Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Making Facebook Work This Year.

I've been contemplating the efficacy of facebook for a church (or other organization).  I'd like to take some time this new year to reflect on what seems to work and what doesn't.


What you see above doesn't work.  It gives information, you're right.  It shows what we were doing, at the time, certainly.  There is nothing wrong with sharing information and announcements on facebook, but that can't be the totality of it...in fact i'm not convinced that facebook is even particularly good at working like a calendar or bulletin, but I think there are ways to do that...I'll get to that in another post.   What I want to say today: facebook is meant to connect with people on a relational level.  There should seldom be a post that doesn't share a photo, video or link to an interesting story.

But, just because you have a link or a photo doesn't mean its good.  Some churches augment their 'announcement feed' with links to denominational news stories or, worse yet, stock photos**.  If that is the extent of what we do, then we are doomed.

I want to suggest that developing a successful church facebook page comes with continually developing original content.  There is no other way to do it effectively...

Photos:  Pick up a digital camera or the nearest smart phone and take photos.  Not blurry snapshots and not all of them can be from the back of the room.  Get in close to people and show happy expressions.  OH, and please, get a variety of people.

Get Permission:  It should go without saying, but please take the time to ask permission from adults to use their photos and make a permission slip for photo an video a part of your sunday school registration so that you can easily know which parents are cool with you using their children's photos and which ones don't.  Don't post photos where children's faces are clearly visible without permission (the exception, for me, is public performances where the photo or video is of a large group from a distance)!

Video:  It can be as simple as an iphone or as complicated as a professional camcorder, but there are middle-of-the-road options for most churches.  Get a digital camcorder with an external mic plug (there are some inexpensive ones).  With an adapter or two from radio shack you can plug the church microphones into your camera and have decent sound if you do an interview.  But, again, don't just put up anything.  Just because it is video, doesn't mean it is good.  Just panning across a crowd will cause yawns to form and people will not click your next video.  Sure, pan the crowd and get videos from behind children and adults so that you have some b-roll that you can use without faces...but get some close up videos and pull people out of the room and ask them to tell what is happening; why they chose to come; and what they like about the event / the church.  Remember, we are not reporting just WHAT happened, but who and how it makes us feel.  and then... most computers have a basic video editing program.  open it up and put together a short video.  For the most part (for shots around the church or short interviews): don't go over 2-3 minutes, in fact, 30 seconds - 1 minute will give you the best results in my experience.

Recommendations:  There is a very under-used section on facebook pages called recommendations.  For a company it is used for customers to 'recommend' the company or the product they sell: "I love [restaurant]'s food because it makes me think of home," "Everytime I walk into this [business] it makes me think of the day I got engaged."  Companies use this section to connect.  Churches need to start asking people to think about what they love about the church and post it there.  It is called evangelism and this is a very simple yet powerful way to share our feelings about our church in a visible way.  Oh, and don't be afraid to remove unhelpful recommendations or comments that get put there... and seek out a variety of voices for this section: get your youth and college students involved here.

Insights:  There are a million tutorials for facebook and the most accurate are right in the facebook help section...  spend some time learning about insights.  They are powerful tools that help you understand how your page is being used.  Very basically, the more that people like, share and comment about a post or recommendation...the more others are going to see your church and know that your organization is an active force in the community (that is "Reach")

Comment, Share, and LIKE:  Talk with your church staff or leaders to set an expectation that they would spend some time on the page and encourage them to regularly like, comment and share posts.  Now, here is the thing:  discourage people from liking everything.  Why?  My friends are likely to stop paying attention if something from my church comes up on their feed 5 times a day from me, but when staff and church leaders see something that actually connects with them - they should be sharing it.  When a person sees a variety of postings from your church that many of their facebook friends are connecting with, they may actually pay attention!

Oh, and if you are the page admin, don't be afraid to share items to other people's timelines.  For instance, when we had a Cantata I put up a video 'as the church' and then shared it to the choir director's timeline.  If it is an item that especially needs attention, "Like" it yourself or comment on it (as yourself, not the page).

