Christians Under Construction Week 4

Family-DevotionsChristians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. It was originally developed for a congregation stewardship series and intended as a weekly resource. I thought I’d republish here for those interested in using them. Here is week four:

2 Timothy 3:16- 17 All Scripture is Godbreathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Bill Jr. had finally saved up enough allowance to buy the model airplane he had his eye on for months. He had done odd jobs around the house, saved every penny of his allowance and always reminded himself how wonderful it would be to possess this new toy. On the Saturday afternoon after he had made the big purchase, his father, Bill Gentry, found his 12 year old son on the floor of his room crying.

“Bill, what’s wrong?” asked Bill Sr., bending down to lift his son’s chin. “I can’t make it work,” balled the distressed boy. “None of the pieces fit together right, and I think I broke one, and, and…” he let out another howl.

“Now, now, Bill, don’t cry. We’ll figure it out. Did it come with directions?” “I don’t know, I never thought to look. It looked so easy at first.” Bill Sr. responded half compassionately and half trying to hide his smile, “Well, don’t you think that might be a good place to start?”

He knew in the back of his mind that if his wife, Marilyn had been there, she would have fired off a comment like, “typical man!” He was thankful she was not.

So far this month we have been taking a look at how God has given each of us spiritual gifts to use in His service and the service of others. We talked a little about how special those gifts are and what some of those gifts might be. One thing needs to be made clear. Just because we may know what those gifts are, doesn’t necessarily mean we know how to use them. In other words, we need directions.

The obvious next question is, where can we find those directions? That is clarified for us in today’s Bible verse. It says that one of the reasons that God gave us the Bible is so that “the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Bible is our instruction manual for teaching us what our gifts are and how to use them. God provides better directions than any manual we have ever read, and he teaches us in many different ways. The Bible is very straightforward and addresses real questions with real answers. Funny, it almost knows the questions we need answered before we ask them. That’s because God knows what we need to know.

The Bible also provides excellent illustrations about how to use our gifts. Think of some of the parables Jesus used. Recall stories of people like David, Abraham, Moses, and Paul who could teach us a few things about how they used their spiritual gifts. What a wonderful guide to living life! And nobody should be afraid to ask for directions –men, women or children.

On occasion you will find instruction manuals that aren’t very clear, or complete. The Bible isn’t that way. In fact, not only is the Bible clear and complete, it’s compelling. It tells us how to use our gifts, and gives us motivation to do so. It tells us of Jesus, his death, his resurrection and his love for us. After reading that Good News, we want to use what God has given us “for every good work.”

Discussion Questions: Describe a time when you read directions and were even more confused than when you started. What can happen if you don’t read directions? How can that be dangerous when learning about spiritual gifts? In the verse for the day, what part of Scripture does it say is “useful”? Put together a plan to read “all Scripture.”

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading:2 Timothy 3

Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for the Bible. Each piece of it is so valuable in helping us learn about you, your love and our Savior. Help us to use your word as a tool to instruct us and equip us for every good work. Amen.

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Christians Under Construction Week 3

Family-DevotionsChristians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. Here is week three:

Romans 12:6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

Today was Mary Gentry’s birthday. She had waited 364 days in eager anticipation of turning six, as this meant it wouldn’t be long until she could be in kindergarten.

“Mom,” Mary shouted, running into her mother’s bedroom first thing in the morning, “is it really today? Has my birthday FINALLY come?” Marilyn Gentry, still trying to wake the sleep from her eyes responded, “Yes, Mary. It is today. But what time is it?”

Mary, now jumping up and down on her mother’s bed, screamed, “5 o’clock.” Mom replied, “Oh Mary, it’s Saturday. Mommy needs a bit more sleep if we are going to have that big party later this afternoon.”

Mary, totally ignoring her mother’s request, said, “Can I open some of my presents now? Can I? I can’t wait to see what I got!”

The afternoon finally arrived, and none to soon for Mary. She tore into her presents. Wrapping paper was flying everywhere. Before long she was done. She had no time for cake or conversation with the relatives who had arrived. She grabbed her gifts and was later found asleep with each one spread around her – totally exhausted from playing with her new toys.

