How to start a Christian online discussion community How to start a Christian Online Discussion Community Online message boards and BBS systems can be a great way to connect people who share similar interests. By following a few easy steps, you can create a thriving online community which will provide you and your membership with many entertaining discussions. Steps Choose a specific community topic. If you plan to manage the community yourself, pick something that you are knowledgable about and interested in. Because there are already so many online discussion forums available, it's best to serve a well-defined niche. For example, "Christian Webmasters" will probably work better than "Christian Community". Select a hosting package. If you have some webspace and a good bit of experience with web development, you can set up your own message board using a software package such as vBulletin. If you are unable to set up your own hosting, you can use one of the remotely hosted forum services such as EZboard, or Proboards. Create your forums (discussion areas). Ideally, you want 5-15 separate forums, each dealing with some aspect of your community topic. For example, you can have a "General Discussion" forum, a "Prayer" forum, a "Bible Study" forum, etc. Advertise your community. If you have some online friends with similar interests, send them a quick e-mail to let them know about your "grand opening." If you have a website, announce your new community to your visitors. Whatever you do, avoid "spamming" (advertising to strangers without permission). Spamming will ruin the reputation of your community before it has a chance to get started. Select moderators. Each separate discussion forum within your community should have its own moderator. The moderator keeps the discussions fresh by starting new topics and removing inappropriate content. Community users who are knowledgeable about the subject matter of the forum and willing to spend a few minutes a day helping the community grow will make good moderators. Manage the community. You and the team of moderators should agree on some basic rules of conduct (such as "no personal attacks"), and enforce them. Occassionally, you may need to ban a disruptive user from your community in order to prevent problems. Make strategic alliances. Exchange links with other communities with similar interests in order to grow your user base. As your community increases in size and activity, you will have more opportunities to create strategic partnerships with other websites. Tips Don't expect overnight success. It takes time to build a large and active membership. Keep at it, and the word will eventually get around. Tailor your rules and standards to your subject matter. For example, a religious community will probably have much stricter rules than one about making prank phone calls. Your community standards should be neither too strict or too relaxed for your target audience. Create a community atmosphere. You need to foster a sense of loyalty and "belonging" among your membership, or they will eventually go somewhere else. Games, contests, custom titles for users, and other "gimmicks" work well, but simple friendliness and respect are even better. Warnings If you choose to have someone host your forum for you they may force your forum members to view advertisements. This is the case with most free forum hosts such as invisionfree.com. You can usually remove the ads for a small fee. You can, however, sometimes find a free forum host without forced ads. One good example of a free forum host without ads is WebringAmerica - Free PHPBB3 Forum Hosting With No Ads!. You can usually find others by doing some digging on Google. Choosing a host without ads gives your forums a more professional look that your visitors will enjoy. As a community administrator, be prepared to encounter some occassional harassment. Disruptive users are a sad fact of internet life, and many of them do not take kindly to being banned from the community. If you are highly sensitive to criticism, you may want to consider letting someone else run your community for you. My Recommendations Do your own research before you decide to invest into your community. These are some of my recommendations (not official, therefore choose wisely): Domain Name Registration - GoDaddy Web Hosting Service - ASmallOrange, LogicWeb Forum Package - vBulletin, phpBB, SimpleMachines, InvisionPower Slightly modified version of an existing article: How to Start an Online Discussion Community - wikiHow Initial Author: James Curtis Hale . Contributors: James Quirk , Krystle C. , Ben Rubenstein , Tom Viren , Acebrock and others. All text shared under a Creative Commons License.