Archives For Technology

Measuring the Intangible with 6 Symptoms of Discipleship

Ben Savage —  September 16, 2014
Guest Writer: Ben Savage

When you work with church leaders for long enough, you begin to identify common themes and challenges. I have been involved in lay leadership in several churches and have worked with hundreds of pastors over the years, and one thing they all have in common is the desire for people to engage with their church and be transformed by an encounter with Jesus.

Setting the stage for these encounters takes many forms. Each church is unique, but all face a similar challenge:

How do we measure the intangible with the observable?

Spiritual growth and engagement is largely intangible. You can’t measure someone’s growing love for and connection to God using a yardstick. So we look for the outward signs of a disciple. This is not a foolproof plan either; we all know stories of individuals who have outwardly lived “as they should” only to reveal later that there was little to no real connection to the Father.

But one big reason that this approach breaks down is simply that churches don’t have the right tools to get a full picture of someone’s engagement and connection to the church.There are many ways people can live out their faith, but here are six common signs of discipleship:

  • Connection through Prayer
    1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 – Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
  • Engagement in Scripture
    Joshua 1:8 – Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
  • Being Present
    Hebrews 10:25 – Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
  • Acts of Service
    Isaiah 58:6-8 – Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness the LORD will be your rear guard.
  • Investment in Others
    Ephesians 4:11-13 – So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
  • Worship through Generosity
    Deuteronomy 16:17 – Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.

Arundel Christian Church, through the use of effective processes and a unifying church management system, measures people’s engagement and discovers effective ways to deepen their involvement.

Measuring the intangible can be tough — especially without the right tools. If you are using disconnected systems to track giving, attendance, and engagement, you might be making it harder than it needs to be. Eliminating data silos in your church can help you gain a fuller picture of an individual’s personal journey and involvement. How are you measuring individual spiritual growth within your church?

For more on this, read the story of three churches that eliminated data silos and increased their ability to engage people, invest in their spiritual maturity, and empower them to participate in ministry.

Special thanks to Church Community Builder for supporting Church Relevance by sponsoring this post.

Texting Your Way to Healthier Church Communication

Kent Shaffer —  July 11, 2014

What’s the best way for your church to communicate to your congregation?

Well, it depends on the church.

The world is increasingly a complex melting pot of subcultures. Some churches thrive using social media while other churches need more traditional communication channels. There are hundreds of options.

And text messaging may actually be one of the best tools you can use.

Why texting?

Text messaging (SMS) is as popular as email was a decade ago. According to Pew Internet Project, 90% of American adults have a cell phone, and 79% of them use text messaging in 2014.

In other words, 7 in 10 church goers use text messaging. And this number is growing.

In most cases, the nature of texting is more effective at communicating than email, service announcements, and voice messages. It is 160 characters delivered within 7 seconds.

Tools for Texting

Of course, you don’t want to send out 200 individual messages from your phone. There is software for that.

Some solutions, like Church Office Online, even integrate mass text messaging into church management software (ChMS). In fact, Church Office Online actually includes text messaging in every subscription package at no extra cost. Users can easily send text messages to specific individuals, ministry groups, or their entire congregation.

Texting Your Way to a Healthy Church

Churches can use text messaging in a variety of ways. There are clear benefits to its ability to communicate the urgent – weather cancellations, emergency notifications, and calls to action for community service. It is administratively versatile with its convenience of volunteer communication, event reminders, announcements, and schedule changes.

But text messaging’s real value is in how churches can explore using it to spiritually strengthen the health of their community. The fuel that drives a church’s health is each individual’s personal relationship with Jesus. Abiding in Christ prunes and refines us to be more like Christ. And it is out of the overflow of this relationship with God that the most powerful ministry is done.

So how can text massaging be used for spiritual growth?

  • Prayer
    Your church can use texting to communicate urgent prayer needs or even just every day prayer requests. However, the real potential lies in developing weekly or even daily prayer guides to help church members practice and cultivate the habit of prayer.
  • Scripture
    Scripture illiteracy is still a problem. As we’ve seen with the emergence of Bible apps and audio Bibles, technology is providing new avenues of engagement that can be the first format that suits certain types of learners. Perhaps text messaging is the channel that some need to finally jumpstart a habit of Bible reading. This could be a weekly or daily devotional with one text being Scripture and a 2nd text being a thought-provoking question. One of my favorite examples is using text messaging to share the Scripture text for the sermon the day before. What a wonderful way to extend the sermon beyond the service and prepare hearts to receive more.

