Encouraging Tech Ed while protecting and guiding our kids, Huron Church News December 2016

Youth spend much of their time online and with their eyes firmly affixed to a screen and with the growing importance of tech in education, social circles and professional demands, it’s unlikely that will change anytime soon. When was the last time your teenager actually used a phone to call someone?

Knowing these realities, how can we encourage the positive aspects of the digital world while still protecting and guiding our kids? Especially as the family computer in the living room disappears and is replaced by private devices that can be difficult to monitor or control?

It is important to note that the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the United States prohibits sites from collecting information from or making available information about users under the age of 13. Since many of the most popular social networks are based in the U.S., these sites cannot legally allow those under 13 to open accounts. Either you or your child would have to lie, and I wouldn’t recommend that approach. (Ex 20:16)

Some sites, such as YouTube and Whatsapp have older age requirements to create an account (18 and 16 years old respectively) and some are more proactive about enforcing the restrictions than others. In many cases, it is very easy for a child to lie about their age. Aside from legal restrictions, many sites have mature content and the age restrictions should be considered when deciding if having an account on a given service is appropriate.

Beyond basic age restrictions, here are a few strategies to help you and your kids navigate the digital world safely and confidently.

  • Before signing up for any site, both parents and kids should understand how the platform works, how data is stored and shared, what privacy settings are available, and what kind of communication is possible.

  • Establish usage guidelines. Be clear about what kind of use is acceptable – including the kind of communication, communication partners, what kind of personal information can be shared, and the frequency or time of day that access is permitted.

  • Be aware of who your kids are communicating with and what kind of content they are viewing.

  • Trust but verify. Many parents require knowing account passwords or to be given access when requested as a condition for use of certain applications or sites. This requires a lot of two-way trust but it can be a good way to keep your kids accountable and ensure that you can check on them if you absolutely need to.

  • The digital world offers amazing opportunity to connect with friends, learn and share ideas and share our lives with others. As we read in Proverbs (20:6), “Start children off on the way they should go, even when they are old they will not turn from it.” A secure safe foundation for our kids will help develop technical skills and the confidence to navigate the digital world.

    Sharing photos, tagging and privacy issues, Huron Church News November 2016

    I am often asked why Facebook sometimes displays questionable ads because a friend of yours “liked” it. Except you know your friend has never played online poker, ordered foreign pharmaceuticals, or taken out a payday loan. Why would Facebook assume your friend, and you by extension, is interested in these things? Simple: “Like Farming.”

    Like farmers create Facebook pages and create content dedicated to collecting as many “likes” or “shares” as possible. A simple “brain teaser” that only “geniuses” can solve, a nostalgic image of the past, or fake contests that you have to like to enter are common fodder for link farmers. And since Facebook’s algorithms place a high value on popularity, highly liked and shared pages have a much higher chance of appearing in your feed and being seen by your friends and family.

    Once the farm has grown a high popularity rating, the farmer either removes the page’s original content and replaces it with something more nefarious (usually malware or scam advertising) or they outright sell the highly liked page to a third party.

    Now instead of liking a page for “your chance to win $5000 from Bill Gates,” you are now a fan of online gambling, for example.

    Many like-farmers rely on appeals to emotion: anytime you’re urged to “like” or “share” a post that pulls at your heartstrings there’s likely a like-farmer behind it. “This poor little girl with cancer lost her hair to chemotherapy — ‘like’ this post to let her know she’s still beautiful!” “This new government policy is outrageous — ‘like’ this post if you’re outraged, too!”

    If you are unsure whether a page or post is legitimate there are a few places to go to verify the pages information before hitting the like button. Snopes.com is a website dedicated to dispelling rumours and lies that spread online faster than the common cold. Another good site is facecrooks.com which keeps you up-to-date on Facebook scams and provides information about how to protect your privacy.

    While Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ On Facebook, it is a good practice to periodically look back and weed through your past “likes.” You might be surprised to notice you really don’t like some of those things at all.




    The insidious threats of “like farming”, Huron Church News October 2016

    The smell of lavender evokes powerful feelings for me. Simply passing a fragrant candle is enough to spark memories and bring a smile to my face on my worst days. That sweet smell can cast away any shadow. You see, lavender is the scent of the baby shampoo we use for my daughter, Hannah.

    Our senses can be a powerful means of evoking an emotional response. And this forms the backbone of creating a consistent brand. Create a smell, sound or sight that links to an experience and it becomes possible to evoke that memory again and again. Get that smell, sound or sight out in the world and it can bring people to your door.

    This association is part of the core philosophy of branding, the process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumer’s’ mind. The same techniques apply to the church and how we present ourselves to the world. Creating that association is key. And part of any branding exercise is, of course, having a distinguished and recognizable logo.

    Logos tell stories and can create powerful associations for people. In the blink of an eye the Golden Arches or the Nike swoosh are both recognizable and they evoke emotions, memories, and opinions. Just seeing the logo on a billboard can subtly influence your next shoe or dinner decision.

    stam_logoFor congregations, branding can be used to create a recognizable presence in your community. At my previous parish of St. Andrew Memorial, we chose a bold and modern St. Andrew’s cross to communicate that the community was rooted in tradition but has modern relevance.

    Once we had our logo, it was critical to put it everywhere. The goal was to make it instantly recognizable to our neighbours and anyone that came in contact with the community. From bulletins to vestry reports, from Web and social media platforms to outdoor signage, the logo permeated all of the parish’s communications.

    Any communication, signage, sponsorships or outreach that bore our logo contributed to the emotions or memories evoked by it later on. Seeing the logo sparked a memory about something the church had done – i.e. “oh yah, you are the church with the garden” – or of an experience with it.

    Seeing a logo everywhere can lose its appeal to the everyday parishioner or priest, but remember: the logo is not for you, it is about you. It tells your story and helps seekers associate the logo with the essence that is your church. In the end a logo is a symbol meant to convey the enormity of all you wish to communicate about who you are as a community. It speaks of your worship, your outreach and how you interact with the world around you.

    Each individual church ought to have its own individual logo. This creates an emotional association with parishioners, neighbours and those that are served. And we are wise to remember that such a simple image can have a profound effect and stir powerful emotions that will help to fulfill the Great Commission.

    Frequency of posting: how to create a consistent presence, Huron Church News September 2016

    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.

    A Picture is Worth a Thousand Shares, Huron Church News May 2016

    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.

    Community in action: capturing a perfect picture, Huron Church News April 2016

    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.

    The bus factor – who holds critical information in your parish? Huron Church News March 2016

    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.

    Use your website to call your visitors to action, Huron Church News February 2016

    “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.

    What is your Because? Huron Church News January 2016

    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 . . .