Building online communities for youth ministry

RedeemerCREW.comThe last two weeks of my life have been spent focusing on rebuilding my youth group’s website, like 10 hours a day! The old site was just a bunch of HTML content that was very difficult and time consuming to update. Well, my skills and understanding of Content Management Systems have improved dramatically since I first built it two years ago so, with the prodding of the youth group, I’ve totally rebuilt a new site that’s mostly interactive. Check it out here:

And then today I read Church Marketing Sucks’s blog recommending an audio presentation by Rick Klau, Vice President at Feedburner, a service I use here for my own blog. I intended to listen to the audio stream while working in my office at church, but quickly stopped what I was doing to take notes. Three typed pages later, I’m rethinking my idea of the online youth group community I’ve sought to build these past two weeks.

For anyone in ministry, I highly recommend taking the hour and fourteen minutes to listen to Rick’s presentation. Maybe not entirely surprising information, but definitely good insights. Here are some of my notes:

  • We need to find our community, learn to engage them and seek to communicate with them. Just being on the Internet doesn’t not mean we’re reaching our audience. We need to go to where they are. Just having a website doesn’t reach people. Our potential to reach an audience online is no different than that of any big company out there.
  • Give people a voice in our community. Give them a place to interact. This works perfectly in the context of the church. People will be more attracted to us as an organization.
  • A funny dance video online makes 30 million views in 4 months not from big marketing campaigns but from people telling friends and sharing it online.
  • For people under 20 years old, two-thirds of their communication is done through instant messaging. Publish your pastor’s IM screen name on your website.
  • MySpace is overtaking Google for the most traffic on the Internet. People spend more time interacting with friends on MySpace than they do looking for information.
  • One hundred million people watch YouTube every day. That’s more than how many people are watching TV.
  • Blogs are Google’s drug of choice. Blogs have fresh content and lots of links. Church websites don’t have content that other people will link to. If someone is traveling to our church, then the info might be helpful, but if we don’t create incoming links to our site and give reason for returning visits then our site will be buried in the Internet and unlikely to be found.
  • If all we did was post sermons on our site every week, it will increase value on the Internet because now it’s being updated. It tells Google that you have a site that’s more relevant to someone else. Blogs are the single best then you can do to make your site more relevant and more findable.
  • Sermons from church posted as podcasts allows others to hear the message when they have time to focus. In this sense, the church goes to the audience wherever they are instead of assuming they will always make it to church.
  • In April 2006 Feedburner managed more podcasts than there are radio stations in the world. Podcasts are not the same as radio stations, and that’s the point! Radio stations are limited to geographical locations and are very expensive. Podcasts go anywhere in the world for free. It’s powerful for our ability to find an audience that wants to hear our message.
  • Churches are putting their sermons videos online. It’s not hard. More should be doing this. Most of us already have the means to do it. A video camera, computer, Internet connection. Takes about 10-20 minutes to upload to YouTube [Google video doesn’t have the 10 minute length limitation] and you’re done.
  • Get your site started with the content you already have.
  • Discussion forums exist to closed communities that demand people come to your site to contribute content. Blogs encourage contributing from various places with less limitations.
  • That last point came from a question in the audience, but it’s the most valid to me. Should my youth group’s website and forum be a source that’s open to the Internet at large or should it be private to those in our group? Before hearing Rich’s presentation I probably would’ve sided with the later, but now I’m not so sure.

    What does a youth group website need in order to be an effective ministry tool? Obviously it’s more than just a way of communicating news and necessary information. How can it be used to build relationships, promote spiritual growth, and reach the unsaved community at large? And how can I give everyone a voice besides little forms for comments and a forum used by a minority of the youth group? Please, your ideas and input.

    Posted on August 25, 2006

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