Using technology to turbocharge ministry

17 04 2014

Screen Shot 2012-09-23 at 9.04.11 AMTechnology can greatly simplify your ministry efforts while enhancing your capacity to build connections among people, communicate vision, form faith, and manage projects.

Thoughtfully-chosen technology tools, if introduced at the the appropriate time, should lighten a person’s ministry load while maximizing the ways people can participate. Technology tools can extend the weekly worship experience into people’s daily lives through blogs, Facebook postings, Taking Faith Home inserts and more. Technology can engage more people in faith forming activities such as online book discussion groups, Bible study reflections and access to daily devotions sent directly to one’s smartphone. Technology can expand the amount of time staff spend out in the community since their office (phone, tablet and/or laptop) usually goes with them.

How are you using technology to form faith, build community and equip households? Listed below are ways I see technology turbocharging ministries across the country.

Using technology to COMMUNICATE more effectively
  1. Texting (EZ text)
  2. Websites
  3. Constant Contact for sending email updates
  4. Twitter
  5. Posting blogs using WordPress, Blogger, etc.
Using technology to CONNECT with & CARE for each other
  1. Deepening community through Facebook groups, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.
  2. Supporting people dealing with health issues through Caring Bridge.
  3. Sharing photos of events and activities via Dropbox, Flickr, Instagram, Photodex, Smilebox, Snapchat, etc.
Using technology to COLLABORATE on events & projects
  1. Managing events and projects using Base camp, Google Docs, Evernote, etc.
  2. Gathering feedback and data from people via online polling such as Survey Monkey, Constant Contact, etc.
  3. Using Free Conference Call, Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangout in lieu of face-to-face meetings.
  4. Storing and sharing documents via Boxy, Dropbox, Google Docs, iCloud, Skydrive, Sugarsync, etc.
  5. Using Signup Genius, Eventbrite, Cvent to manage registrations and donated items.
  6. Using Google Calendar to share schedules among, staff, boards and all members.
  7. Using Square, PayPal or Google Checkout to receive payments.
Using technology to EQUIP people with a life-shaping faith
  1. Provide live and recorded trainings through platforms such as Adobe Connect, Go To Meeting, Slideshare and Webex.
  2. Using Videos from Godtube, Vimeo, Youtube to support and train people.
  3. Creating slideshows and movie clips to celebrate ministry activities, train leaders and and highlight ways the congregation is living into its mission (iMovie, Photodex, Smilebox, etc.)
Using mobile phone/tablet apps to  manage workflow (iOS & Android apps)
  1. Creating and managing blogs (WordPress & Blogger)
  2. Video conferencing (Facetime or Skype)
  3. Store documents and confidential information (Dropbox, Google Docs, mSecure, Sugarsync, etc.)
  4. Faith Formation (Vibrant Faith at Home, FaithTalk Series,
  5. iLife/Work Suite (Garage Band, iMovie, Keynote, Numbers, Pages) and Office 365
  6. Listen to books, news or podcasts (Audiobooks, Audible, iCatcher, Umano)
  7. View or share photos (Dropbox, Flickr, Instagram, Snapchat, PhotoCard)
  8. Project Management (Base camp or Google Docs)
  9. Read the Bible (CCEL NRSV, Glo Bible, )
  10. Read books and magazines (iBooks, Kindle, Oyster, TED books, Zinio)
  11. Social Media (Facebook, Google+. Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, etc.)
  12. Video (Godtube, Netflix, Vimeo, Mactube)
  13. Emailing and texting (Group Email and GroupText, Messenger)
  14. Training Platforms (Adobe Connect, Go To Meeting, Slideshare, Webex)
  15. Travel (Expedia, Weather, Maps, Google Maps, Fly Delta, National Geographic Parks)
  16. Personal utilities (Duolingo, Pedometer, Recordium, mSecure, Passbook)

Are there ways you could maximize your time and efforts through judicious use of technology tools? Which tools would have the greatest impact on your ministry without requiring significant time to learn and implement? What are you using now that’s proven to be a great time saver or ministry maximizer?

If you’d like to learn more, you’re welcome to participate in today’s webinar, Tech Tools for Turbocharging Ministry.  It takes place at 1:00pm central time.  Click here a few minutes before 1pm (enter your name in the guest field) to join other participants.

