It’s 2013 and the majority of churches have a website, this is good news. Unfortunately, the mere presence of a website isn’t enough. Just as a pastor must prepare, research for and develop a sermon, churches should prepare for a website, research websites and develop a plan as to why and how they should utilize a website. A 2011 LifeWay research project shows less than half of the congregations that have a website actually use it for interactive purposes. Scott McConnell, the director of LifeWay Research, summed it up by saying, “Many churches are using their website like a Yellow Pages ad characterized by basic information and infrequent updates.”

From 2000 – 2012, internet users grew an outstanding 566% worldwide. Currently, there are over 2.4 billion internet users worldwide. What does that mean? It means a church who utilizes their website has an amazing opportunity to, not only reach local people, but reach those 2.4 billion people who are actively connected to the internet. No longer are websites a simple source of information for local visitors, church websites are now an active and growing source of ministry, sharing the Gospel and making disciples all around the world. In 1534, Martin Luther finished his German translation of the Greek and Hebrew bible. Through media and the technology of the printing press, Luther was able to make the Gospel available to a large number of Germans and put a spark in the protestant reformation. The fact that so many churches have a website is great news, but are those churches using the available media and technology to spread the Gospel and make disciples? Some churches are, but there are a lot of churches that could improve their websites. There are five areas I believe church websites need to improve upon:

1. A website isn’t an online brochure
Out of the five areas church websites need to improve upon, this is the greatest most important area. As it is said in the real estate business, “location, location, location”, the mantra of church website owners should be “Content, content, content”. In the same LifeWay Research survey I talked about earlier, one of the results show 42% of churches only update their site once a month. Most church websites only show the basics, such as location, service times, church staff and an overview of their ministries. The question is, why more? Why should a church add more content, aren’t those the most important things a visitor looks for when trying to find out information about churches?

The answer goes back to my introduction. Church websites should not only focus on providing information to potential guest, they should also be a source of ministry and sharing the Gospel. Yes, absolutely add information for your local audience, but don’t neglect the fact that your website can and will be accessed by people seeking answers to biblical questions. People locally and people on the side of the world will come into contact with your website.

2. A website isn’t it’s own entity
Everyone has heard of Twitter, Facebook and the recent explosion in social media growth. One of the church’s main reasons for having a website should be engagement. To obtain growth in engaging potential members, visitors and those who are curious about the church’s message, church website owners should not constrain themselves within the bounds of their own website. Going back as far as the book Acts, community has played a huge part in the church. Personal and local community is great but digital community should also be a consideration when managing a website. Church websites need to integrate with Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other social media websites to help build a community. Anytime there is an update made to your website or an event going on at your church are you tweeting about it, posting a Facebook status update or adding pictures to Pinterest? Does your church website show an active stream of your church’s Twitter account or show a Facebook updates widget? Is it possible for members and guests to share a blog post on your site to Facebook directly from the blog post page itself? Your church website should be viewed as the hub of your online community. Church websites should allow direct interaction with social media from the website and social media should be directing people back to the churches website.

3. A website isn’t enough, it must look good
I might step on a few toes but a large majority of church websites are…well…not attractive and that’s a problem. A website is the digital face of your church, a representation of how much importance the church places on it’s online presence, the proverbial book cover of your church. We all do it, we all judge books by their cover. Unless we know the content of the book is exactly what we want, the cover is the first thing we notice and analyze. If content is king, design is a knight in shining armor protecting that king. If a church website has a lot of great content but the colors have bad contrast, the text formatting is off or the website breaks on certain browsers than the potential of loosing visitors is pretty great. Why do companies pay tons of money for graphic designers to create beautiful package and marketing designs? Good design builds trust. One of my favorite quotes comes from Steve Jobs:

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”

Did you get that? According to Jobs, design is the expression of the soul of the product or service. Does your church website express the soul (in a manner of speaking) of your church?

