One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the last few years of being a Church Communicator is that what works for the church down the road may not necessarily work for your church. And, oftentimes, you’re better off not even implementing it in the first place. That’s because every church has their own unique needs, resources, community demographics, and dynamics. There’s another little lesson tied up in this about being yourself. Just because something works great or looks good for megachurches like Elevation and Hillsong doesn’t mean that it will work great or look good for your church of 56 people, yo.
But that’s another blog post for another day.
I’ve also learned that implementing technology at smaller traditional churches often has to be done gradually and with an understanding that certain folks will basically think you’re The Borg from Star Trek.
In other words, they won’t like it and they’ll either oppose the transition or they’ll just leave altogether rather than undergo what they think is a full-blown assimilation of everything they hold dear. You need to be prepared for that. I’ve seen both happen. Sometimes this is a sign that the particular tech isn’t meant for your church in the first place — whether that’s a social media platform like Instagram or a fancy lighting console that looks like something off the bridge of the Enterprise. (Ok, enough with the Trekkie metaphors.) Or it could mean that you were indeed supposed to introduce new forms of technology and God was going to prune those people from your church body anyway.
Nobody says you have to be — or should even try to be — Elevation or Hillsong. But the Church should reach its community. To do that, it has to communicate with the community. And you need technology to make that happen. It’s nothing to be scared of and, to be honest, most of it is easier to manage than you think. Here are a few essentials I always recommend to smaller churches pursuing revitalization in this area:
1. Social Media Presence — I place this one at the top because it’s not just simple and easy to learn, but it’s also free. Even if you’re a small church that doesn’t want to spring for a website and pay for things like hosting, domain names, or sermon audio storage, the very least you can do is create a Facebook Page and invite your congregants to “like” and “follow” it. Then use it to reach the local community as you post your events, respond to comments, reply to messages, etc. If you’re social media savvy and have the time to dedicate to other platforms like Instagram and Twitter, then go for it. But, if nothing else, you should be on Facebook. I’d be willing to bet a lot of your people are there too.
2. Website — This is almost as equally as important because, as we say in this biz, it’s the “front door” of your church. People are going to find you online before they ever set foot inside your physical building. If you don’t have a website at all, you have no chance of showing up in Google search results for churches in your area. They may never even know you exist. If you do have one, make sure it’s well maintained, up-to-date, and attractively designed. It doesn’t have to be flashy or impressive. It just needs to communicate the basics and work well for engagement and information. WordPress is a good tool for smaller churches. There’s a free version (WordPress.com), but if you want to get your own custom domain name, you will need to have some funds set aside for that and use WordPress.org instead. The set-up is a little more tedious, but you will have more control over your site, domain name, and design.
3. PowerPoint; digital projectors — Whether you have projectors and screens or flatscreen TVs, you need to be able to display audio/visual content in your sanctuary such as song lyrics, sermon notes/graphics, and/or videos. Make sure the laptop or computer you’re using is outfitted with a presentation software like PowerPoint, ProPresenter, or Keynote.
4. Canva — Canva.com is a free graphic design program/website where you can set up an account (or link it to your Facebook or Google account) and create social media graphics and just about anything else you can imagine. From business cards and newsletters to flyers and brochures, there’s an endless amount of templates and handy design tools. It’s easy to learn and very convenient. The only downside is that you’ll need to be connected to WiFi if you’re using the free web version.
5. Unsplash and Pixabay — These two websites offer thousands of hi-res photos taken by talented photographers, many of whom are professionals. And every photograph is free to download and to use on your website, social media, sermon graphic, or wherever you need to implement it. No fees. No attribution necessary. Think of it like stock photography that you didn’t have to pay for.
A FINAL CAUTION:
While tech is great, it won’t ever be able to replace real people, real relationships, and real ministry. These five things are just tools to help your church be more effective at community outreach. Whatever you do, don’t become The Borg.
What are some basic tech essentials you can't live without or suggest for small churches undergoing tech revitalization? Leave your thoughts in the comment thread below.
NOTE: If you're reading this post in your e-mail inbox and would like to comment, please feel free to reply via e-mail or click on the post title above and leave a comment on my site. Resistance really is futile and you just might be assimilated. Also be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and subscribe to Rescuing Churches — the official podcast of 6.14 Ministries.
