Archives For Technology

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

Ticketing Software Helps Churches Save Time & Money (free whitepaper)

Kent Shaffer —  October 24, 2013

Every year in the United States, countless churches gear up in the fall for Christmas services, plays, concerts, and other big holiday events. But it is more than just pageantry.

People are more likely to attend church around Christmas and Easter, and many churches have found that special events are one of the best ways to turn this likelihood into a reality.

This doesn’t mean that every church needs to run off and start planning a big production. God will reach people through hundreds of ways this Christmas. But if your church is planning a special event this year, consider using ticketing software.

Special events require extra manpower and effort. But some churches have learned the workload can be eased with the right technology.

Last fall, ACTIVE Faith offered a free case study about Phoenix First Assembly of God’s success in using ServiceU ticketing software for their Christmas event.

This year ACTIVE Faith has bundled 3 more church case studies in a free whitepaper – 6 Reasons Online Ticketing Should be your Best Friend for Community Outreach.

Benefits of Ticketing Software

Ticketing software is a versatile tool that offers both convenience and efficiency. Here are 4 key benefits:

  • Easy Access: Offering tickets online and at a box office makes it easier to get tickets, which often boosts attendance.
  • Better Coordination: ServiceU’s ticket management provides early attendance forecasts, which helps churches more effectively staff and plan their events as well as determine if additional performances should be added.
  • Streamlined Process: Great software saves time and alleviates brain strain by automating things quickly, reducing box office bottlenecks, and reducing mistakes.
  • Free Up Staff to Love on People: Because ServiceU streamlines administrative tasks, churches are able to reduce their ticketing staff members and free up more staff to be able to interact with and love on attendees.

Download ACTIVE Faith’s free whitepaper – 6 Reasons Online Ticketing Should be your Best Friend for Community Outreach

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

Code for the Kingdom Austin Hackathon 2013

Kent Shaffer —  October 15, 2013

Code for the Kingdom is hosting their 2nd hackathon next week (Oct 25-27, 2013) in Austin, Texas.

The first hackathon in San Francisco exceeded my expectations, and I look forward to seeing what is created this time.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Code for the Kingdom is an event where designers, developers, and strategists work in teams for 48 hours to create digital tools for God’s Kingdom. Each team has access to on-site mentors specializing in various technology and ministry niches. And in the end, $10,000 will be awarded to participants.

This 2nd hackathon is themed around confronting the challenges facing children around the world. However, any ministry tech ideas are welcome to participate.

There will be two project groups: (1) new ideas that emerge from the hackathon and (2) existing apps that are already in development.

For more information, visit: CodeForTheKingdom.org.

I’ll be there, and I’ve love to see you there if you’re a designer, coder, or ideator.

How to Blog 101 – The Ultimate Beginner’s Blogging Tutorial

Kent Shaffer —  October 15, 2013
Updated version of an earlier article.

I regularly get asked questions about how to start and maintain a successful blog. Here is my beginner’s blogging tutorial – How to Blog 101.

#1 :: CHOOSE A BLOGGING PLATFORM

I recommend self-hosting your blog and using WordPress. It the most popular platform among Technorati’s top 100 blogs and among Church Relevance’s top church blogs. Tumblr is on a major growth trajectory and is especially popular with teens and 20-somethings.

Self-Hosted Blogging Software:

Blogging Services (hosting provided):

Other options include LiveJournal, Blog.com, Weebly, and Wix (these last two are really websites with blog options).

#2 :: FIND A DOMAIN (if allowed)

As long as it is relevant, the shorter the domain is the better. A short domain is quick and easy to type, which will save you time in the long run and reduce the probability of you and your visitors mistyping it. Some of the tools

#3 :: DESIGN YOUR BLOG

Being a web designer or hiring one is no longer necessity. WordPress has thousands of template designs for sale and for free that are not too complicated to implement. If you are just starting out with blogging, we typically recommend finding an inexpensive theme/template (under $50). If you are just starting out, but do have a design budget, we typically recommend spending it on branding (logo and brand usage guidelines) rather than development.

Free WordPress Themes

Note: Most website themes also have a blog-as-home option.