Think about how your church can turn text messaging into weekly devotionals of prayer and Scripture. Tools like Church Office Online are perfectly suited to help you get started, explore the potential, and manage the full spectrum of church texting.

Special thanks to Church Office Online for supporting Church relevance by sponsoring this post.

6 Ways Technology Helps Make Disciples

Kent Shaffer —  April 14, 2014

Technology is a tool that when used well extends our natural reach and ability. In fact, these words are an example of how the internet and text can extend far beyond the reach of my voice. At the same time, when used poorly, technology can enslave its users. We’ve all seen people become obsessed with checking their phones or taking on more tech than they can handle. I’ve been that person.

So how do we use technology well for ministry?
How do we discover that sweet tension between doing just enough to reach our full potential but not so much it bogs us down?

Software like Church Community Builder is designed to extend your ministry’s reach. They aim to keep the cost and usability simple without compromising performance. But the real value is in how you choose to use it. So as you begin to think about how you use technology for ministry, consider the following 6 ways that tech can extend your reach and help make disciples.

(1) Identifying people’s gifts.

Church management software makes it much easier to easily identify people’s unique gifts and then equip them with opportunities to use them. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul calls us all to live according to our gifts. Don’t pursue someone else’s spiritual gift but rather pursue what God has called you to be. Ideally, church leadership should be educating their individual congregants about their spiritual gifts, empowering them use their gifts, and holding them accountable in using their gifts well.

At the same time, church management software can also be used to track your congregation’s weak areas. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul also explains how the church is like a body with many different yet equally important parts. What parts is your church body missing? It is easy to get comfortable in a sea of people wired just like you, but software can make it much easier to track and pinpoint needed roles and gifts.

(2) Creating a connection.

The gospel spreads best through relationship. Discipleship thrives under a mentorship role. While most would agree that one-on-one, face-to-face relationships are ideal, there are still many ways that technology can extend our reach to connect with people throughout each week. In fact, Nielsen reports that a surprising 91% of adults have their cell phone within arm’s reach 24/7. Keep in mind that while the technology exists to connect with church members throughout the week, its effectiveness is all in how you use it. Be prayerfully wise in what is the best way to digitally connect with the people you are called to reach.

(3) Following up with volunteers. & (4) Engaging newcomers.

Intending to do something doesn’t matter if it never gets done or gets done too late. I’ve seen too many visitors and too many potential volunteers slip through the cracks at churches because the leadership intended to follow up but became too busy. Personally, I need management software to keep track of newcomers and prospective volunteers. In both cases, quick follow up is a great way to make people very valued and wanted.

This is key particularly with newcomers. Hopefully, your church is healthy and friendly enough to engage newcomers with sincere hospitality during their first visit. Regardless, reaching out to newcomers a few days later is a great way to take the relationship to the next step.

(5) Measuring the ministry.

Only God can measure heart attitudes and real spiritual fruit. Yet man-made metrics can play a role in helping churches identify ministry needs, ministry engagement, and the probability of spiritual fruit.

Tracking good attendance, baptisms, and giving numbers do not guarantee of a healthy church, but it does hint at the probability of health. Tracking involvement hints at health and unmet needs, too. If attendance tracking identifies that single parents are struggling to bring their families to church, you are now aware of an opportunity to figure out how to serve them – be it making changes to church programs or even raising up leaders like Acts 6 to minister to them beyond the church walls.

Technology helps you define the key areas of engagement and measure that for individuals. Disciples are people engaged in ministry, so it’s important to remember that you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

(6) Informing decision-making.

Wise counsel is key for ministry. For 2,000 years, church leaders have benefited from the guidance of scripture and prayer and the advice of elders and overseers. Now we live in an era where we can leverage technology to gain insights into opportunities for improvement and unmet needs. Done well, analyzing data from church management software can reveal what efforts are likely most fruitful and which are not.

For more information about how technology can help your church, visit ChurchCommunityBuilder.com.

Special thanks to Church Community Builder for supporting Church Relevance by sponsoring this post.

12 Questions for Keeping Your Church Data Safe (free PDF)

Kent Shaffer —  December 19, 2013

These days few U.S. churches use only paper records for administration. But as church administration is turning increasingly digital, how do we keep our data safe from hard drive crashes, weather crises, and cyber theft?