Voice: I can not stress this one enough...  Use the right voice on facebook pages!  There is a blue bar at the very top of the page, if you are the admin.  It will look something like this:


For most posts for major events, youtube videos, etc. I make sure that I am posting, commenting and like as "Normal First UMC," but the staff and I have been trying to upload some photos short video clips and comments using our own voices...  (just go to the blue bar and click to change to your own "voice").  In the new facebook timeline they appear in a seperate section that gets less notice on the page, but they don't have to stay there!  Go to the "recent posts by others" click on "see more" and you'll see all the personal posts that have gone up.  Click on the X.  It doesn't delete it (although you could) but it gives you options and one of those options is "allow on page."  That moves the post by someone else to the main part of the page.  It gives a more personal face to the page and to the church.

Hiding:  One last thing, this season we did advent devotional.  Each day I wanted to put up the most recent devotional as a note, but, I didn't want 31 notes clogging up the page and making it look...well...boring.  So I put up the next day's note each evening and "hid" yesterday's note.  The note wasn't deleted and people could still comment on them and they were still showing up in people's feeds, but there weren't 31 notes in a row on the timeline by now, either.  This is critical to understand: what you see on your page timeline is not the totality of your church's presence.  Facebook is a complicated mix of timeline, notifications, newsfeeds and ads.  Posts exist even when they are hidden from your timeline and old items can be made new, simply by having people go back and like them (or re-sharing an old photo or video).

A successful page will have annoucements (although usually in the form of "events"), sure, but will have a focus on relationship building and content that is personal (not stock photos or, too often, denomination news links).  If you'd like to see some of things I'm talking about in action, feel free to stop by www.facebook.com/normalfirst.  Our page is far from perfect, but we are moving in the right direction.  I think that the staff are making great strides in how we take our church online and aim to 'connect' not just inform.


I hope your new year on facebook will be fruitful for you and your church!














**Hey, we occasionally use stock photos...but I suggest there is usually something better to use, it just takes more effort.

Monday, October 22, 2012

That's your new website? Really?

Image found at:  http://www.webtemplatesgallery.com/


I'm in the midst of thinking about church websites.  I started, as many pastors do, by looking at what I think are "better" church websites.  What I find are a lot of sites that look the same:

  1. You have the static, old HTML format pages that are out-of-date, not relatable,  and ...well... ancient.  No thanks.
  2. You have the cookie-cutter sites from E-zekiel or some other company that are obvious from a mile away, are unintuitive, have back-end management systems that are either so complicated that staff job descriptions should require programming languages or are so watered down that you can't implement mainstream apps like google and youtube, well, enough said, No thanks.
  3. Or you have, what I'll call, the next-wave church website.  They are much better.  They are visually stimulating and are setup for more dynamic content and they are far less expensive than they used to be.  But they still all look much like one another...  they are still trapped in this mindset of "come to us," and they still tend to be 'information-based' instead of relational.
These websites have come a long way, but I feel like even the best of them are still running behind corporate websites saying, "We want to be like you.  Wait up!"

What is it we need for the church of this millennium?  What is the right answer for us?

In my blog I have already been shouting (in fact, I'm blue in the face) that we need dynamic, relational content on our sites...but I've, sadly, always been thinking of the existing model of church website with 'dynamic' content and more relational content in an existing structure.

This week I've been thinking that this is altogether the wrong concept.

Right now, the typical church website tends to have information about itself, some stories about upcoming events (all of this in a depressingly informational style), a calendar, a link to sermons / bulletins, and the *ALL-IMPORTANT* newsletter.  Hmmm,  Church websites, then, are taking a variety of things we already and making their proprietary website a forum for distributing them.

Why are we letting a gutenberg-based (500 year old technology) medium, for instance, dictate how we do church communications?  Why all the disjunct technologies and modes put together in such a contrived fashion???  How do we think completely out-of-the-box to redefine how our church communicates both on-line and internally?

I have a couple of thoughts, but, to be fair, I need to work on them here in Normal before I say anymore here online!  Put on your thinking caps and let's get outside of the box.  Let's transform church communications.

Here is to Creative and Effective Communicating!


Re-Thinking Communications at Church





In the church we are pretty good at one thing:  continuing to do what we've always done without asking ourselves "why?"  Now, I'll give you one thing:  we do often ask, "how do I do this better?" But we're often operating under the delusion that the newsletter or mailing formula we've used is the only way to do it.  Usually we are looking at a newsletter or bulletin or congregational letter and we are saying, "This is okay but I want it to look better or be more effective."

