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 . . .

Include Communications as Part of your 2016 Planning? Huron Church News December 2015

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.

Looking to reach fans of The Simpsons, Huron Church News November 2015

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.

Copyright goes beyond music, Huron Church News October 2015

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.

Activating our Weak Ties, Huron Church News June 2015

Within our social circles, we have a mix of relationships from very close friends to distant acquaintances.

Our closest relationships likely make up a close-knit group of friends and family who know us best. Acquaintances, on the other hand, are made up of a diverse group of people who can come from different contexts, such as work, school, neighbourhood, conferences, and old school friends.

In social graph theory, these two groups are referred to as “strong ties” and “weak ties”.

The people we spend the most time with are our strong ties. These connections are very familiar with our likes, dislikes, hobbies, clubs we belong to, and the church we attend. In fact, our strong ties likely share some of these things with us.

Weak ties, on the other hand, are people we spend less time with. They may be friends from work, neighbours, distant relatives, or friends from high school. We don’t see them as close friends, but weak ties are very powerful when it comes to social networking, online and off. These ties act as bridges between social groups and have been shown to be extremely influential when job hunting because they have access to a different pool of connections and information than we and our strong ties do.

The same benefit can be extended to the church — our weak ties hold the potential power to reach outside of our immediate social groups and reach newcomers, welcome new ideas, and evangelize.

Social media is the perfect way to stay connected with weak ties — that friend from high school or colleague from a previous employer. It’s also a great way to spread your church’s message across these powerful social bridges.

Every interaction with our church’s Facebook page or Twitter account is an opportunity to engage weak ties. A simple “like” that shows up in your newsfeed or activity tracker means that your friends, even the distant ones, see what your church or diocese is up to. If they “like” it too, it can spread exponentially.

This is why Facebook events for church picnics, barbecues and other events are so important. While you may never think to invite someone from the office to your parish barbecue, simply RSVPing through Facebook allows your weak ties to see that activity on your Facebook wall and may prompt a question or conversation.

As we prepare for summer and begin to think about the fall and Back to Church Sunday events throughout our diocese, give some time and energy to interacting with your church’s social media accounts. By doing so, we all can participate in reaching beyond our immediate membership to spread news, promote events and invite newcomers.

The newest member of your church is just waiting to learn about the exciting things happening in your parish. And that is all one click away.

Take some time this summer to engage with your church’s social media accounts. By doing so, come Back to Church Sunday, you may find yourself sitting beside your weak ties.

Right Tool for the Right Communications, Huron Church News May 2015

When evaluating web and social media solutions, the best place to start is with the question, “What is your desired outcome”? It can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon of the next big thing or stick to what we already know, but it is important to first identify your goals and pick a platform or technology that will get you there. Otherwise, you may find yourself fitting a square peg into a round hole and your outreach attempts may be less effective than they could be.

For example, Facebook is one of the most popular platforms across generations today. Most churches recognize that Facebook is a useful tool for evangelism, content discovery, and communication. But even Facebook offers different ways for organizations to communicate.

The Facebook group is designed specifically for internal communication, while the fan page is designed with external communication — evangelism — in mind.

Both of the tools can be a great resource to any parish, but they have different features and applications.

A group is useful for internal communication and can be a great tool for a parish council or committee in a church to collaborate and share information outside of regular meetings. A group can provide a shared history of discussions and notes for new members, and can allow people to connect who may otherwise have difficulty meeting outside of Sunday mornings. But Facebook groups do not reach outward as only members can get updates and they can require active monitoring to keep up on a given discussion.

Fan pages, on the other hand, behave much like personal accounts. People need only “like” the page to join and they will see updates in their Facebook news feed. Friends of friends are also able to see these posts when someone comments or interacts with a post. Instead of reaching only the members of a small group, fan page posts can reach exponentially more people than a group.

Fan pages also offer two very distinct evangelistic properties for any church wanting to reach out with the Gospel message: analytics and advertisement.

