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 As your ministry needs and mission are grown, updated, or become outdated, we want to continue to be part of those conversations.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!

Featured Client: NEXT Church

next church logoNEXT Church was formed around the questions that have arisen in a turbulent time in the church. Specifically, as the Presbyterian Church (USA) has seen people and churches leaving for other denominations, or no worshipping community at all, anxiety around identity and the future of the churches and people remaining in the denomination have led to conversations and gatherings to address those anxieties and fears head on.

NEXT Church strives not to blow up the church, but look for new answers and new ways of living into the old questions in this ancient faith. Leaders who attend NEXT gatherings and form connections and networks within the NEXT community are looking to form, reform and transform themselves and their communities around the hope found in Christ, an antidote to our anxieties.

NEXT doesn’t seek to stop people from having questions and doubts, but to have fruitful and life-giving conversations about those questions, to reframe answers around hope, instead of fear, and to connect leaders in the PC(USA) who are doing just that.

Worship Times has had the privilege of working alongside NEXT Church as they have grown, asked questions about their own identity, and come up with some interesting answers about where they are, and where they want to go. In the last few months, we have worked closely with NEXT leadership to update their branding and website, to match their renewed understanding of who NEXT Church is, and where NEXT is going. We were excited to be able to reveal the new website and logo to kick off the national gathering happening this week.

We look forward to our continued ministry partnership with NEXT Church, and we are excited to see what new ministry ideas lay ahead for those engaged with their gatherings and conversations. This is the sort of relationship we seek with Worship Times members, and we are blessed to see it happen time and time again. We celebrate NEXT Church’s ministry, and we would love to celebrate with your ministry, too!

Featured Client: UNCO

Unco logo

Worship Times was founded in order to help ministries tell their stories through digital media. We created a platform that was easily accessible to users – both technologically and financially – but also provided the highest quality websites and digital communications. We believed that quality did not have to be sacrificed for affordability or user ease, but could go hand-in-hand. We have found similar creative work in the people and ministries that have participated in the Unconference, a church-based, open-format gathering of people who believe that church doesn’t have to be complicated to be amazing. People who are doing remarkable things with very little conventional resources.

People like Anna Woofenden, who started The Garden Church, and saw the possibilities of extending God’s Kingdom to an anonymous alleyway. Mercy Junction, which was created at one of the first Unco gatherings from a conversation between Brian Merritt and Laura Becker. Ministries supported and inspired by Unco and the people who gather there range from these to The Kirk Coffee, Love Wins, Isaiah’s Table, The Word House, Sanctuary for the Arts, Our Common Ground, and Open Gathering. (And more.) Worship Times has been in the mix from the beginning. Having conversations about digital ministry and communications, providing websites, cheering on Spirit-filled ministry.

Worship Times doesn’t just play lip service to innovative ministries, nor do we believe innovative ministry comes in a particular shape, size or age category. We are working and sharing moral Unco waves hisupport with people doing creative ministry in well-established churches, and people who are not sure what they are creating as they just get started, fueled by a calling and passion of the Spirit of God in the world. If you are excited by the work of Christ in the world, and aren’t sure what’s next, Unco is a great place to have that conversation. More than once someone who has come to Unco with the seed of an idea, or not even yet a seed, has gone away and started something new. Maybe right away, maybe a few years down the road, new ministries, resurrected ministries, simply new ideas in an old system.

It’s powerful, it’s Christ-filled, and it’s real. If you need something like that, join us at Unco for some of these life-giving conversations. We’ll see you there.

Next Unco dates: May 16-18, 2016, at Stony Point Center in Stony Point, NY. October (dates tba), 2016, at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, CA.

Happy New Year in Scrabble tiles

Telling Your Story: A New Hope

Happy New Year in Scrabble tilesAs we continue to celebrate Christmas, and look toward the new calendar year, this is often a week of reflection – on what happened in the previous year, and what we hope for in the new year. We ponder our successes and misses, and think about how we might be able to shake off old habits that bog us down, and create new habits that will make us healthier, happier, more loving and giving people.

Even if our life is going pretty well, taking time to reflect on what you do well and other areas in which you would like to learn and grow is important. It helps you become even more the person you were created to be, and contribute more awesome to the world. The same is true when it comes to telling our story.

In Christian ministries, we tell a story that is both ancient, but also made new each day through the renewing work of God, especially as we invite new disciples into this work. As Christianity encounters new cultures and new generations, it learns new ways to tell its story. Likewise, our ministries cannot simply continue to tell this ancient story only in familiar ways. For one thing, the ways we worship and tell stories today would certainly not feel familiar to the first Christians.

