September 2016 Issue of Huron Church News

Frequency of Posting: How to Create a Consistent Presence

Your church’s digital communication is like connecting with a friend. If you call infrequently, you tend to drift apart. If you speak too often, you might feel like the friendship requires too much of your attention. You may consider changing your phone number or letting the call go to voice mail.

The same tension can be found online. While you want to stay in contact with friends and share events from your church and life, you also don’t want to spam your Facebook feed with too much too often.

Consistency is key. Your church’s communication plan should consider the frequency in addition to the tone of your communications. Consider when content will be posted, and how often (daily, weekly or a few times a week), and what sort of content will be shared. Just as infrequent posting says something about your community so does posting too often.

This can be a challenging task. Luckily, there are tools to help you schedule your social media posts so you can plan ahead instead of constantly considering when and what to post.

The first tool at our disposal is the native built-in scheduler on Facebook. This simple tool lets you load a series of posts ahead of time – say before a vacation or the busy Christmas season. This tool can be found in the drop-down menu next to the publish button on your page. Instead of publishing the post, simply schedule it.

Hootesuite.com has been my go-to for scheduling and managing social media accounts for years. I use the free version, which allows me to manage multiple social media platforms at once including Twitter and Facebook and schedule posts across multiple streams. The free version allows you to manage three different accounts through one convenient dashboard.

Another solution that has recently appeared on my radar is Buffer.com. The free version of Buffer is wonderful for scheduling posts but the dashboard only manages a single Facebook account. Despite this limitation, Buffer is a great solution for a church as it can schedule posts for your Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts. If you happen to manage multiple Facebook pages, Twitter or Instagram accounts, you will need to upgrade to a paid version.

By scheduling posts in advance, you only need an hour or two a month to create consistency and an active social media presence. Much of the work of sharing content and promoting events can be scheduled in advance, freeing you from being tethered to your phone or computer daily. Think of it like mailing a letter, once you have placed it in the mailbox, you can walk away knowing it will be delivered, freeing you to focus on other areas of ministry while keeping your social media accounts consistently active.

May 2016 issue of the Huron Church News

Parish life can be hectic. There are many events to attend: garage sales, bible studies special worship services, and dinners to name but a few. Each of these events is a chance to tell the story of your parish community and to celebrate the good work that is being done in the name of Jesus Christ.

These are the very real personal stories of communities in action that will attract newcomers and strengthen existing relationship between parishioners. These are the stories of faith, the minutia of day to day parish life. And these are the stories that can have the biggest impact on your outward communication strategies.

It is necessary then that these stories are captured to share and celebrate. To do this, a person in the community should be tasked with documenting each event. This seems obvious but is far too often overlooked. People will often take personal photos but these usually end up being communicated by that individual rather than as part of the broader communication strategy of the parish and shared on the parish’ social media channels.

Assigning this task needs to be considered when planning any event so the opportunity is not missed. Not only is the event captured for posterity, but the recordings and photos can be used to communicate the vitality and essence of your community on your social media and web channels.

In this way, visitors to your social media platforms will see the active and vibrant community that exists. Rather than a post from several months ago and pictures from a couple of years ago, they will be able to see recent engaging activities that communicate the life of the community.

We have much to share in the life of the church. Even after these events have passed and are over, their effect can live on. The images, pictures and stories can inspire new generations to come to church. They can tell the story of your community. And most importantly, they can tell the story of Jesus Christ.

So be ready at your next event, dinner or special worship service. Task an individual with snapping a few pictures and share those pictures on your parish’s social media channels. Celebrate your events and celebrate your community. And in doing so you will help make Christ known to the broader world.

April 2016 Issue of the Huron Church News

Photos of your community in action can be an ideal way to tell your story. But sometimes it can be hard to capture a picture that communicates the message you want to share. Whether it be for privacy, logistical, or quality reasons, stock photos can be a preferable solution.

First, isolating your parish’s “story”, who you are and what you do in the world, is an essential part of your communication strategy. Selecting the right image to tell that story can profoundly drive your web traffic and even lead to new-comers on a Sunday morning.

A picture, after all, is worth a thousand words. This point was driven home this past September as millions of people saw the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi lying on a beach in Turkey. This image moved thousands of people across the Diocese of Huron to join with thousands more across Canada to open their homes and lives to refugees from this humanitarian crisis.

We were aware of the refugee crisis prior to seeing the image, much like the world is aware of the church and the work we do to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. Yet an image can move people to open their homes, or even to join a church.

Selecting the images you use to tell your story is critical. Sharing images of a youth group worshiping with a praise band, or a collection of young families is fine, if that is part of your story. But if your parish is elderly, appreciates Gregorian chant and sings hymns accompanied an organ, then you are not telling your genuine story. Newcomers want to know who you are, not who you aspire to be. And if they feel they have been misled, they may not return and you may be missing out on attracting those who would be a fantastic fit for your community.

