Monday, October 22, 2012

That's your new website? Really?

Image found at:

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 You have the static, old HTML format pages that are out-of-date, not relatable,  and ...well...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?

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
  • 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:

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:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ministry from the Backyard.

I'm still on medical leave from my pastoral 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.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Nuts & Bolts

Alright, I've spent a lot of time talking about my ideology of communication.  Yes, some of it is dated, but I want to move on.  I want to write a bit about the "nuts and bolts."  I want to inspect more specifically how we put good communication into practice.

Over the last few months I have started an experiment by accident and I think we can learn something from it.  Let me tell you:

A few months ago I was in an unusual situation.  My church had decided to make major staffing changes, so I knew I was moving.  I went to the doctor and found out I had a brain tumor, and then my senior pastor went on vacation for a month.

When I went in to talk to my District Superintendent (the pastor who supervises my district of churches), she shook her finger at me and told me that I needed to communicate VERY CLEARLY and often with my church.  My job, she reminded me, was to minimize anxiety and keep the church informed.

She was right, but also I didn't want my wife burdened during (and after) my surgery with lists of people to call and email, nor did I want her to feel inundated with calls when she was going through a lot.  Hmmm.  Well, Facebook, Twitter and my blog turned out to be the solution.  It was perfect because friends, family, church family, and even the people who weren't yet on facebook could stay connected to my progress without much effort on my wife's part.  We ended up starting a new blog and by the end of that month we had over 6000 hits.  It was a great success.

It was an accident, but  it worked beautifully.  It wasn't just information, it wasn't just what happened, but it was about how I felt.  Perhaps more importantly, it wasn't just words but also video and pictures.  It turns out that I finally did all the things I'd been expounding on this blog for so long!  I was using social media to build relationships.  In the process of authentically expressing myself, I was sharing my life and faith with a larger audience than I preach to each Sunday.  How cool is that?  It was an accident, but I was actually doing the mission statement of the church... perhaps even more effectively than on Sunday morning.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hanging On.

This blog has taken a backseat to VirtuesOfScripture and Musings...but don't fear, I'm still committed to it.  It's just hard to stay motivated when my other blogs have such wide readership and this one appeals to a... a much 'narrower' audience.  So if you see articles on this blog you like, be sure to "share" them on facebook and comment on them.  I think there is great value for the church in the conversation of good communication!

Title Image found at:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What Would Jesus Tweet?

Image found on HuffPost
I'm going to steal some words from Leonard Sweet today:  It's not a question of whether Jesus would have tweeted or not.  It's a question of what Jesus would tweet.

You see, Jesus engaged in the community of the day and, I believe, continues to engage.  It's not a question of whether God would use twitter.  God is using Twitter and Facebook and Google...the church may not be, but God is present and active in community and our community is ever-shifting to the internet.

Today we have to ask ourselves a lot of questions about how we are going to communicate as a church.  We seem to think, these days, that the goal is to get our church on the internet and that will be 'good enough.' Maybe a website or a facebook page will get more people to come to us...where the real church is (behind a big stone wall).  No.  Not good enough.  We have to take our experiences of Christ into our online communities if we are to live out our faith authentically.

Do we remind people not just to "like" the church (which, btw, is waaayyy luke-warm) with our bulletin or do we ask people to check-in to show their friends they were at church.  Do we put an informational announcement out on our facebook page or do we RT (re-tweet) the pastor or church friend so that our followers become her or his followers?

What the "Googler" generation has grown up in (and what us older people may never catch onto) is a culture about relationships.  It is not just about what we say, but, just as importantly, how  we say it.  The church needs to delve into the relationship-building connections of the web.  We need to become more social and less institutional...and we need to find authentic ways to share God's love with the people of this world.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A New Church Audience: Online?

Image from flicker:  H Sundholm:  "This door belongs to Torshälla kyrka, i.e. the church in Torshälla, outside of Eskilstuna in Sweden."

The days of "going to" church are nearly over.  No, those days have been over for some time, now.  The days when people looked for their own denomination when they moved into town and came knocking at the doors to get in were lost in the 1960's.  There is a remnant, but the church has failed to respond to everyone else...

Today we have an opportunity to share the experience of faith with remarkable crowds.  Don't believe me?  While I was preparing for and recovering from surgery I blogged.  Over the past 6 weeks my wife and I have averaged 1000 hits per week on that blog.  One of the posts, alone, boasts over 400 hits.  On a Sunday morning I don't preach to crowds that large, sadly.  That means that if we take our faith to the web in dynamic, interactive ways there are untapped ways to share the Gospel.

We don't need to advertise the upcoming rummage sale or fundraiser, we need to authentically share our experience of life and faith.  That is what changes lives.