Church Management Software and a Worship Times Plug-in!

One of the most frequent questions we have heard from members and prospective members in the last year is about church databases or church management software (CMS). Specifically, people are looking for web-based solutions that will also integrate with their websites.

Tracking membership, giving and attendance at the very least are not just about counting butts in seats, but about making sure we are attending to all of our members as we do ministry. Even the smallest churches keep track of these numbers in some form, if not a whole software database.

Church management systems can also assist you in organizing classes and groups of volunteers, event calendars and registration, outreach through directed email, texts and mailings, and more. Not all systems have the same features, but most have included these features as churches recognize that they needed an integrated system that covered all of these functions.

Churches looking at new CMS solutions today want web-based systems where members can more easily access and update their information online. Church administrators and pastors can also pull up this information if they are away from the office and need it.

Capterra has a great run-down of the top church management software products. If you are looking for a new church management system, this is a great resource.

There are a lot of fantastic products out there, but for members who are looking for a CMS option that also integrates well with their websites, we have been recommending Breeze. Worship Times strives to provide ministries with user-friendly, affordable website solutions, and Breeze fits this model as well.

Worship Times members value ease in usability, and both the Capterra review and this comparative review from Breeze show how Breeze gets top marks in that area. Breeze compares well to even more powerful systems because it integrates well with programs like Quickbooks that many churches use and like for financial tracking. Several of our members have already chosen to move to Breeze.

With this in mind, we have developed a Breeze plug-in for WordPress that will more smoothly integrate your website and database, and make it easier to access for church members.

Check out how our Breeze plug-in will work to integrate Breeze into your WordPress website.

Announcing a New WordPress Plugin in Partnership With sermon.net

Black computer keyboard with a 'Connect' key in place of the 'Enter' keyChurches often see new technology as a problem to be solved, or an obstacle to overcome to get on with “real” ministry. Worship Times and sermon.net were created by people who are excited by the opportunities in new forms of technology for deepening ministry and faith, and wanted to share their excitement and knowledge with others.

Even with the advent of website and podcasting platforms that can be more easily understood and used, these technologies can be intimidating for people not using them every day. And that’s where companies like sermon.net and Worship Times come in. Working with people who both understand the technology and are enthusiastic about helping you use it makes all the difference.

It only makes sense that two companies doing parallel work to help churches and ministries would end up working together to create a powerful new tool.

Worship Times uses WordPress, the most popular website platform in the world[1], as the basis for their websites, creating themes and tools specifically designed for the work of ministry. At the same time sermon.net built a powerful network of tools allowing churches and ministries to upload, store, deliver and livestream audio and video content (and more) efficiently and easily without a huge cost.

sermon.net has offered some unique ways to connect to their tools and apps through both PC and mobile technology, but had not yet developed a plug-in specifically for WordPress. As Worship Times began to look into the best ways to help their members connect their sermon.net content to their own websites, we were impressed with the work that sermon.net has done and continues to do. We wanted to make it even easier for our members to use sermon.net services and tools, so we decided to develop our own WordPress plug-in, along with the technical support of sermon.net developers.

Working with sermon.net has been a fun and productive collaboration. It is good to meet and work with partners who share the same goals and values, and who can help you improve what you do. We consistently seek to work with such partners when we are able, to be able to offer the best tools to our members, and to further the work of their ministries.

This plug-in will be available to any Worship Times members who are using or would like to use sermon.net services, which you can read about and sign up for at sermon.net. This plug-in is also available to sermon.net users with WordPress sites not on the Worship Times network.

May your Advent and Christmas seasons also be filled with fruitful and meaningful work with good partners and new friends.

[1] About 27% of websites worldwide use WordPress (up from 25% a year ago – https://w3techs.com).

Worship Times: Worship Leader Magazine Editor’s Pick for 2016

bestofbug-2016-200For the third year in a row, Worship Times has been named Worship Leader Magazine Editor’s Pick for Digital Worship Resources: Web Development!

Meeting the digital needs of ministries and non-profits is our call and passion. We love helping our members discover new ways to communicate and improve upon existing ones. We help ministries tell their story and share their work and call in the world.

Being chosen again as an Editor’s Pick by Worship Leader Magazine reaffirms our commitment to the work we do together, and energizes us for future collaborations with churches, ministries, and non-profits.

We thank our members for the confidence and trust they put in us and allowing us to accompany them in ministry.

Black computer keyboard with a 'Connect' key in place of the 'Enter' key

Summer Review: Accessibility

This week, we are honored to hear from a guest author, the Rev. Laura Bratton, about the importance of making your websites accessible to those with different physical and mental abilities. Rev. Bratton is a coach and consultant who works with people to face difficult situations with courage. You can find out more about Rev. Bratton’s work on her website, Ubi Global, and you can find out more about reviewing and improving the accessibility of your website through the links she has provided at the end of her post.


Black computer keyboard with a 'Connect' key in place of the 'Enter' keyIs your website accessible to people with disabilities? Typically this question is not at the top of our list of things to do. As churches, ministries, and nonprofits, we often strive to make our buildings accessible. What about our websites? It is true that only a small percentage of the people going to our website will have a disability. Yet what a powerful message we can send when even our website is accessible. A message that indeed all people are welcome and included!

