David Cassady is available for workshops, training events and committee consultations. He brings an awareness of the appropriate use of media and technology for ministry and educational settings. Contact David.
The terrible earthquake that devastated Haiti may have slipped from the front pages of newspapers, but the real needs of the people continue. Many congregations continue to find ways to provide food, shelter and medical supplies to the Haitian people.
One congregation is using a video to raise awareness of the ongoing needs of Haiti, and to motivate persons to be part of the caring.
This church could have continued their program of support in Haiti without the video. But using a video to help tell the story of their ministry is smart. Because it is one more way to engage and involve people in these good works.
The video also gives the surrounding community a sense of the nature and values of this particular congregation in middle Georgia. So many times, we leave public perception of the church to those who seek it (usually extremists). While this quiet piety is admirable in its humility, the reality is that congregations must do a better job of telling the stories of their work and ministries. It is a part of defining the church, and of defining the Christian faith to the larger culture.
I applaud the way Lizzie Chapel is using media to raise awareness and support for this critical ministry. What stories should your congregation be telling?
Welcome to the new FaithLab.com! We’ve updated our design to make the site even easier to navigate, and to build a foundation for the new services and products that FaithLab will soon be offering.
Our blog continues to be front and center in the new site. That’s because we believe the sharing of our faith stories is at the core of our mission. We also offer services, such as website development (and coming soon: publishing services) that help you tell your stories of faith (and those of your congregation or organization).
So welcome. We’ll be updating our blog regularly in the days ahead, and will also continue migrating our article archives from the previous FaithLab website.
We hope you enjoy the new FaithLab!
Ministers, how many of you write an article or letter for your newsletter each week? If you are only sharing it in the printed newsletter, you are missing opportunities to reach persons.
In today’s culture, there is no one way that everyone gets information. Some still prefer the printed newsletter, while others would rather have an email or catch an update in their Facebook or Twitter stream. You’ve taken the effort to write a thoughtful article: why not share it as widely as possible?
The easiest way to share your writing more widely is to make sure your writings are posted on your church website, or a blog you maintain (and you really should have a blog as part of your church website). When you write a new article, also post it to your website/blog. Now, take another 30 seconds and grab the web address for the page containing your new article, and paste it as a link into your Facebook page (or your ministry’s “fan” page, or both), and then post the article title and link to your Twitter feed. When people click on either link, they will be taken to the page on your church website/blog where they can read the article. If your article is particularly interesting to your readers, they may “like” (in Facebook) or re-tweet (in Twitter) your post, thereby opening up your ideas to a whole new audience.
The goal isn’t just to encourage people to read your writing (as nice as that is), but also to bring the church to their minds. While they are visiting your site to read your article, they may also notice another ministry opportunity, or an event to attend.
With just a few extra minutes of effort, your writing has a chance to reach many more persons, and to connect with persons in the midst of their busy week.
Most church websites are mostly brochures. They give visitors the basic info needed to learn about the church (generally), as well as how to find the church, who is on staff, the ministries offered, and when services are held. All those things are terrific, and needed. But if your church only offers these things, it is missing out on a lot.
Think about it… your church is much more than a collection of ministry announcements, committee meetings and special events. A lot more. In fact, if you polled your membership to discover what makes their experience together so valuable, they would start telling stories.
They would tell stories about how the community welcomes them and has made them “family.” There would be stories about when they were sick or in the hospital, and the church provided food, prayer and support. And there would be the stories from being part of ministries: of helping build homes for the poor, of providing food to the hungry, of caring for the elderly and the lonely. More stories would come from missions experiences, of traveling to help in the wake of a disaster, of helping persons in another culture, of making a difference through doing good things.
And then there are the everyday stories. Stories about attending a movie with friends that developed into a discussion about faith, belief, fear, doubt or hope. Stories about accidentally seeing God’s presence in someone else. Stories that highlight need or challenges.
Here’s a more concrete example. In my church, one of our unique ministries is to families with special needs children. We have developed approaches to training helpers who partner with these children to help them connect and engage with children’s activities. Special programs happen, and there are supporting efforts to provide some rest and “away time” for parents of special needs children… allowing the parents to enjoy participating in music, learning and missions programs, or to just have an evening out together. There are dozens of concrete stories that emerge from this ministry each year.
What does this have to do with your church website? Most church websites focus on the “structure and events” of a church… what/where/when things are happening. And while this information is very helpful, consider how rich your website would be if it began telling stories.
Your church can tell stories on your website in a couple of ways. First, just add a blog to your site and keep it updated. It is best if the blog is integrated into your site (not based on an external service). To keep the blog active, ministers or selected laypersons can regularly invite members to tell stories. If youth just went on a mission trip, ask one or more youth to write up (or do an audio recording) of a meaningful story from the experience. If a retreat is held for an adult group, enlist someone to write about the experience. The more specific the story, the better.
Over time, your church blog will begin to show a much deeper face of your church, and will build up a library of faith stories that remind the congregation, community and guests of the power of faith.
