How to Prepare Your Congregation for Digital Ministry

A successful digital ministry team at your church is built on a foundation of love for their community and the world. Without this motivation sustaining them, digital ministry is every bit as difficult as the face-to-face. Your digital team will need encouragement and prayer.

Here are some suggestions to build a foundation for a future digital team at your church:

  • Your leaders must support it from the pulpit down. Digital ministry cannot be treated as a second-hand ministry. Your digital team and the online congregation members touch every aspect of your vision and mission in your community and missional endeavors. It’s also the new word-of-mouth.
  • Engage your Facebook Live and Youtube Live Viewers. During communion, the pastor addresses the online crowd to encourage them to participate from home. Ask a question for the online viewers to answer in the comments by directly engaging with them. In both ways, you are treating your online viewers as part of your congregation.
  • How do your Elders/Deacons/Pastors talk about social media and other technology in its use to share the Gospel? In one-on-one conversations, talk social media and technology up. Identify the obstacles within your congregation to digital ministry and address them. Share positive stories of how others used social media or other technologies to share the Gospel. Don’t ignore the concerns over social but address those concerns.
  • When preaching, connect biblical application to technology. Use your words to guide your congregation in living for God both online and face-to-face. Maybe share some examples of others who have done this and how it was perceived. Inspire your congregation to share the Gospel online in meaningful ways through conversation and updates.
  • Don’t marginalize the Senior Adults. Instead, use their lack of knowledge about technology to pair them with someone in the youth group. The Senior Adult can mentor the youth while learning from them how to use Facebook to share their stories (or how to take a good selfie and start a conversation on Instagram).

As you hear your congregation begin to explore technological options, look for people who are willing to be part of your digital team. Churches need to get beyond marketing their church online to making disciples throughout the globe, and the need to train churches to do this is urgent. Church staff is already overworked. Most social media communicators are serving in many different roles and don’t have time to focus only on making disciples. Often, small churches are dependent upon their pastor to post online. Missions will come from the church if only we would stir from our slumber.

How can I help you help your church serve in mission?

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

How to Stop Adding Garbage to the Fire

Eli Pariser (What Obligation Do Social Media Platforms Have to the Greater Good) on Ted Talks Daily said, “Facebook right now I sort of think of as 1970s New York. The public spaces are decaying, there’s trash in the streets, people are mentally and emotionally warming themselves over burning garbage, and the natural response is to hole up in your apartment or consider fleeing to the suburbs.” This comment was received with loud applause and laughter.

In all honesty, the very people applauding are probably contributing to the decay of the social media space. What Eli suggests is creating responsible digital spaces in the way that cities build towns. To most that sounds like censorship, and as administrators of Facebook groups have soon discovered, moderating, not censorship, builds a productive and safer online community.

Towns have parks, public libraries, town halls, and the spaces are regulated or moderated. What he suggests is coming with Virtual Reality where you are facing the person you are talking to in a space you have created that encourages better discussions, supportive environments, and a place to worship if that doesn’t exist in your country. The problem is in people.

We cross boundaries, make assumptions, and refuse to change our behavior even if that may convince someone to understand our point of view. Hence, the applause in the video reminds me we are always great at sharing things we think other people need to learn but forget the humility of admitting when we are wrong.

So, how do we create a better digital space?

  • Exercising self-control in the face-to-face is just as important in the digital world. Measure your words.
  • Research what you share to sustain moral authority, so people believe you when you talk about the Bible.
  • Don’t react. Respond. In fact, the beauty of social media is the lack of obligation to respond quickly. We can instead choose to get back to the conversation when we have emptied our minds of damaging and defensive emotions. How many times have we imagined what we could have said later? Social media gives us those options.  
  • Refrain from humor others won’t understand.
  • Create parks, town halls, libraries, cafes, and other conversation-friendly spaces online to meet a need, create a bond, and build a friendship.
  • Most importantly, don’t assume you have the right to tell someone how to live. Build trust first. Think about mentoring the person rather than trying to make a mini-you.
  • Be teachable.

Social media may make you feel like fleeing to the suburbs or holing up in your apartment (i.e. leaving social media).

Don’t.

