the youth group at Willow Creek , one of the largest churches in America, surprisingly has only one Web page to describe their ministry. Despite its size, the Web page provides key content such as teaching topics for the next few months and the leadership’s vision.

Studies have shown that today’s students only view a Web page for 15 seconds before deciding whether or not the site has the information they need. If a student can’t find their way around your site, they’ll go back to playing The Sims. Test your new Web site by watching non-Web-savvy students navigate the site. If they can’t easily find what they’re looking for, redo it.

Avoid the temptation to go postal on colors. “White is the best background,” says Roger Black in his book, Web sites That Work. “Black holds the highest contrast to white, so it’s the first choice for type set on a white background. Red is nature’s danger color; it’s a great way to add accent to a black-and-white page.”

Keep all pages short, breaking up any content into bite-sized chunks. Successful Web sites let people find information in less than 3 clicks of their mouse. If they have to wade through pages of useless material to get the information they want, they’ll soon quit using the site. Web words should be larger than normal type (12 point) since studies show people read information on a computer screen at a much slower rate. Nielsen recommends including only 50% of the words that you would normally place on a piece of paper.

Ignite Partnerships

Build a page of links to connect students to Bible study tools, great Christian music , or a gospel presentation . Be sure to link your home page to your church’s home page. Other important links are the ministry that organizes your mission trips and your denomination’s youth site. Your creativity in offering content through your Web site is limited only by download time and the Web server’s memory constraints.

Kindle Relationships

Relationships are key to effective youth ministry. In your site, include a personal message from the youth pastor and a hyperlink with your e-mail address for quick connections. Using a digital camera or scanner, place photos of students at events so your kids can visit the site and remember the fun or see what they missed out on. Include short statements by kids on why they go to certain events or how they became involved or came to Christ.

Content is Critical

The hallmarks of a successful Web site are content, content, content. Students won’t keep coming back to your site to gaze at the special effects over and over. They’ll return to find out where the Bible study is meeting, when the retreat deposit is due, and to see pictures from last month’s mission trip. Parents will want to know what series you’re teaching and what time to pick up Junior.

Keep your content current and relevant. When researching this article, we visited several youth ministry sites that were months behind on their calendar information, which doesn’t encourage repeat visits. As you’re developing Web site content, remember these important points:

• Page Titles: You have 10 seconds and 40-50 characters to encourage users to stay put and read your Web page.
• Important Content First: The top of the page should have the most important information with the least important information at the bottom of the page.
• Proofread: Use more than one set of eyes to spot errors and mistakes.
• Printable Information: This is especially important for maps, directions, events, times, and dates.

Despite the benefits of building a Web site for your youth group, there is one major downside. “The site is always a work in progress, needing to be updated on a regular basis in order to stay relevant,” says Andrew Large. Building a Web site can be addictive. I could work on Reach Out’s ministry Web site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and never reach half of my vision.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.

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