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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 BuyHttp.com. So far my experience with them has been great. Quick and helpful support team and a responsive site. The main reason I went with BuyHttp.com 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 WordPress.com or Blogger.com. 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 AlexandriaYouth.com 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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  • http://www.serialyouthpastor.com Chris

    Tim I guess that would depend on what it would get for the money. honestly we don’t have a great one becuase of the expense and what-not. I would definitely take it to our board though and see if it would be a go.

  • http://www.myspace.com/encfyouth courtney

    Wow! I thought I was special after figuring out how to decorate my Myspace! We have resorted to a Youth Ministry myspace for that very reason. But we are very interested in building a website for our youth ministry as well as our main church! If you decided on offering your services, I would definitely suggest you to the youth and main church leadership (I’m just the band leader).

    Thank you soo much for taking the time to answer my question so thoroughly!

    -C

  • http://www.ymimexico.org Dennis

    Tim,
    I don’t know much about Joomla yet, but I could definitely get into helping you out with building them. Let me know.

  • http://autowayman.com G’ma Betty Wayman

    WOW.. what expertise.. and what you have to know to do a job.. ONE more thing !
    G-MA

  • http://www.hireseth.com Seth

    Hey Tim,
    Here is an awesome seo/sef tool to clean up the links
    OpenSEF 2.0.0-RC5 SP2
    http://projects.j-prosolution.com/projects/os-projects/download-opensef.html

    First, get Joomla SEO working and then configure and turn on opensef
    It Rocks, I finally got it working on my sites. If you hit any issues, shoot me an email and I can let you know If I ran into those issues and how I got around them.

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim

    Thanks, Seth! I’ve seen the component around, but decided not to use it because it seems to conflict with a lot of other components. Since I have a large amount of components and modules all integrated with each other, I figured it might be more of a headache than it’s worth. What do you think?

  • http://www.HireSeth.com Seth

    OpenSEF works pretty good and it seems to know when it hits a component it can’t overide. On http://www.RedeemerCovenantChurch.org, it avoids the calendar page. On another page I built, it avoids the “attend events”, “Letterman” and forum component (I need to upgrade to Fireboard, I installed joomlaboard right before it fell apart). So it’s 50/50, it cleans up some of the urls, just not all.

  • Shawn

    Love your new website for your youth group. I would consider having you build a website for us at that price. Let me know what you decide.

  • http://www.jonjolly.com Jon Jolly

    Hi Tim, I think you've created a great tool from all the free software available on the web and your pricing seems pretty reasonable too.

    I've been thinking a lot about whether to create an interactive site for our youth group or simply plug into existing social networking sites. There was a great article from Anastasia Goodstein about how larger brands are utilizing other sites rather than investing in their own.

    if we invest in our presence elsewhere, the fear is that we'll drive our girls away from our own sites. But really it's just the opposite. The teens on MySpace, YouTube and these other sites are probably not spending time on your sites to begin with. And even if you build them a social network, getting them to migrate over en masse is an uphill battle. By creating cool branded content or competitions that run on the big social networks and can be shared and spread everywhere (through video players), you will become like a giant squid. You still have the core brand center (which you should invest some in and make sure its a high quality destination) and many tendrils that reach out and touch potential fans all over the web…and potentially introduce them to your site's offerings."

  • http://timschmoyer.com Tim

    That's good input, Jon. The idea of going to where the kids already are isn't a new one. I have a youth group "group" on Facebook and used that for a while before building our site, but it didn't really work too well. None of the Jr. Highers are on it and not too many of the kids who are on Facebook used the group. Plus, it wasn't accessible to the public, like parents and adult volunteers, who didn't have Facebook profiles and just wanted to look up information. So, I guess I should apply Anastasia's suggestion by creating high quality content to post on Facebook and drive them to our site? Kinda just sounds like a marketing tactic now, though.

  • http://jonthecanadian.blogspot.com Jonathan

    Hey Tim,

    I’ve been doing Joomla! websites for a few youth groups out here in the Denver metro area. Our church’s (which I volunteer with), and others. I’ve been sure to add the ability to easily include youtube videos and google calendars and such, leveraging more free technology that’s out there.

    I’d love to join together to serve more youth groups in this way!

    Youth groups need their own sites, because it’s not just about networking (like facebook or myspace), and not just about multi-media (like youtube). We also have group information and spiritual information, for which there’s no ideal medium other than your own site.

    You can check out a few I’ve been working on at
    http://sgc180.org
    http://foothillsyouth.rg

    I’m doing website development full-time now, and am working on a way to streamline the development of Joomla! websites for youth groups and getting together training materials in print and online video instructions on how to use the features for those of us who aren’t net-savy yet.

    Anyone can feel free to contact me at jgreen@unhindered.com about Joomla questions and specific things as they pertain to getting your youth group online.