The other day I had lunch with my dad at a casual dining franchise restaurant here in town. It’s one of my favorite joints to frequent. I order the same thing every time. Total creature of habit. In fact, I’ve been ordering this particular entrée (which is really an appetizer, but I digress) as far back as my high school years when I worked at the Goody’s Family Clothing store formerly located in the same parking lot.
When our friendly waitress arrived with the meal, she commented on how delicious my buffalo chicken tenders looked. I agreed, but didn’t think much of it because I order them regularly. Then she said, “You know what’s really good? If you like our buffalo sauce, try it on our quesadilla. Sometimes on my lunch break I’ll make myself a little buffalo chicken quesadilla and it’s amazing.”
Why am I telling you this story about delicious buffalo sauce? Because you better believe that the next time I see her, I’m going to be requesting that quesadilla. But not just because I love buffalo sauce and quesadillas. It’ll mostly be because this smiling, happy lady took the time to be a rockstar and have personalized, conversational moments with me while I enjoyed a meal on a chilly February afternoon and even introduced me to an idea I had never previously considered. It didn’t matter that my dad and I were in the middle of chatting about ministry issues and cool podcast junk, yo. What mattered was that she engaged. She made a connection.
And when I left that restaurant, what I remembered the most wasn’t anything about this restaurant’s logo, slogan, social media, menu design, lighting aesthetics, or TV commercials — although I’m well-acquainted with them all. What I left with was the realization that there’s a lady there who likes buffalo sauce and quesadillas as much as I do. And maybe if I come back again, she’ll make something for me that will be even better than “my usual.”
This is the sort of thing that I wish a lot of churches understood, particularly those undergoing revitalization and those in need of revitalization. You see, your brand is bigger than your logo or some piece of random signage sitting in the foyer. It’s the the very nature, heart, and soul of your church. Simply put, your brand is who you are. That includes your beliefs, your reputation, your relationship with the local community, your online engagement, and even the interwoven combined personality of your congregants.
If you’re a pastor or Church Comms leader trying to assess your church’s current brand, you need to scrutinize everything: Your digital media, your greeters, the taste of your coffee, the temperature of the sanctuary, whether you’re replying to social media comments and messages, and even that annoying toilet in the lady’s bathroom that never seems to properly flush. The overall “vibe” of your church. It all leaves an impression.
Good branding can help you step up your revitalization game. Here’s why it matters:
1. It will help you become authentic. (More than just a logo.)
Solid logo design, social media management, and stellar graphics are critical. I’ll address those in forthcoming posts. But your logo is an inanimate object. When that depressed single mom in the neighborhood behind your church needs groceries, she’s not going to give a flying rip if your church’s Instagram account is like totally lit, bro. She’s going to be thinking about the nice staff lady she met at your last community outreach event who sat and talked with her and her daughter and gave them a connect card. If your church has taken the time to properly engage and form relationships, you’ve built a brand of authenticity and trustworthiness that will extend far beyond a logo on a fancy website or a sign on a hill. And who knows? Maybe she’ll eventually start attending and even invite a friend or two.
2. It’s positively infectious.
By this I mean that it’s both positive and infectious. Ever watch a Starbucks commercial and then find yourself craving your favorite brewed beverage? (Or is that just me?) Good branding inspires people to action and moves them in a positive direction. It should be the same with your church’s message. The community should be so overwhelmingly curious about and enamored with what’s happening at your church — or desire it so much because of the last positive experience they had — that they can’t help but to either attend or, at the very least, seek out more information via your digital platforms, which should then circle back around to inspiring them to attend.
3. It will excite your staff and volunteers.
A good church branding strategy won’t just motivate, inspire, and engage the local community. If you do it right, it’ll give your leadership team something to get behind too. Everybody wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves; something that can make a difference; something that will change lives forever. Your brand should remove all obstacles and roadblocks between your team and this goal. I'll cover some ways that you can do this in future posts.
It may take time for your church to do this successfully, but be patient. You'll get there eventually. Buffalo chicken quesadillas didn't happen overnight either.
NOTE: If you're reading this post in your e-mail inbox and would like to comment, please feel free to reply via e-mail or click on the post title above and leave a comment on my site. Also, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and subscribe to Rescuing Churches — the official podcast of 6.14 Ministries.
I believe it was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who was credited with saying, “There is nothing permanent except change,” and “Change alone is unchanging.”