Once a fan page reaches 30 likes, analytics are available to the fan page owner. Churches can see who is interacting with their posts and what content has the best and most favourable reach and can make decisions about how to tailor their message for maximum effect.

I can’t stress the importance of analytics enough. Knowing the demographics of your audience allows you to tailor your message to either have a greater impact on your current readership or shift focus to engage with a different target audience.

Advertisements are also available through fan pages. By creating an ad to promote a post or event, you can target a particular city or postal code with upcoming events or Christmas or Easter worship schedules. Or you can get even more specific with demographic targeting, such as letting young families know about your upcoming Messy Church event.

A small budget of $6 to $10 can have a profound effect on reaching seekers, especially in the holy seasons of Christmas and Easter, and help grow your congregation.

Facebook is only one example of all the platforms available, and fan pages vs. groups is but one decision to make. But starting with the answer to “What is your desired outcome?” will lead your community to finding the most effective tools to achieve their goals.

HCN May 2015

First Contact, Huron Church News March 2015

Your website is the first experience many newcomers and seekers have with your church. Before setting foot in the door, before the greeters offer a warm welcome, and before the hospitality of coffee hour, your website has already made that critical first impression.

Digital presence is increasingly the first point of contact and of evangelism.

A website is an essential communication tool. It is no longer a luxury to have a website; it is a requirement to reach seekers and potential newcomers, and it can help retain connection with your occasional members.

Not every church can afford a website created from scratch or has the technical skills within the community to build it themselves.

Fortunately, there are some simple, free or low-cost solutions that can get you up and running in no time. These online services will host your site, removing all the back-end technical work, and most of them offer professionally designed and developed templates for the design and layout of your sites.

My suggestion is to avoid drag-and-drop solutions and instead find a template that you like and rely on the business, design and development skills that professionals have put into it. Unless you are a professional designer, use a template.

Some websites that offer these services include Weebly.com, Wix.com and WordPress.com.

Each has their pros and cons. I prefer WordPress because of its extensibility, support, and freedom to change hosting, but the learning curve can be challenging for some. Weebly or Wix may be preferred options for smaller communities or for those just getting their toes wet.

All of these providers offer free hosting at their domain. While this might seem easy, it is in your best interest to register your own domain name and connect it with your new website — a feature all of the
above services support.

Not only does a hosted domain look unprofessional, but also it means that if you ever change hosting providers, your address changes, too. Every link that points to your site will break, all the search engine history you have built up will be lost, and every bookmark to your site will be broken.

Using your own domain is a relatively inexpensive option — around $15 a year — and instead of the long stswithins.wordpress.com, you can invest in stswithins.com. Then when you are ready to upgrade to a new site you don’t need to change your address again.

Next, you need to develop your content. When building your site, think about the three main audiences: newcomers, seekers and existing parishioners.

All three of these audiences will visit your site, so consider how your content speaks to each of them and make sure they can find what they are looking for.

Getting your church online can seem scary. But there are many tools that can help each church have a professionally designed and developed website at a low cost.

A little time and effort can go a long way into reaching out with the love of God to newcomers and seekers alike.

MarchHCN

Diocese Of Huron Launches Facebook Page, Huron Church News February 2015

Facebook: a place for friends, families, colleagues, and acquaintances to connect over cats, babies, news, events, announcements, politics, videos, brands, and communities. Facebook is a means of communication, connection, and organization across generations and demographics.

And Facebook presents an exciting opportunity for the Diocese of Huron to connect in all these ways and more with people from across the diocese and to spread the Gospel message.

The Diocese of Huron’s new Facebook page promotes events and communities of diocesan interest and creates a dialogue about who the church is, who we have been, and who we are becoming as the people of God. The step into Facebook is one in a series of efforts by the diocese to engage with people both in our churches and in our neighbourhoods. As the diocese continues to renew its communication patterns, it is important to be in the places where our message, Christ’s message, can be received.