    Thanks for the post!

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim

    Hey Jonathan! I agree with your points about how Facebook and YouTube fall short for youth group communication. I love having my own youth group site just because I love the freedom and flexibility it provides rather than trying to fit my communication needs into someone else’s (usually very) limited cookie cutter.

    I have a pretty simple idea for how to package, setup and streamline youth group websites if I decided to start this side business. Just keep a database and file package ready to go. Fulfilling an order and having the site set up would only take about 15 minutes or so. That part is no problem. It’s the ongoing tech support that would be the time sucker. And for clients who are unfamiliar with Joomla, there’s plenty of flash tutorials available that could be embedded into a tech support section of the company’s website. Better yet, don’t give them backend access at all and just make all the administrative features they need accessible only through the front end.

  • http://jonthecanadian.blogspot.com Jonathan

    Hi Tim,

    Yes, getting a site up and running can be very fast, by copying over a pre-built database & file structure. One of the challenges in a website is getting right right look in addition to the functionality. We all put a lot of work into our youth rooms and youth facilities, to set the atmosphere and present ourselves – who we are – work that is hard to do without a web/graphic designer in addition to the template.

    I’m really a fan of all front-end administration, but there’s a lot of modules & components that don’t have that option (polls, slideshows, etc.).

    I’m a programmer and can program front-end management into any/all of the extensions, we’d just have to finalize the list of what we want in the initial package, then get programming on those extensions.

    Jonathan
    jgreen@unhindered.com
    http://jonthecanadian.blogspot.com

  • http://thatswhyImwriting Kerry

    Tim,

    Thanks so much for this post. I have had a similar idea using Joomla for the last 6 months. I am now in the infancy of building my church’s site. I have two questions. 1) would you still use yootheme knowing what you know now? I really like their “core” template but your comments are making me have second thoughts. 2) Do you think I can allow multiple people from different ministries update a churchwide site?

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim

    Hey Kerry! No problem. Glad it could help.

    To answer your questions: 1) I’m honestly not sure. I really like it now that it’s finished and mostly working the way I want, but it sure was a hassle to get it to this point. Plus, several modules and components I wanted to use gave me javascript conflicts with the template and rendered the site useless. This forced me to find lots of alternative components and modules that I didn’t really like as much as my originally intended add-ons, but that was part of the price to pay for having the template, I guess. Fortunately, I’ve done much of the trial and error for you, so if you stick to what I have posted above, you should be safe and avoid a lot of headaches.

    2) Absolutely. However, plan on training them first. Joomla isn’t that difficult once you understand it, but some may not know where to start and will never use the tool if they feel confused. Now, if you want different people’s access to be limited to updating only certain categories of content, you’ll have to use a component called JACLPlus, but in my experience it messes too much with the core of Joomla and creates other problems. It actually even crashed my site once. I recommend giving everyone access to updating content in general and just teach them to post it to the appropriate place.

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  • http://youthministryideas.net Steve Blanchard

    There are also some websites that act like MySpace.com only it’s set up for youth ministries. For those that are interested just click on my name and click on websites for youth ministries. They run about 35 bucks a month for the top option.

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  • http://www.brentlacy.com Brent Lacy

    Tim,
    I do what you’re considering. It is a viable, supportable form of “tentmaking”. I am able to build sites for a more reasonable price than other developers in the KC Metro, due to using Joomla instead of other technologies. There’s a huge small business market for Joomla too…

    email me if you have any questions
    Brent

  • Jesse Teasley

    Tim,

    I am having alot of time customizing community builder. I can’t seem to figure out how to get it to integrate with other modules. Did you have the same problem or am I missing something.

    Thanks,
    Jess

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    @ Jess: No, I didn’t have to make any modifications or adjustment to Community Builder at all. It all integrates pretty seamlessly. What issues are you having?

  • Jesse Teasley

    It just seems that I don’t have any control over what tabs are displayed and what the users see on both their profile and updating their profile. Or if I install a module and I want that to be a tab on their profile, i can’t figure out how to do it.

  • http://10commandmentsforsurviving Rocky coan

    yeah again when i go off to college and to graduate their and to be encouraged to be a youth minister at my church East 91st street christian church i love jesus a bunches and to learn new things through the Bible and the word towards other people to think about how they can be in a world that we live in now . do not think about what you want to be something in a world by itself. pray before you come to church and any where you go to there is Jesus everywhere you go. i want to build a really cool website for my church when i get there to be a youth minister to reach out there in our community and to help others in needs etc.

  • Derik

    Tim,

    I’d be definitely be interested in hiring out the nuts and bolts of web design, with what’s out there now, this is a lot more customizable, and seems to have more communication options than other companies offering site building. As much as i’ve worked with Joomla, you’re way ahead of the curve. Essentially, you can provide me with more time!