Christians, in a way, have experienced the same excitement that Mary did on her 6th birthday. When we were born, or rather, reborn on our baptism day, we were given gifts. No, not the kind that our relatives or Godparents might give us, but gifts from God. And these gifts came in two varieties — the gift of faith and the gift of spiritual gifts. When we had that first birthday we were given the gift of faith by God. That faith, put into us by the Holy Spirit, knows Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. He is the one who paid the price for our sins. The gift of faith is much like a birthday gift from loving parents. It is usually the best gift we receive and the most appropriate for us. Our heavenly Father knows exactly what we need, and through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he gives it to us – eternal life.

Faith in Jesus however was not the only thing we received at that first birthday of ours. God tells us that he has also given us different spiritual gifts. These gifts are only given to his children. They include things like the ability to serve, teach, encourage, contributing to the needs of others, giving, leadership, showing mercy and many others.

If we were baptized as babies, we probably didn’t know what to make of these gifts God had given us. We may not even know we have them. But two things are certain. Like Mary we should be very excited about receiving them and even more excited to use them.

Read Romans 12 again and determine for yourself what spiritual gifts you have been given. Ask others what they think your spiritual gifts may be. And then plan on using them until you lay exhausted on the floor from enjoying their use. What a blessing they are from God.

Discussion Questions: What makes your baptism so special? Can you think of ways that you can celebrate your spiritual birthday? Which spiritual gifts do you think you have? How about those around you? How are these spiritual gifts different than other gifts you receive?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Romans 12

Prayer: Father in heaven, you have given each of us very special and precious gifts. We thank and praise you for the best gift of all, the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus. But you didn’t stop with that gift. You kept on giving. Now help us to use the gifts you have given us. May we use them to your glory. Amen.

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Christians Under Construction Week 2

Family-DevotionsChristians Under Construction is a series of devotions designed for family use each week focused on Christian stewardship. Here is week two:

(Please set aside an evening this week to use this devotion as your personal devotion or family devotion.)

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Bill Gentry loved his job. He worked as an advertising executive in one of the city’s largest agencies. He spent his days working with companies trying to help them create advertising campaigns, commercials and billboards. Much of what he did was to observe large companies and try to learn from their approach to advertising. One of his favorite companies to watch was Nike. “What creative campaigns they come up with!” he told a number of his associates. He especially liked their “just do it” campaign. It was simple and to the point, but you remembered it and you remembered who told you to do it – Nike. It meant that with those shoes you could do it…jump high, run fast, be like Mike, whatever. Bill was so impressed by the concept that he told others to “just do it”, he told himself to “just do it.” It was motivational for him.

Then on one Sunday morning he heard his pastor say the same thing. His pastor was talking about Ephesians 2:10, and in it he described one of God’s very own creative campaigns – God’s “just do it” campaign.

He listened intently and learned that God tells each and every one of us to “just do it” too — to do good works, God wasn’t trying to sell shoes however. He didn’t make a shoe that he claimed could make us run faster or jump higher. He didn’t stamp a swoosh on anything to identify it as something cool and hope we’d buy it. What God did do was make us. He calls us his “workmanship.” And rather than stamp us with a logo, he put faith in our hearts, a faith in Jesus our Savior.

What’s even more amazing is that he didn’t roll each of us off the same assembly line. God made each one of us by hand, gave us each faith, and determined ahead of time the “features” our model had. Wow! Each of us is unique with our own feature set.

God is so much more creative than we can even imagine! It is those God-given features that identify us as God’s workmanship–that we are made by Him and for Him. And it is those features, those spiritual gifts, that determine exactly what God wants us to do.

We don’t have a swoosh. We don’t even have to wear a cross, Christ already wore one. We simply need to “do it.” That shows the world who made us and to whom we belong. It shows God that we love him and are grateful for his craftsmanship.

God too says “just do it.” “Do what I’ve enabled you specifically to do. Do those good works I’ve prepared in advance for you to do.”

Be sure to read next week’s devotion to find out some of those “features” that God has built into us. For a sneak peak, you’ll want to read the “Family Reading” verses for today.

Discussion Questions: What have you ever been compelled to “just do?” Do you have other mottos that you live by? List some of the “features” you think God has given to you. Discuss why everybody has different spiritual gifts.

