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.

-Laura Bratton

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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Re-Purposing Social Media Content

There’s a repeated phrase in the world of social media: content is king. As a church leader who also does social media I understand the phrase but have some trouble with it because if we’re going to call anything king it should be Jesus. But the main point of this phrase is to point to the importance of content within online communities.

The term “content” can mean a bunch of different things–blog posts, podcasts, Facebook updates, e-newsletters–anything that communicates a message. The great thing about this is churches tend to have strong messages such as sermons, devotions, worship services, announcements, and photos that are translatable into online content.

Think creatively about re-purposing content. Most people need to hear or see something multiple times to remember it. Taking the sermon from Sunday and posting it on Monday could be a good way to re-enforce the message of the service. Pastoral prayers can be posted in pieces throughout the week. Reflective questions posed in the sermon can be posted and even discussed.

When we re-purpose content to be communicated online, there are some considerations that need to be thought about. When sermons are then published to be read, what else needs to happen? Are there quotes from books that need to be fully cited or emphasis that comes through in preacher’s tone that needs to be conveyed through punctuation or underlining key words? Who is going to make these changes? If the entire worship services goes online as an mp3 do you need to also put a PDF version of the bulletin up?

If you’re not sure what questions to ask, consider these:

  1. If a regular attender wasn’t at this service or event, will they understand the message through the medium it is being communicated?
  2. If someone has never attended a service or event at your church, will they understand the message through the medium it is being communicated?

With a little re-purposing you can take the content your church is already producing and ensure your online presence is kept up all week long.

Trying Out New Technology

faviconYesterday I was asked a very interesting question based on something I had tweeted.

A friend texted me to aks how often new technology should be tried out at church events, and I saw a major mistake in my tweet.

The answer is: never.

You should never try out new technology during a live worship service or educational event. Church leaders are using new technology all the time, but they try them out before the actual event. I can’t count how many times something has gone wrong with technology in the last ten minutes before an event. Technology that is new to you is even more likely to have issues.

This isn’t to scare you off of using new technology whether it’s Skyping in a special speaker for Sunday school or showing a video on YouTube as a minute for mission during worship or whatever you may be doing. You just have to be smart about how you use that technology. Give some time to planning and trying it out before the day of the event.

There’s no right answer for how often you can introduce new technology to your congregation. It depends on your congregation, how comfortable they are with new technology being used at church, and what you’re using that technology for. But there are a few rules of thumb I follow before using new technology for a church event:

1) Decide what the message of the event is

2) Decide what technology best supports the message that you can also feasibly set up in the time you have

3) Find out what kind of support you’re going to need to use the technology (new or borrowed equipment, A/V person etc.)

4) Clearly decide who will be in charge of what for the event

5) Have a backup plan

6) Run a trial the week before the event

7) Run a trial the day before the event

8) Run a trial an hour before the event

9) Have a tech-y person on nearby to address any issues so the leaders can continue with the event if issues arise

10) Thoughtfully reflect on the event afterwards and how the technology helped or hindered your message

Using Social Media for Church Job Searches

communityMany churches are using social media thoughtfully to assist the hiring process. Often churches have hiring committees made up of dedicated people who are volunteering their time. We all want our time to be respected and valued. Using social media and technology increases communication between the committee members and between the committee and the candidates. Below are some tips about how social media can help three different parts of the hiring process.

1) Advertising the Position–Whether your church is looking for a full-time pastor or a part-time bookkeeper social media can help your church draw a larger pool of applicants. Use your church’s social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to announce the job opening and link to a description. Put an announcement and link on your website’s homepage. Ask people to retweet and share the position, and don’t be afraid to re-post the position every week or two. Check out other sites that list non-profit and ministry jobs (for example to see if it would be beneficial to advertise with them. Be sure to use key words that someone would type into a Google search. The church may need an organist, but use the terms “accompanist” and “musician” in the description for better search engine optimization (SEO).

2) Communicate within the Committee–Most importantly, when your committee forms talk about how best it is to communicate with each other. Phone, email, text, just agree on a main form of communication. If you need to schedule meetings outside your regular time use a tool like Doodle for easier tracking. Keep a shared Google Doc list of candidates who apply, which member of the committee is going over that candidate’s resumé, what references have been checked, who is the committee member contact person for them, etc. Share any links the candidates send a committee member individually such as YouTube videos of them preaching or their personal blog. Open communication will save you from headaches later.

