Online or out of sight?

Those of you doing youth work will know that it's rare for young people to turn up unannounced and alone at a youth programme for the first time. We see new people who have been brought by friends and occasionally a new family will attend church and you'll get to invite their son or daughter to come to youth group, but turning up alone and unannounced is rarer.

A few years ago two young sisters did just that at our Friday night youth programme. Across the room I noticed these two girls enter the hall and look around seemingly a little "lost". I went over and introduced myself and asked them if a friend had invited them.

"No," came the answer. "We are new to the city and are looking for a youth group to join."

I was intrigued. "So what made you choose this one?"

They answered, "We looked online and read about this youth group on the church website. We liked what we saw, and decided to try it out."

I'm glad they did! Both girls went on to become outstanding leaders and one of them became our youth intern last year. After they started attending, their younger sister came to our intermediate programme and their parents joined our church - all because these two girls looked at our website.

I was reminded of them recently when I was listening to a podcast that talked about how common it is now is for people to check out a church's website before actually attending the church. Equally, I imagine that parents look at the youth ministry section of church websites when choosing a new church to attend with their teenage children, or, as was my experience, the teenagers look for themselves.

The challenge then is to provide them with the information they need in a way that will encourage them to attend or at least make contact.

Sometimes I find myself looking at church websites for the purpose of finding out some information about their youth ministry. What I see is "mixed".

Some have 'bare bones" information such as when and where the youth group meets plus contact details for the youth leader. Others go a step further and outline what happens at the youth programme. There might even be a link to a social media site where more information and pictures can be found.

Even more impressive are those that list an up to date outline of the term programme and even photos and bios of the youth leader(s).

Take a look at your church website and view it through the eyes of a parent with teenagers, looking for a new church, or even through the eyes of a teenager.

What do you notice?

Is it up to date? Is there sufficient information or are you left with questions? Is the overall impression positive and does it convey excellence?

While we all agree that it is the Holy Spirit who leads people to the "right" church, that's no reason to be lazy about presenting an informative and helpful online "front door" to our ministry.

Who knows what fruit it might bear.