Digital Ministry With Worship Times

“If you had three Communications positions, what would they be?” – from a recent post in a Facebook group for church communicators.

Sometimes we just need a little help from our friends

Three? 3! We love that churches that have the money are spending it on good communication ministry that seeks to reach out beyond their own congregation and Christian circles. However, most ministries can’t afford to hire even a part-time digital minister or communications director. Many denominations are also struggling to afford to hire people who are technically savvy, theologically grounded, and literate in both Bible and practical church matters.

This is exactly why Worship Times was started – to give ministries great websites and easy access to social media tools at an affordable price.

As the needs of our members grew, so did our ministry. Our members started to dream big, and with that the number of our offerings grew too. The only issue was finding the church staff hours to maintain the work required by adding these extra offerings. This became our new challenge, not only help our members build new platforms but also help them maintain it with a team of dedicated staff.

What can Worship Times help you do?

  • Add special features to your website – payment options, member databases, event registrations and bookings, etc.
  • Set up social media accounts – Facebook pages and groups, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, SnapChat, other social media platforms that haven’t been invented yet
  • Create a newsletter or other template on MailChimp, Constant Contact, or other mailing program
  • Maintain updates to your website
  • Maintain updates to your social media
  • Write blog posts
  • Copy editing
  • Create and send newsletters
  • Develop comprehensive digital ministry strategies
  • Create social media and website graphics to promote events, liturgical seasons, or programs

Ministry Partners

When you partner with Worship Times, you don’t just get tech geeks who speak programming, or social media, you get a partner in ministry that understands that Holy Week and Advent is incredibly important and busy, understand working with committees, and that change in the life of a religious organization can be scary. You also partner with theological nerds who can come up with great scripture passages that fit your Advent theme, and can update a website while using Facebook. You partner with a ministry with experience, education and skills in both of these worlds, and combine them with communication ministry expertise.

But most of all, Worship Times has a deep love for the work of ministry, and what makes it unique. We are partners in that work and call, not as contract labor. Whether we are just building your website, or you have a full digital ministry relationship with us, we work with you, not just for you.

Some of our digital ministry partners are: Bedford Presbyterian Church, Young Clergy Women International, Newark Presbytery, Foothills Presbytery, LEAD.

Are you interested in a digital ministry partnership with Worship Times? Let us know!

There Are No Small Questions

After the big work of building your website is done, the questions that come up when you start using your website can seem small. But little questions can add up. And…Worship Times doesn’t think any of your questions are small or inconsequential. It’s why we built our video tutorial Learning Center and support ticket Support Center right into the Dashboard of our websites.

From questions like, “I forgot how to add a page?” to “How do I add pictures to my home page slider?” to “Can we change our theme?” or “What does our monthly membership fee pay for?” we are happy to answer your questions.

We would rather you ask a question you might think is small and silly, than for those questions to keep piling up, making your website a burden rather than a useful tool for your ministry.

Also, your “small” question may be a bigger deal than you think. Asking about what seems to be a tiny glitch could help uncover a larger problem. Members reporting small problems have led us to find and fix bugs quickly, before they became system-wide issues.

Your little questions can also lead you to a deeper understanding of how your website works, and using the tools Worship Times provides in new ways. We are always delighted when we can answer questions and our members say, “I learned something new today!”

And if something is just not working, or your website starts looking dated, please reach out. Don’t keep a frustration to yourself – we can help! If something isn’t working, or you need to do something new, or you just don’t like the color scheme anymore – ask us! We may have an easy answer, and if we need to do more research, we love diving deep into challenges as well. We want you to know you are not alone.

Our memberships exist so that Worship Times will continue to walk with you as partners in your digital ministry. You bring your message, and we bring the skills and experience to help you share that message. So, no question is too small. Ask us!

Saint Paul Used Social Media

By Emily Hope Morgan

Things have changed with social media.Circuit Board with People

Back in 2005 when I first got on Facebook only college students could get a Facebook account. Even back in 2009 when I started seminary many churches who at that point could get on Facebook didn’t want to, and many people thought Twitter was for nothing but short updates about meaningless things.

Now, my mom and grandma  are using social media. Churches, synods, dioceses, presbyteries, and the like, have Facebook accounts that at the very least give their contact information. More and more individuals, organizations, and churches are becoming Twitter converts as they see it being used in huge movements like elections and revolutions as well as for personal communication.

For anyone in ministry who has hesitations about social media, let me calm some of your fears. There is biblical precedent for churches and ministries using social media. Saint Paul used social media.

Paul used the absolute best social media of his day: letters. The people who wanted to be like Paul wrote letters. We may not think of letters as incredible technology, but back in Paul’s time letters were a big deal. Never before had people been able to communicate like this!

