Entering Kids' Virtual World

Young Life is about caring adults being physically present in kids’ lives. So what role can the Internet play in Young Life’s effort to share the Gospel with adolescents? A big one, as it turns out, because the World Wide Web is one of those places where kids “live” (see “What I’ve Learned from Kids” story). In the fall of 2004, Young Life will launch an ambitious new project that will provide a Web site for every club, area, region, division and camp.
 
The big idea
At the start of the new millennium, many Young Life leaders were recognizing the value of communicating with kids, parents and donors via the Internet; roughly one in four areas had created Web sites by the summer of 2000. But many others did not have the resources to do so, and among the sites that did exist, there was no consistency in quality and content. From this dilemma, a big idea was born.
 
“Young Life wanted to present itself with consistent branding,” said Kelly Mertens, Young Life’s vice president for Management Information Systems (MIS). “On our Web sites, this meant standard design, content templates and easy-to-use functions such as photo galleries and calendars. For these and other reasons, we envisioned a Web-hosting facility managed by Young Life technical staff and populated by field staff and volunteers. Within that facility, every club, area, region and camp could develop its own professional-looking Web site with a set of user-friendly tools and materials we would develop.” 
 
Web sites features
Since this big idea was developed, much has happened behind the scenes, including a great deal of consultation with field and property staff, many late nights for the MIS team at the Service Center and the generous support of donors who shared the vision for this project. The result is a tool that has the following features:
  • Centralized, free hosting: Every Web site will be hosted for free through the Service Center.

  • Automatic Web site: At launch date (sometime this fall) every Young Life mission unit will have a one-page Web site with basic local information.

  • Easy-to-use tools for creating and editing Web sites: Each mission unit will be able to create a complete Web site in minutes. That’s because a basic site — complete with photos, text and local contact information — has already been designed for every mission unit in Young Life. Designated staff or volunteers will then have the ability to “personalize” their sites by adding more text, photographs of local activities and event information by using an administrative tool that requires only the ability to type and use a mouse.

  • Professional design: Each field unit will have the choice of four design themes, with certain features in common, but each with a different “feel.” Each property will choose from three themes and have several color options for each theme. Once chosen, that theme will appear consistently on each page throughout the Web site.
The ultimate goal
How does all of this connect to Young Life’s goal of introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith? With a local Web presence every Young Life ministry can better communicate with kids, parents, donors and the public. The free, user-friendly service will also save areas and regions both the time and money often required for design and hosting of local sites.
 
New sites for camps will improve leaders’ ability to encourage kids to attend camp and will dramatically improve properties’ ability to increase school-season use by non-Young Life groups (generating revenue that keeps camp costs down).
 
Rich Crawford, a Young Life area director who has also served as user project manager, summed up the ultimate goal well: “Our hope is that the user-friendly interface and attention to design quality will create a buzz among our staff, committees, donors, volunteers and kids that will allow this valuable tool to complement our efforts to reach every kid with the great news about Jesus.”
 
Note About Existing Web Sites:
If your local area has a site that you are accustomed to visiting, it won’t disappear right away. Existing sites will transition to the new Young Life Web Sites system within one year of the launch date.