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: Romans 12

Prayer: Father in heaven, you have made each of us with different gifts, but you crafted each one of us with love. Please help us be like Christ, who did it for us, who paid for our sins on the cross. Help us to do good works, those which you have prepared for us to do. Amen.

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Christians Under Construction Week 1

Family-DevotionsA number of years back I developed a series of Stewardship devotions called Christians Under Construction that could be used in family devotional settings.  Their focus is on how we can best use our Time, Talent and Treasure resources. I plan to re-release these this fall as our children head back to school and help us all think about our service to the Lord. Here is the first one:

1 Corinthians 12:1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.

Bill Gentry was startled to hear screams coming from the upstairs bathroom. As he entered to see what was happening, he observed his son, Bill Jr., angrily scolding his 5 year old sister Mary. “You’ve ruined it! You’ve ruined it! What were you thinking? You’re so stupid.”

“Who’s stupid?” dad asked.

“Dad, she was using my GameBoy as a life raft for her Barbies. Now it’s ruined. She’s such a dummy!”

Bill Sr., in the most fatherly voice he could muster replied, “Now Billy, let’s just settle down for a minute. It’s clear that Mary didn’t know any better. She is only 5 years old. There are still many things she is ignorant about.”

Both Mary and Bill Jr. cocked their heads, and almost in unison sputtered, “what’s ignorant?” Billy added, “and why does that give her the right to ruin my video games?”

The family patriarch paused for a minute, sat them both down at the kitchen table and explained, “Being ignorant means not knowing those things that you haven’t learned yet. Billy, you are in 7th grade, so you haven’t learned the things that are taught in the 8th grade yet. So you are ignorant about all those things. You don’t know them. You can’t use that knowledge, because you don’t have it in your head yet. Mary doesn’t have it in her head yet that she can’t use your GameBoy as a flotation device for her Barbies, regardless of how desperate their situation might be.” Bill Sr. mustered a wry smile, just so the two of them knew he was trying to inject a bit of humor. Sometimes his kids weren’t all too sure.

He continued, “There are worse things to be ignorant about you know.” Billy responded, “like what?” “Well,” said the father, “in the Bible it says, ‘Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant’. Spiritual gifts are some of the special talents and abilities that God has given each of us to use. This Bible verse says that we should learn about those gifts so we can use them to please God.” Mary injected, “Oh I want to please God! But daddy, how do we do that?” “Good question Mary,” dad continued, “first you have to know what pleases God. The only way to learn what pleases God is to read and study the Bible. You know, like we do in our family devotions, and at church and Sunday School. There we learn about those special talents God has given us and how to use them.”

Billy’s head perked up as if he had an idea that would impress the two of them, “Dad, why don’t we use our family devotion time to talk more about those spiritual gift things the Bible mentioned? If the Bible says we should get smart about those, I think we should. I don’t want anybody calling me ignorant, especially God.”

Discussion Questions: Describe, in your own words, the word “ignorant.” Can you think of things about which you are ignorant? Why would it be bad to be ignorant about spiritual gifts? How can we become “smarter” about them? What would be the absolute worst thing to be ignorant about? Why?

(Note to parents: You may want to review the facts of the story to reinforce the lesson.)

Family Reading: 1 Corinthians 12

Prayer: Father in heaven, please help us to learn more and more about you and those wonderful gifts you give us. Teach us not to be ignorant about the lessons in your word. Especially help us never to forget what your son Jesus did for us. We thank and praise you for that gift, and the wonderful news that our sins are forgiven through faith in Him. Over the coming weeks help us to live lives of thanks by learning more about what you have given us. Amen.

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Moto X Review

The latest smartphone from Motorola, fresh off their acquisition by Google, is the Moto X. While the raw specs are a bit behind the likes of the HTC One and the Galaxy S4, this phone has done a lot right. The highest praise you can give a phone is that it simply does everything you want it to do! The Moto X does this, with one minor exception. More on that later.

The Screen

Let’s start with the screen. At a 720 x 1280 screen some would say that is an inferior resolution compared with the “modern” smart phones of today. If you were just looking at the numbers, yes. But in the real world 720 or 1080 makes no difference on a smart phone screen. It’s a beautiful screen and more than adequate for every kind of application (video, email, pictures, etc.). The benefit of the lesser resolution is improved battery life. Let’s go there next.

