Worship Times: Some Reflections from the PC(USA) General Assembly in Portland

A month ago, Worship Times flew home from the 222nd PC(USA) General Assembly in Portland, OR, tired but delighted. We were able to speak to hundreds of people, many of whom are longtime members we have only met by phone or email that we finally got to meet in person.

There were many highlights from our conversations over the week we were visiting with the Presbyterians (well, this branch of the Presbys, at least), but our favorite conversations were the ones that started with, “Do you need help with your website?” Which often prompted this expression:

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“Yes! We really do. Tell us more.”

We are blessed to be in a business that helps people. And doesn’t just help people, but helps people be faithful in the world, and share that faith with others. Throughout the year we get to speak to many people on the phone, and by email, and we love these conversations, but there is nothing like seeing that relief and joy in someone’s face when they find out that we can help them do what they do better, more easily.

The PC(USA) General Assembly isn’t the only denominational gathering we have gone to, but, so far, it’s the largest. Each time we go to one of these gatherings, it gives us the opportunity to have conversations that often range far beyond websites. We were able to provide a place for people to take a break, charge their devices, and just chat about their lives, their ministries, their passions for their work and the world. Though there is some cynicism present in any large church gathering, for the most part, the people who participate, from commissioners to denominational leaders to volunteers to observers to students to people representing organizations throughout the church – mission, camp and conferences, affinity groups – are passionate about this mission we share together, even when we disagree. And we got to hear their stories. Your stories. And think together about how we can help tell those stories.

The work that happens at large church gatherings are just a beginning, or continuation, of the work. Worship Times is currently hard at work following up on all of the conversations we started in Portland, and building on deeper conversations we were able to have with current members.

If you have the opportunity to take part of the larger conversations your churches or denominations are having, take part! Sometimes we get isolated from each other in our little corners of the world, and we need to be reminded that we are not in this alone. We never have been.

Blessings and gratitude for all of you,
Worship Times Team

 

**If you think Worship Times should be at your denominational gathering, please comment below, or send us a note. We can’t be at everything, but if it fits, we would love to be there. Please include dates and contact info for organizers.

We also have done trainings with regional church bodies and leadership organizations. If you are interested in booking Worship Times for a deeper look at websites and church communications, we’d be happy to talk to you about that, too.**

Pokémon Go and Community

Pokémon Go has been a major topic of conversation around the world for the past two weeks. What is a Pokémon, you ask, and why should I care where they want to go? You may also wonder why you have seen people randomly walking around looking at their phones (more than normal), especially in the park, and your church parking lot. Welcome to Pokémon Go.

Pikachu

Pikachu – one of the Pokémon species

A staple of the Japanese anime genre for the last 20 years, Pokémon started as a video game produced by Nintendo (still the owners of the property), expanded into animated tv shows and movies, toys, comic books, and a very popular trading card game (think Dungeons and Dragons with brightly-colored cartoon characters). The thread that ties all of these together is the idea that one needs to collect all the ‘species’ of Pokémon (“Collect Them All”), train them, and send them into battles to gain points and advance levels.

Returning to its video game roots, Nintendo introduced the brilliant Pokémon Go, an app for smart phones and tablets, two weeks ago to an overwhelming response. The fastest mobile game to hit 10 million downloads.

What makes it so popular? The game taps into excellent gaming goals: quests to find Pokémon, Poké Stops to get the tools you need, and Poké Gyms to train and battle your Pokémon in order to advance in the game; and competition. It also has huge social interaction. It has long been the mistaken impression of non-gamers that those who play video games are cut off, and want to be cut off, from the world. Rather, the most popular video games are the Massive Multiplayer Games (MMPGs) like World of Warcraft, which are best played on the internet with people around the world, forming alliances and going on campaigns with people you have never met in person, but become part of your community.

