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Enhancing communication with changes to our youth group website

AlexandriaYouth.com

Our online communication has changed

One of the most important aspects of any ministry is communication. Two years ago one of the main places that took place for our group was through our website, AlexandriaYouth.com. Over the years, however, the way we communicate online morphed and our youth group’s website effectiveness dropped. I think it was due to a couple reasons:

  • Teens dropped our site’s interactive features (like forums and live chat) for Facebook
  • It was cluttered with too much information
  • The home page was overloaded
  • The site had too many target audiences, causing us to hit none of them

Our response in the new website

It was time to make adjustments and overhaul the youth group website, so last week I hunkered down and cranked out a new AlexandriaYouth.com that reflects some of the trends of how we communicate online.

  • It’s simple. There’s not a lot of navigation menus, sidebars, and trails to follow. Pretty much everything you’re looking for is found right on the front page.
  • We decided to use Facebook to our advantage by hosting as much media and information on our Alexandria Youth Facebook Page as possible.
  • The site’s target audience is our youth group teenagers. There’s a little bit of information for perspective visitors and parents, but not much.
  • To reflect the “status update” trend of social media, we’ve added a livestream of random photos, videos, and updates that I can easily update from my cell phone throughout the day, especially while we’re gone on youth trips (parents love it!). It aggregates all my youth group posts from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in one place.

How I put the site together

For the nerds out there, here’s how I put it together:

That’s really all there is to it. Pretty simple, just the way I like it.

If you’re looking for a webhost to build something like this yourself, I’d recommend the host I use for AlexandriaYouth.com, Buyhttp.com, because they don’t oversell their shared servers (i.e. cram too many accounts on one server and overload it) and their support for WordPress is pretty solid. Alternatively, for an easier hosted solution you don’t have to mess with, you could check out my side-business, MinistryWebsites.biz.

Social media we’re using

The social media we’re using is Twitter, Facebook Page, and YouTube.

I chose to stick with YouTube for video on our website instead of Facebook because Facebook’s video embed code sometimes glitches on our site and the dimensions are wrong if you view it on Facebook while not logged in. Plus, YouTube offers better streaming for people with slower Internet connections. So I post our youth group news videos on both YouTube (for our site) and on Facebook (for people who see it there).

Feel free to ask questions about any of this in the comments below.

[ Visit AlexandriaYouth.com ]


Posted on June 15, 2009

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/benboles benboles

    I've never heard of the live stream plugin for WordPress before. Thanks for the resources and thoughts behind what you're doing and why you are using specific services.

  • Luke

    Nice! This is the direction we are headed as well. However, I'm wanting to have two areas of communication simplicity, one for youth, and one for parents.

    I send out weekly parent's emails with articles and reminders, I'd like to start posting these on the website and pushing them to parent's that way to help draw them to the site.

    They will both share the same calendar and most info, but I'm looking more to provide a place for parents to find out about specific events and trips, grab forms, and youth culture info.

    My only problem with your site is Google! I wish that Google would allow more customisation with how the calendar is displayed. I'd love to be able to show a month view, but to made certain days highlighted to show the importance of a particular event. A once a year event and a monthly reoccurring event look exactly the same!

    Good work though, I love the simplicity.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschmoyer Tim Schmoyer

      You can do a month view with Google Calendar. Click "Browse events" or "Calendar" at the very top of the site. I have an agenda/list view on the front of the site and the month view on the calendar page.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bobweasel Jon Jolly

    Hi Tim, Great job with a simple design. I love the way you're pulling in the info from other sites to one central location.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/csellers0956 csellers0956

    The problem I am having is getting the the word "irresistible" to our student ministry name, like yours says Alexandria Youth.

    Is this an easy fix that I need to make in the editor of wordpress, to one of the php files. I looked under dashboard at the settings of the irresistible theme and could not find a simple way to change that. Thanks for your help

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/csellers0956 csellers0956

    I apologize for double posts, but I found out that if I enter a url or our logo, it will show up in place of the word "irresistible" on the home page, but I want to figure out how to get "SURGE Student Ministry" in the same design as "irresistible", the way Alexandria's is, Thanks again, if this is no easy solution, I will figure out a work around.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschmoyer Tim Schmoyer

      I actually used Photoshop to do it. Inside the "Irresistable" folder there's another folder called "psd." Unzip the file in there and open it with Photoshop. Then you can make all the custom graphics and icons that you want. You may have to download an extra font or two off the web, but they're all free and shouldn't be a problem.

      You can download Photoshop from Adobe's website and use the 30-day trial if you don't have it yet.