The Battery

The 2200 mAh battery, again is not the largest capacity on the market today, but it is a nice compromise between performance and battery size. Larger batteries mean larger phones. Moto X doesn’t need the extra capacity due to some of the other “concessions” they have made to make this a complete phone and associated experience. One of those concessions and benefits, at the same time, is the processor technology the phone uses. Motorola has pioneers the “X8″ processor technology that takes less power and provides one of the best functions on the phone…it is always listening to you. The X8 processor has “just” two cores, but it is redesigned from the ground up to make the always-on speech awareness of the phone possible without the extra cores that other phones have. In laymen’s terms, one of the processors does only a few things while consuming almost no battery — I can get a day and half of regular use on one charge. I haven’t owned another Android phone that comes even close.

I’m Listening

One of the most useful and admittedly “coolest” features of the Moto X is it’s handsfree operation. All other phones require you to “wake” it before it can respond to your voice. Even the almighty Siri on the iPhone peacefully rests until you physically wake it by long pressing the home button. Not so the Moto X. You simply say “OK Google Now” within earshot of the phone, can it now is ready to respond to your vocal commands. This is a wonderful feature, especially if you are in the car. A simple “OK Google Now, call Debbie on cell” wakes the phone, searches my address book and makes the call. The same works for navigation, general questions like weather, sports, etc. Competitors call it a gimmick. I just call it plain useful.

Apps, Check

The Apple versus Google apps argument is pretty much mute now. The iTunes app store and Google Play stores are on equal footing, at least for the apps I need/use. The Moto X comes with the stock Android user interface which Google users will appreciate. The Google apps like Gmail, Google Plus and Hangouts are nicely designed and very useable on the phone. Just a word about Google Hangouts. If you haven’t tried it, you should. It basically beats Skype in almost every category — reliability, multi-video conference (for free), screen sharing, add ons, recording, live streaming. The list goes on. It is the tool I use for our WELSTech Podcast, for connecting with family members when on the road, and for meetings in general.

In The Hand

The final positive impression I’d like to provide is simply the physical phone itself. It feels well made. BTW, made in the USA is one of their selling points. The speaker is very good if you prefer not to use headphones (not provided). The build quality is much better, in my opinion, than my last phone, the Samsung Galaxy S3. While you don’t get a removable battery, you really don’t need to given the great battery life of the enclosed one. Call quality is excellent, and you can get it in many different colors and color combos.

The Uh…Camera

While this is the best phone I’ve owned to date, it does have one rather major shortcoming. The camera. In a word, it’s “terrible.” If you are wanton to take a lot of pictures in various lighting situation, this may not be the phone for you. I have been unable to take a picture that even rivals the rather marginal camera on the Galaxy S3. Sad. The camera is fast, and the controls are easy to use, but those are irrelevant kudos if the picture itself is dull, grainy, blurry, etc. This is not a showstopper for me since I don’t take many pictures with my phone. I leave those I care about to my Canon. The news, however, may not be all bad on this front. Motorola has begun to roll out a “fix” for the camera that for some has significantly improved the 10 megapixel camera. I don’t have that update yet, as it is being rolled out by carrier. I will provide an update once the update is in place and I’ve been able to run a few comparison tests.

In The End

As you can tell my impressions of the Moto X are very positive (sans camera). But the true test of any phone is not it’s features or screen or camera on their own merits. It’s the package. Does the phone do everything you want it to do? Is it the productivity and communications tool you need it to be? In the case of the Moto X, it does everything I need it to do.

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The Home Page

Screenshot_6_12_13_6_50_PMSome of you I’m sure are aware of a weekly technology/ministry podcast I do with co-worker Sallie Draper. This summer we are taking a show each week to “write” an ebook. So I thought I’d share that content here. The book is all about content for your website. Whether you maintain and church or school website, content creation is hard. Hopefully these morsels will provide some nourishment to you webmasters. Follow along at http://welstech.wels.net.

Here is Chapter One entitled The Home Page.

Your site Home Page is the most visited page of the site and often users make a split second determination to either stay on the site or “move on” based on their inital reaction to your Home Page. Attention to the page layout and content is critical to creating a good first impression of your organization.