Premium WordPress Themes

#4 :: USE TOOLS

WordPress is a great platform, but there are tools and plugins that can make it even better. I recommend at least using the following tools:

  • Google Analytics – free stats about where your visitors come from and how they interact with your site
  • Akismet Plugin – tracks spammers and helps keep them off your blog
  • WordPress SEO by Yoast – The first true all-in-one SEO solution for WordPress, including on-page content analysis, XML sitemaps and much more.
  • WWW Redirect – Redirects variations of identical domain requests to a consistent uri (i.e. http://abc.com to http://www.abc.com )
  • Redirection – Manage all your 301 redirects and monitor 404 errors
  • WordPress Database Backup Plugin – easily backup your core WordPress database

Other Tools:

  • ClickTale – provides movies and heatmaps of your visitors’ actual browsing sessions
  • Crazy Egg – supplement your analytics with stunning visuals and actionable data
  • Creative Commons – easily mark your work with copyright freedoms
  • Wufoo – Online form builder with cloud storage database.
  • PollDaddy – create free online surveys and polls for your blog

#5 :: HAVE QUALITY CONTENT

An aesthetically well-designed blog may entice visitors to linger for the first visit, but quality content is what will get those visitors to keep coming back. If you need topics, visit these resources:

  • Google Alerts – Emails from google containing the latest content on keywords of your choice
  • Reddit – users decide the top stories
  • Digg – discover and share content from anywhere on the web
  • Pinterest – A tool used to collect and organizing images of things you love.
  • StumbleUpon – discovers web sites based on your interests
  • Flipboard (iOS and Android)
  • Alltop – an “online magazine rack” of popular topics

#6 :: STUDY BLOGGING

If you want people to read your quality content, study the science of successful blogging and copywriting. Writing for a blog is different than writing for a book or magazine. My advice:

Unless you are blogging for personal reasons, focus on optimizing the reader experience. Offer only quality content. And make it scannable by using short paragraphs, bold text, and bullet points. Use as few words as possible without compromising quality (needless words waste readers’ time). And if possible, post consistently often.

Blogging Tips:

#7 :: MARKET YOURSELF

With blogging, two of your most powerful marketing opportunities are Search Engine Optimization and leveraging social media. Last year, 57% of ChurchRelevance.com’s traffic came from search engines. You should be using these resources:

  • Google Keyword Tool – discover which keywords and phrases are searched for the most. I use this often. In fact, three highly-searched keyphrases are in this post’s title.
  • Facebook – a popular social network likely used by many readers (follow me)
  • LinkedIn – a popular social network for professionals (follow me)
  • Twitter – stay hyperconnected to readers with this microblogging tool (follow me)
  • Google+ – the second largest social network which factors into Google’s search algorithms
  • Pinterest – A tool used to collect and organizing images of things you love.
  • Social Media Posting Guide - For regular people that do not have unlimited resources and time

WHAT ELSE?

Remember this is just the beginner’s blogging tutorial. But if you read all of these links, you will be on your way to becoming a blogging expert.

If you are already blogging, what would you add to this list?
What are your favorite tools?
What is your best advice?

The Role of Data in a Church (free PDF)

Kent Shaffer —  September 23, 2013

It is remarkable to see church technology surge over the past decade. Websites and church management systems were once the luxury of large churches, but now they’re treated as fundamental necessities by even church plants.

And the underlying byproduct of these tools is data – deep reservoirs of data offering new ministry insights and potential.

But is data good? With the right heart attitude and priorities, yes.

How Data Helps People and Churches

Data analytics is (1) collecting, (2) inputting, (3) protecting, and (4) mining information to gain a better understanding of cultural and spiritual needs as well as gain insight into how to run our spiritual races better. ACTIVE Faith, the creator of Fellowship One, offers one of the most robust data reporting tools available for churches. To help you better understand reporting, they are offering a free downloadable checklist of Questions You Should Ask Every Church Management Software Provider About Church Data Reporting.

Keep in mind that man’s metrics cannot measure heart attitude or spiritual fruit. Only God does that. Data analytics can, however, give us insights into the probability of such spiritual successes.

In other words, we still desperately need God and His guidance in our ministries. First, we listen to and obey the Holy Spirit. Then we can use data analytics within the boundaries of the calling we’ve been given. The real pitfall in data analytics is if we put our analysis of the data first and God last (or leave Him out of the equation).

FOR EXAMPLE:
Imagine God has given you a passion and burden to reach middle school students. You do not have any specific guidance other than this, so you experiment with 4 new events and programs. Attendance may be good at all of them and, thus, seemingly successful, but your data analytics report that one approach is far more successful at getting the attendance plugged in to long-term discipleship. All 4 events fit within the boundaries of God’s guidance, but because of your data reporting, you are able to focus your time, money, and resources on the approach that is more fruitful and better stewardship.