New Year’s resolutions are about taking on new views and attitudes about life. If we are successful in sticking to our resolutions, we will find ourselves walking with our heads a little higher, our steps a little lighter. As our storytelling changes in our ministries, our ministries will take on new attitudes and new ways of being in the world as well. This is a good time to think about new ways to share those new ways of being in our mission statements, our branding and the face of our ministries shown in social media and websites.

At Worship Times, we are working to keep learning about and developing new digital tools and website themes, too, so we can help you tell your stories in new ways. Even if you are a current Worship Times member, we can help you think about a new look or new storytelling tools as we go into the new year. We love talking about the new things you are trying and excited about, so come chat with us about them!

Telling Your Story: Taking It to the World

We’ve talked about why you need to tell your story, the foundation of your story and creating a story that is clear and unique, and now we want to talk about going beyond your story. Your story shouldn’t stop at your front door, or even your website. It should be connected both to the grand story we are telling together as a Church, and also to all of the stories of everyday life – of struggles and joys, loss and birth, of ordinary meals and chores and fabulous gatherings of friends and feasting. We don’t do ministry for money or fame or even honor or legacy, but to answer the call to life together. And if your story doesn’t connect to other people where they are, why are we telling it?

The story we have to tell has power. We talked about telling an authentic story so people could be drawn toward a community that contains truth and meaning at the center. People are constantly searching for a life that means something. It is why we see people invest in work and things and power, and most often do not find what they are looking for. It is why so many people seek out answers from religious institutions when there is a crisis – we claim to have truth to share. And we shouldn’t wait for a crisis to share that truth. The more we offer our story in ways that touch people’s lives, the more they will seek us out when they are ready to go deeper.

Some of the powerful ways people are telling this story of faith are through short videos, such as the Slate Project creates, tiny audio pieces, like 30 Seconds or Less, blogs, photos, prayers, twitter chats, devotional writing – a million ways to take the things we’re already talking about in our churches, and share them with the world.

Baghdad Paris Beirut picture prayer

Originally posted by The Young Clergy Women Project

One example is a simple picture prayer in response to the attacks in Baghdad, Beirut and Paris within a few days, shared by The Young Clergy Women Project, a Worship Times member. Their mission is to create a community to support young women in ministry, and they have conferences and a private Facebook group that do so, but they also have a blog and a public Facebook page, where they share their words and thoughts with the world. This simple picture prayer went viral because they had built up an audience with their other writing and sharing, and when people went looking for something to speak to so much tragedy, they responded with something meaningful.

The more you are able to reach an audience with the story you are already telling, the more they will want to hear. What are some ways you can share your story with new audiences? How will you meet them where they are with the truth and meaning they seek?

stack of old books and lamp on a table

Telling Your Story: How to Do It Well

stack of old books and lamp on a tableThe mission of Christians is clearly laid out in Matthew 28 (paraphrasing): Go, make disciples, baptize, and teach – in all the nations. However, by looking at most church websites you might think the way to follow Jesus is to go to meetings and potlucks and join sewing circles or the choir. Not that any of those things are bad, but so many churches and church websites are focused on who is already in the doors, and forget that there is a whole world of people out there looking for meaning, in the world and their lives, people who may not connect those meetings and potlucks with something bigger – God’s love, hope, caring for the sick, imprisoned or poor, and a rich story.

Additionally, many church websites seem to be telling the same story, rather than showing the beautiful tapestry of communities that celebrate God, share this story and their lives, in a multitude of ways. Not all faith gatherings are alike, and we should celebrate that! People come in a variety of shapes, sizes, learning styles and gifts, and so do our churches. We need to show that there is a place for you, no matter who you are. But if all of our websites look the same, and don’t share the rich life of faith with the world, why would anyone want to join us?

We need to stop thinking about our church websites as a member’s portal. First, your members either already know the information, find it out in person, or are finding things on your site through direct links in newsletter. They already know the lay of the land, and will be able to find what they are looking for quickly in any well-designed site.

Your website is not primarily for members, it is for those you are commissioned to go and seek out in Matthew 28. So when you think of your layout, pictures and organization, think about what communicates your unique story quickly and plainly to people who may not know anything about Jesus. Can people tell who Jesus and his followers are just by looking at your site? We hope so.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Use pictures of your actual members so people know who they might meet at your church.
  • Show pictures of those members doing something meaningful you do together (not something you did once 5 years ago), and not posed for group shots.
  • Use plain language – how would you explain what you do and what you believe to people who have never been to a church?
  • Keep it clean – no, not language, organization. Too many churches think they need to put all the information about all of their beliefs, programs, classes and history on the front page. No! Let people explore your story naturally, and you want them to go deeper into your site. Just make the navigation clear and simple, and they’ll find their way to everything you want them to find. (Likewise, don’t put every page in the site in the menus – that’s overwhelming and confusing.)
  • Do include the most important information on the front page – location, worship times, clear links to directions, education program info and childcare (if you have it, where, who)
  • Be authentic – if you only have one black family in your church, don’t put their pictures all over your website to intimate racial diversity that doesn’t exist. Just be honest about who you are and what you do.