Pokémon Go takes this a step further by taking that same sort of connection into the real world. It is a fascinating blend of the real and virtual world that is taking people to parks, museums, malls, libraries and, yes, churches. Because of the permanency of such places, they make for excellent places to place Poké Stops, where people can collect tools for the game, and Poké Gyms, where they might spend even more time as they train and battle the characters they have collected. People who might never have met in person are finding connections as they play Pokémon Go. They are having conversations, finding commonalities, and just having fun and enjoying each other’s company as they join teams and organize gaming walks and parties.

As it turns out, people really do want to get to know new people, and spend time with them outside of their homes, and this is where churches and other ministries can also embrace this current Pokémon Go enthusiasm. Churches, especially and necessarily, operate with very different schedules than other organizations. Though open during the day, our highest levels of activity tend to be at night and on weekends, when other people are at home. Pokémon Go is bringing people to your property during other times, and it gives churches and other ministries an opportunity to simply be a warm and welcoming member of the larger community.

The instinct for churches is often, “People are here! Let’s put some Jesus in their faces!” But, it’s probably not a great idea to go in this direction:

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Instead, this is a great opportunity to show Jesus through our everyday words, actions and interactions. To show that the church is not a place apart from the larger community, but part of it. We may do things a little differently, but if the local library shows more savvy in creative hospitality than the church communities, we may not be doing this Jesus thing quite right.

Here are some great ideas on how to be church, show Jesus and truly invite people into conversation and community, gleaned from what others are already doing:

Welcome
  • Signs – welcoming visitors playing Pokémon Go, pointing out Poké Stop locations, bathrooms, etc.
  • Making people feel comfortable being in your community’s space
  • Talking with visitors coming through parking lot, etc.
Hospitality
  • Providing water (in the summer, warm drinks in the winter), charging stations, snacks
  • Invest in lures (temporary bonus items you can purchase and advertise if you are a PokéStop) and make it an event – Pokémon-inspired snacks, photo booth (just get a few themed props, picture frames, etc.), something to make it a little more fun, show that you are into the fun.
Participation
  • Download the app and play
  • Chat with other players as they come through, or as you play elsewhere
  • Join teams
  • Post about it on social media – especially if you have Poké Stops, lures or gyms – post fun pictures of the locations players are looking for, and use hashtag #PokemonGo
    • You can even create customized geo-filters for SnapChat, which is a good idea for other events, too. http://www.kennyjahng.com/snapchat-custom-geofilters/
  • Organizing walks – offering safe, supervised group walks for young people. It also gets you off of your church property, and into your neighborhood(s).
  • Investing in lures/stops/gyms – especially in areas with few stops (rural areas often have less stops because there are less public buildings)
Notes
  • These are but a skimming of the surface of possibilities, check out and expand upon other ideas here: http://thewardrobedoor.com/2016/07/churches-pokemon-go.html, http://www.stevefogg.com/2016/07/12/churches-pokemon-go/
  • Because of the popularity of the game, there is a huge backlog in requests, both to add and to remove Pokémon-related points of interest in the game, so note that if you make a request, it may be delayed. (Lures are purchased in-app, so they will not experience the same delays.)
  • There are some privacy concerns to be aware of. Though, be aware that these are probably similar to other standard user agreements.
  • There have been some Poké Stops that are less safe, which is why organizing groups to play can be a welcome thing, especially for parents who want their kids to both have fun and be safe.
  • If you are hosting a daycamp, or are part of a ministry with overnight campers, or other safety concerns where it is not ideal or safe to have Pokémon Go participants wandering through your property or premises, you can request to have Poké Stops or gyms removed.
    • You may also want to think about signs that talk about why you need players to better consider their surroundings, like the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Arlington National Cemetery did. In both cases, their concern was warranted and reasonable, with the understanding that people’s enthusiasm for the game might cause them not to necessarily think before they used those spaces for the game.
  • Here is a good round-up of many of the links from this post, and more, as you figure out how to participate in Pokémon Go.