Are you sending mixed messages?

16 04 2014

5439119-867908-church-sign-indicating-they-are-open-for-prayer-and-all-are-welcomeA question I always ask myself after an onsite training or coaching visit is, “Would I join this church if I was new to the area?” The congregations where I struggle to respond with a heartfelt “yes” are the ones that send me mixed messages. Simply put, their words and actions don’t seem to reflect what they say they’re about (their mission) and what they say is most important (their values).

Let me give you a half dozen examples:

  1. Leaders say that they want their congregation to grow, but the growth they’re seeking, or least talking about,  is related to three things: A) increasing worship attendance and/or membership, B) getting new members to contribute money, and C) having people help maintain current programs such as Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, or planning events such as a spaghetti dinner. I don’t hear leaders talk passionately about growing disciples or helping people find their sweet spot and sense of vocation. I don’t hear leaders ask other people, “How’s your prayer life?” or ” Where is God leading you?” I don’t sense that leader have a plan for building disciples, or for that matter, a plan for growing deeper in their own faith journey.
  2. I hear people express their desire to have more young people people at worship and at congregational events. What I don’t hear or see is people of all ages actively befriending young people, including them in their circles of friendship, and tapping their gifts and wisdom. Why is it so important that young people be present if we don’t plan to befriend them, learn from them, or partner with them in ministry?
  3. I hear leaders say that “all are welcome” but then I experience worship services filled with insider language, songs I can’t sing, and hearing about upcoming events that I’m not sure if I’m welcome to participate in.
  4. When I visit their website – the “front door” for most congregations today – I find that it’s neither visitor-friendly nor up-to-date. Most websites overwhelm me with information about programs and ministries while providing given few, if any, reasons why what’s being offered is worth investing in.
  5. When lingering in the narthex after worship, I notice that few people greet me and fewer actually introduce themselves to me. Even fewer invite me to join them for refreshments, thank me for coming, or encourage me come back. Some congregations seem to live by the slogan “We welcome some, on occasion, if you’re like us.”
  6. When I observe leadership meetings, I notice that conversations seem to bounce back and forth between budget challenges and facility repairs. Sometimes there’s talk about the shortage of volunteers, and the length of worship services. There isn’t much conversation, however, about ways we’re helping people grow in faith, reach out to the community, or exploring ideas for doing ministry in more excellent ways.
Granted, I visit a lot of churches in a given year but I don’t think I’m all that picky. I’m simply looking for a place that befriends me and accepts me as I am, that helps me experience God’s presence, and helps me explore ways to be a blessing to others. Is that too much to ask? If these areas were adequately addressed, I think you’d find people coming to worship more often, giving more generously and seeking to serve at and beyond the congregation.

Setting ground rules for meetings

10 04 2014

78180530The majority of people I know seem to dread going to meetings. They will complain about the meetings starting late and ending even later, having to listen to two people dominate the discussion, and the general lack of clarity about what is to be accomplished during these times together. I’ve noticed that most people seem to endure meetings rather than seek to change them. As change agents, I believe that we are called to use meetings well to help further God’s kingdom.  A friend and colleague of mine, Jim Merhaut, suggested that meetings should have some ground rules and I whole-heartedly agree.  Listed below are some ground rules I think most meetings could benefit from.  

  • We start and end the meeting at established times.
  • Only one person speaks at a time.
  • We conclude one topic or agenda item before moving on to another topic or agenda item.
  • Talkative members work on listening more; quiet members work on talking more.
  • All decisions are reached with an agreed-upon percentage of votes at meetings that represent an agreed‐upon quorum.
  • Angry outbursts are not permitted.
  • Strong emotional disagreements will be settled outside of the meeting time.
  • Meetings will conclude with a review of accomplishments and assignments.
What ground rules would your meetings most benefit from?  What ground rules might you add to this list?  Have your leader review and discuss Leading Meetings that Make a Difference and Viewing Meetings as Worshipful Work to explore additional ways to make meetings something that people look forward to rather than dread.