As a person who is blind, accessible websites are the only way I can navigate the internet. The wonderful advancements of technology have allowed me and other people with disabilities the opportunity to have the same access to information. Through the use of a screen reader, such as Apple Voice Over, I am able to navigate the computer and internet. Both personally and professionally I use the internet constantly. When I come across a website that is not accessible, I am quickly frustrated. It means that I have to wait until someone can describe the website to me and help me navigate the site.

There are many resources that are available to help make websites accessible. Below are three links to help you create a website that is user friendly to all people. Thank you for your effort to have an accessible website so that everyone can use it equally.

https://webaccess.berkeley.edu/resources/tips/web-accessibility

http://www.w3.org/WAI/gettingstarted/Overview.html

http://www.afb.org/info/accessibility/creating-accessible-websites/23

-Laura Bratton

Summer Review: Organization

website organizationFollowing up on last week’s post, we are talking about doing some website review and cleanup as we close out the summer. Last week we talked about getting rid of old and outdates information and photos, and this week we want to talk about your website’s organization.

Many people don’t think much about how their website is organized once the initial design and build is complete, and the website is launched. However, like any system, as people use it, you will find places that your organization doesn’t make much sense, or is overwhelming. Websites are dynamic, and sites built on WordPress, like Worship Times sites, are meant to be changed easily. If something isn’t working, rearrange!

Some things to think about for menus:

  • Does the menu make sense – does the order flow in the way you would expect if you were visiting another church or ministry’s website?
  • Do you need all the menu items you currently have? Clutter is overwhelming, can you move page links to header pages instead? You do not need to list every page in the site on the menu.
  • Is there anything glaring missing? (Like staff pages or your calendar.)
  • Are your menu items clear? Do they use common, rather than insider language, i.e. would anyone outside your membership know what they mean?
  • Do you have sub-menus? This goes back to the clutter issue, and sub-menus are not always as mobile-friendly as your main menu.

Some things to think about for general organization:

  • If you have programs or events mentioned in several places, are they linked in those places?
  • Check your menu and in-page links to make sure they are all working. If not, you may have lost a link in a previous re-organization, or you may just need to freshen up the link.
  • Look at content on individual pages. If there is a lot of information on one page, you can add separate pages for programs/items listed on that page that link back to that page, but don’t also need to be listed on the menu. You could also insert a summary, with a link to “Read More Here,” if they are interested (especially for history page).
  • Additional pages do not need to be added to your menu (this applies to the previous point as well as any new pages you add for new programs, events, forms, etc.) Do link them on the appropriate pages but, once again, not everything needs to be on the menu.

Some things to think about for layout:

  • Are your pictures the right size and in the right locations?
  • Do any of your front page widgets need updating? Information, size, display? If they don’t make sense as they are, you might think about trying them in new locations. If you have a place for sermons that never got uploaded, delete or replace it with another widget.
  • Look at styling – header sizes, bold and italics – on different pages. Do they look proportional? Are the bold and italicized items necessary, or do they detract from the look of your pages?

That’s enough to think about to get started. It’s also good to get fresh eyes on your site – ask other staff and members for their input as well as friends or neighbors who may not use your site often or at all. They may be able to spot problematic areas that you can’t see by working on the site more often. You don’t need to make every change other people suggest (there definitely can be too many cooks in the kitchen), but you can get an idea of places you might want to look at updating your organization for the best user experience.

And if you need a refresher about how to edit your menu(s), add or edit links, customizing your front page and other widget areas, or other tasks, our tutorial videos are always there to help you out.

Summer Review: Old Stuff, New Stuff

broomsAs the rate of support requests increases at Worship Times, we can tell summer is winding down for our member ministries. Vacations are ending, Fall programs kick-offs are on the horizon, and people are looking to clean up their websites. This is a perfect time to kick off our end-of-summer blog series on reviewing your websites.

Perhaps you have a dedicated staff member or volunteer who keeps your website up-to-date on a weekly or monthly basis. But even if you do, there are some things it is good to do on a yearly basis to keep your site looking fresh and welcoming.

The biggest thing we see when we review church websites is old information or pictures. Even if you are updating your announcements, events and sermon media each week, you may not be looking at many of the other pages in your site that often. This is a great time to take a deep dive to see if anything needs to be updated, deleted or added. Staff pages, education and mission pages, long-term events are all areas to check out to update bios, pictures, meeting places and times, curriculum information, etc.

Pay attention to the pictures throughout the site. If you are using pictures of children, especially, ones that are a couple years old are already severely out-of-date. Preschoolers are now 3rd-graders, 3rd-graders are middle schoolers, and your confirmation class could be in college.

If you have any new staff, new classes, new sermon series or new members, you want people to know about them. Make sure you are not hiding these things under a bushel basket, but let them shine!

One more thing, if you have any new staff or volunteers working on your website, or any staff or volunteer changes that affect the website, and who we need to contact at your ministry, please let us know. We want to update our own records, and offer any assistance we can as people get familiarized with your Worship Times website.

Simply looking at these areas of your website once a year will prevent old information from confusing visitors, or causing them to think that your programs are as outdated as your website. A quick look once a year can save a lot of work down the road.

Next week: Let’s look at organization.

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!