Pokémon Go is likely to be popular long after the initial excitement has died down, so it might be good to think about long-term hospitality for Pokémon players (semi-permanent signs, ways to invite them into community without posting someone in the parking lot at all hours, regular lures, so you can be prepared for an influx at particular times). It is also a good opportunity to think about other visitors during hours we don’t normally expect them, and how we can provide regular hospitality and a welcoming spirit so people feel comfortable coming by other than on Sundays or Wednesday nights.

There are also other, similar games and opportunities that have been around for a while, and might be worth looking into. Geocaching has a very similar draw, and has a very loyal, longtime following. What about creating a similar game event that happens on your own campus – whether for Vacation Bible School, youth group, or open, intergenerational community event? What would you do for a theme? What are your goals? Joining in the fun of Pokémon Go can inspire other creative thinking about how to be engaged in your community in real ways.

Most of all, remember to have fun!

Top 20 Church Website Mistakes

Top 20 Church Website Mistakes

At Worship Times we have seen our fair share of church websites. Not to be cliché (because that is one of the things we are trying to avoid), but we have certainly seen the good, the bad and the ugly of church websites. You want a website that welcomes visitors, is easy to work with and has unique and excellent content without overwhelming users.

We’ve created a free PDF book of the Top 20 Church Website Mistakes.

Get your copy below.

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Introducing: Jennifer Haley!

jenniferhaleyThings are getting exciting at Worship Times! We have a lot of new members, and together we are engaging in exciting new forms of digital ministry. As we grow our membership, we have been looking for the right people to add on our Worship Times team so we can continue to meet the needs and dreams of our members as best we can. So, we just added a new site builder to our team who will be a wonderful fit, Jennifer Haley.

Jennifer graduated Cum Laude from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications and a double minor in English and Psychology. Over the years, she has held positions in advertising, marketing, and television. With each job she has grown in her knowledge of communications and administration. Her most challenging (and rewarding) job has been that of stay-at-home mom to her children. This has blessed her with more compassion, organization, determination, and patience.

As the wife of an U.S. Army soldier, she has become highly self-motivated and holds a special place in her heart for the military. She loves spending time with family and traveling. Her hobbies include photography, reading, and antiquing. She is dedicated to being a valuable member of Worship Times. She currently lives in Murfeesboro, TN with her husband and two children.

Jennifer is already hard at work, and we are excited to have her work out in the world on your websites. Welcome, Jennifer!

 

Shout It Out: Intro to Social Media

shout it out image smallFacebook is only 12 years old, and Twitter recently turned 10. Just a moment in time compared to the millennia that the church has been in existence, an institution, yet no one can deny the power and influence of the many forms of social media in such a short time. And, lest you think this is just an American or Western phenomena, there are numerous platforms and accounts beyond Western borders. All of these things are important considerations as the church thinks about how to engage and evangelize using social media. For the question is no longer, “Should we use social media,” but rather, “How are we going to use social media?”

At Worship Times, social media is deeply linked to our main work of building websites. In fact, we often are called upon to help answer wider communication and evangelism questions and concerns as a website is but one piece of that puzzle. As we look toward Pentecost, we are kicking off a blog series about the ins and outs of social media. We don’t know everything about every new platform or technology, but we hope we can offer some good starting points and questions to ask as you think about how your ministry can and should be engaged in a wider social arena.

First, some resources. Whether you are dipping your toe in, or an early adopter who remembers back when MySpace and Friendster were the hot new kids on the block (pre-Facebook! What?!), a great place to learn and share questions and experience is the weekly Church Social Media (#chsocm) on Twitter. A Tuesday evening (or Wednesday lunch for those in Australia and New Zealand) chat – 9pm ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT, for US time zones – you can find out more here: Twitter, Facebook, ChSocM Blog.

You will also find more information on their Facebook page about a closed Church Communicators group that has spun off from ChSocM, and has wonderful links, resources and conversations from a wide variety of church communicators – professional, volunteer, representing tiny and large churches and many denominations and styles. Ask to join, and you will find a very supportive community that really believes no question is too small – they’ve probably asked it themselves when they were getting started.

