Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Resources To Help Smaller Churches

For small churches and bi-vocational church leaders, the current climate of church work is not getting any easier. However, the opportunity to make a huge impact could not be any greater because of the resources that they have at their disposal. However, the sheer number of resources is overwhelming so I put together some of the top eight resources categories that could help even the smallest church become more effective.

Church Database

Ministry is people and all churches need a tool to in order to keep
up with people. Years ago we had the church roll book, which was fine, but today we have the ability to keep track of families, attendance, giving, membership, spiritual growth and so much more online. These tools used to be cost, time, and knowledge prohibitive but today are much cheaper and intuitive enough for anyone to use. 
  • Website: http://www.touchpointsoftware.com/
  • Cost: $2 per record per year
  • Pros
    • Access to member information anywhere
    • Organize church member involvement
    • Online giving
    • Check in for children’s ministries
    • Contribution and pledge management
    • Email or text
    • Reports Generator
    • Intuitive system so volunteers can manage!

Website

Website, if you do not have one people who are looking for a church will not find you. Remember, a website primary target is people who do not go to your church so be careful not to use “church talk” when adding content. Remember, with most website less is more!
  • Website: http://www.wix.com/ (and many others)
  • Cost $150 or less (if you get one tither to your church because of this tool you will have paid for it over and over)
  • Pros
    • People can see your church before they come
    • Effectively communicate ministries, service times, and locations
    • You do not have to be an expert. Fill in content and add some pictures
    • Intuitive system so volunteers can manage!

Social Media (Facebook)

Do not do them all, pick one and let someone do it for you. Currently I would suggest Facebook. Find someone you trust and let them post pictures of worship services and church events. People who are looking for a church will look at your social media before they visit.

Google

Make sure you claim your listing on Google. Google is the front door for this and the next generation of churches. By calming your listing you can add information like worship times and pictures. I have looked up several church on google and the address was wrong in the google system. If you have bad information in Google, people will not be able to find you. By claiming your listing, you can ensure you accuracy.

Planning Center Online

Be intentional about how you constructs your Sun
day services. Without a plan, you are planning to fail. With Planning Center Online you worship leader can yourself can craft services online. If you plan services ahead of time, you will be more successful.

Sermon Spice

Great video resources. Sometimes a video element can take a good message and take it to the next level.

Open.church

Creativity takes time. Time may be one of the most valuable commodities to a small church leader. Open.church is provides all of their resources free. This includes sermon series ideas and the media to support them.

Get feedback

Often the biggest distractions go unnoticed. Much like the dirty sock on the floor that you step over each week you never see it because it always there. When someone walks in the first thing they see is that dirty sock. Nothing could be more valuable to a small church leader than honest feedback from someone who is not a member of their congregation. Invite another church leader to come in and provide feedback on the Sunday morning experience. People who visit your church see the issues, they just do not tell you about them when they never show back up.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Change (Joshua’s Plan)

Change is inevitable. Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”1  We will obviously never obtain perfection this side of eternity but one thing we can all do is become better at changing. That is the whole purpose of a church is for people to change from what they are to become fully devoted followers of Christ. In reading Joshua, we see a formula for change. Joshua 1: 1-5 reads:

1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' assistant, 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. (ESV)

Evaluate

The first thing we need to do when we enter a time of change is to evaluate the current situation. For Joshua it was simple. Moses went up on the mountain and did not come down. Then God told Joshua you are in charge. For Joshua the evaluation of his situation was easy, he was the leader of a nation who just spent 40 years walking in circles.
For Joshua and for us when we come upon a time of change two different things can happen. It can either get better or worse. We need to seek God’s guidance as we evaluate where we are so we can get to where God is guiding us.

Prepare

Leaders cannot lead unless someone is following them. For Joshua God told him in verse 2 to make sure the people are along for the ride. Vision casting is so essential for a leader during a time of change. Highlighting the issues with the current state is one way to cast vision.  This takes an enormous amount of prayer, time, and energy. Change without unity will often create division. The people of Israel are not different from people today. When change is about to happen they would rather go back into slavery than step out in faith. Today we would rather see our buildings crumble and our numbers shrink than have to take a step of faith and change.