Here are a few design components to keep in mind as you decide on your Home Page content:

Clean up your act – Consider a first-time visit you’ve made to a church or school, and think about the impression that you formed, even before you walked through the doors of the building. What does the external maintenance of the grounds and building say about a congregation? A LOT! I’m sure you remember some locations where grounds were maintained meticulously and, in contrast, some that were in need of some TLC. And I’m sure you remember how this external appearance caused you to form an opinion about those who worship at a location. In the same way, your Home Page causes people to form opinions about your congregation or school. Does it say you are … Christ-driven, member-focused or cheap?

Dynamic – Give your site visitor something new each time they visit to keep them coming back. Don’t bore them with the same content that was added to the site 5 years ago when it was created. Keep it fresh. Respond to events in the world and promote events in your congregation.

Less is more – Keep it short and to the point on the home page. Sub-pages are fine for lengthy content, but the home page should be sparse in content and draw visitors to explore the site further.

Simple navigation and few links – Just because your site is home to 100 or 1,000+ great pages, links to every one of them do NOT have to be on the home page or in the navigation.

Give ‘em what they are looking for – Audience is key. What do they want? Read more on churchm.ag

The User’s Eye

Websites are not newspapers…however some of the same principles do apply. Headlines are great! Big bold titles on articles or sections will help your visitor do a quick assessment of what’s there and what’s changed since they last visited. More on that “what’s changed” part later. Subheads can also be good, just like newspapers to give a summary of the content, if it’s written, or even audio/video content. A headline might not allow you enough space to provide a description that will be meaningful, especially to the first time visitor unfamiliar with your ministry.

Much research has been done about how users typically react with web pages. Like a newspaper, the first thing people will look at are the pictures. So use pictures for important sections of the page and make them appropriate and visualy appealing. After the “picture scan” then the user will move to the upper left hand side of the page. Or at least those who speak languages that read left to right. So consider where you put your navigation, feature stories, videos, etc. based on what you want them to interact with first. Finally the user will scan top to bottom. Never force your users to scroll horizontally. They won’t. Chances are, depending on your content, that stuff you put on the upper right hand quadrant of your screen will be seen less than any other part of the screen.

What’s Changed?

Your home page will be the most visited page on your site. People interested in your ministry or activity will go there, perhaps bookmark it, and return fairly frequently to see if there is any new content there that might interest them. So guess what will happen if the site visitor comes to your site each Sunday evening for three weeks and there is no perceptible change to the website? Correct! The third time will probably be the last time. Obviously not what you want.

So the challenge is to keep fresh content on your site EVERY WEEK in the case of most ministries. The good news is that in most cases there is enough stuff going on each week to at least make users aware of that, plus the wealth of content available from others sites that could be included on the site via RSS (Really Simple Syndication) Feeds. We’ll address the approach and technology behind that in a later chapter. The point is to keep things fresh. This can take a lot of work and will ultimately not be possible if the site is maintained by one person. Websites worth anything are team efforts…even just maintaining one page like the home page.

The Great Eight

There are many ways to divy up content for that all important home page for your church or school website, but in general there are eight key areas of content you should consider reserving a spot on your home page. So here we go…

1. The Welcome – Too many this may be a little obvious, but your webpage is a greeting card, so you should…well…greet the visitor. Take care in writing this important piece of content, perhaps along with a friendly image. The welcome message should be no more than two or three short paragraphs. No more. Your mission statement probably is not the best candidate to include here, but something in the message should clearly state what your church/school is all about. Don’t be too gushy, just geniune.

2. God’s Word – Another no brainer and there are easy ways to bring this into your site on a daily basis through the power of RSS. This really is why we exist…to share this precious and powerful gift. Look for ways to provide relevant texts and insights based on those texts. The Sunday sermon is not always the best opening message, if you are trying to engage a visitor who has no Christian background or other organizational context. But short devotions are excellent. They stand a better chance of being read and provide an opportunity to tailor a message for your visitor.

3. About Us – This would include a little more about your organization, directions to your location, links to related organizations like WELS.net if you are a WELS organization, and how to contact you.