Next, as you get ready to get out there on social media, don’t go gonzo. You don’t need to create accounts on every platform you’ve ever heard of, and those ones that you’ve only heard your kids talking about. Start simply, and get comfortable with one or two formats before you expand (and you may find your comfort zone with just a few accounts, and never add any more – that’s ok).

As with any communications strategy, you need to ask yourself who you are trying to reach and what your goals are in reaching them. Where are the people you hope to reach? How do they use different platforms (almost everyone uses Facebook, but different ages and cultures use it in very different ways)? Do you have easy ways to post content that you are already creating – sermon text, audio or video? Pictures of events, memes or thought-provoking quotes? What platforms would be the best for sharing those? Does your ministry have talent in creating worship music, art or other liturgy? Do you have an creative curriculum team? And how might you put pieces of those together that make the most sense on Facebook vs. Twitter vs. Instagram vs. Pinterest?

We cannot answer those questions for you, but conversations with other communicators, or communication consultants you may be working with, can be helpful in clarifying and pinpointing your area of expertise to share with the world, and the best way of sharing that expertise.

Most of all, remember that what we do is to tell a grand story. An ancient story. And the best stories are ones that draw in their audience, make them think and then act. How do you tell our story in your words/pictures/dance/prayers/video? Take that unique story-telling style, and think about how it can be shared beyond your walls, and you will be on your way to creating your social media foothold and style.

 

Next Week: A deeper look at some of the different social media platforms.

So, You’re Ready for a New Website: Content

content blog imageA Good Church Website Communicates:

  1. A reflection of who your church is.
  2. Your commitment to communication in various forms.
  3. Your awareness to reach outside your walls.
  4. Ability to generate discussion and connection.
  5. As body language, grammar, and eye contact are to personal communication, a well-designed website is to digital communication.
  6. “Design isn’t just what it looks and feels like, it’s also how it works.” Steve Jobs

What are the things that should be included in our new website?

Here are Worship Times’ Top 11 things people want in your church’s website:

11. Organized Navigation: too many menu items and dropdowns can be overwhelming. Cull what’s not needed and organize!

10. Text, but not too wordy. Do you want to read pages upon pages of text when you visit a website? Neither do your visitors.

9. Audio/Video of sermons. 50% of visitors to a church website downloaded a sermon (it’s a great preview) 80% of first-time church visitors listened to a sermon online before they attended a particular church.

8. Updated information. Your site isn’t vintage. It’s old. Update it.

7. Coordinating colors. Rainbows and neon green don’t look good. Period.

6. Visitor-centric language – Using churchy language or language that’s unique or insider to your congregation or ministry is exclusive. Be inclusive and include information that’s easy to understand for all visitors and members, alike.

5. PICTURES/images. Of people actually in your church/ministry. A picture of the building is nice, put what goes on there? Sharing the life of your church tells a story. Great pictures can tell it well.

4. How to contact someone. Email a staff person. Fill out a contact form. How they call the church. 60% of visitors to a church website couldn’t find the information they were looking for or even a way to find it out!

3. When Worship Services are! It’s amazing how many church websites we’ve visited that didn’t list their worship times, anywhere.

2. YOUR LOCATION! The two indispensable items guests want on a website are address and times of service. It’s that basic!

#1 – A website. It’s 2016, and many churches still don’t have a website. It’s the new front door. 85% of people who are first time visitors to a church visited the website, first. 

What messages need to be included in our church website?

  1. Who are you as a church.
  2. What you offer: for spiritual growth, Christian education, mission and fellowship.
  3. How visitors can benefit from being part of your community.
  4. What you would want to know about the church.
  5. If it doesn’t answer the questions above, get rid of it.
Mouse hovering over the "Settings" option on the WordPress Dashboard menu

So You’re Ready for a New Website: Choosing a Web Company

Choosing the right website company is important in building your new website.

Mouse hovering over the "Settings" option on the WordPress Dashboard menuCost is an important factor in most ministry budgets, but there are other important considerations when choosing a company to build your ministry’s website.