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  • Thomas

    Do you recommend WordPress over iWeb?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschmoyer Tim Schmoyer

      Yeah. WordPress is free and is much more flexible.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bigalfro bigalfro

    Tim, I'm trying to use lifestream but I can't find the right URL for my Facebook Fan Page to place in the settings. Any help?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschmoyer Tim Schmoyer

      There is no way to plug your Facebook Page into the lifestream plugin. You have to go the other direction with updates instead by setting up your Twitter account to go through lifestream and also into your Fan Page with the Selective Twitter App I linked in the post.

  • http://youth.ssbchurch.com gforster

    I've got most of this up and running with a few exceptions. Maybe you could help a little? First, how did you add the calendar to the front page with the "nextevents" title? I can get it in the sidebar, and I can get it as a separate page, but am lost in getting it on the front. I know how to edit the pic, but not how to link it for a totally new section. Second, (and I am sure it is done similarly as the calendar), how did you add the "discussions" section to the sidebar as half of the sidebar? I can get a full width, or a half width below the other, not next to. anyway, if you happen to see this and can help, it would be appreciated.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschmoyer Tim Schmoyer

      I actually modified the template files to create some of my own little "blocks" on the home page. Since I'm using "custom-home.php" I copied the "subscribe" block on my site and pasted it right underneath it in the code. Then I went into the sytlesheet (CSS), copied the style for the subscribe block, pasted it at the end of the file and modified it to float left instead of right. Updated the new block on the homepage to use the new CSS and bingo.

      (I realize that makes no sense whatsoever if you don't know what I'm talking about, but to explain how it all works is way outside the scope of this comment. Sorry.)

      • gforster

        Thank you. I of course should have thought of this, but I thought it might be in the "irresistable" setting somewhere hidden form me.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SamT SamT

    Yeah, thanks so much for posting this. I encounter the same difficulty. Am researching around how to get the calendar to the front page …

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  • http://come.to/daretobelieveyouthgroup Pastor J

    I use Gimp (http://www.gimp.org/downloads/) instead of PhotoShop, as it is FREE. Let's face it, free is a great price for ministry as long as it does what we need. Gimp fills that bill for me, and works just like PhotoShop. Enjoy!

  • Jason Peck

    I'm looking for some good tutorials on working through some of the CSS to change the wording in a theme like "irresistible." I have tried to edit the .php code with no luck. Any suggestions?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschmoyer Tim Schmoyer

      In this theme, the logo is an image, not CSS, so you'll have to replace the logo image with your own logo image. That's the easiest way to do it without having to mess with code.

      • Jason Peck

        Thanks Tim. Does that also work for changing the phrases like "myvideos, mywritings, etc."?

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschmoyer Tim Schmoyer

          Yup. Just make sure your new images are the same dimensions of the images you're replacing, otherwise it might not display correctly without changing code.

          • http://www.crestviewstudents.com Jason Peck

            Tim, sorry to keep bugging you. I have spent several days still trying to figure this out. I couldn't find a place through WordPress to replace the phrase logos. I can replace the "irresistible" logo just fine. I also tried to replace the original file in the images folder in the theme file and then re-upload that theme again to WordPress. Is there a step I'm just overlooking?

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschmoyer Tim Schmoyer

            What do you mean by, "phrase logos?"

          • http://www.crestviewstudents.com Jason Peck

            I meant the phrases like "myvideos, mywritings." I took the original file and made a new .png file with the original file name and replaced the file that came with the theme. I then tried to load the files again to WordPress but nothing changed. I also made sure they are the same dimensions as the original files.

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschmoyer Tim Schmoyer

            You sure you're replacing the file that's in /wp-content/themes/irresistible/images/file_name.png? If so, then I don't know what the deal is for ya either. Sometimes your browser still has a local copy of the site stored in it's cache, so if you hold down SHIFT or COMMAND (Mac) or something when you click refresh, that will force the browser to reload the site from scratch again. Try that.

          • Jason Peck

            I finally got to the bottom of my problem. I was trying to upload my altered file via my FTP client instead of through my server. Thanks for the help.

  • Travis G.

    Do have the ability to perform an online registration?
    Thank you Travis.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschmoyer Tim Schmoyer

      I had that on our former site. Kids could register for an event, pay online if necessary, see who else was already signed up to go, and even post comments about the trip or their registration. I took that down, though, and never added it to this site because it really wasn't helpful. It's easier for everyone to sign up by turning in a check to the youth administrative assistant out our church.

      If that's something you wanna do with your site, though, it's pretty simple using Google Doc's form. It spits registrations into a spreadsheet, making it pretty easy to sort and organize the list later. Of course, there's always Facebook event invites, too.

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