Expect Challenges

Joshua 3:15 says mentions that the Jordan River that God told them to cross was at flood stage.  Change never happens when it is convenient and change will bring challenges. Oftentimes the challenges are overwhelming. Can you imagine the questions that Joshua had to field about his great plan? Whatever changes are about to come in your life the one thing you can expect is challenges. Prayerfully respond to questions and challenges in a way that honors God. It is also good to anticipate the challenges and questions before they come and share them in a way that honors God and casts vision for what the future holds. Optimism should come from the top down or negativity will certainly fill the void.

Go Where God’s Calling

God gave Joshua clear directions. That did not eliminate the gravity of what God was leading Joshua to do. It was not small task and included great peril. Every leader will lead through change. Change that originates from God’s promoting includes God’s blessing. Jonah is a great example of what happens when you go somewhere that God is not leading. So unless you want God to use you as bait on his next fishing trip follow his direction with courage, boldness, and the confidence that he is ultimately in control.

Give God the Credit

Change that is successful is very exciting. When we give God credit we are acknowledging how great and worthy of worship He is. I was once told that if we take credit for the good things, than we must also take credit for when it goes wrong. God is a God of change and he deserves the honor that goes along with who he is. The most successful believers I know are also the humblest people I know. When we give God the credit than we can also claim the promise that he claimed to Joshua, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” (vs5)


 1 http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_change.html#OFVHwz6wQc1P1oKQ.99

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Websites, Social Media, Google, Apps, Smart TV’s, and A Relationship With God

Websites, social media, Google, Apps, smart TV’s, and a relationship with God. Church leaders have responsibility to effectively communicate God’s message while navigating today’s complex communication infrastructure. Most church leaders have some exposure to today’s ever-changing communication tools. Some have embraced the changes and have done everything they can to stay cutting edge, while others have resisted and tried to embrace a simpler image.  Like many of you, I have attended workshops and read books and articles about best online practices. I am going to sum up the bulk amount of information that you would receive with one statement. Your church needs to have an online presence and needs to be engaged in social media. Here is why. The church is the hope of the world and not everyone within our churches' spheres of influence are attending.  As a church leader, I have a responsibility to provide the infrastructure to reach out to those disconnected from the church.

According to statistics, 87%of the population of the United States spends time online.[1] This provides so many opportunities to churches to interact with people who may never consider walking into the doors of the church. Since we have already established that we need to be online let's talk about some of the little more advanced things that churches can do to increase their online effectiveness.

Google

SEO

How is your SEO. Assuming you have a website for your church the next critical question is, can someone find it? SEO or search engine optimization is the key to making sure that Google and other search engines can find your site. When you “Google” search for churches in your city, does your web site show up as one the first couple of pages? If not than you need to investigate why Google does not see your site the way you would want it to be seen. The web is full of SEO tips and tricks. Here is a link to one (http://www.cio.com/article/2460827/seo-sem/top-25-diy-tips-for-better-seo.html).

Reviews

One of the most powerful tools in Google is the review stars. Think about it.  If you are looking to try a new restaurant, would you go to the one that had 2.5 stars or the one that had 5 stars? The answer is obvious and the same goes for churches. That is why online reviews of your church are critical. Here are some quick tips about Google and online reviews.
  • You must have 5 reviews for the stars to show up
  • Seekers are trained to look at reviews before they go to the site
  • Reviews allow members to tell their stories about how the church has impacted them
  • Reviews show up on maps
  • Google will pull in reviews from other sites like Yelp and YP
  • The more reviews the better the chance the church has to move up in Google’s rankings
Encourage your people to give online reviews about the church. When a person joins your church, ask them to go to Google and share their story. That story may be exactly what someone who is looking for a church needs to hear. A quick word of caution, many activists organizations have learned this trick and have attacked a church online by giving bad reviews if they disagree with the teachings of that church. Read your reviews because that person who is looking for a church will! [2]

Ads

Long story short. My church is in Tallahassee FL. However, for some reason we are literally feet from the boundary line of what Google considers Tallahassee. So, if you were looking for churches in Tallahassee you would never find us. The only way I am able to overcome this is by paying for a Google ad. It does cost money but every day the amount I have allotted for that ad is used by people clicking on a link and being taken to my church web site. We pay a certain amount per click. That value is determined by how much I want to pay for certain words for phrases. For example, Baptist church may cost less than the name of your city and church. The cost is based on how popular the words you choose are. Another factor in the cost is how many other organizations in your market are paying for those same words.


If you decide to run an ongoing or short-term ad, you will then set-up a budget for how much you want to spend per day. When that money has been used by people clicking the ad goes away. Start off small, even just a couple of dollars per day will get you thousands of impressions (number of times the ad is seen) and a handful of people clicking to view your site.