To help you learn and navigate today’s data security issues, ACTIVE Faith has created a free, downloadable PDF – 12 Questions You Should Ask Every Church Management Software Provider About Data Security. As the creators of cloud-based church management software Fellowship One, they know what they’re talking about.

But before we get to those 12 questions, let’s acknowledge 3 realities.

Cloud-storage is safer.

Of course, nothing is 100% safe. Both offline and online data is vulnerable to theft or damage, but we can take measures to dramatically improve its safety.

Each year the United States faces a slew of wildfires, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes, and each year hundreds of self-hosted storage solutions are damaged and lost. Even cloud-based storage is vulnerable since it exists on land somewhere.

However, cloud-storage is much safer because the providers of these systems invest heavily in security by storing information in data centers that can withstand weather-related issues, fraud, and system outages far better than anything what churches could afford to provide for themselves.

Cloud storage costs more.

Churches often balk at the cost of good data protection. After all, do-it-yourself is much cheaper, but it is also inferior.

The comparison of cloud storage and DIY storage is not apples-to-apples because individual churches can’t match the security level of the cloud. Yes, at face value you may be able to store data cheaper than the cloud, but it comes at the cost of more potential loss of data and cost of upfront hardware, maintenance, and upgrades.

Do-It-Yourself has limits.

DIY storage has functionality and efficiency limits. It’s not available anytime, anywhere, like cloud-based data. And for many, it eventually becomes overburdened and slower and can crash under the weight of your desired usage. Inadequate security measures may not show up immediately, but when they do, they can be devastating to church operations.

What’s next?

This isn’t said out of fear-mongering. God is our refuge and confidence. Ministry can go on in the wake of devastated data, but I think it is good to be wise, good stewards of our data. Why endure an unnecessary hardship and setback that distracts from ministry in the trenches?

So as with everything, pray and seek God as to what are the best steps for your ministry. And I also highly encourage you the take the next step in learning about data security by downloading ACTIVE Faith’s free PDF.

Download: 12 Questions You Should Ask Every Church Management Software Provider About Data Security

Special thanks to ACTIVE Faith for supporting Church Relevance by sponsoring this post.

Mobile Ministry Forum (Recap 1)

Kent Shaffer —  December 11, 2013

At the Mobile Ministry Forum, over 100 leaders gathered to discuss what is next in mobile ministry. Here are highlights from the first 2 days.

Ken Cochrum // Indigitous & Cru

Indigitous is an initiative of Cru that seeks to create digital tools, resources, and strategies tailored to local cultures and languages.

There is a credibility aspect in being able to speak someone’s cultural language. For some, they speak mobile technology. What have you done with your mobile phone over the last 12 hours?

Through a new medium, the stories of the Word of God can captivate us in new ways.

The whole notion that there is “virtual ministry” and then there is “real ministry” no longer exists. It is one and the same. Virtual ministry is very real ministry.

We don’t need to create something and then translate it. We just need to go indigenous from the beginning.

We start with God – His heart, His glory, His promises. We don’t have to build the roads of the internet. We just need to learn how to drive on the roads that others are creating.

One approach doesn’t fit all cultures. Missionaries go where the people are.

 Gary Nelson // Every Tribe Every Nation (ETEN)

Every Tribe Every Nation (ETEN) is an alliance of ministries – the United Bible Societies, Biblica, and Wycliffe – that works together for a common goal.

What does it mean to eradicate Bible poverty?

  1. We must eradicate poverty of access. Many still do not have a Bible in their language.
  2. We must eradicate poverty of engagement. Many have Bibles but do not read them.

What is needed to accelerate Bible translation has always had barriers of people and finances, but today’s technology is enabling us to do new things.

The digital Bible library began as an expression to recognize a fundamental problem. Let’s get people a Bible in the language they know best to help them intimately know God. The digital Bible library digitizes the translations, standardizes their formats, centralizes access to the latest versions, and approves ministries to use these translations.

Heidi Campbell // Texas A&M University

People are using digital media to experiment with their religious identity.

4 Trends of Digital Religious Practice

  1. There is a strong move towards image-based media for devotional work and expression of religious identity. Anyone through Instagram can become a “professional” photographer and express their religious identity.
  2. Social media is an outlet for issue-oriented activism. Community happens when people find others online who share their beliefs and passions.
  3. There is a rise of remixing religion and mashing-up theology online. However, often problematic ideas rise to the top.
  4. An increasing number of ministries are using mobile technology for faith and liturgy.