Why transformation efforts fail

3 04 2014

First-Time-Paris-Eiffel-TowerIn a few hours I head to France to enjoy the sights of Paris and to participate in the Taize community.  Joining a dozen or so young adults, it will be a time of learning and laughter filled with many new insights and experiences. Engaging with other cultures requires individuals to change, adapt, and be willing to embrace new ways of of thinking, being and doing.  I’ve also noticed that, of the congregations I coach, the ones that seem to be moving forward, fastest are the ones that have developed skills, processes and an adaptive mindset that leads to ongoing renewal. I’m reminded of John Kotter’s well-known article title, Why Transformation Efforts Fail that highlights eight reasons initiatives fail to achieve their maximum impact.  Listed below is a brief summary of the 8 reasons.

  1. Not establishing a great enough sense of urgency. Without motivation, people won’t help and the effort goes nowhere. I find that you generally need  3 out of 4 staff and Board members to be on board for transformational efforts to succeed.
  2. Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition. Pastors, staff, Board members must be on board and willing to invest time, energy and political capital into the mix to help bring about long-term change. Leaders should invest time every month seeking to expand the guiding coalition.
  3. Lack of vision. Leaders must  not only have a compelling vision but also be able to communicate it to others in ways that energize them and inspired them to action.
  4. Under-communicating the vision by a factor of 10. Leaders need to remember that  the majority of members have limited information in relation to what most leaders possess.  Make sure that you’re taking advantage of every communication channel to communicate your mission, vision, values and next steps.
  5. Not removing obstacles to a new vision. Effective leaders change structure, staffing, strategies and processes that hinder renewal and revitalization.
  6. Not systematically planning for and creating short-term wins. People need to see progress in order to continuing to invest in new initiatives. Short-term wins lead to new people wanting to get involved.
  7. Declaring victory too soon. Consider using the short-term wins as launching pad for even more significant transformational efforts.
  8. Not anchoring change in the organization’s culture. Change sticks when the desired behaviors become the “way we do things here.”

One  other reason I see transformation efforts fail is due to inadequately addressing the need for tending to people’s loss.  I’ve learned that only when people have a chance to mourn their real or perceived losses, can begin to move forward in fruitful ways.

What kind of transformation is your congregation’s seeking? Be specific in describing what it might look like.  As you review the 8 reasons (or perhaps 9), which ones seem to relate to the challenges your congregation is experiencing? Please share your insights and wisdom below.


Becoming intentionally intergenerational

27 03 2014

shutterstock_3131377Research points out that strong congregations are made up of strong families. The findings suggest that separating family members and faith parents from each other for faith formation experiences is counterproductive for congregations. Engaging the extended family in intergenerational faith forming experiences build faith by providing opportunities for children, parents, grand parents, god parents, extended family members and other faith parents to talk about the mysteries of faith, to pray and read scripture together,  and to participate in meaningful rituals and traditions where God is the subject of people’s conversations.

Quoting from the “Generations Together” Lifelong Faith Journal,  “Families that learn, pray, talk, and serve together are much more likely to experience the positive outcomes of their faith community than families that experience these faith practices in age-­‐specific settings. The importance of nurturing family faith with the extended family together was highlighted in the Study of Exemplary Congregations in Youth Ministry. The results were reported in The Spirit and Culture of Youth Ministry (Martinson, Black, Roberto, 2010). They conclude, “Youth in families where faith is often expressed by a parent in word and deed are three times more likely to participate in family projects to help others and twice as likely to spend time helping other people than youth from families that did not express faith.” The Effective Christian Education Study (Search Institute, 1990) found that family religiousness was the most important factor in faith maturity, even more important than lifelong exposure to Christian education. Intergenerational faith formation strengthens parental faith with high quality learning experiences. It also puts those same parents in a position to express their faith in the presence of their children. This dynamic helps to build stronger faith families, and these faithful families produce service-­‐oriented children who are more likely to carry the practices of discipleship into their adult years than children and teens who participate in church faith formation experiences without their parents. Parental faith was cited by emerging adults who are connected to their faith as a key factor that sustained their faith through college. (National Study of Youth & Religion, Smith and Snell, 2003).”

So, what are you doing to make your . . .

  1. Worship more intentionally intergenerational?
  2. Newsletters and publications more intergenerational?
  3. Websites and social media venues more intergenerational?
  4. Congregational and Ministry Team meetings more intergenerational?
  5. Servant events at and beyond the congregation more intergenerational?
  6. Mission trips and weekend retreats more intergenerational?
  7. Small group settings more intergenerational?