4. A website must have a purpose
I see a lot of churches that throw up a website and forget about it. It’s nothing more than a flyer or (see problem #1) an online brochure. When I look at these sites, I see a clear evident lack of identity, focus and purpose. If the only purpose of having a website is display the exact same information that can be found in the yellow pages or by a quick two minute call to the church, what is the point? Does your church website have a purpose? If not, why doesn’t it? If you’re not sure what purpose your church website should serve, I will tell you. It should serve as a means to share the Gospel and make disciples. One way this can be accomplished is through podcasting. When a pastor preaches a sermon, record it and put it up on your website. You can also submit your church sermons to iTunes. This opens up your sermons to millions of potential listeners. Another area which your website can build its purpose is through blogging. Pastors are extremely intelligent people and have a wealth of knowledge. Often times, they are also good writers. If your church website doesn’t have a blog why not? To get started, your pastor could easily sum up his sermon preparation notes into a 500 – 750 word blog post. This would provide a weekly blog post and would most likely be a great source of information for someone. You could also ask the deacons or elders to volunteer writing a blog post once a week or even month. Another area which can be taken advantage of is highlighting events. A church events calendar will give an inside look to visitors at what your church places emphasis on in relation to local community. If a visitor sees that your church has a dedicated group working at a homeless shelter once a week or doing odd jobs such as yard work for the elderly they will realize your church cares for others outside of the church. If a teenager visits your church website and sees pictures or videos from a recent youth group outing the will see church youth groups can actually be fun, exciting and laid back.

5. Intimidation is the greatest barrier
Volunteers are very helpful and a lot of churches rely on volunteers to handle website related issues. The thing is, sometimes volunteers just don’t have time. If your church has a website there should be someone on staff that knows how to add content, fix issues and manage the website. This means learning the backend administration panel, learning basic HTML/CSS and not being afraid of the unknown. I have encountered tons of ministers who say something along the lines of, “Well we want a site but we just don’t know anything about the technology.” That’s a shame because all it takes is a little bit of patience and a little bit of time. A lot of people are intimidated by websites and technology but when you think of your website as a ministry, why would you not spend some time learning how to improve it? If it’s possible to know the record of your favorite sports team for the past ten years, it’s possible to learn a little bit about website management and maintenance.

In the past five to ten years, technology has grown at an outstanding rate. In my opinion, the internet can be one of the church’s greatest tools locally and globally. I find technology absolutely fascinating inside and outside of the church, unfortunately I see technology advancing outside of the church at a far greater pace than inside the church. Having a well designed, user friendly, engaging, socially integrated website is, in my opinion, one of the greatest tools a church can have and use. The question we must ask ourselves is, “Will our churches use this technology to share the Gospel and make disciples or will we overlook a valuable tool.”

Dallas Bass is a professional web developer living and working in Amarillo, Texas. He is also the founder of ChurchPres, a business dedicated to providing a cost effective easy solution for churches who need a website. You can learn more by visiting www.churchpres.com or his personal blog www.dallasbass.com

The Basics

Stephanie Eis —  February 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

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The best coaches, the most effective teachers, and the strongest leaders all know this truth: If you want to build something that endures, you have to start with the basics.
That idea applies to our spiritual journey, too. The Basics will help students explore, discuss, and apply some of the core truths of the Christian faith. The truths in this series aren’t called “basic” because they’re childish or simplistic; they’re “basic” because they’re foundational and essential to leading a life that honors God.
Each week, your teenagers will explore key Scriptures that relate to these topics, discuss the significance of each biblical truth, and consider how it relates to their lives today.
The Basics is ideal for students who have recently become Christ-followers or for teenagers who are exploring the claims and truths of the Christian faith—but students who’ve been followers of Jesus for years will benefit, too.
This DVD-based curriculum covers four topics:

  • Start Here: Salvation [08:13]
  • The First Step: Baptism [05:29]
  • Remembering the Past and Looking Forward: Communion [06:50]
  • Keep Moving Forward: Next Steps [07:14]

You’ll get tons of helpful materials to help you use the curriculum, including discussion guides, promotional materials, and more. All of the resources are editable and reproducible, so you can tweak away and infuse them with your ministry’s unique personality!