Second, redesign your church homepage so the most recent 2-3 articles are highlighted on the the front page. When members or guests visit your site, they will benefit from the shared stories, while also having access to the schedule and other info about church life.
When telling stories, feel free to also use photos, video clips and audio recordings…. anything that helps better tell the story. Check out the many ways we tell stories here on FaithLab, and imagine doing similar posts for your church website.
After all, the Bible is a collection of faith stories gathered and retold over thousands of years. Adding our faith stories to the mix is a wonderful way to share our faith and make a difference in lives.
Photo Credit: David Cassady
FaithLab can help your church with your website development and design. Have questions about this series? Email David.
The other day I ran into Cletus, an old friend I first met four years ago, over breakfast at the local soup kitchen. I don’t volunteer there; I go for the donuts. The priest who runs the place doesn’t mind. They’ve got plenty of volunteers, he tells me, but hardly anyone who’ll just sit at the table and talk with the guys about what’s in the newspaper. So now I’m that guy, and when it comes to current events, Cletus is my main sparring partner.
His story is familiar enough that I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say he traded a good family and a good job for a bad woman and a bad habit, and ended up with nobody and nothing of value. Unless you count self-knowledge and a sense of humor, in which case Cletus is a rich man.
In any case, on the day in question I was just making my rounds in the neighborhood, connecting with old friends and letting myself be seen by the folks who moved in over the winter. I was glad when Cletus saw me and called my name. It takes a few passes before new neighbors figure out that I belong here, unless they see me hailed down and hugged by an “old head” like him.
We stood and talked on the sidewalk for a while, mainly about another friend from the soup kitchen who had just gotten out of a nursing home after a stroke, and was already back on the pipe. I never saw Charlie look better and happier than in that home, I told Cletus. I wished they’d never let him out.
“Aw, Bart,” he said, “you know ol’ Charlie may have been better off in there, but what he really wanted was to be back out here, doin’ his thing.” He paused. “We all do what we want in the end.”
I nodded, and half-jokingly asked what I should say to the church people who are always asking me how they can help street guys like Charlie and him. He laughed out loud at that.
“Tell ‘em that most of us don’t want their help! Hell, I know I don’t! I had what they have and I threw it away to get high and chase women. That’s still my choice. If I ever get tired of it, I know you’ll help me, but for now I’m just as happy to have you as a friend and leave it at that.”
Then I laughed out loud too, and we left it at that.
We all do what we want in the end, says Cletus, and around here that’s the problem. For his wife and kids, and for the doctors and nurses who spent their time and your money fixing up ol’ Charlie, that’s the problem. For a guy like me, who keeps walking around wondering what I’m doing here, that’s the problem.
What am I doing here? Waiting for Cletus to want something better.
P.S. – If you are interested, you can donate online at www.thewalnuthillsfellowship.org to support our little fellowship, which is conveniently registered as a 501c3 non-profit organization.
Bart Campolo ministers through The Walnut Hills Fellowship in Cincinnati, Ohio. This article is reprinted from his blog, which you can read here.
Let’s face it, if you want to know how to solve a computer problem, learn how to use a feature on a smartphone, or how to approach using your church’s Facebook page, you’ll often get the best answers from teenagers. And why not? They were born into a world where these digital goodies already existed, while adults have had to learn and adapt to them.
I often encourage churches to use digital tools to do more storytelling. Our faith is often best shared through stories, and our websites and church events benefit from using photos, music and video to tell these stories.
Yet, many ministers and adults just don’t feel comfortable shooting or assembling a video, or gathering photos into a meaningful presentation, or using a smartphone to capture audio or video. And too often, that’s why we stick to just “telling” people stories. And while that’s better than nothing, visual storytelling is so much more powerful. Would you rather hear a lecture about the culture of Ireland, or see a video of it? Or, when returning from a mission trip, is it more powerful to have people stand at a microphone at talk about it, or to record their stories and place them on images and videos of the trip? One is easier, one is more powerful.
You have a competent production crew sitting in your church, and most of them are under 18.
Teens today make videos for school projects, videos to place on YouTube or Facebook, videos just for fun. They know how to use the tools at their disposal, whether they are video cameras, still cameras, or the recording features on their smartphones. They have the skills, and they have the time.
At our church here in Macon, we have built a tradition of using images and videos to tell stories. For the first several years, various adults (including me) did the heavy lifting. We had videos to kick off and offer updates on building programs, videos celebrating mission trips, videos that celebrate VBS week, videos that supported retreat content, and, of course, the annaul Family Christmas Party video.
Over the last three years, the bulk of the production work has shifted to our teenagers. Adults and youth often shoot photos and video together, but in the end, the teens do the production work of putting it all together. There’s always an adult or two that help offer guidance and suggestions, but the truth is that this oversight is needed less and less. And the videos keep getting better.
Maybe our youth are unique in having these skills (they are certainly gifted!), but I don’t think so. I’ll bet that there are budding photographers and videographers in your youth group too. With a little encouragement and guidance, they can show real gifts and leadership by helping tell the stories of your congregation.
Autumn is one of the best seasons in which to take outdoor photos. Sure, the leaves can be colorful, and the temperatures are comfortable, but the real reason is over your head… literally.
