I think it’s important for college ministries to be forumlating a plan, and developing some ideas about how they can strategically use the internet to best serve their ministry.

There are a lot of topics that I could cover, and maybe 9 posts is too much, so I will try and keep them shorter than my last post.

Last week I posted Part 1–Simplicity, Flexibility, Cost and Speed. Bottom line: You need to have a design and plan that is simple (easy to navigate/aesthetically clean from a design point of view. You also should keep the costs low which is easy to do with all the free and inexpensive tools out there. And speed should be taken into consideration, mainly from the perspective of how fast can you integrate new technology to meet the needs and wants of your ministry. Way too many ministries plunge lots of cost and time into a site, that they no longer can adapt to changes, but are stuck with it for years to come.

Today I want to post about The Purpose of Your Website.

What is the purpose of your website?

This is an important question to begin with. What do you want it to do? What do you want people to come to the site and see and use? What should they walk away with? Sometimes ministries just build websites because they feel like they should have one, but never stop to consider its purpose.

Is it for college students to retrieve information? Is it for them to sign up for Bible studies? Is it for them to be able to visit forums and dialogue?

With these questions in mind we also need to keep in mind that with all the tools out there (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc.) a website shouldn’t have to do everything, unless it can do it better than those services (which I doubt it can do).

So here are a few pointers that I have found helpful:

  1. Build a website that acts as a central hub for your online ministry tools.  It should be the entry point to your ministry, but the gateway to all the tools that your ministry uses.  Example: Joe, a freshmen at UCLA should come to your website when he is looking for a ministry.  But at that website, he should find links, icons, etc., that will lead him to the tools of the ministry.  Like your group’s Facebook page; your group’s Flickr stream; your group’s Twitter feed, etc. Let me give you a couple of examples of this:  If you visit the website of blogger I Am Josh Brown you will come across a simple page that has all the icons of his online life.  People can then access his YouTube, Facebook, etc.  Or you can go The Gathering college ministry website, and by looking at the icons, easily identify where you want to navigate to based on what college you attend.
  2. By creating a website that acts only as a central hub it does two things.  One, as the college pastor you have made available to the students the tools and information that they  need.  You are in some sense in control of how the online ministry operates.  Second, by keeping the website the central hub, and providing students with these tools, you allow them to be collaboraters in the ministry, and you free them up to control the flow of information and content within the ministry.  Something a pastor can’t and shouldn’t do single handedly.
  3. But building a website that acts only as a hub, you have just cut cost and clutter dramatically.  One, your website can now become just one to two pages which costs nothing, and there is no navigational clutter to wade through.
  4. When you build a website that acts as a central hub, what should be on that page.  One, I think you need to have links/icons to the online tools.  Second, there should be a basic information page about who you are, where and when you meet, and maybe a basic contact email. But do you need a small group sign up?  Probably not…Facebook can do that for you.  Do you need to posts photos?  Why, when Flickr is great at photomanagement.  Do you need to have a forum page?  Good luck with that.

These are just some basic thoughts.  But bottom line: Keep it simple, reduce work and cost.  Creat a hub for your students that allow them to access the tools, and let them create and control the information.  In the process you will have a much more collaborative and participatory online ministry, then if everything came out of a website that was in the hands of a few people.

Any thoughts on this issue?  What have you chose to do for your ministry, or college ministry’s website?

Over the next few weeks I will post on the following:

Formulating an Online Strategy for College Ministry

  • Part 1–Simplicity, Flexibility, Cost and Speed.
  • Part 2–The Purpose of Your Website
  • Part 3–Why You Should Be Blogging
  • Part 4–Using Facebook Effectively
  • Part 5–How Twitter Can Catalyze Your Ministry
  • Part 6–Using Social Network Platforms as Your Central Hub
  • Part 7–Flickr, YouTube and Other Forms of Sharing and Streaming
  • Part 8–Ministry Collaboration Using Wikis
  • Part 9–Opening Up Your Ministry’s API

DISCLAIMERS: 1)There are better technical people out there concerning the web. 2) Do as I suggest, not as I do. I’m trying to keep up myself, and our college website reflects almost nothing of what I talk about. That’s how fast things change. 3) There are a lot of college ministries out there, and there are a lot of online tools to use, but it doesn’t seem like many are thinking through how to best utilize the new media and Web 2.0 (and yikes, Web 3.0) in their groups. 4) Knowing that things change overnight in technology, I hope to somehow impart to you some of the things I have been learning and wrestling with in these areas. You don’t need to be an expert in this area, just know enough to think critically about the issue. 5) If you have feedback, suggestions, criticisms, please comment. This is by no means all encompassing.