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Community Portal Pages – a powerful outreach strategy
Touching your town, city or region
Community pages are an amazing strategy for online outreach which very few people are yet using. The concept is to create a site based on the local community – town, local area/county, state, even a small country. The site must offer the best secular links for the community in a range of categories. It must be a genuinely useful resource at this level. But it also contains appropriate Christian links in various categories. The more comprehensive it is, the more that people in the area will use it as their one-stop local neighborhood site, maybe even setting it as a ‘start page’ in their browsers, and become frequent return visitors. For a more detailed look at the concept, read Frank Johnson’s discussion paper Community Pages (PDF file – needs Adobe Acrobat to read). This portal concept can also be applied to other subjects.
Use a search engine to check on your town name – you may be surprised at how many local organizations and groups have sites which could be part of a Community Portal.
A community site can offer links, news and features, in categories such as:
- local shops and businesses
- local entertainment
- schools and education
- local organisations
- transport timetables and information
- women and teens areas
- local churches
Some Christians might worry about the number of secular links compared with Christian links! However, the whole strategy is based on having secular links which really are well-chosen and useful. A good site based on this strategy could become the definitive resource for a town or area – thereby getting potentially thousands of hits a day. The Christian links are there when people wish to look at them, and precisely because they are not preachy and in your face, they have credibility. The page should not ‘look’ Christian at all.
There are many other creative ways that a Community Portal could genuinely serve people in its catchment area and build popularity:
- Feature short stories from local writers
- Showcase work of local photographers
- Children’s pages and competitions
- Online games
- Chat rooms and bulletin boards on specified topics
- Host announcement pages for local organizations if they don’t have their own pages
- Sales, wants, and swaps bulletin board
- Local news – though don’t overlap with local newspapers if you want their co-operation
- Email discussion lists, blogs or bulletin boards on matters of local interest
Ready-made community portals for your areaThere are other options available, than designing a website from scratch:
- In UK, you obtain a ready-made community portal from 2Day.ws. It automatically draws down information for your own locality, and you can customize it with your own Christian links. Some churches use this as a second church website, directed at the local community. A similar concept is offered for USA by ActsWeb: Good News for Your Town. There is a big need for more systems such as these.
- Use a CMS system, such as Joomla or WordPress, allowing easy collaboration with several people, and ready-made template styles, called ‘themes’.
- There are also free software options for setting up a portal, such as: eNdonesia | PHP scripts and many commercial CMS ‘turnkey’ systems available, such as DynaPortal – always ask if they offer special pricing for non-profits.
- Kamloops Life
This excellent site, produced in his sparetime by an experienced web evangelist, is a showcase for this approach. Study it in detail. They may be able to help starting community sites in other places.
- Tri-Cities Directory
For the Tri-Cities Area of Johnson City, Bristol and Kingsport, Tennessee (USA), users can add their own links to the different subject areas.
- Downham Online
Community portal for Downham, England. Note the pages on local history, local photos, free classifed ads, local transport; plus the community newsletter.
- A community email newsletter can be part of a community site, or work as a stand-alone project.
Publicity and promotion
- Request all local secular sites to link back to the community site in return for their own link. They could be offered a small range of graphics in different colors for the purpose, saying something like: “We are featured on Townville Life, your web gateway to the Townville area.”
- Encourage visitors to make the site into their browser start page, or create a desktop shortcut to it, and explain how to do it.
- Use a ‘tell a friend’ form.
- Send news releases to local newspapers.
- Ask the online version of local newspapers for a permanent link in return for a free banner link to them.
- If possible, develop a newsletter which will add to the effectiveness of the site and encourage repeat visits. The editor can commission articles from local residents, feedback, discussion, forthcoming events, competitions – all the ways of making a publication varied and interesting.
- Offer an attractive downloadable poster which people can print and display.
- Create credit-card sized contact cards with details of the site. Maybe t-shirts too!
- Ensure the page is listed in the main search engines, especially those for your country. Understand how to get your site listed in Google Local Search.
- Ask local churches to support, pray, provide volunteers, and publicize the site in all their printed newsletters and contact material.
- Encourage people to set the community page as a browser start page.
- Remind people to bookmark the page and suggest shortcuts for doing this (note how this page does it).
- Suggest they create a desktop shortcut to your page.
- Other methods of making your site ‘sticky’.
Handling the workOne person does not need to do all the work. A big community site can be time-consuming! Here are some ways that work could be delegated among a team:
- Researching best new links to add
- Running link checks for out-of-date links
- Editing a newsletter or blog
- Replying to email questions
A powerful strategyThis strategy has great potential to be powerful and effective. It can work in any language or culture – even in CAN countries. Sadly, in many languages there is a shortage of evangelistic sites to link to. Here are some. We also encourage church websites to identify strongly with their local community, and include a page of community links within the church site.
Please tell us of other sites using this strategy, or any suggestions you have about it.
related pages within the Bridge the gap & Using culture menu links
recommended books on reaching outsiders, including free downloads
valuable online videos about web ministry