An online community portal can provide communication, resources, and advocacy for any organization with common ground. The internet has made constant, consistent, and persistent communication available to people from all walks of life. People join these communities for myriad reasons. These people fall into three major categories: Some want to keep up on the topic area. Typically, this person will join the group just for the purpose of observation. The members just want to keep abreast of the topic. This person will probably not be active and may never contribute to the portal. However, because of their interest in the topic, they may login in every so often to read what is going on. The second type of member in the portal is the casual user. These people will visit the community and access the resources that are available from time to time. Invariably this person will pop into a discussion now and then. These individuals are somewhat likely to answer a survey. They may make a purchase one or two times a year. The third type of person is a die hard community member. They want to take on a leadership role. They often become the "go-to" expert in the subject area. Although these are the three major categories, there are, of course many people who fall in between these categories.
The online community portal itself is the structure and form that is developed as a platform for the community. The portal often starts with a need for information. Sometimes forums are developed into portals. But, more often than not these days, it starts with an advocacy blog. A person who is passionate about a subject may write about it often and allow comments to be made so that there is a back and forth dialogue. Or perhaps, the community starts as a customer service venue for a company. Regardless of how the online community portal gets started, the portal grows and develops. All portals have one thing in common, they provide a communication venue for like minded people. It exists and is maintained by the ideas and ideals of the members. Some members will enjoy great satisfaction from finding an online neighborhood to call their own. "Behold , the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children." (2 Corinthians 12)
Any online community portal should have a common goal or set of objectives. Without these, the portal is likely to falter. If that happens, then people will become disenchanted and move on to another more organized venue. It's so much easier to communicate when people are on the same page at the same time. It makes sense to have different areas in the portal for different activities. One area can be set-up specifically for interaction among the members. Another section could have products and services that are directly relevant to the topic at hand. Then, still other sections could include things like; videos, sub-groups, news features, and events. Successful online community portals have the look and feel of the "real-world." That is to say that some people sync with others and develop a camaraderie; while others would rather see a tornado hit their home than to see a certain person's screen name in the same chat room. Some people like to hover around the fringes; while still others want to be in the thick of it all. There are those who are service oriented and just want to be helpful; while recognition of accomplishment is the flag ship that others prefer. Mimicking real life, these structured venues may be the only "human" interaction some people (like those who are bedridden, paralyzed, or phobic) are involved with.
Once a goal has been set, then the terms and conditions for interacting are drawn up. These rules often deal with the behaviors of individuals. Their main aim is to keep people civil. Without civility, there is chaos. Interactions within the online community portal can be interesting, exciting, and even brutal. Violent rants and rages can erupt, making the environment unpleasant for all. Common terms and conditions follow rules of etiquette. Basically, etiquette says; be kind, be polite, be diplomatic, and do not offend or harass. As adults, people should not have to be told what and how to say things. Yet, the community members have the added dimension of being extremely multi-cultural. What this means is that the norms and mores for one group may not hold true for another group. To keep everyone on a level communication playing field, it is essential that the rules are even applied to everyone.
After an online community portal has been around for a while, a sense of history and culture within the group blossoms. Inside jokes, catch phrases, and idiomatic expressions will develop that are exclusive to that group and its members. The feelings of belongingness will grow as well as the fact that people will become territorial about sub-topic areas, become advocates for products or services, and become defensive about their particular roles in the community. The moderator(s) will play a heavy role in making things go smoothly within a community. Also the technology platform and security measures of the website will help to protect the members from outside invasion. And once the communication lines are drawn, then it's time to let other people know that it exists. When all is said and done, an online community portal has just as much chance to sink as to swim.
Online Community WebsiteBasically, an online community website uses secure intranet software to restrict participation to specific members, employees, or congregations. An intranet is defined as a private computer network in which access is restricted to members of a particular organization Restricting access to an exclusive group of users is what separates an online community website from the more popular and widely used internet social networking websites. But that is pretty much where the differences stop. Private intranet administrators and mangers have much more control over what can and cannot be posted on the site. Many churches are beginning to take advantage of the technology as a safe and secure way to disseminate important information to the congregation. The Bible says that people are to go out into the world and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, spreading the good news of Jesus is every church's primary mission. That hasn't changed in 2000 years. The only thing that has changed is the numerous venues now available to accomplish the task.
People are computer savvy. They are also busy and pressed for time. Therefore people rely heavily on the internet as they navigate through their daily lives. Because of the time press more and more people are turning to the internet for their news, information, and communication needs. Some telephones are capable of getting a person online. Social networking as a means to stay connected with friends, family, and others is hot business. Networking websites permit people to give minute-to-minute updates of what they are doing or where they are at any given time. So developing and running an online community website is a logical and important step for organizations and associations that depend on keeping people informed. Community websites can be a valuable resource in the efforts to accomplish the church's main mission. An online search indicates that many larger churches have already established intranet websites. Generally, a church's intranet system is an excellent method for connecting quickly and inexpensively with large congregations. Time-sensitive information such as funeral service notices, birth announcements, or church scheduling will get to the target audience while the material is still relevant.
Fortunately, there are many ways to get the Word out through a secure online community website: blogging, forums, calendars, notices, private church chat rooms, and directories. Forums, blogging, and chat rooms all permit members to discuss important church issues or scriptures. They can also be useful in soliciting advice on any number of personal issues. Some churches even post transcripts of sermons or of weekly messages to the online community website. Technology allows for audio and video copies of the sermons to be posted to the website as well. People who may not have been able to make Sunday morning services can still watch and listen to the message at their leisure. The overall goal is to keep the ministry informed and growing. Use any means possible to accomplish the goal. "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned into fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of the ministry." (II Timothy 4: 1-5)
Internet technology is available that permits the distribution of church newsletters through the online community website. This eliminates costly mailings and time consuming tasks such as collating and driving to the post office. Actually, intranet technology has existed for some time. But it's not uncommon for some segments of society to not understand the full potential of the technology. Social networking was for a long time almost exclusively the domain of people looking to extend their circle of friends. Now, organizations of all types are jumping on the networking bandwagon. Businesses, corporations, and non-profit groups have all begun using intranet technology to keep employees and members informed in a social networking environment. Obviously, an online community website will not be practical for every group. Churches with smaller congregations that are limited by tighter budgets may not find a community website to very beneficial or helpful.
The greatest investment may actually be the time needed to maintain the system. Although the startup software can be costly, managing the system can be time consuming. Finding a person with the time and skills to handle the job may be difficult for small churches. But larger organizations will find the services more useful and less cost restrictive. Well attended churches have a larger and more diverse pool of talent to draw from and more money to invest. Many online companies offer intranet software along with basic instruction on how to manage an online community website. Keep in mind, portions of any secure website can still be viewed by the general public. Generally, only members with passwords can gain access to the site. So the page can be instrumental in the success of any outreach or evangelical mission. A well designed web page that shows innovation and strong content can attract people to the church. People, relationships, and growing in Christ are what churches are about. An innovative website can help a ministry grow in all three.