Private and public: where is the line? – Huron Church News February 2018

There is a very fine line between public and private and on Social Media which can be razor thin. Many of us have signed up for Facebook, Twitter or other platforms as private individuals. The terms of service of those platforms also clearly articulate that the content we post and the individual user controls who has accesses to that content.

However, when social media is used for professional purposes, the line between personal and professional can be blurred. When using “private” accounts to promote the churches and institutions to which we belong, that which may have been considered private becomes public. Once that line has been crossed, we cease to be private individuals expressing opinions. Our private opinions and accounts become extensions of the church or institution that we represent — for good or for ill.

Many professional clergy and church leaders use personal accounts to help further the overall reach of church’s message. It is a great way of living the Great Commission and being a visible sign of Christ. And I would encourage people to continue to live as outward visible signs of God’s reconciliation with the world. But acting this way also needs to come with a caution.

If you use your personal account for church business – or any business for that matter – – actions in your personal life can have consequences for the church or institution you represent. You cease to be just an individual, but a representative. This is important to keep in mind when you delete, censor, debate or silence comments you don’t like.

If you blend your personal and public lives, your actions no longer just represent you, but they represent your specific parish and the church in general. It is always best to take a step back from the keyboard or device before posting something in the heat of the moment and ask how your words reflect the church. Am I living and posting in a way that reflects the image of Christ? Is the Kingdom of God served by this tweet or comment?

As we head towards the season of Lent, now more than ever is a good time to reflect upon our social media practices, how we engage with colleagues, parishioners and the wider world.

Video? You never know how far it might spread! – Huron Church News January 2018

Recently Forest Hill South Park Church posted a video on their YouTube and Facebook pages. It can be found here.

The video is titled “Gratitude.” In it we are challenged to change our perspective this Christmas and give thanks for the big and little things in our everyday life. It is a little campy in places, but the message is clear: in life we have much to be grateful for, so celebrate those gifts.

The video is not a Hollywood production, with paid actors, set design or sound technicians. Its acting is cheesy and over the top. And it is clearly shot with everyday recording equipment. And yet, it’s message has struck a chord and it has been viewed over 7.4 million times!

Forest Hill South Park invested a little in recording equipment, many hours editing, lots of tape and wrapping paper and some playful energy and produced this video. I am sure they had no idea at the time it would go viral.

Video as part of a communication strategy is an underutilized tool in many churches. Yet it is a tool that reaches across all generations and easily accessible through Facebook and YouTube.

So whether it is your next youth group meeting, parish council or even wardens meeting, toss a few ideas out, grab your IPhone or camcorder, play around with iMovie and start using video to tell the story of your church. The video could be a parody (instead of All about The Bass, how about All about The Grace), a recap of an event, an introduction to your community for seekers or just a little bit of fun. You never know how far it might spread.

Create your own sermon teaser – Huron Church News December 2017

If you are like me, December 15th is blocked off on your calendar. The latest trailer in the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas was just released and to see Luke Skywalker standing in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon once again sent shivers down my spine. To say I am excited for December 15th would be an understatement.

The trailer is a means for Hollywood to generate excitement for upcoming movies. This is known as a teaser. Show just enough without giving the story or the ending away to encourage people to stand in line to see the movie at midnight on opening day.

This tactic is not just reserved for Hollywood. Silicon Valley makes great use of the teaser whenever a new product is to be released. And video game producers have jumped headlong into producing trailers for upcoming video games.

The premise is simple. Release just enough to tease and leave people wanting more. And the premise can be applied to sermons.

The sermon teaser is nothing new. Megachurches often tease their upcoming sermon series to get people interested and committed. The sermon teaser is not just for sermon series though, but can also be used for special sermons, feast days and can even be used weekly, although I tend to use it sparingly.

The idea is put out just enough of your sermon to Facebook or Twitter to get your followers interested. It is picking one idea, putting put it out there and leaving your followers wanting more. I often use what I think may be the most controversial line in the sermon to generate interest and drive traffic to the church’s front door.

For example, I would post, “It is the tragedy of the earthly city, the world around us, that we, the baptized, have been sent to perform the comedy of redemption.” Want to hear more? See you at All Saints’ on Sunday morning at 8:00 and 10:00 am.