Rather than trying to cover all the bases at once, consider . . .

  1. Focusing on one worship service a month.
  2. Making “all church” events truly intergenerational (including the planning, promoting and implementation of the event).
  3. Highlighting life and faith stories from all generations in the monthly newsletter.
  4. Hosting an annual cross+generational mission trip.
  5. Making upcoming milestones celebration more intentionally intergenerational

Start somewhere and start small.  As you build your intergenerational muscles, consider making a greater percentage of your activities more inclusive of all ages as well as more inclusive for extended family members.  And don’t forget to resource the home, where so many activities are already cross+generational!

Please share what you see as natural starting points to become intentionally intergenerational.

Young adults and faith formation

20 03 2014

IMG_1073How do we increase the likelihood that teens continue to grow in faith and remained connected to a faith community beyond their high school years?  What are we doing to build a web of cross+generational support for all young person? What are our congregations doing to create ecosystems that nurture faith at every age and life stage? What are we doing  now that will bear fruit for generations to come? Listed below are five suggestions helping young people experience and practice faith that lasts a lifetime:

  1. Demonstrate to members how to make and deepen friendship. Help members move beyond their comfort zones so that they naturally introduce themselves to others they know know or can’t remember their name. Teach members how to deepen existing friendships through caring conversations. Young people in our congregations should be able to name at least three people within their faith community – who they feel know and care about them.
  2. Let go of the “faith is private” mindset. Provide opportunities for members share testimonies of what God is doing in and through them.
  3. Invite parents, grand parents and extended family members to pray for, bless and practice faith with young people, and equip them with tools and training to be successful at it. Encourage parents to learn alongside their children by asking questions and wondering with their children rather than trying to come up with the right answers.
  4. Empower rather than enable. Teach people how to pray, read and reflect on scripture and ways to discern next steps for growing in faith.  Help people see pastors and paid staff as personal trainers in who specialize in spiritual fitness. Avoid being marked as “paid experts” who say the prayers at every congregational function.
  5. Meet people where they’re at and walk alongside them.  Recognize that people have different learning styles, different life experiences, different gifts and passions and different ways of experiencing the sacred. Focus on people rather than programs. Focus on helping every person take the next step that leads to a transformed life – a new way of being and doing.

Please share your wisdom around what young people need to live a vibrant faith everyday, everywhere, with everyone for the rest of their life.


Using your website to form faith

14 03 2014

IMG_0047Websites and social media sites I view on behalf of coaching congregations often do not reflect the vitality I find while visiting these same congregations.  Nor do the web and social media sites seem to be extensions of what people are experiencing first-hand within their congregational settings.

Web and social media sites should be viewed as essential faith forming tools that support people’s learnings and faith practices that take place with the congregation and in daily life.  The Lifelong Faith Journal, titled Trends and Developments in Faith Formation, includes two articles to help leaders think strategically about ways their congregation’s online presence can have a significant, faith-shaping impact on people’s spiritual development. I encourage you to read articles titled, Emerging Media and the Gospel, and Why Church Leaders Need to be Tech Visionaries  and then consider the implications of their insights and recommendations.  Listed below are a few questions I invite you to consider after reading the articles.

  1. Does your congregation have a vision for how their web and social media sites may help form faith and grow Christ followers?
  2. Do your pastors and program staff view the congregation’s web and social media sites as an extension of the faith forming activities that take place within the congregation?
  3. Is there a team in place to ensure that outdated information is removed immediately, current information is posted promptly, that all links and downloadable resources work as intended?
  4. Do faith formation leaders spend time at meetings brainstorming ways to make their web and social media sites vehicles for building community, equipping people in faith and leadership, and highlighting ways that people can serve at and beyond the congregation?
  5. Do your sites cause visitors to respond positively to the question, “Could this faith community become my spiritual home?”

Our web and social media sites must be viewed as essential elements in building ecologies for spiritual development, or what I call “greenhouses for growing faith.” What do you celebrate about your online presence?  What needs to change in order for your web and social media sites serve as essential tools for forming faith and building community?


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