Someone like Paul who traveled so much was able to keep up with communities he had let not just through sending messengers or constantly having to travel back and forth. Through writing letters Paul was able to keep relationships going that he may not have been able to if he didn’t write letters. He was able to help those early communities with their problems and struggles. He was able to encourage what the churches were doing well and explain what they were not.

Then the communities had those letters to continue looking back to. Today we still look to Paul’s letters to help us understand how we live out the Gospel. The technology had drastically changed, yet churches and ministries are still using social media to build relationships, encourage, and explain. Social media connects us with communities we are not with in body. It is a useful tool in our lives individually and communally as we try to live out out our commitments.

Saint Paul used the best social media of his day to be in communication and conversation with people he cared about and people he did not even know! He had never been to the church in Rome yet felt so strongly about wanting to be in conversation with them he wrote the Epistle to the Romans, an incredible letter.

Saint Paul is a powerful example of how to use social media, and as social media continues to change we continue to look back to his example of using technology to best serve his ministry to discern how best to use technology in our ministries.

What’s New?

What’s next for your ministry?

Your website needs will change over time. Perhaps you need a new logo, branding, or website design. Maybe you’ll find that you need a new tool to do those every day tasks or a new project or program altogether. These are some of our favorite puzzles to solve at Worship Times. Finding the right tool for the job, testing it, and putting it to the real test – real life use on your website.

When we find a new tool to add to one member’s website, they are often useful for other ministries. We add it to our toolbox of plugins available for all of our members. You may not see those tools appear on your dashboard unless you need them, so we like to share the new things we’re excited about. If these are helpful to you, ask us to make them available on your site! (This may include add-ons to plugins, like the ones we talk about below.)


New Plugins

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MemberPress

We are especially excited about our latest addition to our plugin offerings. MemberPress is an impressive membership registration system created for WordPress sites that allows you to create very specific access to resources on your site. That way you don’t have to password-protect a bunch of pages, with just as many passwords to remember, or a password that gets passed out like church keys (do you know who all has keys to your church?).

With MemberPress you can easily set up membership levels with different levels of access. You can keep these member users out of the dashboard of your website, while still providing all the access they need.

MemberPress also integrates with MailChimp so you can sign people up for your mailing lists. It integrates with Amazon S3 which allows you to store your files off your website, and prevent them from eating up your available website data storage. You can use most of the standard payment programs like PayPal and Authorize.net, which provides a wide variety of payment options. And you can encourage members to sign up other members through an affiliate program, which easily can be added to your MemberPress functionality.

For churches and other ministries who want to offer unique resources to their members without a lot of fuss, MemberPress is a great solution.

AddThis

AddThis is one of the most popular ways to share posts and links on social media, directly from your website. You have always been able to add social share buttons on your site, but AddThis makes it easier than ever to do so.

 


New Add-ons for Gravity Forms

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Gravity Forms has been our go-to forms creator for years, and has recently added some add-ons that are particularly helpful to our members.

One of the biggest headaches with online forms is the lack of ability to collect real signatures. Many of our members have still relied on paper forms to do their registrations where a signature is required. But now we can capture live signatures on Gravity Forms, whether you are using a touch screen (mobile or tablet), touch pad, or mouse.

With Gravity Forms, you are also now able to add the ability to upload files to a form directly from your Dropbox folders, or download a file to your Dropbox.

If your team uses Slack to communicate, there are also some simple Slack integrations to notify you when a form has been submitted.

Additionally, though this is not a new feature for Worship Times, did you know you can create a form with save and continue features with Gravity Forms? We’ve been able to do it for a while, but many of our members didn’t know that ability was included.

 

What’s Next?

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We don’t know what’s next, but we will continue to keep our eyes open for plugins and add-ons that help our members do their work well. And if you have questions or requests for additional plugins, reach out to us through our support system – we’d love to see what’s possible for you!

But What About…

Is this where the plug(-in) goes?

Our top goals for our Worship Times websites are: We want them to look good. We want them to be affordable. We want them to be easy to use, so our members can have the freedom to customize.

We design our templates to be elegant in style, and easy to use. We rigorously test our templates, plug-ins and integrations we add to our system. Not every template or plug-in designed for WordPress works well, and some may break your site altogether. Worship Times seeks only the highest quality products to offer our members.

Our members often have unique needs and ask us about adding particular plug-ins or integrations to meet those needs. They may say, “I love my site, but I really wish it did…,” or “What about this plug-in?” When we are asked about such services, like a good picture slider, a database system, or more, Worship Times looks at multiple options. Then we vet and test the ones that best meet the needs of the member requesting the plug-in. We also consider which plug-ins and integrations will best meet the needs of members with similar needs.