One line is all that is needed to pique the curiosity of your followers and parishioners; one line to intrigue people to come to church; one line leaving them wanting more. The only restriction is that your sermon needs to be finished before Saturday night.

Looking for a better review of your church? You need Yelp! – Huron Church News November 2017

At the recent clergy conference in Niagara Falls, the guest speaker Nadia Bolz Weber spoke about the distrust of institutions that is prevalent among Millennials.

She proposed that the locus of authority has shifted from institutions, like the church, to individuals. As such, individual opinions and reviews can have a bigger and greater impact than any institutional message. This is why Yelp reviews, according to Nadia, are key to the Great Commission and church growth.

While I was a little distressed to learn many in the room didn’t know what Yelp was, her talk was an insightful way to consider the church’s role in a society where the Internet has democratized authority.

Gone are the days when we can control branding and messaging through advertising alone. Now anyone can leave a review of your church on social media channels or review sites such as Yelp and drive seekers to – or from – you.

This new locus of authority means that before stepping into your church, potential newcomers will Google you and read the reviews, if there are any. Having none is better than having negative reviews, but it may also indicate an inactive community and does little to encourage seekers to visit.

Who can leave a review of your church on Google, Facebook and Yelp? Anyone, including you. You are, after all, the biggest cheerleader or evangelist for your own church. Taking the few minutes to rate your church on Facebook, Google and Yelp and leaving a few comments about you like and find interesting can go a long way to encourage a seeker to take that next step and give you a try on a Sunday morning.

We no longer have to wait for the institution to provide the new marketing campaigns or billboard ads. The power to reach the locus of authority is now in your hands and on your keyboards. Take a few minutes, write a review and live the Great Commission.

Cloud Based Note Keeping, Huron Church News October 2017

I have a habit that may horrify some of you, and to which others will relate. I write in, dog ear, and highlight my books with complete abandon. Whenever I find a good quote, illustration or sermon idea, I keep a note of it. Then, months later when I want to reference those notes, I find myself staring at a bookshelf full of equally marked up books trying to remember which book holds that one quote that would bring out the Gospel message on a particular Sunday.

To combat my office floor from being littered with books every time I desperately try to remember that one specific sermon quote or illustration I have adopted cloud-based notekeeping. Evernote is my platform of choice, but Google Keep, and One Note are also great options and provide similar functionality.

Evernote is a cloud-based cross-platform application. It syncs across multiple devices so I can take notes on my phone or tablet and access them later from my laptop. I can create a text note, an audio note or even snap a quick picture. I can include attachments to my notes and even can set a reminder to alert me when the note might be relevant. Say, the beginning of Easter, or before the sale ends on the item I just snapped in a store.

Being able to store and search my notes easily gives me the freedom to take notes wherever and whenever I want without worrying about losing them or remembering to look them up when necessary. And, since my notes are on the cloud, I can share them with people; from sharing service ideas with clergy colleagues, to a shopping list with my wife. As much as I love post-its, they just can’t compare.

Evernote certainly hasn’t stopped me from marking up my books, but it has helped me organize my thoughts, sermon illustrations and seasonal ideas in a quick searchable notes that I can quickly access wherever I am. And most importantly, it has helped me avoid stubbing my toes and tripping over yet another pile of books in my office.

Understanding your audience: how to use your analytics tools, Huron Church News September 2017

While listening to a podcast the other day (The Pro Church Podcast with Brady Shearer, check it out), I heard a phrase that struck a chord with me. “One of the first rules of social media is always to take a deep dive rather than going wide.”

This is an idea I have advocated for years and it is so well summed up in this simple sentence.
Let me explain.

Social media consists of a plethora of platforms that can help you make and maintain connections and share the story of your community and faith.

It can be tempting to use all of them. We want to be connected to everyone in every way possible, on our websites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. But by spreading our efforts so thin, it is hard to be effective on any of them. In other words, it is best to do one thing really well, than a few things poorly.