  • adam

    Hey thanks for posting this. I’m putting together a website for our group using Joomla. It was great to be able to see your website and have a list of some of the components you used. (Great job on your site; it looks great!)

    Adam

    PS: The Calender component you recommend now costs $5 to download, but it is well worth it.

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  • http://www.stevecullum.com Steve

    Hey, Tim. Thanks for sharing. I wanted to know if you have any experience with iWeb. That is what I use for my personal website and my youth ministry’s website.

    Personal – http://www.stevecullum.com
    Youth Ministry – http://www.rccstudents.com

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    @ Steve: No, I’ve never used iWeb. My impression, however, is that there’s better and cheaper tools available than iWeb.

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  • http://www.coreyouth.org Justin

    I am a full time youth pastor and not a web “designer”, but to keep up in the fast paced world of the “www” I spent some time learning MS Frontpage 2003. I have found it to be very easy to use with many click and type options. With very little training you could make some pretty sleek looking sites.

    http://www.coreyouth.org
    http://www.thepathconference.com

  • http://www.prochurchwebsites.com Mike

    Cool site Tim… I use JCal Pro as well for my church website and even customized the colors to blend with my sites colors. You should do it to since you websites is mostly red. Instead of Seyret I used HWDMediashare which is pretty much the same. Managing videos with youtube or google video is the way to go for smaller ministry websites because you get true streaming capability for free plus you don’t have to host the videos on your own server.

    http://www.cornerstonelapuente.com

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    @ Mike: Thanks for that input! It’s been a while since my site was created, obviously, so I appreciate your update about different components that have been developed since then that might work well.

  • http://www.themattbrown.com Matt Brown

    I was wondering about your nav for your Alexandria Youth website. Did that come as a part of the theme or did you use a 3rd party to build it? I like it alot. Thanks for your great post on your site. I think i’m going to be using a good bit of your info to add to our site!

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    @ Matt Brown: The navigation bar was part of the theme. I had to create my own images, though, and link them appropriately.

    Glad you like the site! :)

  • Marc Kennedy

    The award-winning web company I worked for before going back into full time ministry would evaluate each client’s needs before choosing a content management system. Everyone is different. They have used Joomla and Drupal, but almost always they chose to go with WordPress instead. WordPress is the most popular CMS out there and, having overseen sites built with both, I think it is much easier to use than Joomla and has even more plug-ins available.

    For something super fast to put up, one of the easiest to use website builders out there is Weebly.

    For more in-depth sites you should also look at Ning (a white label MySpace) and KickApps (a white label YouTube). Anyway, my two cents.

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  • http://www.stevecullum.com Steve

    @ Tim – Yeah, I finally got rid of iWeb. I’m now using Word Press for both my personal and student website. It seems to be working great so far! My URL is still the same for both (see last comment).

  • http://www.GreetingsFromUkraine.com Igor

    Tim, thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience on
    building an interactive youth web site!

    Now your efforts went toward reaching the youth of Ukraine as I am trying to build a youth outreach social site

  • http://www.webtemplates.webfirstcreations.com/Joomla-Templates joomla templates

    They really enjoyed alot in the ministry , u also try it u will like it…

  • -alexander

    i'm not sure i understand your comment about companies "overselling their servers"… please, tell me what companies are offering 100 GB for $5/month, 'cause i haven't seen them… and, how would that be a bad thing, unless they are restricting bandwidth? Most companies that are in the hosting game have the ability to set you up with whichever type of server you need, and whichever API's, etc., that your site requires (e.g. Joomla compatibility)… in fact, some can switch you back and forth between server types whenever you want (e.g. GoDaddy). So, what did you mean by "overselling" the servers? i've never heard of that before, and it sounds like something from a marketing department.

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

      Alexander, just google "Overselling servers" and you'll get a ton of search results about it.

      Here's wikipedia on it:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overselling

  • http://www.facebook.com/Noah.Stepro Noah Stepro

    Wow, this is awesome – I checked out your site and it is almost everything I want to do with ours…thank you so much for saving me sooooooo much time and sharing all your research and hard work with us. God bless you. Ps, if I get pretty handing at Joombia I might contact you about helping out with management stuff.

  • http://www.newdigg.com promote websites

    Joomla is a great CMS for community building. Good luck with your project

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  • http://stylesanctum.com nicole

    Wow! I am amazed! I am in the process of building a site, with professional web builders who have quoted me in the range of $7,000-$8,000. I am sure that I could do it myself, but, am chicken. We are currently on WordPress, and am not sure of converting to Joomia. I would LOVE to help out in any way that I could, you would only have to pay me in training…

    • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

      Honestly, Nicole, I wouldn't use Joomla anymore. This post is a bit old. If I were to build a youth group website today, I'd probably just go with WordPress and modify it with plugins and such to meet my needs.

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