 

Order The Basics here!

 

About the Author:

Joshua Griffin is the high school pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. While he’s given up on his dreams of winning American Idol and running seven marathons in seven days, he remains committed to the dream of seeing teenagers passionately live out their faith.

-Stephanie



yhst-95977426524948_2243_2621964Rural youth ministry is an amazing adventure—a truly unique beast, different from serving in the inner city or the heart of suburbia. But even though our culture is becoming increasingly urban and suburban, rural youth ministry isn’t going away anytime soon.

Brent Lacy is no stranger to the realities of rural ministry—the joys, the challenges, the rewards, the heartaches. He grew up in a rural community and serves as the youth pastor at a rural church today.

Through the pages of this book, Brent examines keys to thriving in rural youth ministry, strategies for building solid relationships, tips on reaching your local schools, wisdom on surviving church politics, ideas on effectively using technology, and advice on adjusting to a new church or community. Whether you’re new to rural youth ministry or your life has been forged in a rural setting, this book will inspire you to hold firm to God’s calling. You can be successful in your ministry. You can reach your community in ways you and your church never even thought were possible. The work may be long, hard, and messy, but the rewards are amazing.

You can do it! Get help/ideas/encouragement from Brent Lacy and his Click here for a free sample!

~Stephanie

Every once in a while someone asks me about strategies about blogging – to be honest I sort of made it up along the way but do have some pretty defined thoughts now having blogged nearly every day for 7 years. Thought I would take a moment and answer one of the more frequent ones: what is the strategy behind what you post, link to and point others toward? Here it is in what I would consider my as of yet unspoken 4 guiding principles:

Have content that is totally exclusive
People come to your blog for your voice – so give them what they want! The majority of the content and posts on your site should be from you and your ministry perspective. Stuff you’re learning, stuff you’re reading, stuff your failing at doing. Content from your context is the key – you want your site littered with content that you create people can’t get anywhere else.

Start a few blog “regulars”
I like to post a couple of regularly occurring volumes of posts that people can look forward to each week. I like to write about our weekend services with HSM’s Weekend in Review and posts polls weekly as well.

Point to stuff you wish you had written
Occasionally I’ll edit/paste an excerpt from a post that I read on another blog and point my readers that way. I try to do this a few times a week, it usually depends on the amount of content I have planned to go up on the site so that it feels balanced. My rule of thumb is that when something really resonates with me – it gets a nod on my blog so others can engage with that great content as well.

Endorse stuff you’re actually using in your ministryWrite reviews of products, tools and resource you are using in your ministry. Let other youth workers know what stuff is working and what isn’t. Help people that Google search for video curriculum know which ones they should choose, and which texting service is or isn’t worth the price of admission.

What’s your blog strategy?

JG



Every so often someone will write in and ask a few great questions about blogging – thought I might take on a few of them from time to time here. Up today is one I got just this week, “where do you get all of your ideas for blog posts?” Here’s a little insight on my process:

  • Start a journal of ideas – when you’re bored in a meeting write down a list of topics and quick bullet point thoughts. If you were to look at my journal you would find pages of quick ideas and thoughts that could easily be developed into full posts.
  • Write when you don’t feel like it – just motor through the tough times and make it happen. Happens to the best of us!
  • Look through photos for inspiration – sometimes I look through my iPhone and instantly SEE/FEEL a blog post. Might be a good way to trigger something that you may have forgotten.
  • Start accepting/soliciting guest posts – I love other people’s thoughts and perspectives on youth ministry. It is fun to share the stage with others – plus, sometimes I need to hear what they have to say, too.
  • Come up with weekly features/filler – if you have some “regulars” that you post every week, it helps you stay in a rhythm. Some of mine are: polls, the HSM weekend in review, etc

Any other tips on where to get blog posts from?

