8 suggestions for a real-life college ministry web site

I had the neat opportunity recently to check out the College Ministry web site of a friend’s ministry. I’m a big believer in auditing our ministry elements – including our web sites – on a regular basis. So I figured my thoughts about his site might help you think through your own!

For the sake of discussion, we’ll call this ministry “Ignite.” This is roughly the way I delivered my thoughts to him, with some explanatory notes thrown in.

1. What exactly is “Ignite”?

  • The web site uses the name for the whole ministry AND for the Large Group Meeting, which is confusing to the outsider (and especially the new college freshman).
  • -There’s not a strong “basic info page”

Not everyone will want more info, but some students will. Especially on a web site, there’s no harm in providing a solid “full information page” – for both incoming students and their parents.

2. The graphics look weird on my screen

In this case, something meant to be cool actually made it look weird (to me, at least). One students’ “cool” is another students’ turn-off, so it doesn’t hurt to have several people look over your site. Further, make sure you check your site at least on Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and iPhone. Yes, really. If you’re gonna make a site, you might as well make sure it looks solid and works well.

3. Proofreading needed

I only found one missing word on this particular site. But it’s always worth proofreading (or having others do it).

4. Great in showing how much the ministry has going on

I brought this up specifically because opportunities for involvement is a strong point of this ministry. Does your site emphasize strengths?

5. Podcasts not up-to-date

This ministry podcasts the weekly messages, but the last available one was from January. That’s trouble. I’ve seen a million out-of-date college ministry web sites, most often in their Calendar or on-site Announcements. Better not to have them. A savvy student will recognize something is wrong. A non-savvy student will subconsciously recognize something is wrong.

6. Good way of dealing with a light calendar

Instead of having one big, blank calendar for the Summertime version of this ministry, they wisely offered a synopsis of their summer events. That’s far better than students finding a lot of white space in an online calendar. The same can be true in the school year. If you don’t have enough activities to make an actual calendar look “full,” consider a list.

7.  Use more to differentiate the ministry

I’m a big fan of helping students make their college ministry decisions, which includes helping them see a ministry’s DISTINCTIVES, not just the same “pros” that most campus ministries have. In this ministry’s case, these include the involvement of adult volunteers, lots of activities for students to participate in, and a strong emphasis on Bible teaching (among other things). We can emphasize distinctives of our college ministries without being overtly “competitive” in the way we talk about it. And I think we should.

8. As always, it’s better to be helpful than “cool”

In web sites, students may tire of your Flash graphics, difficulty finding what they need, etc. Remember to think about purposes for the web site before designing it; if it’s already designed, list your purposes, and then audit the site for each one. (With the advent of iPhones, some of our “coolness” isn’t as functional anymore!)

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5 Comments

  1. crazybilly

    A couple other things to remember:

    1. You’re not Facebook. Don’t try to compete with them. Don’t spend the extra time/money building in crazy social networks/blogs/forums/etc. Your students are going to be on Facebook, not your ministry’s website.

    2. Students use your site for just a couple things:
    a) getting a quick overview of your ministry before they show up (denominational background, strengths, vibe, etc)
    b) finding the campus house phone number
    c) figuring out what time you’re leaving for Fall Retreat if you didn’t post it on Facebook
    Spending a ton of energy doing much more than these basics is going to get you in trouble.

    Of course, every ministry’s different with different web needs. And for that matter, there’s a lot to be said for good design (it’s Godly, imho).

    But it’s easy to lose track of what students really need/want in a website when we spend all day neck-deep in ministry stuff ourselves.

  2. Really good stuff, crazybilly – thank you for that. Here are a few reactions / tweaks to what you wrote:

    1. The “you’re not Facebook” comment was really well-said. While there may be SOME ministries out there that do benefit from an “inside network,” it’s more likely that the pros of having your network meshed with Facebook outweigh the pros of such a network. But if there are others who have seen otherwise, I’d love to hear about it – that’s certainly possible, because of the diversity out there!

    2. Generally, I would say that’s very true – your ministry’s students aren’t going to use the site for much. BUT, I think in this season – the summer – some students (and their parents) are going to use it for complete info, too. (Since that’s what this particular ministry was going for, I focused on that.)

    But you’re right – we need to look from the standpoint of those actually using the site, instead of just building based on how we hope they’ll use the site. I’ll likely blog more on this for tomorrow.

    3. You didn’t have a three, but I wanna especially highlight your comment about Good Design being godly – I absolutely agree. Thanks for that.

    4. You also didn’t have a four, but your final statement is HUGE and under-recognized: We are always going to be somewhat “out of touch” with our students and their needs/wants. Unless we take purposeful steps to connect with those things, there will be many areas we’re ABSOLUTELY SURE OF… that we’re wrong about. Sadly, only some of these will be as inconsequential as web site design.

  3. Good thoughts, coming from a web-design-as-a-hobby campus minister. I do spend more time than I probably should updating and designing our website (www.katsforchrist.com) and our church’s (www.huntsvillecoc.com), among others.

    A few things.

    I do think that your website needs to accurately reflect the type of ministry you are. You can inadvertently act like you are someone that you are not (expressed graphically, structurally, and in other ways too) in an effort to draw a crowd. Students are very astute at sniffing out that stuff, though they might not know exactly what it is that doesn’t “feel” right once they interact with you in person. Check out this article about this matter (http://articles.sitepoint.com/article/design-modern-church-marketing).

    I also think that your website should congregate all the other social media outlets rather than just recreate them. We don’t have staff web gurus in our ministry, but we can take advantage of them by integrating them into your own site.

    It is also well worth the investment to spend money on a good Content Management website where you can update the site from any browser yourself (or have a student or intern do it) with a little training. You will pay more for it, but it is worth it.

    I also try to think about providing a place for ministry alumni, friends, and parents to keep track of the ministry. I need to do a better job here, but this helps in our fundraising efforts and also in surrounding our ministry with non-college students.

    The list could go on in my mind as far as thinking about a campus ministry website, but these come to my mind first.

  4. PC

    A great marketing buddy of mine told me in a meet up about my developing website that “websites” are no longer the go to for all information as they used to be.

    With things like facebook, twitter, and blogs, “we” are all involved and active elsewhere. He mentioned that a lot of websites these days are a sort of “hub” to direct the visitor to all the places the person is involved. So, for instance, my website is a place the visitor would come to see where I am most active (my blog, twitter, facebook probably in that order).

    Now that being said, the website is still vital because the website is what you put on your card that you are handing out. It is the quick and easy address you can direct people to in order to see all the places you are involved. Some people may get to the website and be more likely to hit up your facebook, and others may be tweeters and still others may just want a link to your flikr account because lots of pictures indicate active participation.

    Just some thoughts.

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