You don’t have to be an old bearded sage to observe that the world around us is constantly evolving. And nowhere else is this more true than in the realm of technology. Let’s take that little computer in your pocket for example. By the time you’ve upgraded to the iPhone XR, the 11 and 11 Pro are already set to release. (I’m still bitter by the way.) After you purchase the latest, greatest laptop from Best Buy, your friend shows up at Starbucks with the new model you didn’t even know existed. And just when you think you’ve mastered the ins-and-outs of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, along comes a software update to all three and before you know it, you’re right back where you started, wondering what the heck you’re doing with these bizarre platforms everyone refers to as “social media.” The stupid photo upload button used to be right here, but now it’s over there. The mobile view used to look like this, but now it looks like this. And for the love of all that is holy, what the crap is a Watch Party and how did I accidentally start one?
It's ok. Breathe. You're not alone.
Anyway, I would venture to guess that some — perhaps many — of you probably wonder why you even bother with social media in the first place. It can be annoying, tedious, or just downright confusing. Nevertheless, it’s a part of our everyday lives and — here’s the point, pastors — it’s a part of your congregation’s lives too. If you’re a minister living in the year 2020, then you simply can’t ignore the reality that some, if not most, of your congregants are living large portions of their daily routines on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. They’re constantly and consistently reading statuses, scrolling newsfeeds, uploading photos, commenting on videos, and posting Kermit The Frog memes.
While it might all seem utterly pointless, silly, or trivial, don’t underestimate the communicative and relational powers of social media. Since the early days of MySpace (2003) and Friendster (2002), it’s been abundantly clear that mankind has entered a new phase of The Digital Age where friendships and relationships are being built online first and information and virtual content are being shared at breakneck speed. Here are a few reasons why your church should be present and active in the midst of that:
1. It shows your people — and the culture — that you care about their world.
Why do churches have community outreach events? Why do they have off-campus small groups? Why do pastors make hospital visits or have lunch with a congregant at his/her job site? Because we’re supposed to reach people where they are, rather than stay huddled up inside the walls of our building twice a week. With about one billion people active on Facebook and over 100 million folks using Instagram every month, it only makes sense for the Church to build community and relational efforts on and within these digital domains as well. Don’t just make it about marketing, advertising, and promotion — although those are important factors as well — but emphasize the relational aspect and engage with your community. Reply to comments. Respond to messages. They’ll appreciate your efforts and your church will be more Christlike than businesslike.
2. People use social media as search engines to find a church.
If I’ve just moved to a new city for work and want to find a Baptist church, all I have to do is type “Baptist church” into Facebook’s search bar and there will be a “Places” section displaying every Baptist church near my current location for several miles. I know, I know, Google is still a thing. But with the location settings and search bar features on Facebook, many folks (especially millennials) won’t even bother using Google when they’re more interested in whether or not the churches in their area have a social media presence to begin with. Don’t expect Google to cover your butt. You might not even have a great listing in their search engine optimization algorithm. Don’t be lazy. Invest time to create a social media presence where it counts.
3. Social media is great for marketing, advertising, and promotion.
Even if you’re a small church without a budget for things like Facebook ads, you can and should use social media to generate interest in who you are, what you offer, and what you’re doing. This means that the digital community — which is made up of flesh & blood people — should always be able to see and access basic things like your website and upcoming events. Fortunately, sites like Facebook allow you to create Events, invite your followers, and spread the word with features like sharing and tagging. Best of all, it won’t cost you a dime. And the great thing about Facebook Events is that people can invite their friends too, which furthers your audience reach. Your content will eventually show up in the newsfeeds of people who aren't yet following your Page. Use Instagram to share photos and videos from your successful events in order to attract the local community to your next one. You’d be surprised how much of a difference it can make when the public can see smiling, happy people from your church. This isn't rocket science.
4. Social media is a mission field.
Jesus commanded His disciples in Mark 16 to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel…” I doubt any of them were thinking that would one day include terrifying locations like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. But there may be no larger world-within-a-world full of unsaved people today than the world of social media. And your church should make it a priority to take the Gospel to that world however it can. It may take the form of graphics, sermon audio, video, photos, personal engagement, or all of the above. Regardless, we can’t afford to sit around and ignore the power we have to reach people where they are on the digital spectrum with the truth, love, grace, and salvation of Jesus.