THE EXCEPTION:
Imagine the same situation where your data reporting shows that one approach is better, but then God guides you to instead focus one an approach that performed dismally at long-term discipleship commitment. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense in our eyes. Just obey the new, narrowed scope that God has given you.

Of course, there are plenty of other possibilities. In fact, the world of data analytics can offer fresh perspectives across a wide array of ministry applications.

Good data reporting helps churches respond proactively not just reactively, but the key is knowing how to do data reporting well.

Data Reporting The Way It Should Be

Reporting is the physical process of mining a database for its hidden insights. And in order to maximize the use of data, you’ll need a robust reporting tool. With such a tool, leaders can identify individual history of:

  • attendance
  • giving
  • serving
  • annual commitment renewal
  • spiritual growth steps (e.g., baptism)
  • leadership steps (e.g., small group leadership)

Such data reporting offers leaders touchpoints to assess challenges, understand successes, and remember history (particularly the history of individual volunteers or church members). And the larger a church grows, the more helpful data reporting is.

If a children’s ministry knows a child hasn’t visited within the past month, a teacher can call the family to see if everything is okay. It is a thoughtful gesture that not only helps teachers connect with parents but also can present opportunities for prayer in cases where a family illness or crisis caused the absence.

Don’t forget ACTIVE Faith is offering a free downloadable checklist of Questions You Should Ask Every Church Management Software Provider About Church Data Reporting.

Click to download your free checklist.

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

 

FaithVillage Helps Churches Engage Online for Free

Kent Shaffer —  September 17, 2013

FaithVillage helps churches engage their congregations around online community and content. It’s free. It’s scalable. And congregations can access it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

FaithVillage launched in February 2012, but its roots go back much further. Baptist Standard Publishing, a leader in Christian journalism for over 125 years and creator of FaithVillage, started asking how they can reach emerging generations and leverage online media to resource churches and disciple believers in their individual growth.

How do we help churches meet people where they’re at and in a way that sustains engagement?

This is not a replacement for Facebook or church websites. It is a complement. It is not a church management or communications platform. Instead, the creators of FaithVillage realized that the key to jump starting sustainable online church community is content because content is what keeps bringing people back. Content makes it easier to interact. And it is this mixture of repeat visits and engagement that creates a nurturing environment ripe for community.

Bringing Them Back with Content

Few churches have the manpower to create loads of weekly content, so FaithVillage has lined up 700+ content providers to keep people coming back and lighten your load with content for inspiration, spiritual growth, and volunteer training. Now you can still create content for your congregation and even upload it into FaithVillage, but you are also much more free to shift your efforts to other needs and opportunities.

Connecting Them with Community

Community on FaithVillage is two parts – private and open. Your church is able to create a private space of online groups for Bible study, mission teams, specific ministries like youth, and small groups. You can also make these groups public for everyone to join. At the same time, FaithVillage is an open community where friends from different churches can interact and enjoy content together. This approach to community helps increase overall engagement.

Additional FaithVillage Features

  • Custom landing page for your church
  • Invite and message members of your church
  • Create and manage and unlimited number of groups
  • Collaborative file sharing with your church and its groups
  • Event scheduling
  • Create teen-only or adult-only groups
  • Photo galleries
  • Content flagging
  • and more

Plus, to accommodate its growing audience of 40,000 users, FaithVillage is currently working on a mobile site, Android app, and iPhone app. There are other great features in the pipeline, too, but you’ll just have to stay tuned for those.

Click to sign up your church for FaithVillage.

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

 

4 Ways to Make Choosing Church Technology Easier (free PDF)

Kent Shaffer —  August 30, 2013

Technology is an incredible tool that, if used well, will save time, money, and manpower. In other words, these savings mean more time, money, and manpower for meaningful ministry.

But it is not just how you use technology. You must also be wise in how you choose technology.

So how do you choose wisely?
The short answer is time, research, and prayer.

To help with research, ACTIVE Faith has provided below several tips for choosing technology as well as a free checklist on Questions You Should Ask Every Church Management Software Provider about Data Transitioning.

(1) There’s No Silver Bullet

There is no perfect product that is right for all churches. In fact, there may not even be one product that has all the features that your church wants. This is a common pitfall.

Don’t expect the perfect product. Rather identify the most important features to your church, focus on them, and don’t get distracted by flashy features.

