A new website released by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints promises to help youth, leaders and families as they plan wholesome, meaningful activities.
“One of the most frequently asked questions in youth groups is ‘What are we going to do for Mutual?'” said Mike Madsen, the site’s product manager. “This site helps answer that question.”
It does so by offering suggestions for activities — organized into categories — that serve a variety of purposes. And these ideas aren’t just for youth. The site is equally useful to youth, families and wards who want ideas for well-organized, purposeful activities.
“Virtually every one of these activities can be done by families,” Madsen said. “Any family from any faith can come to this site and find ideas for activities to do with children of all ages.”
The youth activities website features all the functionality wards and branches need to more effectively plan youth activities. More than 170 ideas for activities are available, many with links to relevant Duty to God and Personal Progress requirements or to relevant youth curriculum lessons. Each idea also includes a comments section to encourage members’ input on how to adapt or improve ideas.
The site syncs seamlessly with ward directories and calendars, which means any activity on the site can be scheduled with a single click. Users can also create email groups pulling information from the ward directory, so a Mia Maid adviser can easily contact all the parents of girls in her class, for example.
The site also invites members to submit their own ideas to include on the site — an emerging technique for LDS.org.
“We are crowdsourcing these activities,” Madsen said. “We know we don’t have all the best ideas — members are out there having great activities. We invite church members to submit their ideas, and we’re incorporating many of them. Sometimes we’ll change the way an idea is worded based on the suggestions, or sometimes we’ll post a completely new idea.”
Site administrators are also carefully observing site metrics to determine which activities are the most helpful. As more people use the site, administrators will remove less popular activities and replace them with ideas that are more helpful.
“Over the next several years, the site will get much better,” Madsen said. “We’ve set up a process so improvement happens. Eventually, every activity idea on the site is going to be great.”
The site is less than a month old, so it might be too early to anticipate overall success. But in the site’s first 16 days, it has seen 32,000 unique visitors from 131 different countries. Those visitors have already submitted 85 activity ideas. The site is currently only available in English but is on track to be released in 23 different languages on Jan. 2, 2014.
“We interviewed some young women in the development process,” Madsen said. “One girl expressed how difficult it was to come up with ideas. She said when her leaders made suggestions she would say, ‘I’m not sure I want to do that, but I can’t think of anything else. So let’s do it.'”
One of the main purposes of the site is to help youth and families come up with their own activity ideas.
“Leaders have said things to me like, ‘My kids only have to spend about a minute on the site before they’re coming up with really fun activity ideas,'” Madsen said. “That’s what we really wanted the site to do. We’re not saying you have to do this activity this way. We’re saying, ‘Here’s an idea. You can do this or something like it.'”
The new activities website is also helping missionary work move forward. As youth groups, families and wards plan more successful activities, they will be more inclined to bring their friends with them.
“It’s a lot less intimidating to invite a friend to an activity than it is to invite them to church on Sunday,” Madsen said. “We can introduce people to the gospel by inviting them to our activities.”
The site has already seen success in its less-than-three-weeks lifespan, but the potential is limitless.
“The site will be a success if we see effective activities happening all over the Church,” Madsen said. “It’s not about the tool. It’s really about engaging youth in high-quality activities. But as far as the site goes — we want it to be the best activities site in the world. We want the site to be a place where every activity is high quality. We want it to be a place for youth and families to come and get great ideas.”