Go look outside (but be sure to come back). If you can see sky, it’s probably a rich, deep blue. Unless you pay attention to the sky all year, you may not realize just how blue the sky can be during the Fall. In the summer, we tend to spend more time outside, and because of that, cameras stay busy. But if you watch the summer sky, you’ll notice that the sky can often be grey, or a pale blue. Deep blue skys are much more appealing than the grey ones, especially in photos.
The culprit is humidity. Autumn tends to bring cooler temperatures and lower humidity (especially for southern states). When there’s less moisture in the air, the blue color of the sky is intensified. If you want the richest color, be sure to use a polarizing filter. It will help saturate the color of the sky, making your photos even stronger.
So, keep your camera handy during the Fall events with your congregation… this deep blue sky won’t last forever.
Want to learn more? Check out this article.
Each summer my congregation engages in direct missions work. Sometimes the focus is in our city, while at other times we travel to other parts of the USA or the world. Not everyone can participate in these efforts, although many are interested. When these trips are completed, we always have a service where stories and photos can be shared from the journey. It always struck me that there was always so much more that had happened than could be shared during the service. Why not use new tech tools to help share more of the story?
In 2009, I traveled to Boston with our youth group to participate in a Passport missions camp. The camp format involves youth in a variety of missions projects in the area, as well as Bible study, worship and recreation.
Before the trip, I chatted with our youth minister about the idea of my live-blogging the event. It would allow parents and interested church members to connect with the mission trip through viewing regular posts of notes, photos and info about what was happening each day. He thought it was a great idea.
Several days before the trip, we posted the link to the live blog on the church website, and also sent it to all youth families.
Here’s how we did the live blog:
- I set up a new account on Friendfeed for our youth group. Friendfeed is free, and you can set your page to be private (invitation-only) or public. It also provides an easy-to-remember URL for sharing. Friendfeed also makes it easy for readers to post comments to posts. (Update: since the trip, there are new tools, such as Tumblr or Posterous, both free, that do more than Friendfeed).
- I used my iPhone for posting. The iPhone I used was a second generation model, not the newer and faster 3gs or iPhone 4 models. I installed the “Buddyfeed” app ($2.99 on the iTunes store) on the iPhone and configured it for our Friendfeed account. The app makes it easy to post notes and photos to a Friendfeed page. There are similar apps for other smartphones, too.
- Then, from the moment we started the trip, I started posting. There were photos from loading the vans, moving through the airport, and grabbing a bite to eat. I posted “hi mom” greetings from youth throughout the week, along with a photo. At work sites, during recreation, and even during Bible study, I was posting notes and photos from my iPhone. When something noteworthy (Emma won “honor camper” today!) or funny (a seagull just pooped on Burgess’ head!), a photo and note immediately was posted. On average, I posted around 8-15 items per day, scattered throughout the day.
- It was surprising how many parents and church members followed the blog, many leaving comments (“way to go,” “we’re proud of you”) or clicking the “like” button. When we returned from the trip, there was a feeling that a portion of the church had been vicariously enjoying the week along with our youth.
There are other ways to do live-blogging on trips, and the tools are growing in power. For example, the new iPhone also captures video, and allows for basic editing right there on the phone.
In the end, the goal of the live-blogging was to engage all those who had interest in participating in our mission trip. They found meaning (and appreciation of our teens) through the blog, and our youth were blessed through the constant support of those back home.
Missions and ministry generate stories, and those stories have the power to change lives. Live-blogging mission trips is one way to share these powerful stories.
One of the primary purposes of the Faith Lab is to help churches effectively use the powerful communications tools of the internet age. But does the church really need to be good at using these new digital tools?
Let’s come at the issue from a different – and more important direction: missions.
Any missionary worth his or her salt will tell you that one of the first things a missionary must do is learn the language of the culture in which they minister. It allows for real communication, and shows a respect for the indigenous culture.
The reality is that, in American culture, the majority of those in leadership in churches are, at best, “digital immigrants.” We were raised without computers, the internet, iPods and cell phones. We’ve worked to learn how to use these tools (well, most of us have tried), but it’s been a learning process.
But for a growing number of people, they have never know a time without these digital tools. They are truly “digital natives“.
The first generation of “Digital Natives” – children who were born into and raised in the digital world – are coming of age, and soon our world will be reshaped in their image. Our economy, our politics, our culture and even the shape of our family life will be forever transformed. (From Born Digital)
Do digital tools define these generations? Certainly not. They are flesh and blood people with dreams, flaws, fears, illnesses and souls. They have family, friends, and loves. The grace, support and meaning offered through following Christ is just as valuable to them.
The church doesn’t have to become a geek club, or a nerd haven. Our strength with relationships, support, service and worship are still vital for ministry. The Church’s mission to share the love of Christ hasn’t changed.
But if the church wants to remain relevant to the digital generations, we’re going to have to become a community that learns and speaks their language. What’s the best way to learn a language? Let a resident teach it to you, and practice regularly.
What are ways your congregation is involving digital natives and working to speak their language?