"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Technology

Six Sizzling Ideas for Your Web Site

Steve Miller

It’s a web, web world for our teens yet often in youth ministry we’re operating in the Stone Age. Consider the world our young people live in today. Compact discs were introduced three years before they were born and 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. Most everyone in your youth group has an e-mail address and logs onto their computer every day of their life. For youth ministry today it’s no longer a matter of "if we’re going to have a web site" it’s a question of "when?"

As a youth leader for over twenty five years, both in the States and overseas, I’ve never considered myself overly brilliant with computers. Yet, the incredible potential of ministry through the Internet was intriguing and became my life’s work. In my five years as a webmaster for Reach Out Youth Solutions               ( http://www.reach-out.org  ), I’ve seen some of the worst and best of web design. During my career, I’ve also contributed my share of frustration to web users. I’d like to share ideas to keep your users from clicking the quit button on 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," said Jeff Klutz, at First Baptist Church of Rosenburg, Texas. His Web site has been up for five years (www.rosenburgyouth.org). "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 through the web site. I hooked him up with the youth group before his family ever moved to Texas."

Here are six tips for use as you develop your own web site:

1) 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," said Andrew Large, youth pastor at Mililani Baptist Church, in Mililani, Hawaii. Look at http://www.mililanibaptist.com/youth.html  to see how Andrew’s students did.

If your students and parents want only information about upcoming events, a technologically savvy student could build a simple web site. For great information on designing a simple web site, see www.gospelcom.net/guide/webmaster.html .

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 get a retreat permission slip quickly into the hands of a parent? "A good site will allow your people to download forms, obtain information, and resources, providing a great service in reducing trips and phone calls to the church office," said Klutz.

2) Fire Up Your Youth and Volunteers. Gather a team of students with an adult volunteer to oversee the web site. With the resources and templates available today, you don’t need experienced site builders. The web team could be made up of a writer, designer and photographer working just a few hours a month. "After listing several ideas we enlisted many teens willing to write articles to support the site," said Andrew Lange. "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."

3) Cool It - Less is More. Hoping to dazzle your students with flashy graphics? In his book, Designing Web Usability, Jakob Nielson, the Internet’s 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 one of the largest churches in America, Willow Creek, surprisingly enough has only ONE web page to describe their ministry. Check out their site at http://www.willowcreek.org  . Despite its small size, it does offer key content such as the teaching topics for the next few months and the vision of the leadership.

Studies have shown students today wait only 15 seconds for a web page to provide them with the information they need. If a student can’t find her way around a site, she’ll go back to playing Tomb Raider. Test your new web site by having a non-web savvy student navigate the site to find what they need. If he can’t find what he needs, 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." But it you don't have tons of text, experiment with some colored backgrounds. They do add zest. 

Keep all pages short, breaking up any content into bite-sized pieces. Successful web sites also 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 also 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.

4) Ignite Partnerships - No Web site is an island. Build a page of links to connect students to Bible Study tools ( http://www.biblestudytools.net ) , great Christian music ( http://www.youthministry.com/CCMchart/index.htm ), or a Gospel presentation ( http://www.youthspecialties.com/central/view.php3?category=evangelismsites ). 

Be sure to link your home page to your church’s home page since some parents or youth may never have visited the church. Other important links are to the ministry that organizes your mission trips, to your denomination’s youth site, or a site that shares the gospel or for Bible Study helps. Your creativity in offering content through your web site is limited only by your time constraints.

5) Kindle Relationships! Relationships are key to effective youth ministry. In your site include a link to a personal message from the youth pastor, to students with a small, friendly photo. Include a hyperlink with your e-mail address allowing quick connections. Using a digital camera or scanner place photos of students at events so that they can visit the site and remember the fun or see what they missed at your last event. Include short statements by youth as to why they go to certain events or how they became involved or came to Christ.

6) Content is Critical! The hallmarks of a successful web site are content, content, content. Students won’t return to your site to gaze at your special effects. They will return to find out where the Bible Study is meeting, when the retreat deposit is due, and to see pictures from last week’s mission trip. Parents will want to know what series you’re teaching and to know what time to pick up Junior. Keep your content current and relevant. Several youth ministry sites we visited in researching this article were months behind on their calendar information which doesn’t encourage me to revisit their site. As you’re developing web site content, remember these important points:

  • Page Titles - You have 10 seconds and only 40-50 characters to encourage users to read your web page.
  • Important Content First - Plan your page like an inverted triangle. The top of the page should have the most important information with the least important information at the bottom of the page.
  • Proofread - More than one set of eyes can spot errors and mistakes.
  • Printable Information - Important for maps, directions, event or time and date information.

Despite the benefits of building a web site for your youth group, I must warn you about one major downside. "The site is always a work in progress, needing to be updated on a regular basis in order to stay relevant." said Andrew Lange. I’ve found that 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 complete half of my vision!

Side Bar:

Strategic Site Content:

1) Event information

2) Printable medical and liability forms

3) Pictures from recent events

4) Long-range teaching calendar

5) Vision and Mission Statement

6) Gospel presentation (or link to one)

7) Contact information (office phones and e-mail)

8) Times and places of all weekly youth events (with map)

9) Calendar of events

10) "For Parents Only" page.

11) Fun stuff to keep youth coming back. Look here for some free games http://www.gospelcom.net/guide/resources/games.php .

Permissions

From Youthworker Journal © 2001 CCM Communications, used by permission. Permission is granted by CCM to distribute Youthworker articles to other youth workers within your church, but may not be re-published (print or electronic) without permission.

Author

Cherie Miller is a freelance writer who resides in Acworth, Georgia with her husband Steve and their seven boys. Steve is a writer and webmaster who supplies youth ministry resources online at http://www.reach-out.org .