JG

I sat in and listened to a Blogger Q&A (led by Josh Griffin, Jon Acuff, Terrace Crawford , and Tim Schmoyer) at SYMC this year and learned a ton.  These diehard bloggers were empowering and encouraging.  I do not have notes to share with you because I wrote down implications and practical ideas for me more that I wrote down anything they were saying.  However, I remember seeing a video of Jon Acuff talking about the #1 reason blogs die a few months ago.  This video and the Q&A helped me create a plan for blogging.  If you are a blogger or thinking about blogging this video is a must watch!



Spent some time this week dropping in a few new features here on the site. Pretty excited about them!

RECENT COMMENTS
I’m enjoying the conversation more and more here on the blog – with over 13,000 comments there’s a lot of talking going on, despite me posting like a madman and pushing them down before everyone can chime in. So today I added a “recent comments” box in the footer that will help you and I keep track of the most active conversations.

UPCOMING POSTS
I’ve also added an “upcoming posts” bit of code way down on the right-hand sidebar that will give you a preview of posts that are written and in the hopper. It won’t include everything since I write most of it and instantly push “publish” … but I think it is neat. Basically, I’m teasing you to come back and/or subscribe. Cruel, right?

NEW CONTACT FORM
I realized the other day my contact form was down, so I dropped in a new one with Google Docs. Want to send me something? Now it should be no problem!

BLOG TEMPLATE
Anyone out there want to give me a WordPress template overhaul in exchange for me professing my love for your web skillz in front of 20,000 people? Just a thought, might be time for a change to something striking/clean. This custom template is so 2010.

JG

Been thinking the last couple of weeks about the leading voices of youth ministry. A post on Terrace’s blog and the ensuing comments (thanks for the kind words) finally triggered me to write up those thoughts:

THEN
In the past, youth workers were limited in really having a chance to lead other youth ministries – technology and geography among other things limited the sphere of influence a youth worker could have in shaping youth ministry as a whole. A few distinct and highly influential voices rang out, predominantly the youth pastors at large churches [Willow Creek, Saddleback] or point leaders of influential youth ministry organizations [YS, Group]. This has remained the case to this day [NewSpring, Northpoint], and to some degree it should be that way. These key leaders have perspectives on youth ministry from an accelerated vantage point from the crowd of youth workers, they tend to see things before they happen (kind of like a Jedi) and have the potential to gain experience more quickly with multiple services, geography and reach.

NOW
The voices of youth ministry today are potentially limitless. Everyone and their mother can have a blog in about 3 seconds and for free. Technology has leveled the playing field to everyone, though the good stuff still rises to the top. Regardless of the source, the best ideas win. In the past, you just didn’t hear what was out there aside from published works or the leaders in your local network. A conference here or there opened up the circle a bit, but even then it was severely limiting. The internet has changed the game. Micro-publishing changed the game. Every youth worker now has the potential to share their voice with youth ministry as a whole. There will always be authors, leaders of leaders, voices that speak for the next generation of youth workers – but the game-changing shift has already happened – the new voice of youth ministry is everyone.

What’s missing is you.

Your voice is the most important voice in youth ministry. You might not have the largest youth ministry or connections to get your stuff published somewhere in print or even get a link from a prominent blog. Who cares? Your voice, your experiences, your challenges, your inspration – it will inspire others and probably inspire you, too. It will encourage someone who is about to quit. It will meet the need of a youth worker who Googled their pain and found your help. It will remind you day after day why you got into this in the first place and to hang in there when things get ugly.

I have enormous respect for the youth ministry-shapers of the past. I am in youth ministry today because of the writings of Doug Fields, Tic Long, Duffy Robbins, Mike Yaconelli and others. But not everyone has to become an author. Not everyone has to be a conference speaker. Not everyone has to be the next big thing. But … we all need to have a voice. We all need to share our experience and calling. Hey, I want to steal your ideas. I want to find comradery in my calling when I read about the goof YOU made in front of your students. I want to learn from you, too.

So what are you waiting for? If you don’t want to start a blog, write a guest post for this coming weekend. If you don’t think you have it in you to actually write a book, do it a page at a time on a blog. You might be surprised how quickly … and I would say how critically important … you find your voice in youth ministry.

Who is the new voice of youth ministry? You.

JG