The ones that both meet the specific needs and work well with WordPress get approval. The ones that have wide appeal are added to the whole network, so other members can easily add those capabilities to their sites. It is important to us that every piece of your website works in concert with another. We have created a system where our members are very much in control of the content of their websites, but do not have to worry about security, system or plug-in updates, or which plug-ins will work best for their needs.

We have recently added several plug-in options as well as vetted new options on long-time, standard Worship Times plug-ins, such as Gravity Forms. We’ll be talking about all of these updates in the coming weeks, but we wanted to share a bit about the work that goes into each and every piece of the Worship Times system as your website needs change over time.

Do you have an idea that requires extra tools on your website? Ask us. We may already have the plug-in or integration tested and available to be added to your site, or will find one that works.

Website Layout and Organization

Why does it seem like churches are allergic to good design? From layout to color schemes to navigation and picture quality, many churches act like they are not worthy of a beautiful and professional website.

The other thing we hear from churches is that they don’t want their websites to look too “slick,” which often translates to, “look too expensive.” When it is simple to design a beautiful website for the same price as an ugly one, it is not as if an attractive website communicates a wasteful expenditure. No, a well-designed website is actually a smart use of your resources.

We must remember, too, that websites are for visitors, not for people already in the church. And we hope that many of those visitors are people who may not even know much or anything about Jesus or church. Those visitors will be accustomed to quickly judging a business or organization by its website.

Think about your own experience on the internet – if it is hard to navigate or find what you are looking for on a website, how do you feel about using it again or even giving business to that company? The same goes for church websites.

Good pictures, a friendly color scheme, important information clearly marked, menus that are easy to navigate, and language that is easy to understand – these are elements that make up any good website. If you spend some time on the internet, and your website feels old and clunky compared to other sites, it probably needs an update.

Here are some helpful articles as you evaluate your website’s design. For those that mention “customers” or “product,” you can easily substitute “visitors” and “Jesus” or “Gospel,” and see that good website design is for everyone.

Website Design Best Practices and Resources

and, of course, sign up for our e-book, 20 Mistakes Church Websites Are Making:

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The Front Page: The New Front Door

The front door of a church tells you a lot about the distinctive identity of the faith community. It’s the first impression people have of your church. For example, a carved oak door on an two hundred year church speaks to its history. But when a church’s front doors aren’t well marked or are in poor condition, what does that say to a first time guest? It’s not friendly or welcoming. It’s confusing and intimidating.

The new front door for churches that makes a first impression on potential visitors is your website’s front page.

Many potential visitors will check out your website before considering attending a worship service. Some will be looking for details like what denomination your church is a part of. Some will be seeing what mission you’re involved in. Some will be looking for a vibrant youth group. But if your front page is cluttered or difficult to navigate, you’re going to lose a lot of potential visitors.

Phone Book

A conversation with a millennial employee.

Many churches advertise their services and events around their town. You may hang up posters in the local coffee shops before an open mike night. You may have a booth at the local spring festival. You may pay for yellow page ads in the phone book or the newspaper.

There are good reasons why you may want to re-think using your church’s budget for things like traditional print ads. To the left is a conversation between our Worship Times’ owner Michael and a millennial-aged employee. You may hear a lot about the millennial generation “killing off” things like mass-produced beers or the paper napkin industry. What do these things have in common with your local phone book? Millennials aren’t the only ones who see them as wasteful and unnecessary.

Likewise, millennials aren’t the only ones who almost exclusively use the internet to search for a new church, and check out a church’s website before they visit, regardless of where they heard about you.

“I want to see a congregation’s identity on the front page,” this employee said. “And don’t just tell me–show me!” Research shows you only have a few seconds to capture people’s attention on your website.

Make sure your church’s personality and mission can be seen within the first few seconds. High resolution photos and clear, concise writing go a long way to making your new front door seem open and inviting.

If we do not want our churches to become like phone books or paper napkins – useful, but unnecessary, we need to regularly attend to our front doors. What do you want your front doors to show the world?

Get Started With A New Website

Make a Plan!

Churches know that they need to have websites, be on social media and share their faith in new ways. So, they do that. Get a website. Get a Facebook page. Get a Twitter account. Get an Instagram account. Get a Snapchat account. Delete the Snapchat account because your youth groan when you mention it. Then we…just go for it. Right?

We spend so much time planning out our worship, our Sunday School curriculum, even who will light the candles during Advent. But we just jump into communicating with the world with no plan just because we know we need to be out there? How would that go if we did worship that way? Even if we plan to open up our worship practices with more spontaneity and on-the-spot prayer, song choices, etc., we still make a plan so that we know what message we want to focus on, and where we want to end up together as a congregation.