That is simply the wrong approach.

Lately, I've been looking at church newsletters and bulletins (not just the ones from my churches) and I've asked myself that first question a lot over the past few months.  I've considered some re-designs.  I've thought about whitespace, flow, and consistency.  I've looked at these documents from every perspective of design and communication that I can think of...

...but I had failed to ask the really pertinent questions.  I had failed to think fully outside of the box.

This week I took some time to contemplate questions like, "What are we trying to accomplish," and "what media (and format) would work best to do that?"

I made several realizations that I hope to share with you in the near future, once I put them into practice.

In the meantime, I beg all pastors and church leaders interested in effective communications in their church to do as I've done this week:  set aside your current publications and think bigger:


  1. What are you trying to accomplish with your church?
  2. What audiences do you need to communicate with?
    (worshipers, inactive members, active leaders, outsiders)
  3. What do you want to communicate to each of these audiences?
  4. What is the most effective means to use?
blessings,


Monday, June 11, 2012

How Do I Do This Job?!?


An appointment to a new church can be a anxiety-laden experience.

  • You still have to have your head in the game at your current church.
  • You need to start developing relationships with people at the new church
  • and...you have to begin thinking about what ministry is possible with the new congregation.
First, I admit that I have it easy in this appointment change because I am on a medical leave after my brain surgery.  I am working 'ahead' on some things from the comfort of my home, but I am still anxiously imagining ministry in this new place that I don't yet know or fully understand yet.

I know, I know, partly I just have to go be with them and the rest will come...but that doesn't stop my head from spinning with ideas.

First and foremost on my mind, of course, is communication.  As an associate pastor I'm not sure how much I can influence the church in communicating in the ways I've been outlining on this blog, but that won't hamper my enthusiasm...
  • I am concerned with developing a more effective (and relational) presence on Facebook.  They are a urban, on-campus church of about 1500 members but have 40 people on their Facebook page.  I can't help but think we can explode that!  We can develop an atmosphere of check-ins, upload more photos and videos from around the church, and encourage relational posts (and sharing blogs).  What else are people doing out there?  Help me dream!
  • I think that blogging is one of the most effective ways a church can develop an online presence, but I'm just an associate pastor.  Does anyone have ideas for how an associate can get others blogging?  Anyone out there doing it effectively, especially where there isn't currently a culture of blogging?
  • This next one may surprise you.  I think that printed media can be a highly effective mode of communication. So much communication is shifting to the internet that more-and-more people will be surprised by and notice real life mail, I think.  Yet, what a church puts out should not simply be a repository of small type and long articles.  It has to be concise, relational...and (this is the big one) high quality.  It has to look and be great!  And, by the way, what we put in worshiper's hands on Sunday morning should be high quality and add to the worship experience, hopefully adding to the experience visually (with photos).  How important is it to have color capability?  How does one help train and inspire staff in not just publishing technique, but also taste?  (Again, not an indictment on the current staff...I just don't know yet)
  • Oh, and the website... well, there is work to be done but until we develop social media and dynamic content I'm not sure it's time to put too much energy into the internet presence with the least future potential.  This article shows that blogging and social media combined is outpacing website connections for churches and I think we're only at the beginning. (38 percent of respondents said they had accessed a religious website and 41 percent had liked a religious institution, friended a religious leader, or read a religion oriented blog)  Most importantly, we should note:  17% had read a blog whereas people who had visited their religious institutions website (19%) won by a surprisingly narrow margin of only 2%.

Well, those of you involved with organizations, please leave me comments on how you do communication or send me an email!
















Title image was found at:  http://www.ksrealitybites.com/2010/02/online-therapy-for-office-stress.html

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Social Media Pentecost


To Ponder:  Full Pentecost Scripture

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.  (Acts 2:1-4)

When the day of pentecost came, the believers were emboldened with the Holy Spirit.  They were able to be understood by the people around them, even if they spoke other languages.  The religious people of this past century have begun to struggle in being heard and understood by a new generation and their new and "troubling" ways of communicating.  I believe that the Holy Spirit is coming upon believers who are open to it and alighting us with new language and new ways of being heard!

Pastors and lay people alike who feel the Spirit upon them and who God has given the language of social media must be a new church, just like the earliest believers at Pentecost.