4. What To Expect – As one of the main purposes of your website might be to encourage someone to visit your church or school, you want to give them a good idea of what that visit might be like. Write up some content that talks about what your worship is like, what to do with the kids, what about the offering, the singing, communion, etc. Put yourself in their shoes and answer the questions they might have BEFORE they visit. Remove some of the apprehension. All the same applies for schools. What’s it like for my son or daughter to go to school there. Use pictures, video, audio, whatever it takes.

5. Calendar – Statistics show that the most popular item on most church and school websites is the calendar. Make it easy to find and keep it up-to-date. The minute it gets out of date you have removed one of the main reasons why your own members or parents come to your website.

6. Social Connections – Today it is odd to find an organization that doesn’t at least have a Facebook page. We’ll be going into more detail about Facebook later in this book. For now just make sure that whatever social network your active on, either link to it, or embed it’s content on your home page. It shows that you are interested in a dialog and also that they are invited to peek into the conversations that might be happening.

7. Media – This might be technically the hardest of the eight, but might be the most important. Expectations of website visitors of today is that you have media in the form of audio and video files. Engage the visitor with quality video and audio of sermons, Bible classes, events, etc. Again, more on this later.

8. Images – Visually appealing and engaging website have pictures. Make sure yours are of high quality, relevant and integrated with your textual content. Articles should all have pictures as well as blog posts, welcome messages, about us, what to expect and so on.

So that’s it for the great eight things that you should have on your home page. There are more of course depending on need, but these serve as a good starting point.

Series Details

The Summer 2013 WELSTech Church and School Website Content Series kicks off with Episode 292 on June 11, 2013 and runs through Episode 306 on September 10, 2013. New chapters of this book will be finalized each week to coincide with each episode.

This topic is scheduled for Episode 292 – June 11, 2013.

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Social Networks and The Church (Twitter)

twitter This is the fourth post in a series of articles on Social Networks and their usefulness in the church. I’ve spent a couple posts just on Facebook, not it’s Twitters turn. The two are very different, even though both can be considered "social networks" in their own right. Twitter is less about building relationships and more about building audiences. That may sound bad at face value, but the church that can leverage that effectively has a powerful communications tool.

Recently an ebook was published entitled "The Reason YOUR CHURCH Must Twitter," and on the cover of that book is the tagline "Making Your Ministry Contagious." An interesting way to think of ministry and its relationship to social networks, but I believe valid. The point of ministry is not to cloister the saints and the message of Jesus Christ, but to "infect" as many as possible — the Great Commission. It is a going out process. It is a constant proclamation, a telling, if you will, of the love and grace of God. Interestingly Twitter’s tagline is "What are you doing?" Perhaps Twitter in the hands of the church would vary that moniker to "What is Jesus doing?" Both for us and for you.
So how can a church use Twitter? Here are a few ideas:

  • Set up multiple Twitter accounts to reach different segments of the church and ask that people in those groups "follow" that Twitter account.
  • Create one related to spiritual topics and broadcast short follow ups on sermon concepts, Bible class questions, short devotional thoughts or Bible verses. There are tools to automate some of the content that can be "pushed" to Twitter, especially if your church regularly posts sermons or devotions on the website. A potentially powerful side benefit of this is that followers of that Twitter account can "retweet" or share that with their followers, thus "spreading the word" in a very seamless way. An organization that does this well is Time Of Grace (@ToGministry). They have a "GraceMoment" that is a quick thought or Bible verse that people can both enjoy and share. On a recent episode of the WELSTech Podcast, we interviewed their Creative Marketing Manager, Katy Klinnert-Ellison, about their use of Social Networks. She shared that social networks play an important role in their organization, both in staying connected with their followers, but also building relationships.
  • Create a Twitter account for general announcements for the church/school to share schedule changes, weather-related news, special guests, event reminders, etc.
  • There have been several creative uses of Twitter by churches to highlight a particular season of the church year…specifically Christmas and Easter. I’ve seen Twitter accounts set up that tweet Jesus’ words during Holy Week which try to simulate the actual time of day and sequence of events. The words from the cross are particularly powerful. I’ve seen the same done for Christmas with thoughts from Mary, or the shepherds or magi. Tweeting through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, or a series of Proverbs would also lend itself well to 140 character sound bites.