Video and Web Design

Based upon the data received from tracking how people move through my church's site along with conversations with professional website builders I have found that the importance of video on a church's website cannot be understated. Your website needs to be clean, functional, and above all else a platform for people who are not members of your church to find out more about your church. Some of the most important information is service times, physical location, and how the church handles children. In a conversation with new members to my church, almost all of them said they visited our site before they came in the door. In fact, many of them watched us live before coming. So that brings up two important video elements that churches need to work towards.

The first being a Sunday video archive. Here you can get a glimpse for the Sunday services and if you were unable to attend one week, to catch up before the next Sunday. Here a couple of thoughts about how to archive
  • Audio is the most important part of an online video; spend some time making sure it sounds good. What you see is important but what your hear is critical
  • Most churches do not need to upload the entire worship service. Trying to upload your music is very hard and typically sounds poor. As special song is fine but unless you have a studio to post mix a service, don’t do it. Most people who are visiting your page just want to hear the sermon.
  • Upload the messages as soon as possible and share them on social media when they are live
  • There are a number of free services that can be used to upload including Vimeo and YouTube.
  • There are advantages to paying for a service or using one that comes native with our website
Once you have a good archiving system setup you are now ready to live stream your service. Each week I am amazed at how valuable the live streaming of the Sunday services are to our members. When you live stream it you create a higher level of commitment to your church. Whenever people watch,  whether they are sick or out of town, you know that people really want to hear the word and they find value in the relationship they have with the church. Here are some thoughts about live streaming.

  • Check your bandwidth, (don’t try to stream HD unless you have 9 MB of upload speed)
  • Paid streaming platforms are great but not cheap, (we use Faith Network http://www.faithnetwork.com/ ) but free ones are also good but they have ad’s.
  • Encourage people to watch the live stream when they are out of town
  • Spend time with the shut-ins and let them know how to access the stream

Social Media

There are two important things to remember when considering social media. The first is to claim/create an account for your church for every major social media site. Below is a list of some of the popular sites. When you create an account, do not feel you have to use it, just give a little bit of information about your church and be sure to create a link back to your churches website because this also helps your SEO!
  • Facebook  900,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors
  • Twitter 310,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors
  • LinkedIn 255,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors
  • Pinterest 250,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors
  • Google Plus+ 120,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors
  • Tumblr 110,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors
  • Instagram 100,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors [3]
The second thing to remember is to not get overwhelmed with the need to be constantly posting to all of these. I would suggest using the platform that most of your members are using. Based off statistics that would probably be Facebook. One of the nice things with Facebook is the ability to schedule posts. Pick a day of the week and schedule all your posts for that week to post right before people get off work typically between 3-7pm. The key to social media is to only do what you can do, but always try and to something.


Newer Online Tools

I wish I knew what new things were coming that will revolutionize the way churches handle communication and community, but since I don’t below are two newer services that I think you would enjoy and could really help your church to grow.

Google Business View

This service will allow a Google selected photographer to come inside your building and take pictures that will then be uploaded to Google maps. This will allow people to see inside your building just like in Google maps street view. This would allow people to virtually walk through your building and see the worship center looks like, move down the hall way and see the preschool room. This cost a one-time fee of about $500 (depending of on the size of the campus). This new service could be critical in allowing people to experience your church before they even visit the churches website. Click on the link below to contact a local Business view professional (http://www.google.com/maps/about/partners/businessview/)

Apps

Apps are  not just for your phone anymore. A new type of app shows a lot promise and these apps run on your smart TV or ROKU/Amazon Fire stick. These apps will give people access to live video, archive video from your site, and allow you to watch church services on your TV. This is why I am so excited about what this could do. For example if you order a  ROKU/Amazon Fire  stuck that could be distributed to shut-ins who have wireless internet you could easily teach them how to click on the app and from their own home, they could watch the services live or the archived ones on your site!

Life is busy. Ministry is busy. The idea of doing some of these things may seem overwhelming. There is help out there and some of the greatest social media experts are in your churches. Mobilizes them and embrace some of the new technologies. Remember that all it takes is for one person comes to know Christ and its all worth it!


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[1] http://www.internetworldstats.com/am/us.htm
[2] Some information taken from presentations by Scott N. Smith, Consultant, Evangelism Ministries, Georgia Baptist Convention
[3] http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats14.htm#north