How to build an interactive youth group website

I started writing this as a reply to Courtney’s comment on my previous post about my youth group’s website, but it got pretty long and I thought others might want this info, too, so here it is as a blog post instead. Courtney asked,

“Do you mind sharing who you developed your website with? or was it completely on your own?”

I put the site together, but I certainly didn’t code the entire site from scratch. I took free open source web software that other’s have made available and made them all work together like a big puzzle. Here are the “puzzle pieces” for my youth group’s site:

Web Hosting:
BuyHttp LogoWeeding through the thousands of webhosts out there is difficult, but I selected So far my experience with them has been great. Quick and helpful support team and a responsive site. The main reason I went with is because they specifically configure their servers to work with Joomla, the content management system I’m using and they don’t oversell their servers (like hosts who give 100 GB of space for $5/month).

Content Management System:
Joomla logoJoomla is the content management system (CMS) I’m using. In case you don’t know what a CMS is, any blog works like a CMS — you login to an administrative section of the website and configure the whole site from there. With my youth group website, I log in to the admin section and set all the parameters, write the content, adjust settings, arrange the layout, etc. I can also install, uninstall and administer all my components from there, too, like the forum, user profiles, photo albums, and everything else.

Template theme:
YooTheme logoThe template is from YooTheme. Although their themes look pretty slick, they’re a pain in the neck to set up. Fortunately there’s support forums, which I definitely abused.

My main Joomla components
Here are the main components (kinda like plugins) I’m using for the site:

There are some other little modules, too, but those are the main parts. You can browse a library of Joomla add-ons like this from the Joomla Extension Directory.

Free Alternatives
Everything here is free except YooTheme, Clexus, and Jom Comment, but there are excellent free alternatives to each of these components.

1. Instead of YooTheme, Google “Joomla templates” and you’ll find an overwhelming number of free ones available. I chose YooTheme mostly because I wanted to have a more unique identity on the web.

2. Instead of Clexus, browse through these free private messaging systems. I chose Clexus just because I had a little budget for the site and thought that Clexus was worth the money. Plus, it integrates well with Fireboard forum and Community Builder.

3. And instead of Jom Comment, use the free AkoComment Tweaked Special Edition or JoomlaComment. I’m using Jom Comment because it was the only commenting system compatible with Seyret, the video manager. Otherwise I’d use AkoComment.

Automatically email front page news
Feedburner and Feedblitz logosAs I mentioned in my previous post, all news posted to the front page of the site by me or a youth leader is automatically emailed to our entire youth group mailing list. The trick for this really isn’t that complicated. In fact, it’s the same process I use here for email subscribers to Life in Student Ministry. I plugged the front page’s RSS feed into Feedburner, registered an account at Feedblitz and imported all my mailing lists.

If you decide to go this route with Joomla, I can save you from a big headache: don’t use Joomla’s default RSS feed. It strips all HTML content, including links and images. Either follow this solution or use the DS-Syndicate component. The advantage of DS-Syndicate is that you can also publish different RSS feeds for different news categories. So, if you post an announcement in the Sr. High category and have that category’s RSS feed linked to a Sr. High mailing list in Feedblitz, the news will only be sent to the Sr. High. A great solution to avoid spamming everyone with irrelevant news every time you update.

The easiest solution for a youth group website
Of course, a simple solution for a youth group website is just to use a blog like or It’s less interactive and there’s no logins, personalization or profiles, but commenting on updates might be all you want.

An idea to get this setup for your youth group
Get a websiteI’ve considered starting a little side business of hosting and building youth group websites like mine because the competition is just so expensive. My entire youth group site cost a little over $200, but in my research before building I found that most youth group website companies charge into the thousands for sites not nearly as interactive or as flexible. How many normal churches can afford that?! I don’t mind building sites, but offering tech support could become a little overwhelming. Plus, I don’t know what the demand is for a service like this. So, maybe you can help me with the decision:

  • Is this a service you’d consider using for your own youth group if a site cost around $300-$500/year (depending on web space and features)?
  • Are you a Joomla fan that’s passionate about youth ministry and has time to help me support Joomla-based sites (for pay, of course)?

Post in the comments and let me know.

Posted on June 7, 2007

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