General Website Builders vs. Ministry Specialists

Though we all too often try to treat the church like a business, the church world is just different. Decisions take longer, money is often tighter, and well-intentioned volunteers can’t easily be let go. There are sensitivities not mirrored in the business world. In addition, a company that understands the missions and stories of ministries realizes that a website isn’t just a tool for information. It’s a tool to reach people with THE story, and connect people with the congregation’s call in the world.

This does not mean that a website company that does not specialize in ministry will not understand your needs. Likewise, not every church-based website company will automatically meet your needs. Pay attention to how well the company is able to anticipate or respond to your unique needs. Creative design ideas or solutions come from designers who listen well and ask good questions.

Design

Custom vs. Template-Based: It’s all about having options. Templates often offer quick and simple solutions, which is appealing. However, custom options can offer a range of flexibility that fit the many facets of ministry. Once again, a company that listens to and understands your needs can make the process easier. You may want to use a platform or tools the company simply doesn’t have expertise in or offer. A good website company will be honest about what they can do for you and what they cannot.

Platforms

What is the best platform for your site. Choosing a platform that you understand or that can easily be learned is crucial. Our time is valuable. Learning a new language, be that computer can feel like a foreign language. Whether it’s WordPress, Rails, Joomla, or another, platforms need to meet skill set and needs. Keep in mind, any platform will have a learning curve.

Features: Consider your needs and your user’s experience. Do you want publications or an event management system included in your site? Do you use a specific directory or online giving program that you want to access from your site? Making sure the company you use has the tools you need or can assist you in creating the needed tools is key.

Price

With most ministries, budget is a concern. Finding a company that can work with your budget is important. Remember, you get what you pay for. Cheap websites are often just that. Going with a reputable company that can work with your budget can be more beneficial to your bottom line than the path of least expense. You also want to ask questions up front about additional costs or hidden fees so there won’t be unpleasant surprises down the road.

Being very clear about your needs up front, and what it might cost if you change your mind about particular elements is important – some costs may be included in the initial price, and some may not.

Support

When you need help, help should be there. When looking for a company, ask about their support system and typical response times. Keep in mind some support needs are unique, but response and attention is key.


These are some of the major considerations that go into choosing a website company, but you probably have some specific questions and concerns we haven’t addressed. Make sure any website company you talk to is willing and able to clearly address your questions and concerns in your initial conversations with them. And if you have any other suggestions or questions about the process of choosing the right website company for your ministry’s website, please let us know in the comments.

Tips & Tricks: Facebook Page – How to Add Administrators

tips and tricks smallWe’re going to do some more extensive posts and videos on how to claim, administer and manage your ministry’s Facebook page, but today we’re going to tackle a question we’ve received more than once this week.

Today’s Facebook conundrum: “I’m the administrator on a Facebook page, and I need to add another administrator. And I have no idea where or how to do that.” (How you do this has actually changed over the many iterations of Facebook, so don’t worry if you once knew how to do this, but now it all seems different. It is.)

Before we get started on instructions, one of the important things to remember is that when you add administrators (or other roles – we’ll get into that), they have to be real Facebook members, with real accounts, with real emails. You cannot set a page administrator to be another page or group. Ok, let’s get into it.

1. Go to your ministry’s page, and select ‘Settings’:

fb admin instructions 1

2. Under ‘Settings,’ select ‘Page Roles’:

fb admin instructions 2

3. In ‘Page Roles,’ there is a spot where you can choose other people to administer the page (or other roles – not everyone needs to be an administrator to edit the page):

fb admin instructions 3

4. Enter the name or email of the person you want to add and use the drop-down menu of roles to select the role for that person:

(Must be the email used for that person’s Facebook account. And for most of your ministry pages, this role will likely be Administrator or Editor, but check out the ‘Learn More’ link if you want to find out more about the roles and options.)

fb admin instructions 4

5. Save update. Repeat for each person you want to add.

fb admin instructions 6

 

More on Facebook later, but we hope this is helpful for Facebook page administrators as you think about sharing that work.