(2) Buy for Your Future

Buying for today may not help you tomorrow. When evaluating a tech product, ask yourself:

  • Is it built to scale with your growth?
  • Is it capable of giving you the advanced features you will want once you get past the learning curve of its basic features?
  • Is it built on a platform that allows other types of technology to connect to it, which creates expanded functionality for your database?
  • Is its reputation and scope such that other companies want to build on its platform?

(3) Determine Your Ease vs. Power Balance

Do you want software that’s easy to use or that’s powerful? While this isn’t a pure either/or choice, it is important to realize you cannot get both robust and super simple in the same package.

Robust software can do more but comes with an unavoidable learning curve that is much longer. Simple software is easy to use and learn but equally limited in its functionality. So would you rather be frustrated by complexity or limitations?

Be wary of products claiming to offer both simplicity and robustness.

(4) Ask the Right Questions

Be sure you know what questions to ask when comparing software options. ACTIVE Faith is offering a free checklist of 12 questions to ask church management software providers on the topic of transitioning your data into a new system.

Compare more than just the obvious features. Investigate how technologies vary in their uptime, security, and cloud-based datacenters. This free checklist will guide you through those more complex questions.

Lastly, don’t forget to pray.

Ideally, you’ve already heightened your sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit by investing adequate time abiding in Christ. That is, you are regularly spending time one-on-one with God and delighting in Him through prayer, worship, and Scripture. If you’re at this place, then praying about technology choices and hearing God’s leading will be much easier.

If you aren’t there yet spiritually, don’t become discouraged. You can still pray about these choices, but starting today, also start abiding in Christ more, so that you can better sense the Holy Spirit’s guidance when you need it in the future.

In recap, spend your time in prayer and researching the facts. Don’t get distracted by marketing hype or unneeded slick features. And do not procrastinate.

Click to download your free checklist: Questions You Should Ask Every Church Management Software Provider about Data Transitioning

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

Logos Bible Software – My Favorite Study Tool

Kent Shaffer —  August 20, 2013

Earlier I wrote about how Logos Bible Software 5 allows me to bring a ministry scholar’s library with me on an ultrabook while we travel in our RV. The space savings alone are worth it, but the real value is in what the Bible study software can do.

I have been hearing good things about Logos for years, but I always delayed checking it out. I guess when I thought of Bible software, I still envisioned my father’s Bible software from 1993. I figured it would be hard to top the free Bible study tools available online, but I was wrong.

Here are some of my favorite features.

Cross Referencing

Logos 5 is more than an ebook reader. It hyper-cross references your library of up to 2,500+ books so that you can instantly see which books cover a specific topic and then read the relevant excerpts.

Bible Timeline

Two months before I began using Logos, I was in a Bible study where someone asked about the Apostle Paul’s timeline. So I grabbed a 2-foot tall stack of books from my library and was surprised 10 minutes later to learn that none of them had a timeline. Instead I found one within 60 seconds on the Internet. With Logos 5, the search is even faster and yields a wealth of cross-referenced resources that I can delve deeper into reading.

Logos Bible 5 Timeline

Custom Layout & Synchronized Scrolling

Logos 5 also allows you to extensively customize the study layout and experience to your unique preferences. I particularly love that you can sync whichever tabs you choose to stay on the same passage as each other.

Logos Bible 5 Custom Layout

Passage Guide

The Passage Guide that I mention above is a list of all of the resources available for a specific passage. This includes commentaries, Scripture cross-references, parallel passages, literary typing, outlines, biblical people, biblical places, biblical things, biblical events, media resources, infographics, music, topical tag cloud, illustrations, interesting word cloud, version comparison, sermons as well as relevant resources available on GracewayMedia, SermonAudio.com and SermonCentral.

Bible Facts

 

More Features

Logos 5 is rich with features. I’ve listed just a few of my favorites. The full list is:

Timeline, Clause Search, Bible Facts, Sermon Starter Guide, Topic Guide, Bible Sense Lexicon, Bibliography, Search Suggestions, Scripture Memory Tool, Bible Word Study, Passage Guide, Exegetical Guide, Community, Information Panel, Library, Add-on Resources, Reverse Interlinears, Infographics, Maps, Media Resources, Lectionaries, Ratings, Tagging, Personal Books, Favorites, Collections, Synchronized Scrolling, Searching, Graph Search Results, Basic Search, Bible Search, Morph Search, Syntax Search, Notes

Logos Bible Software offers 7 different base packages to better suit your needs and budget. To learn more, visit www.logos.com.

Special thanks to Logos Bible Software for providing a review copy of their software.