Of course, there are about a million other reasons your church should be on social media, but these are a good start. What do you think I left out? Do you have additional thoughts? Let me know in the comment thread below.
Meanwhile, be sure to check out Rescuing Churches, the official podcast of 6.14 Ministries. Rescuing Churches is a weekly discussion on church revitalization and pastoral life with 6.14 Ministries Executive Director Stan Givens and is hosted by yours truly. Stay tuned for episode #7 when we’ll spin the tables around and I’ll take questions on Church Communications issues like social media and websites.
NOTE: If you're reading this post in your e-mail inbox and would like to comment, please feel free to reply via e-mail or click on the post title above and leave a comment on my site. Also, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
On Being Thankful From The Pit
Gratitude hasn’t always been my natural, go-to response.
My parents raised me to thank God for everything I have, but oftentimes I found myself far more focused on my hardships, adversities, and irritations. As you might imagine, this was particularly true during my college years when my childhood Epilepsy returned and forever altered the dynamics of my day-to-day life. There were countless moments when the resentment of not being allowed to drive or live on my own would cause me to erupt in fits of rage or anger — even amongst my own family. To this day, I regret each and every rash word spoken so hastily out of bitterness and exasperation. I know how much my behavior was capable of wounding my parents who were only doing their best to help me in any and every way that they could.
When I had a series of seizures that triggered a months-long battle with eating and weight loss, I was plunged further into a pit of discouragement, anxiety, and confusion. Where was God? How could He allow this to happen? Seizures and driving handicaps were bad enough, but now I was fighting neuropsychological issues surrounding food consumption as well. Nothing about this seemed right. Nothing about it seemed fair. To say that it was “frustrating” would be the understatement of a lifetime. For an on-the-go college student with a “conquer the world” attitude having my independency stripped away was enough to inspire me to punch a few walls and say a some choice words.
Of course, focusing on my miseries only left me feeling all the more miserable.
Thankfulness As A Weapon
I’ve since learned that counting my blessings — and being grateful for what I do have — ushers in an entirely new perspective on the circumstances, issues, or even people I might normally view as frustrations and annoyances. When I started focusing more on the incredible things with which God had blessed me — a loving and supportive family, great friends, a good church, reliable income, grace and salvation, the promise of Eternity with Jesus Christ — everything once deemed frustrating faded to nothingness. It was like going to war with my frustrations and defeating them all in one fell swoop. They were no more. I felt far more content despite the fact that the difficulties, tensions, and hardships were still present.
The very act of being thankful points our souls to a God who commands us Himself to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) because it is “the will of God in Christ Jesus.” He expects us to exude thankfulness even when we’re frustrated; even when we’re discouraged; even when we find ourselves in the deepest and darkest depths of the pit. In fact, there’s another command in Colossians 3:16-17:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
And yet another from the Psalmist:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” — Psalm 100:4
When we exercise this level of thankfulness — focusing more on Christ and His goodness and glory than our own circumstances or petty frustrations — we can overwhelm and vanquish the Enemy and change our entire perspective. Why bother worrying about the aggravating situations and people in our lives when life and all that we have and are in Christ is so much bigger?
The Gratitude That Supersedes Everything
Thanksgiving is spectacularly healthy and overwhelmingly refreshing for our souls. “It is good [for us] to give thanks to the Lord.” (Psalm 92:1) I never would’ve chosen this path for my life, and there are many problems in and around me that I would love to solve, but God has a reason for them all. And although there are those who might say my current circumstances are dismal and depressing, I know I can be excited about what the future holds because I’m held, loved, and led by the God who is continually writing my future and faith. (Hebrews 12:2)
And that fact alone is powerful enough to conquer, destroy, overwhelm, and overpower any spiritual force of darkness Satan can conjure up, much less a difficult trial, circumstance, or petty annoyance. So be happy. Be thankful. Happy Thanksgiving.
Just over the horizon, several miles from the nearest highway, far from any highfalutin hair salons, coffee shops or Italian bistros, you’ll find the town of four traffic lights. You know the one.
It’s the close-knit community where your grandma runs the local diner and you eat three square meals a day on the house. It’s where you met your first crush, your best friend, and were never surprised to see a tractor parked at your school. You’ve been here many times, scarcely in-person as of late, but often in your mind. You know the sights, the sounds, the smells. The nostalgia overwhelms you even now.