This is our chance.  This is a new day and there will be a new church whether we like it or not.  It will look different and it will not be confined by the traditional walls that we have come to associate with 'church.'  Will the mainline (or I prefer to say: old-line) churches (United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Presbyterians, etc) be a part of this new church?

If we can let go of the structure and fear that is holding us back, we will.  And the price is too high to not be a part of this new church.  We have theological gifts to share with a new generation.


Unfortunately... and I can only speak for the United Methodist Church, but our UM Communications and, in Illinois, our Conference Communication team make the church look old-fashioned (that's honest, mostly, I suppose) and they move too slowly and carefully.  Worse, they focus on communications rather than relationships!  Our denominations are stymied and they make us look terrible (recently at our annual charge conference we were shown a video of our bishop that made him look like a used car salesman, oh- and the district office couldn't provide my church a digital copy when asked!!!).  But at the local church level and in our own communities we can now accomplish bigger things than they are even capable of with social media.  Our reach can be effective in our local communities (even the most rural) and they can grow our local, walled churches...  yet our reach can also,now, go well beyond our local communities and walled churches.  When we effectively use the internet, social media, and blogging we can share faith, touch lives, and experience community in places that we never before dreamed possible.

If you are listening for the Holy Spirit in this new generation and want to speak out and connect with new people, I have some suggestions:

  1. Make sure you have Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts and (and this is the really important part) grow your presence:
    1. Work hard to cultivate a following by:
      1. posting often
      2. posting quality and relational materials
      3. try not to use insider language
      4. continually adding friends / followers
    2. Look at other accounts / pages / walls / feeds and share interesting items
    3. Don't be afraid to share personal things about yourself (within safety and reason).  Use these avenues as a way to foster relationships!
  2. Get a blog account!!!
    1. There are several sites that can help you, I especially recommend:  Blogger (by Google, just use your Google user/pass) or Wordpress.
    2. Get your blog and social media accounts connected to your webpage.  It makes your page more dynamic and personal.
    3. Share your blog by social media.  It turns 140 characters into a full and on-going narrative.
    4. I can't emphasize this enough:  don't be afraid to share your own personal stories, yet connect them to your faith.
    5. Keep it short.  Think in terms of a 1/2 to full page of paper at most when you write your blog! (This blog post is pushing the limit)
  3. Keep your eyes peeled for new ways to connect online.  If lots of people are using 4square or LinkedIn, etc...then go where the people are.

Paul used tent making to build relationships, John Wesley went out to the masses in England preaching in fields and cemeteries...I don't know what it will look like entirely yet, but we have to find new venues and ways to build relationships and share our faith story!  Now, in 2012, we must be a Pentecost people!  We must feel the Holy Spirit as it enlivens us to share our faith and we must speak the languages that God is giving us the gift to speak.  It is our time and our new and exciting world.  Let's share our faith as disciples of Christ!!!













Title image found at:  http://peacesojourner.blogspot.com/2011_06_01_archive.html

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ministry from the Backyard.


I'm still on medical leave from my pastoral duties...at least officially. Although I preached this morning for a confirmation service at my church, I get to walk away without the worries and responsibilities of being a pastor for the rest of the week.


I came home and relaxed in my recliner and did all the things that a guy should do when he's recovering from surgery...but, then, when my wife got home I joined her in the backyard. She wanted to write a blog, but also enjoy the day. I couldn't argue with that. I went out and did the same.

I logged onto facebook, then twitter, and then went over my blog stats and posts. I really did very little, yet I communicated with a number of friends, member of my church family, and people in the community. As I sit in the sun and write blog posts (feeling the wind whip past me and the sun on my arms) I am connecting with other people and building relationships. A pastor who only did this all week would be...well, quite simply, lazy... Yet, shifting some responsibilities to make time for social media is a smart move.

Getting a small laptop or iPad and going to the local coffee shop or a restaurant...or using an iphone to update your status (or check-in) from a community event or location will enhance and deepen your ministry and your connection to the people who live near you.

It is time for pastors to recognize that making time for social media, not at the end of the week when everything else is done, but throughout their week (as a priority) will help them to do every other element of their ministry in today's new context!













NOTE:  The photos above were taken with intstagram.  If you are a pastor with an internet-connected smartphone, you need to get the app and start a photostream!  It's a fun way to share your world with others.