To date there have only been several studies on ministry via apps. Insights include:

  • Religious texts are most engaging when wrapped in an audio-visual format. Also apps are most meaningful when they offer features allowing touch interaction with the content.
  • College students are motivated to use religious apps by the app’s spiritual impact, encouragement, and use as a “spiritual toolbox.”(Bellar 2012)
  • Use of varieties of religious apps may reflect a pluralism of religious identity. (Wagner 2012)

How Church Management Software Saves Money

Kent Shaffer —  December 3, 2013

Sometimes the best investments are difficult to start because of upfront costs. For example, good church management software (ChMS) is an incredible aid to most churches, but the initial cost causes many ministers to shy away from using it.

However, church management software can actually save you money in the long run.

Let’s consider the total cost of ownership (TCO) of your data. How much would it cost to gather, maintain, secure, and use your data if you didn’t use church management software?

Big Savings

The team at ACTIVE Faith, creator of Fellowship One, identified just one (of many) often overlooked ways that a ChMS can save money.

ACTIVE Faith calculated the cost of printing and mailing 2,000 contribution statements to church members. $3,320.

Instead you can make giving statements available online for members via software and use the savings for the good of God’s Kingdom.

With Fellowship One, members can easily access their contribution statements through the software at any time (not just at year end). Mid-year and year-end emails can be sent for free to notify members of their current statements. And if a few people insist on paper copies, it only takes minutes and pennies to provide those. The savings are a sizeable chunk of change.

What can $3,320 do?

  • 474 ducks as sustainable relief for families via World Vision (view)
  • 87 children sponsored from Compassion International (view)
  • 83 days of aftercare for a rescued human trafficking victim by International Justice Mission (view)
  • 9+ years of sponsoring an entire orphan club via Half a Child (view)
  • 6 iPads for mobile ministry work or children’s ministry check-ins
  • Half a water well dug by hand by charity: water (view)

Download an infographic and learn more.

 Special thank to ACTIVE Faith for supporting Church Relevance by sponsoring this post.

The Bible App for Kids

Kent Shaffer —  November 28, 2013

YouVersion has partnered with OneHope to release a free kids Bible app for iOS and Android devices.

The Bible App for Kids

Oven Bits developed the app and has a great behind the scenes look at the creation process.

Download the Bible App for Kids

Mobile Ministry Forum

Kent Shaffer —  November 26, 2013

If you are interested in mobile ministry, consider joining me in a couple weeks at the 2013 Mobile Ministry Forum Consultation (Orlando, FL). The Mobile Ministry Forum is a network of over 70 organizations working together to use mobile technology for the advance of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

On December 9th-11th, these pioneers in mobile internet ministry will be giving TED-style presentations, panel discussions, ministry field reports, workshop breakouts, and networking time. Keynotes include:

  • We Go Where They Are – Ken Cochrum
    You see the potential for the internet, social media, mobile technology, and other digital innovation to help with the fulfillment of the Great Commission, and you want to be available and used by God to help new movements start and grow. Maybe you’ve heard a few stories, checked out a few resources. But how do you connect with a culture that is native to the digital world?
  • Every Tribe Every Nation; Eradicating Bible Poverty – Gary Nelson
    The mission of the Every Tribe Every Nation® (ETEN) alliance: Partnering to unleash the life-giving message of God’s Word to all people in their own language and in a format they can engage with so lives can be transformed. And for the first time in history, we have the means to make that goal a reality. Roads and ships, pens and paper have given way to computers, cell phones, tablets, and print on demand. The door is open for the Bible to cause true transformation everywhere.
  • Trends in Digital Religion and Religious App Culture – Heidi Campbell
    Dr Campbell will present an overview of notable findings from scholars working in the study of Digital Religion in relation to how people practice religion in digital culture. These observation will be reflect upon in light of systematic survey of religious apps, which seeks to identify trends related key design features and motivations influencing the creation of and user engagement with religious apps.
  • Making the Move to Mobile – Brandon Honsalek
  • Faith Comes By Hearing: Digital Bible Platform 
    Faith Comes By Hearing has been a digital innovator on the mobile platform with their very successful Bible.is app as well as the Digital Bible Platform. Hear the story of their digital transition and the resources they now offer.

If you’re going, let me know. I’d love to connect. And if you’re unable to travel to Orlando, consider registering as a remote participant (only $25).

Register for MMF