Communication should be the same way. We need to think about what messages we want people to hear from us, and how we want them to interact and respond to those messages. Just as in the rest of church life, we have to make some sort of plan. It doesn’t need to be rigid, but making a plan helps you be creative and spontaneous because you aren’t always scrambling to figure out what to say, how to say it and who to say it to.

Start simple. Know who you are and who your audience is, and post pictures and other content that is true to those identities. Use the content you have – pictures that show your ministry in action, sermons, lessons, quotes from the Scripture readings for the week. Consider the time and energy you have available to create quality content, and how often you might be able to produce new content or repurpose older content.

Once you have an idea of your resources, write it all down – what you want to say, to which audience, and how often you can do that. If that means posting a sermon excerpt and a picture on Facebook every week, then start there.

Just because you could have a blog and be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and on, doesn’t mean that you can or should do all of those things. Figure out what makes sense for your ministry and central message and audience. Use the media that fits those the best.

At Worship Times, we use a spreadsheet to keep our blog and social media posting calendar straight, but you could use a simple monthly calendar, a text document, sticky notes, or whatever works best to keep yourself organized. Whatever you use, just do it. Create a plan, and try it out. You can always change and adapt it as you see how it works, or your needs change.

Make a plan.

Summer Review: Time for a New Theme?

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Fall in the United States typically comes with some standard themes – changing colors in the trees, cooler temperatures (in the Southern part of the U.S. it changes from unbearable heat to comfortable), and the standard school year begins. Even where there are no fall leaves or sweaters coming out of summer storage, new clothes and school supplies are purchased. Long after we are out of school, or perhaps our children are out of school, there is a feeling of longing for new things, a new look, perhaps.

Just as spring brings an urge to clean out our closets and dust the corners we only get at rarely, in the fall we are often seeking out new things, new projects. And as you are reviewing your website, you may want a new look for that as well.

There are lots of ways you can give your website a makeover. We’ve talked about cleaning up old information, replacing old pictures and making sure your website is organized in a way that is inviting and makes sense to visitors. With many website platforms and themes, you have the opportunity to move elements around on the home page and other pages in the site, to change fonts and heading sizes, all of which can update the look and feel of your site. But, what about changing the theme altogether?

With many platforms, this may be as easy as clicking a button, then making sure to adjust for different element areas and sizes. With some platforms, it may require actually moving content. You may need to pay an additional fee for a change or upgrade. If you are planning to simply change the look of your website with the same website provider or platform, you should check to see what that will require.

The Benefit of Worship Times Membership

If you are a Worship Times member, changing themes is simple. First, take a new look at our Divine Designs page – we regularly update our theme options to keep them fresh and up-to-date. Once you choose one or a few themes, use a support ticket to connect with Worship Times, and we will connect with you about updating your theme.

 

You can update your Worship Times theme at any time, and make any adjustments needed yourself. However, most of our members are, understandably, a little squeamish about making those updates on their own. The good news is that with your Worship Times membership comes the option for Worship Times to do a theme update for you up to once a year. Many of our members forget that option, but it is a great benefit of working with Worship Times.

Many ministries update their websites as they are doing discernment about the future. They may start with a theme that is perfect your current mission and community, and as they evolve they find it no longer fits. If you find that your theme no longer fits your identity, we’re happy to help figure out which theme is a better fit at this point, and help make that update.

Never be afraid to ask us about a new theme. It doesn’t hurt our feelings when people want a new look for their site, and our intention is that your website doesn’t get stale. The industry standard for a particular look for a website is around three years. If you get to that point with your particular theme, we’ll start nudging you to look at an update, anyway.

So, as you do your website reviews, keep the overall look in mind as well as the structure and content. And let us know if you are ready for an update!

Facebook Pages: Intermediate, Part 2

Yesterday we explored some new ways to use and organize your Facebook page. Now, let’s look at how to tell how your page is reaching people.

Action Button

You don’t want visitors to just come and look at your Facebook page, you want them to do something while they are there. With the Action Button, you can send them to your website, have them sign up for a class or special event, or participate in a fundraiser. If you are designated as a non-profit pages you have the option of creating a donation button. You can confirm your status in your page settings.

 

Page Insights

Page Insights show you how your page is performing, week to week, month to month, etc. You can see overall page performance as well as details on specific posts, how people are using your page, who your page is reaching, and more. Insights can help you figure out what type of posts work best for your audience, as well as the best days and times of day to post.  Numbers aren’t everything, but the point of social media is to be social and interact, and your page statistics can tell you how well you are doing.

Next Steps

Learning to use your Facebook page well is all about trying, seeing what works, and making adjustments to improve interaction and engagement. Even the most expert social media professionals are constantly evolving their Facebook strategy.

Try some different types of posts, experiment with ads, and add an action button. Let us know what gets the most engagement, and what you tried that didn’t work, but you’d love to adjust and try again.