There’s the aroma of scrambled eggs and bacon in the mornings, the deafening cacophony of the midnight freight trains, and that little kid who once raised a pig in his backyard. It’s the same town where the local farmers don’t mind sharing their peas, beans, corn, watermelon, or cantaloupe and where the homemade apple pie is always to die for.
It’s a special place. A unique place. A small place. But, it’s yours.
I love these Nowheresville towns. There’s just something refreshing and satisfying about a tiny slice of civilization where life runs at half the speed as the rest of the world. It wasn’t until my early college years that I fully appreciated them. Sadly, they often go completely unnoticed and overlooked. That’s a shame, really, because it’s in the small towns that big things tend to happen. Big things like an explosive movement of God’s invisible Kingdom upon the hearts of His people.
This isn’t to say that renewal, restoration, and redeeming grace are absent from the chaotic cities and metropolis madhouses, but — thanks to social media — it’s easy to assume that the only thriving and successful churches left in America are the sold out Thunder Dome Sanctuaries. After all, that’s what we see every day in our newsfeeds. They’re impossible to miss. Our faces are constantly rubbed in it. Of course, the irony is that we do the rubbing ourselves. We choose what pages to “like” and what accounts to follow, but that’s an entirely separate issue for an entirely separate blog post.
Nevertheless, it’s no secret that our world is indeed urbanizing at breakneck speed. The United Nations in 2009, as well as the International Organization for Migration in 2015, estimated that roughly three million people move to cities every week. And in the midst of this mass exodus of biblical proportions, we might speculate whether anything worthwhile is being left behind in the rural communities of our land. We might callously assume there would be little for which anyone would wish to remain.
But I implore you to pause for a moment. Allow yourself to linger in the corn fields and sit on the back porches. And look closely to see the sweet, grace-filled story of smallness that God is writing in the town of four traffic lights, where the only church is less than 30 people on a good Sunday. You won’t find any stadium seating or a contemporary worship band. Their pastor hasn’t written any bestselling books. He’s too busy raising a family and running a full-time tractor parts & repair business to make ends meet.
But don’t dismiss this church so quickly. Jesus wouldn’t. After all, his Father in Heaven, the one whose hands hold the immeasurably massive universe and all uncontainable creation together (Colossians 1:17), is the same God who has a deep affection for using small, ordinary, and seemingly insignificant things to accomplish his eternal will. Jonathan found him to be a God who relishes using small numbers. In 1 Samuel 14, we see him say to his armor-bearer:
“Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by a few.”
Whether the saving would be done by many or a few would ultimately be of little consequence to God and Jonathan knew it. This is such a wondrous reminder as we all know the small churches, the dwindling congregations, and the discouraged pastors who feel they cannot accomplish anything because their attendance numbers are low. And yet the God of Small Numbers breaks through the dreary rainclouds of our pessimism and hopelessness and shouts a resounding, “No! This is not so! I am the Lord and I will work for you! Who can hinder me? Who is my equal? For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them! Take heart and walk with me one step at a time. You are more than conquerors!” (1 Samuel 14:6, Matthew 18:20, Romans 8:37; additions mine.)
Speaking of small numbers, perhaps nothing better illustrates the contagious joy our Savior has for small things and their eternal value than the boy who freely offered his lunch to Jesus (John 6:9) and fed over 5,000 people, or the poor widow who literally gave all she had by dropping her two coins into the offering box (Mark 12:42). Of the latter, Jesus would say that she gave infinitely more than anyone else because she gave out of her poverty. Her gift may have been small in the eyes of man, but it was colossal in the Kingdom of Heaven. A nameless child and a penniless widow found him to be a God who relishes in using small gifts.
Time and time again we see him taking sheer pleasure and delight in moving through small places and using small groups of his people in dynamic ways; in big ways; in ways that leave us speechless. He used a tiny shepherd boy to slay a giant and bring a Philistine army to its knees. He compared his own Kingdom to a mustard seed. And he came to earth himself as a tiny baby born in a small town in the middle of nowhere. The beautiful and encouraging truth about such a God is that he has given us all the hope we could ever need to endure in faith with our small churches, in our small towns, and to follow him on this incredible journey, uncertain though it may be.
And at the heartbeat of following the God of Small Things is a desire not to simply arrive at some grand destination or to gain something prestigious along the way, but rather to embrace the wondrous realization that our leader is worth the following and the journey is worth the taking.