A good rule of thumb when deploying an image on your website is to use one every 250 words. It helps to properly space images and avoids the over use of images while also helping to tell your story.
Images are a great way to help tell your story in the digital realm. Following some simple rules can go a long way to communicate your particular story. Just keep in mind some useful tips: one image for every 250 words, always purchase your image to fairly compensate the artist and most importantly, have the image tell your story and avoid Exodus 20:16.

March 2016 Issue of the Huron Church News

If a bus hit you tomorrow how would it affect your church?

This may sound like an odd question, but in business management, and especially in the field of software development, the bus factor is a critical measurement of this exact question. That is, how is information concentrated, and, if someone were suddenly removed from the equation, how would it impact the team or organization?

Where two or three are gathered, they will know all the passwords.

In my work with parishes around the diocese over the past few years, I have discovered that most churches have a very low bus factor, often a bus factor of one. This means that only one person has information that is critical to the parish. This is often passwords or log-in information for social media accounts, ownership over the parish’s web address, or access to critical email addresses or web/hosting services.

Often, the person who has this information is a parishioner and not even parish staff, wardens, or clergy. In many cases, ownership of domain names and web hosting has been left with a past member of the parish.

This is a dangerously low bus factor. Losing control of accounts can be frustrating and delay or completely stop critical activities of the parish. It can lead to having to reboot and redesign websites, social media accounts and pursuing complex processes to regain access to lost accounts.

It is good practice to keep all necessary passwords and information for digital accounts and configurations with the parish so wardens always have access if necessary. Secondly, all renewals for accounts, web hosting services and domain registration ought to be through the parish and not personal credit cards.

Ultimately, your parish should practice good Christian theology when it comes to bus factor: where two or three are gathered, they will know all the passwords.

February 2016 Issue of the Huron Church News

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” — Matthew 28:19-20

Matthew gives us a call to action and we measure our success by the number of disciples brought to our Lord.

By applying the same principles to our online communications, we can ensure we effectively achieve our Lord’s call to action.

Having a website for your church has become as much of a requirement as having a listing in the phone book. They’re essential for people to find you.

But once they do find your website, what action do you want them to take?

Do you want them to look at your Sunday service times? Sign up for your newsletter? Volunteer for a ministry?

What you want your visitors to do can help you get the results you want from your web presence. Having a well-defined call to action on your website means you can direct your users toward your desired action and measure how well you achieve your goal.

Driving people to your action is best achieved by a simple, clear call on your site.

A distinct button that says, “click here to register” or “visit us” is a good example of a call to action. When a user clicks on the link, you know that your website has achieved its goal.

Measuring the success of your call to action is easy with Google Analytics. By adding a tracking code, you can track how many visitors came to your site, and most importantly, how many of those did what you wanted them to do.

You can track visits to a given page, clicks of a button or downloads of a file, or you can define your own custom events to track.

By identifying clear and measurable goals for your website, you can design your site and content around driving traffic through your calls to action.

Once your goals are clearly defined, measuring success is just a matter of setting up analytics and tweaking your site until it is performing the way you want it to.

January 2016 Issue of the Huron Church News

When was the last time you spontaneously tried a restaurant? With no recommendation from a friend or a review read on Yelp. You just saw a sign and said, “What the heck, let’s give that a try?”

If you are like many Gen-Xers or Millennials, cold calls to restaurants are not common. Decisions to go to a new restaurant are based on recommendations from trusted friends or online reviews.

That being the case, why do we expect people to walk into our churches simply because we have a pithy quote on our sign? True, we will, on the odd occasion, have a cold call from a seeker or someone new to town, but these occurrences are far from the norm.

What’s far more common is a friend or colleague recommends their church to a friend, just like a restaurant. They do so because they know why they love their church and can articulate exactly what their church does well and what they enjoy about it. It could be a good youth group, a strong music program or a preacher fantastic at liturgy and inspiring and relevant in sermons.

Whatever the reason, if parishioners know exactly why they love their church, they will be able to clearly articulate their feelings with family, friends or colleagues.

So when people ask me to help them promote their church, the question I always start with is this: What is your “because”? Why would someone come to your church? Can you or your parishioners finish this statement quickly and concisely: “You should come to my church because . . .”

If you or your parishioners can’t finish this statement to briefly and effectively describe your church, any outward communication is premature.

If people can’t articulate their experience with a friend, then we shouldn’t expect hundreds of people to flock to our churches on Bring a Friend Sunday or Back to Church Sunday.

The best and oldest form of evangelism is still our parishioners’ social network. But to leverage these networks, whether online or off, we must first inspire our parishioners, educate them, and, most of all, give them permission to go out into the world and tell people that they love their church because . . .

December 2015 Issue of the Huron Church News

The end of 2015 is at hand. Budgets and plans for the coming year are being drawn up and leadership roles are being considered. This is an excellent time for a comprehensive survey of your parish’s communication plans and tools.

A good place to start is to review the current contracts you have with communication companies. What do you still need? And what should be re-evaluated?

Your current Internet, telephone, or web hosting plan may not have been updated for years and you may find much better deals are now available. A quick call to your service provider can yield better service, higher speeds, or cost savings in the hundred of dollars. Take a few minutes to make sure your plans are up-to-date and compare providers to get the best deal.