As you look at how to tell your story with your website as your front door and front page, these are important first steps. If you stopped there, you would have a great website. But if you are up for more, there are lots of other great ways to help tell your story, and we’ll talk about more of those next week. Until then, go, make disciples, baptize and tell the story of Jesus in every way you can.

silhouette in reflection, identity

Telling Your Story: Branding and Identity

silhouette in reflection, identityA ministry establishes its identity in telling its story. Your brand is your identity and it’s telling a story. Each ministry has a story to tell. Who are you? What do you do? Why do you do it?

What’s in a brand?

Your image is built on your beliefs, values, character, logo and digital “curb-appeal,” i.e. social media and web presence. How your brand is viewed comes down to content, customer service and messaging, and that includes color schemes, visual elements, font selection/usage, and making sure you have a well-developed message in the first place.

That may seem like a lot, but it all fits together in expressing who you are as a ministry. Your story isn’t just words, it’s color, pictures, and images that reflect who you are and your call in and to the world.

A good place to start in branding and identity is with your mission statement. Don’t have one? Write one. (With proper committee approval, of course.) This will serve as the foundation in everything you do as a ministry. It doesn’t have to be lengthy, but to the point. (A classic: Matthew 28’s Great Commission.)

The next step is identifying who you are through your brand, which is all of those things mentioned up top.

So why do this?

1.     It improves clarity around and understanding of your mission;
2.    It promotes a disciplined approach to ensure that everything your
church does aligns with that mission;
3.    It establishes a clear point as well as a source of inspiration and
information; and
4.     It will leave an impression on visitors.

What does this look like in practice?

Worship Times logoAt Worship Times, our mission is: To serve ministries communicating their message and mission in the world. Like our ministry partners our on-line presence is intended to express our mission clearly. For us, using a liturgical color (green for Ordinary time), our logo graphics, and the pictures and examples on our site represent our commitment to ministries and sharing your stories with effective digital communication solutions.

This is who we are and what we do, and we’ve heard from many of our members that they came to us because our website clearly reflected both our expertise and our understanding of ministry. What a compliment to our branding and identity!

What’s next?

Incorporating your logo, design, color, etc. in your other communications such as Facebook, Twitter, newsletters, etc., is a first step. Making sure your message is consistent and matches the way you tell your story throughout all your communications and how you present yourselves on-line and in person is how you continue to live into and build your brand and identity.

What story are you telling with your website? What does your branding and identity say about your ministry and call in and to the world? How does it share your story and invite others to join in your story?

That’s a Worship Times Page!

The other day I accidentally deleted my church’s newsletter from my inbox and went to their website to download the file. I was shocked to see a site completely different from the one they had before. Since I began attending this church in 2009 they had kept the same basic website with only recent information being updated.

Plainsboro Pres Homepage

The new site features a scrolling picture wheel from various church events, worship information right up front, upcoming events listed down the side, and a helpful links bar at the top. Straightforward but dynamic and effective.

Scrolling down, I saw the Worship Times logo at the bottom. What?! I thought to myself. That’s a Worship Times page! I have worked for Worship Times for a few months now, mostly behind the scenes. I had no idea that my own church was working with Worship Times to create this new site.

All last year I interned with another church, so I wasn’t able to keep up on what was happening at mine. The new site gave me tons of information about what was going on over the summer and what was going to happen during the fall. I found out we had a new Director of Music (and when choir practice is). I even learned about the history of the church. (The founding pastor was tried for heresy!)

Most importantly, even though the site was new this was still my church. Our beloved prayer doves are featured as part of the picture wheel, our newly updated Mission and Values statement is under the “About Us” link, and everything sounds real and authentic. They didn’t have to change anything about us in order to make a site that is usable for members, visitors, and the curious alike. That’s a Worship Times page.

Proudly Using WordPress

For the last few weeks I’ve been stewing over a way to explain why we use open-source software for Worship Times.  More importantly, why we use WordPress.  In my research for statistics, I came across this amazing post by Lorelle that perfectly sums up the “why WordPress” question.  If you’d like to learn more about WordPress and why we use it, visit Lorelle’s blog here.  If you still have questions, please leave us a comment.

Blessings on your ministry.