Since last week, I’ve enjoyed several comments and even more private emails informing of various church websites in need of healing. A task made increasingly difficult now that my review of “The Coolest Church WebSite, Ever!” comes up numero uno for the Google query ‘cool church website.’ Fortunately, well actually unfortunately, there are enough self-proclaimed “cool church websites” out there to keep us all busy with reviews until Jesus returns.
Case in point, the website for high-school age students at the Central church of Christ in Moore, Oklahoma.
If you haven’t clicked in the hyperlink for today’s example, imagine a kelly green screen with a somewhat grainy, poorly cropped and centered picture of what looks like the side doors and facade for the church, and the parking lot … enough so to catch a glimpse of the sign. Flanking the image’s sides, spinning animated GIF crosses. Above this artwork, in lime green, the phrase that pays: “click here to enter the cool church website.”
Now a caveat here, today’s example webpage was designed back in 2001 two 16 year old kids. I’m sure now they look at it and roll their eyes, slapping their right hand to their forehead and whispering under their breath “what was I thinking?” It is also for this reason, I’m not going to say anything else about about the design elements … especially in light of the youth websites I first created … mercifully, all evidence of the latter has long since been rendered to the bit-bucket.
Instead, I want to use this page to talk about some misconceptions we have about youth ministry and what we do online. As someone who for the past 10 years has been involved with youth ministry and teaches a high-school aged Sunday school class, I know one or two things for certain.
- If you have to tell people it’s cool, then it probably isn’t. This is why I tell incoming classes that the only time I use their vernacular is when I’m making a parody of them. Let’s face it, nothing is more pathetic than a 40-some year old poop misusing the phrase “word-up.” This means when you write content, write it as you would speak it to them or anyone else. They’ll appreciate it much more than you’re lame, ‘Wonder Bread™’ rendition of hip-hop.
- This leads me to my second point: don’t confuse the Internet for television, MTV, movies or other forms of youth-targeted media. Unless you’re as awesomely talented and playfully demented as Mike and Matt Chapman, kids aren’t going to visit your youth website for entertainment. If they want movies, they’re going to go to the movies, if they want music videos, they’re going sneak a peek at MTV (unless you’re like me and are cable-free).
This isn’t to say your youth website should look and feel like the rest of your church’s website. But if your objective is to bring them in by being cool, then all you’re going to really do is look like some old fool. Instead:
- make the site informative;
- make it a place where they can contribute content and feedback;
- make it relevant with continual posts about things they’re facing, things they like, or upcoming events.
The bottom line is incredibly simple, if your youth website is informative, moreover it if ministers to the needs of your youth, they’ll think it cool, and they’ll come back for more.