Next, look at what platforms you use to communicate the message of Christ to the wider world. Does the parish have a Facebook page or Twitter account? Have these been dormant or underused for some time? Who is responsible for maintaining the online presence of the parish? Is this a team effort or the responsibility of just one person?

The person (or persons) responsible for your external communications is an important selection and should be considered with equal importance as other parish roles.

This person is the voice of the parish, but as with many other positions, requires the support of the entire vestry. To maintain an active social media presence, the rest of the parish must commit to participate. Your selection of platforms to maintain may depend on this commitment.

Now is the time to cull or re-commit to the accounts that underused. While reducing your communications channels can seem like a step backward, it is better to focus on a few things well than to spread yourself too thin. Having a good, robust website and active Facebook page is better than having many platforms that are infrequently updated or underused.

Finally, ensure that the parish has control over all accounts and products. A well-intentioned volunteer who has been maintaining an account or website may leave and the parish would lose access to these accounts. The parish should protect itself from this all-too-common occurrence by ensuring that accounts are registered and paid for by the parish and not a single member, including the rector.

Adding an annual review of your communication strategy is a good practice to ensure you head into the new year with a message that is focused on the Great Commission and tools that are efficient and effective at spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.

November 2015 Issue of Huron Church News

Reaching beyond your immediate circle and social networks online can seem daunting. Stretching the already limited outreach budget to put it into something like an online advertising campaign can be risky, with no promise of a return on your investment.

But with some well-placed, well-timed ads, traffic can be driven to Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, websites and, yes, even to your front door without breaking the bank.

Facebook ads can be targeted by postal code, location, ages, genders, interests, or other demographic dimensions. You can use these segments to advertise directly to potential youth group members or users who share an interest in the subject of your next event.

Running a Simpsons-themed Bible study? Target fans of The Simpsons.

Want to maximize your Easter or Christmas attendance and reach new families? Target your event advertisement to local Christians and Anglicans.

As a bonus, ad traffic can lead to organic traffic. Each ad-driven “like” on your parish’s Facebook page increases the possible reach of each post or event to a larger network of people. The points of entry into your parish community increase exponentially.

Google Ad Words is another avenue to reach people outside of your network with well-timed advertising campaigns. Easter and Christmas campaigns, for example, can create a point of entry for those looking to try a new church or come back to church on a major feast day. You can target these ads similarly to Facebook ads.

Highly targeted ads can mean you spend money to deliver the message you want only to the people you want, whether it is Google or Facebook. It can cost as little as a few dollars a week to advertise special events to a specific audience, or you can create a more general ad to reach people in your area searching for more general terms such as “Church Service” or “Church, insert your city here”.

A small investment in a well thought-out advertising strategy for your online presence can have profound and dramatic effects on your parish’s reach and growth potential in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.

October 2015 Issue Huron Church News

When creating a poster or Facebook event for an upcoming parish event, such as Back to Church Sunday or a fall barbecue, the first instinct may be to look for an image on a search engine like Google to promote your event. They are, after all, readily available and easily downloaded.

They are also protected by copyright.

Beyond music, copyright is an issue rarely discussed in many churches. Works protected by copyright do not stop at music, books or journal articles, but also include images, photos, PowerPoint templates, text from blogs and websites, Photoshop files, published sermons, and works of art.

How can we use materials fairly while respecting those who used their time and talents to produce them? Are there portions of the work you would be allowed to use?

Small parts of copyrighted works may be copied for the purposes of research or private study. Educational institutions, archives, libraries, and museums also hold specific exemptions.

Ordinary congregational worship activities, however, do not provide a context for “fair use” of copyright material.

Therefore, when looking for images for a website, blog post, sermon series or poster, simply Googling an image and downloading it is a violation of copyright law and could put the congregation in a difficult position.

Many artists are willing to allow free use of their images, but they do also require acknowledgment of their work. This creates traffic back to their portfolio and can increase their sales and help provide for their livelihood.

Even when an image is free, it is best to check with the artist or read the parameters that govern the use of the image found on the web.

Using a photographer’s pictures or a designer’s Photoshop files in a sermon series or PowerPoint presentation may be allowed, but non-financial requirements may still exist, such as acknowledgment in the publication or at the end of the presentation.

So how do you find materials that are safe to use and are within your parish’s budget?

When it comes to images specifically, there is a wealth of free resources online. Excellent starting points for churches looking for inexpensive or royalty-free images include http://www.creationswap.com, http://search.creativecommons.org, and http://www.sxc.hu. Whatever site you use, take the time to read its FAQ or licencing page to be sure you are in compliance.

If you have an image that you want to use but don’t know where it came from, http://www.tineye.com is a website that can help find the original source of the image. Once you know that, you can ask permission of the owner.

A little work online can protect the congregation and also lead to new relationships with artists who deserve compensation for use of their quality work. Taking a little time to identify the rightful owner of images and copyrighted material goes a long way to protecting the church and advancing the Gospel.