Of course, there are many more ideas out there, but the key is to be consistent, have a plan and then promote what you are doing. Building an audience and then "going dark" with few tweets will kill the effort put in. Make sure people are aware of this new communication channel via emails, newsletter, bulletin, announcements, brochures, business cards and the like. Then set a time frame to evaluate how things are going. Don’t attempt to try anything less than a year. That gives you all seasons of the church year and chance for the word to spread.

If your church has used Twitter and has insights to share, please comment below. We are all trying to figure out how these social networks can be used by the church and their ministry endeavors.

,

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Social Networks and The Church (Facebook Part Two)

iStock_000017329118XSmall This is the third post in a series of articles on Social Networks and how they can, and perhaps can’t, be used in the church. When I say church I mean the corporate church (i.e. the organization of believers). In my last article I talked about a few key considerations when thinking about using Facebook within the church. Today’s post continues that discussion by dealing with concerns about "virtual church" and how to take the virtual relationship to an even better place.

So how did the church survive before Facebook? Clearly the church doesn’t "need" Facebook or any other social network. It simply needs the Word and Sacrament. Right? Well sure. Nobody can debate that. But is that it? In the context of this discussion, the church could also be defined as a "social network?" The Oxford Dictionary defines a social network as "a network of social interactions and personal relationships." That sounds like what any church leadership team would like to see in their church — people interacting with each other socially and developing personal relationships. In churches where this is the case, you find descriptors like a "friendly" church or a "caring" church. When people interact with each other, God’s Word has an opportunity to build a caring spiritual relationship. Clearly one of the churches goals.

Then how does Facebook help that? Yes you can create online socialization. Facebook is actually pretty good at that. But to leave it in the digital space without some analog goal isn’t all that helpful. You can share Christian love, teach, encourage, comfort and support each other online, but to play that out in person is Acts 2 kind of stuff. "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people." Acts 2:44-47

The challenge of course is how to take online community to the face-to-face. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Connect digital posts to physical places. As you try to determine what content to post on Facebook think of content that has it’s root or fulfillment in a physical gathering. For instance, post a question or insight based on a good discussion that happened in the previous week’s Sunday morning Bible study class. Assign a person on the social network team to attend the class and cull appropriate material to be used during the week.
  2. Allow organic growth. It will be important to promote and encourage people to create relationships on their own. Allowing members to post freely, comment, and form their own affinity groups will provide opportunity for deeper relationships around topics, projects and events. The temptation many churches have is to limit member participation and make their Facebook presence not much more than their web site which is fairly one dimensional. A more open environment, of course, requires over site, but the benefits are numerous including the chance that these online groups flourish and continue "on the ground" at church.
  3. Intentionally create activities that start on Facebook and end in person. Promotion is critical to the success of any church-sponsored event. You certainly want to promote the event on your Facebook page, but creating online activity before the event will allow members to get excited about it and spread the word to their other Facebook friends. If it’s "movie night" create some intriguing questions. If it’s a presentation on Internet Safety, solicit questions/answers on related topics. If it’s an upcoming Voter’s Meeting or Open Forum, ask all members to submit questions that board members can address or feed topics that can be discussed ahead of time. The whole point is to get your Facebook folks "invested" in the event.

Facebook has a lot to offer to increase the social networked quotient of your church. It does take work and thoughtfulness. But it is where a lot of your members already are. Why should the church exclude itself from this portion of its members lives? They want to engage with their church. That is why they are members.

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Social Networks and The Church (Facebook Part One)

This is the second post in a series of articles on Social Networks and how they can, and perhaps can’t, be used in the church. When I say church I mean the corporate church (i.e. the organization of believers). In my last article I talked about the purpose of the church and how social networks in general can meet a need in most circumstances as long as they are aligned with the church’s objectives. Now we are going to get a little more specific and start with perhaps the most popular social network that has ever been — Facebook.

Late in 2012 Facebook claimed over 1 billion active users with over half of them regularly interacting with the network via mobile devices. That last bit of info will be discussed in more detail in later articles of this series. It has significance.