Featured Client: Presbytery of Philadelphia

pby of philThe Presbytery of Philadelphia is a long-time member of Worship Times, and we were excited to recently build and launch a brand new site for the presbytery that includes updated design, navigation and other usability features. You might think we get sad when our members start talking about a website facelift, but we actually think it’s great.

We encourage our members to update the look of their sites every couple of years to keep them fresh and working well. Design and web tools change and improve over time, and we want our members to take advantage of new tools that have been created or added since their last updates. Also, we hope your ministries are growing and changing as well, and the website you created three years ago might not fit you anymore.

Our work with the Presbytery of Philadelphia also reflects the kind of relationship we like to have with our members. As the presbytery recognized the need for an updated look, and a website that better highlighted the specific work and mission of their presbytery, they began conversations with Worship Times.

When we work with our members, we appreciate these conversations about what the goals of a particular website need to be, the character of a particular ministry, and the needs of visitors to that ministry’s website. Our goal is to use our own ministry experience and web design skills to translate your ministry’s mission to a website that fits the ministry’s character and is easily accessible and understandable for users. As your ministry needs and mission are grown, updated, or become outdated, we want to continue to be part of those conversations.

The Presbytery of Philadelphia wanted to reorganize their blog, make navigation of their resources for each regional group of churches clearer, and better highlight ministry happening throughout the presbytery, all in a design that flowed from their updated logo and color scheme. The result is clean and user-friendly, and lifts up in new ways their innovative Ministry and Leadership Incubator, the work being done in camp and conference ministry, community outreach and connectional ministries.

Presbyteries do a lot of work, and have a wide audience, so their websites can be complicated. Being able to showcase that work in a beautiful and easy-to-use website is a satisfying job that we are happy to share with you. So, go take a look!

So, You’re Ready for a New Website: Leadership Questions

articulated-male-818202_640So, you are ready for a new website. There are many things to think about in building a new website, so we will be doing a series talking about some different aspects as you prepare to take the next steps.

The first thing you need in place is buy-in from your leadership. If you need help with this, we can give you some good tools to help talk about the need for a new website with your leadership. Once the decision is made to get a new website, the next question will be, who should make the decisions about design, content, etc.

Just as different ministries have different leadership models, they have different ideas about who will make decisions when you are figuring out if and how to build a new website. However decisions are made in your ministry, having a team or committee accompany you through this process and who should be on a team is a big decision. The leadership involved can help or hinder a site build project. Many times our staff are asked, “How long does the process take to build a new site?” Inevitably, the answer is, it depends on you or your team.

Whether you work with a team of people or not, having someone as the project manager is key. This will be the direct link between you and your website builder as we gather the necessary information for your site.

Keep in mind, your point person or website team doesn’t have to have website building experience, but rather it’s best to have people that know your church/ministry, know and understand how to express your vision and mission, are open-minded, know where to find needed information, and can keep the project on task.

 

If you plan to use a team, here are some suggestions on who you should be looking for:

(we recommend keeping it small, three key people is an ideal number)

Communications representative: Knows what tools the church needs and uses to communicate. This can be the admin assistant or communications director or a volunteer that assists with newsletters, updating the site, etc.

A staff member: They know the day-to-day activities of the church or ministry, as well as hold institutional memory about vision and mission.

A visitor or new member: a visitor or new member will be able to point out the things needed that might be overlooked because it is information that you assume “everybody knows” (worship times and locations, parking and nursery info, etc.). They will be able to talk about items that are important to visitors looking for information for the first time, and point out language that might be confusing or “insider baseball” – terminology that long-time members and staff might understand, but wouldn’t be known by new people.

 

Remember to be open-minded, understanding that a website is dynamic, not static, so the decisions you make now about design and content can and should be adapted as your ministry changes and adapts over time – a good website will adapt to the life of the ministry.