It is easy, however, to figure out where you are the most effective and where you should focus your attention by monitoring the analytics on your social platforms. These analytics offer insights into how your content is received by your audience. It can also help you determine your current audience and evaluate your efforts to reach new audiences. They can also aid you in trimming the number of platforms is use as well.

Most social media platforms come with built in analytics. For websites, my preference is still Google Analytics, which while quite robust is also free.

Analytics on your website will help you determine your bounce rate (how long people stay on your sight), landing page (which page or sub-page gets the most direct traffic), how traffic arrived at your site (whether through a Google search, social media link or other) and user flow (how users navigate through your site). This is all very powerful information and will help you tailor your message to meet current users’ needs.

The same is true for Facebook. Pages come with built in analytics. Simply click on “Insights” at the top of page and you will see all kinds of demographic and behavioural information about your page’s users. You can see the gender and age break-down of your users and their language and location. You can also see statistics about people that were reached and engaged and what content resonated with your audience and what isn’t hitting the mark.

Twitter also offers analytics on its platform and much of the same information is readily available. You can also see the interests of those who follow you, giving you a great insight into the type of content that your audience seeks, will engage with, and will share to their followers.

It is understandable to want to be on social media platform. The more platforms, the bigger your audience, the greater your reach. However, poorly engaging with your users will not grow your audience but will cause your audience to disengage.

By focusing your resources only on the platforms on which you are be effective, you can maximize the reach and impact of your message to help fulfill the Great Commission, to baptize new believers in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit and to teach all that Jesus taught.

Canadian Church Press Awards

The Canadian Church Press 2017 award of merits were released. While I did not win an award, the Huron Church News had a third place award for in-depth coverage of a news event. It is for the coverage of coadjutor bishop election of Feb. 13, 2016 (printed in our April edition). The April edition can be viewed here, HCN-4-InDepthNews I share the byline with Sandra Coulson.

My column, “Media Bytes”, was also entered but alas won no awards. The comments back from the judges though were, “Once again, if there were more than three prizes to award I could give half of the entries on this competition an award. Consistently interesting and highly readable.”

Tips on how to garden your website, Huron Church News April 2017

Throughout this series, I’ve written in detail about how your website is often the first and sometimes the only impression a church gets to make.

But websites are like gardens, they must be regularly tended and updated or else they get overgrown and unappealing. So it’s important to take stock every now and then.

Here are a quick five things you can do to ‘audit’ your website to keep it fresh and well weeded.

Keep the pages well structured. Common elements such as headers, footers, sidebars and menu items should be consistent on every page. Your home page can be an exception to this rule, but a visitor must be able to find their way around.

Keep the text short and well structured. I try to remove 50% of the words from my first draft. Readers disengage if they have to read too much to find your point or have to wade through too much jargon. Your website is your first point of contact with those un-churched. Words like Eucharist, Compline and BCP and BAS have deep meaning to those inside the church, but to many, it is confusing jargon.

People tend to scan when they read online. Break up your text into short sentences and paragraphs. Make liberal use of bullet points and headers and include an image every 250 words to keep people engaged and illustrate your point.

The menu should be short and concise. If you need more than 7 items, consider sub-menus so visitors can quickly find what they are looking for.

Have a clear and distinct call-to-action that drives visitors to fulfil the goal of your site. If you don’t know the goal of your website, now is a good time to think about it. For a church community, you likely want to increase attendance at your weekly services, solicit donations for your ministry, recruit volunteers, or collect contact information for potential members. Once you have identified your goal, your website needs to make it simple and easy for visitors to do it. A large “register for our newsletter” button or “newcomer information” page may suit your needs. Just make sure to keep it clear and concise.

Make your website accessible. You want your website to reach as many people as possible, so make sure it can be read with different devices and browsers. There is now more mobile traffic than desktop traffic so your website should be mobile-friendly at the very least. Ideally, you should also consider users using accessibility software such as screen readers for those who are colour blind.

These simple five tips can be used when designing your new website or auditing your existing site. If you discover your site needs a little work, don’t worry; even the healthiest garden is never maintenance-free. But by knowing what needs to be done and keeping on top of your content, layout, and goals, your site will help your community fulfil the Great Commission and make that first point of contact memorable, in a good way.