In many ways, social media is the new agora of ancient times, the meeting place where individuals discuss daily events and share their faith. It is critical for the Diocese of Huron to be involved in these conversations and to proclaim the word of
God.

Stop by and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dioceseofhuron and keep up to date on news, events, and thought-provoking discussions of interest throughout our great diocese.

HuronChurchNewsFeb2015

Social Media Etiquette, Part 2

Etiquette is important. And there are all manners of etiquette lessons that need to be learned in life. Which fork to use, or how to dress for certain receptions and such. Well the same is true for our interactions online, and maybe even more profoundly because our actions online will be seen and read by many. They, in essence, represent not only us, but also the church.

I would like to offer a few more useful tips from the original piece I wrote in November 2011. This of course is not an exhaustive list, and I am sure I will add to it again in the future. The following three suggestions are meant to build a strong foundation for social media etiquette and our online behaviour as church.

What to post

  • Do I want my boss to see it?

    If the answer is no, it is best not to post it. A good practice is to assume you are at a cocktail party and your boss is next to you. He/she may not be listening to your conversation, but then again, they just might be. Treat your online postings in the same manner.

  • Do I want my mom to see that picture from my vacation?

    Sometimes we share content that may be humorous, or we tell a story or leave a comment. But imagine if that comment or picture was seen by your mother? Do you really want to have to explain the concept of body shots to your parents?

  • Can you say what you write from the pulpit?

    This is a good rule for clergy. Remember your parishioners are watching, reading and digesting what you post. And while you may think your privacy settings keep people from seeing certain content, it is best to not risk that content getting out and being shared.

What You Say Follows You

  • The Internet has a long memory.

    What you write today may come up on a Google search easily accessible by present and future employers. You are leaving an impression, an impression for your readers today, but also for the future. It is common practice, even in the church, to Google a candidate for the rector’s position and go through your timeline. Imagine the new congregation you wish to lead reading your comments and discerning whether or not they would want you.

Dealing With Comments

  • Not everyone is going to like what you post/share.

    But deleting comments is the equivalent hanging up on a person or slamming the door shut in their face. It reflects upon you and your ministry. Sure, never feed the troll or engage with someone who is spewing hateful speech. You can delete those comments. But to delete someone’s comment who doesn’t agree with you or challenges you is not only rude, but shows a lack of understanding of social media. If it is not a behaviour you would do face to face, then don’t do it online.

  • There is a fine line between public and private.

    But if you are using your personal account for the church in any manner, then realize you have invited people into your life and your actions can have consequences. One of those consequences is that you are representing the church when you delete, censor or silence comments you don’t like.

The church and contest

Attention all clergy!!

Your work hereMy partner and I are excited to announce an exciting opportunity for you. In a few months we will be getting married and would like a custom marriage service designed for us. We want it to be special and unique, so nothing out of the box. (Or book)

So we decided that we would hold a CONTEST!! That’s right. Simply submit your marriage service that you designed for us to the email address below and we will review them. We look forward to announcing the winner on our wedding website. (What great recognition for you and your work!!)

Wait!! There is more. Not only will you be acknowledged for your hard work on our website and at our wedding too when the officiant we hire to perform your service gives you a shoot out!! But you will also receive a new Ipad for all your efforts.

We look forward to reviewing your submissions soon.

Okay maybe the above contest is tongue in cheek. But that is how the church comes across to graphic designers, web developers and artist when we hold a “contest” so we can get a free poster for an event or a new logo for our church.

I know it is well intentioned. But it is also insulting to highly trained professionals.

It says:

We do not value your work

We want something for free

We don’t understand the industry and therefor look amateurish.

I hope in the future we, clergy and church leaders, who want to have our own work valued and respected would afford the same respect to other industries. And we would always look to fairly compensate people for their hard work in their trained field of expertise and be grateful when those we have contracted for work offer it at a reduced rate or free as a gift to God.