3) Conducting Interviews–Phone interviews are fine especially if you’re working in a church without reliable internet, and face-to-face interviews are best if possible. In between there are many options. If the committee will be in multiple places, pay for a premium Skype account ($4.99/month) which then can be used to get up to 10 Skype accounts on the same video call or use Google Hangout. If the committee will be gathered in one place, a regular Skype account, Google Hangout, or FaceTime (if someone on the committee and the candidate both have Apple products) will work.

Has your church used any social media to assist in a recent hiring process? We’d love to hear about it! Comment here or ping us on Twitter or Facebook.

Think Mobile Website

imageAccording in the 2013 Millennial Impact Study, 83% of Millennials have phones with access to the internet and often read non-profit websites and emails on their phones. The biggest “pet peeve” as named in the study of Millennials is trying to negotiate a website that isn’t mobile-friendly.

What does this mean for churches and ministries many of which are non-profits? It means we need to start thinking mobile. A clear, organized mobile site can help us make our message clear not only to Millennials but all who are interacting with our online presence on a mobile device which is a number that grows every year.

People want to see pictures and understanding the mission of the ministries they’re reading about. A mobile phone is how many people are keeping connected, and people want to be connected to what they’re passionate about. We’re reading more email on our phones from e-newsletters to work news to prayer chains. A good mobile website needs to cut through everything else that’s going on and focus on the ways people connect.

Worship Times offers mobile support for all of our websites–no matter what theme you choose to work with for your website. Whatever device or app people are accessing your website with Worship Times will automatically customize your website its specifications. We keep your site under constant development to keep up with the changes to mobile technology.

We make sure your buttons are big enough to be pushed on a small screen and your mission is being highlighted loud and clear. We put the things people are looking for up front. With a Worship Times site, you don’t have to worry about your site being someone’s biggest pet peeve.

For more information about our mobile support click here.

Visitors and Your Website

Have you ever wondered what people who aren’t regular attenders at your church think about your website? The easiest thing to do is to find someone who fits in that category to look at your website and tell you, but that’s not always possible. We don’t want to jump on people who visit the church on Sunday morning and bombard them with questions.

Kingston UMC front page

Instead, here is a list of questions to ask yourself as you look at your website to try and get an outside point of view.

1) What is the first thing your eye is drawn to? A picture? A logo? Does this represent something that’s important to the congregation? Is there too much going on to focus on one thing? Maybe you need to break the homepage up into multiple pages

2) Is there a clear navigation tool if you have a multi-page site? If there is, is it clear what each page is about? The page labeled “JOY!” may point to your church’s retired person’s group list of activities, but to someone who doesn’t know joy stands for “just older youth” it doesn’t mean much

3) Where is your contact information located? Ideally it should be in more than one place like on the home page and on its own separate page labeled “contact us.” (Also a good idea to check and make sure all the contact info is up to date for the church and staff/volunteers.

4) Is the font consistent throughout the site and large enough to be readable? You don’t need to only use a single font; but make sure all the page titles have the same font, all the links have the same font, etc

5) Where are your worship times listed? Many people browsing online for churches want to know when your church worships. Worship times need to be on the front page and easily seen in the first look at the screen. (No scrolling.) You can have all kinds of information about the style, the music, and the dress on another page

Hopefully these questions will help you start to see where or if your site needs to be updated. Knowing what needs to be done is the first step!

Online Resources for Advent Worship Planning

It is that time of year in churches across the world. It’s Advent worship planning time!

Advent Wreath

Advent wreath

Advent is the four wonderful Sundays before Christmas where we focus on preparation for Jesus’ birth. This year Advent begins on December 2nd, but Advent planning often starts months beforehand.

There are many online resources for worship planning and plenty especially for Advent. Worship Times has put together a list of places to start your worship planning.

Reference Resources
Revised Common Lectionary Texts–on Vanderbilt Divinity Library
Advent Visual Arts and Worship Slideshow
Hymns for Advent–on Hymnary

Denominational Resources (lots of tools on each page)
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Reformed Church in America
United Church of Christ
United Methodist Church

Other Resources
5 Things Your Church Must Do at Christmas–on Ministry Matters
Advent and Christmas Quick Planning Ideas–from St. Mary’s Press
1st Sunday in Advent Resources–from Text This Week
Blue Christmas Worship Service Template–from NAMI