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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.

Real Thread

Growing up most church t-shirts I saw were simply wearable souvenirs commemorating the last youth retreat or something you attended. While this souvenir approach isn’t going away, the potential of a custom church t-shirt has grown to be a valuable tool used for identification, security, professionalism, and promotion.

Let’s look in depth at these 4 areas, sizing tips, and the benefits of using water based printing like Real Thread.

Identification

The larger a church grows the more important it is that attendees are able to identify who can help. Using custom t-shirts helps attendees more easily identify who can answer questions or assist them. This works well for big events, children’s ministry, first-time guests, and emergency situations. A uniform, particularly in a less common color, lets people scan the crowd and instantly know who’s in charge. Or in the case of a youth ministry doing community service, a unified t-shirt lets leaders identify and keep track of their students. But be careful not to get a shirt color that pops at the expense of nobody wanting to wear it.

Security & Professionalism

Particularly in children’s ministry, custom t-shirts provide an extra layer of security. Although improbable, there are rare cases where a predator or parent in a custody battle might try to fake looking a children’s ministry worker. This is easy to do with handwritten, self-adhesive nametags, more difficult with custom printed worker nametags, and very difficult with a custom t-shirt and nametag for workers. Having layers of security is a deterrent in itself. A children’s worker uniform also communicates a sense of control and safety, which is comforting to parents.

Custom t-shirts also provide terrific security and professionalism for church production crews. Behind the scenes of worship services are audio, video, lighting, and stage workers orchestrating the little details and the big picture. While valuable, their role is one to go unnoticed. A black shirt with gray lettering is an excellent way to blend into the shadows while still providing a uniform that says you’re allowed to be running around backstage.

Promotion

A custom t-shirt is a compelling walking billboard when used well. It is a tool worth considering but only with caution. The challenge with using a shirt to build awareness is that the wearer himself will actually influence the message for better or worse. It is a similar effect to churches using window stickers on cars – it builds awareness but coupled with negative feelings if a driver is a jerk. So take care in choosing who will represent you as a walking diplomat.

Real Thread

Sizing

When printing church t-shirts, be sure to get the right sizes of shirts. Going one size fits all by getting all XL shirts for your children’s ministry workers isn’t a good strategy. I’ve seen it done, and it leaves a large portion of your team frustrated that they have to wear a poncho each time they serve. Ideally you can ask each individual what size they prefer, but in the case of unknowns, consider using a tool like Real Thread’s shirt size calculator.

Water Based Printing

Lastly, consider using water based and discharge inks for printing your custom t-shirts.

Traditional t-shirt printing uses plastisol inks that print a plastic ink over the fabric, which limits breathability and is prone to cracking. Water based inks sink into the fabric leaving a long-lasting print that is still vibrant but also breathable, doesn’t crack, and is free of toxic chemicals.

Best of all, water based printing doesn’t have to cost more. Real Thread is streamlined and large enough to be able to offer clients like churches, Google, and VSCO rates on water based printing that are competitive with shops using the cheap plastisol inks. Real Thread has a 15,000 square-foot warehouse in downtown Orlando that handles everything from customer support to product creation under one roof. They’re actually one of the only exclusive water based and discharge ink screen printers in the world.

But where it really gets cool is Real Thread offers specialty printing services like glow in the dark ink, over zipper printing, 4 color processing, tag printing, foil, inside out printing, tonal printing, burnout, and about 90 ink colors.

So the next time you need some custom church t-shirts, remember: design well, print well.

real-thread-shop

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

Join Water Sunday & Rally to Save Those Lacking Clean Water

Kent Shaffer —  February 24, 2014

Water Sunday

On March 23, 2014, let’s have churches rally on Water Sunday to give clean water to those in need.

The Need

By now most of us how serious of a problem this is. Every day 5,500 people die because they do not have safe drinking water. In fact, diarrheal illness, caused primarily by contaminated drinking water, is the second leading cause of death worldwide.

Water systems radically change communities. A 2009 health impact study by Water Missions International discovered an astounding 52% reduction of waterborne illness related clinical visits after the community water treatment system became fully operational.

The Opportunity

Three years ago Water Missions International began the annual Water Sunday initiative – a program that challenges churches throughout the country to dedicate the Sunday after World Water Day to educating their congregations about the global need for safe water and taking a special offering to respond. Since it began, churches have raised over $200,000 dollars for Water Sunday and provided safe water worldwide.