With that many users it is pretty safe to assume that many of your church’s members, if not a majority, use Facebook. Why? That’s an important question to answer as it will in some ways determine how the church might use Facebook for ministry. A very good place to find the answer is a short book by Jesse Rice called “The Church of Facebook.” Sallie Draper, my WELSTech Podcast partner, and I interviewed Jesse last year to talk about the book we had been reviewing on the show and asked him “why Facebook?” You can listen to that episode to find out what his answer was. The brief answer is people desire to connect with other people. God created us as social beings that need interaction with other people on a regular and meaningful basis. Facebook provides faciliities to do that. Yes, it does also provide avenues for the humanist in all of us to “blow our own horns”, but at it’s core Facebook makes connections.

Connections are also an objective of the church. To connect believer to believer in a meaningful way that God can use to provide encouragement, inspiration, education and correction through the Word. Some would say the church wouldn’t be a church without these believer to believer connections. So in this regard Facebook acts as an “amplifier” for these connections. It can create connections where they don’t exist and it can enhance connections that have already been made.

With busy schedules and increasing distances between church members, a virtual tool like Facebook can help people stay connected with each other and their church during the week. That will not happen by itself however. The church, or to be more specific, it’s Facebook administrator(s) needs to intentionalize things to achieve this objective. Here are three things they can do to increase the chances for member to member connections via the church’s Facebook efforts:

  1. Go on a Facebook member drive. Facebook will not be a very effective ministry tool if you don’t have your Facebook using members “liking” your page. This can be done through email, bulletin announcements, after service announcements, etc. Along with that the message of why they should like your page should be very clear. This is what they are going to get out of it. More on that in a future post.
  2. Post to your Facebook page every day. There is plenty of content the church can repurpose or create to fill 7 slots a week. Key sermon or bible class points, pictures, prayer requests, announcements, events, etc. A tool that can assist in keeping content flowing into your account is RSS Graffiti. This will allow you to automatically push any RSS content either from your own site (blogs, sermons, etc.) or from any other RSS enabled content like WELS Daily Devotions or Bible Readings.
  3. Create opportunities for members to interact with each other through posts that promote feedback, discussion type questions or even Facebook hosted Bible studies. Other options are to encourage members to submit their own “ask the pastor” questions, photos, or thoughts on a daily Bible reading.

These are just a few options to get people talking with each other and perhaps enchance the brief encounters made on Sunday morning, or find new friends which wouldn’t have normally been possible. In my next article I’ll focus more on how to further enable these virtual relationships and perhaps move them to face-to-face opportunities for fellowship, spritual growth, and support.

 

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Social Networks and The Church (Intro)

iStock_000016096732XSmall_jpg One of the most frequent questions I get is “should our church have a Facebook page?” Clearly the question could and probably should be expanded. “Should our church use social networks?” One of the biggest drivers of internet adoption and use by all ages, genders and races is its social nature. The web has gotten a lot more friendly lately…or at least a lot more social.

The question used to be “should my church have a website?” I don’t get that one anymore thank goodness. However that question was easier to answer. Yes. Period. Yesterday. Asking if your church should have a website is akin to asking if your church needs a church sign on the front lawn. The answer to the social network question isn’t as straightforward. That is why I’m going to take the next few weeks…or maybe months… to try and tackle this one.

So where to start? How about with the ministry of your church? Why does it exist? What is its purpose, goals, objectives? If you can’t answer that then forget the social network question altogether. I would imagine however that most churches at least have a pretty good idea of what they should be up to. Common answers in no particular order would be outreach with the gospel, mutual encouragement, support of those in need, fellowship, bible study, worship, administration of sacraments (Lord’s Supper and Baptism), service projects and so on. So the real question is could any of those purposes/objectives be met by the use of social networks? That answer is easier. Yes. Now the hard part. Which ones and how? Both which social network and which objective.

My approach to this series will be to examine the major social networks with an eye toward their ultimate usefulness for specific ministry purposes AND some great resources for how to implement them. We’ll look at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ and a few others you may not have even considered a social network or heard of.

To get us started I’d like to point you to a couple of excellent resources that I’ll be highlighting in more detail in future posts specifically about Facebook:

Facebook for Churches ebook (An excellent basic resource including examples of churches putting Facebook to good use.)

WELSTech Episode – All About Facebook (A podcast that deals with Technology and Ministry topics focuses a show on Facebook and interviews Josh Renner who has found a good niche for Facebook usage to spread the Gospel).

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