This year, the goal is to raise over $150,000!

The premise is simple: take one Sunday out of your normal worship schedule to educate your congregation about the global water crisis and take up a
collection for the mission. Some churches get creative with raising money and do things like drinking only water for a full month and donating the money they saved by skipping other drinks. Time and time again, people’s lives are transformed as they see how simple things can tangibly make big impacts.

When you register for Water Sunday, you will receive a free Church Starter Pack which includes a Water Sunday T-Shirt, two 11’‘x17’‘ posters, and Water Sunday DVD. To make your Water Sunday easier, resources like sermon notes, small group guides, videos, and children’s activities are also available.

Why Water Missions International?

There are quite a few groups working on the water crisis today, so what makes Water Missions International different?

Water Missions International is a Christian engineering nonprofit working intentionally alongside communities in Africa, Latin America, and Asia to end the global water crisis. Through relationship they work to fully understand the problems a community faces and design custom, sustainable, and safe water solutions. They also equip and empower local churches to share the Living Water message. As people come to collect water, they are able to meet local pastors and believers who build relationships to share the love of Christ.

Since 2001, Water Missions International has provided water solutions to more than 2.4 million people in 50 countries on 5 different continents and currently working extensively with 10 permanent country programs. Water Missions International has also received Charity Navigator’s top rating seven years in a row, a distinction shared by only 2% of the charities rated by the organization.

One billion people still do not have access to safe water. Many of them do not know Jesus. Let’s join together this year to make a difference.

Register Online at: watermissions.org/watersunday

Special thanks to Water Missions International 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.

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.

Special Thanks to our October Sponsors

Kent Shaffer —  October 27, 2013

Church Relevance is made possible by the generous support of our sponsors. Each of them offers something valuable for ministry leaders, so be sure to check them out.

Big Sponsors

  • Active Faith (Fellowship One) Fellowship One has long been a powerhouse of church management software. Now as part of the Active Faith technology network, they have the team, resources, and momentum to continue pioneering church tech innovations.
  • Ekklesia 360 Ekklesia 360 is a sophisticated church website content management system. If you want a custom look plus a user-friendly admin panel that has been tailored for churches’ needs, check out Ekklesia 360. When I used to run a web development shop, it is what we used.
  • Elexio Merge your church management and communications. Elexio’s Amp Fusion church management software gives you website, database, mobile, check-in, and creative design services all in one suite of tools.
  • FaithVillage FaithVillage is a new social network and resource hub for faith experiences. Set-up your loft and meet some new friends. Watch an inspiring video or join a cause. Share a ministry idea or post a blog.
  • Graceway Media For the cost of one custom design, you can get access for a year to Graceway Media’s library of over 10,000 graphic and motion designs. Want a free sample? You’ll get an assortment of free designs just for creating a free membership.
  • Lightstock A Faith-Focused, Royalty-Free Images Starting as low as $5. Use in your next web design, blog post, sermon slide or video.
  • Sharefaith Sharefaith provides affordable church websites along with one of the largest databases of graphics (50,000+) available, plus numerous document templates, videos, and more.
  • Shelby Systems Shelby is one of the top choices among church management software. They offer multiple products to better suit your needs, and their 9,000 customers represent organizations of under 200 persons to well over 80,000.

Sponsors

  • Church Community Builder CCB is a web-based church management system which unifies core management tools, critical people-driven data, and social networking tools into a single solution.
  • Church Office Online COO is an ultra affordable church management system offering text messaging, child check-in, online giving, mass email, directories, calendars, and more.
  • FaithWebsites DIS offers Faithwebsites and DIS Websites, both are Content Management System with tools everyone can use. They offer scalable designs you can start with – from Do It Yourself to uniquely crafted custom designs.
  • Leaders Book Summaries You can learn more in less time by subscribing to Leaders Book Summaries, which condenses notable leadership books down to 10 to 20 minute summaries. I use them.
  • Open Church Open Church offers free ministry resource library with a growing list of downloadable resources along with ministry idea articles from from all cultures.

If you would like to learn more about sponsoring Church Relevance, check out our sponsors page for the latest rates, options, and traffic stats.

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.

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.