Digital discipleship is investing your time online in real conversation using whatever technology is available and finding ways to meet in the face-to-face. Transforming communities in the face-to-face starts with our behavior online and who we choose to share our life with. Instead of burning garbage, let’s instead build a real fire that warms the soul and shines a light into the darkness with the sweet aromas of friendship, love, and truth.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

5 Reminders on Social Media

Seth Godin wrote in The never-ending ratchet of conspicuous consumption, “The only way to do well is to refuse to play.” He said this towards the end of the blog about consumerism and social media. He also said, “Earning trust outperforms earning envy.” As a social media person, creating content and doing organic engagement on WorldVenture’s social media is about creating trust and posting meaningfully. But, what about you–the person who isn’t a marketer who wants to use their personal social media for outreach and meaningful engagement?

You don’t have to play the game.

Trends are wonderful things for pages and groups, but personal social media should remain personal, original, and meaningful. Here are five ways to engage and create without exhausting yourself. You are not me. Be you.

  • Rest and read. Creativity needs rest. It needs new inspiration. Go to an art museum and learn about artists. Take up photography. Do some gardening. Quilt. Take a walk. Nap. Buy a book on Amazon that is different and challenges your thinking.
  • Budget your time on social media. Do a short social media fast (no more than a day or two). Watch a movie without picking up your phone. Read a chapter without checking Facebook. Nap with your notifications turned off.
  • Post Bible Verses. When using Adobe Spark or Canva, create Bible verses from images you have created or from copyright-free image sites, like Pixabay.com. This is a healthy break when you’ve run out of things to talk about online.
  • Interact more than post. If we get too caught up in the monster of creating original content, we can miss the important conversations. Don’t worry if you have nothing to post. Instead, find someone to interact with online. Maybe you can invite them to meet you for coffee? Post only when you feel led, not because you have to post something. Idea: Share another person’s post with a meaningful response on your personal social media.
  • Use Facebook Live to take a walk and invite others to walk with you virtually. Have a conversation with them.

When churches have digital teams who use their personal social media to reach out to their community and the world, a person on the team can feel overwhelmed, especially when they are not a marketer. As a social media person, I feel the pressure, but I tap into the mass amount of information that is within WorldVenture for inspiration and take regular breaks to keep what I post fresh and new. As Seth Godin says, “The only way to do well is to refuse to play.”

Happy posting, friends!

how to get somewhere

How to Create More Meaning

“Some activities are pleasurable and doing them is inherently rewarding. Others are difficult to do, but pay off with happiness or pleasure in the future. Some other things are important to do, even if you never get much from it. I worry that the news has none of the characteristics that make something worthwhile. It’s not fun, it causes anxiety, it gives you a warped sense of reality, and people who watch it are rarely going to DO anything with the information they get … So why do people engage in it? Its sensational nature makes it feel important when it’s not.”From Here

Recently, our small town landed in the news. Our kids are dying in DUI incidents on the roads, more than one shooting again due to drugs or alcohol, and each day I see whiskey bottles and needles on the sides of streets. “Instead of feeling awful for people in unfortunate circumstances, you can volunteer.” The above article says at the end. The whole article is about creating more meaning.

What the author is not suggesting in Step Away From the 24-Hour News Cycle is ditching the news cycle altogether. Instead, the author challenges the reader to do something. But, what?

The information superhighway can overwhelm us with the needs in the world if we don’t learn to sift through what information we choose to let inside our heart. Instead of focusing on the whole problem, the numbers of nameless people in and out of recovery, the tragedies, wars, and natural disasters, follow this advice—focus on what YOU can do; not what you CAN’T do.

What can you do?

  • Pray for guidance where God would send you and act on it.
  • Use your social media to create genuine friendships. Post updates that not only reflect the kind of Christian you are but allow people to latch on to what you have in common with them (Matthew 5:13; Psalm 14:3; Romans 8:8). Got Questions goes deeper here in being Salt and Light.
  • Because Social Media is a visual storyboard, a person must think visually and literally when conveying meaning. Look at your favorite fictional books, photographers, and painters. Why do certain shows or specific blogs attract you more than others? The common denominator is emotion. If I were to approach someone in the face-to-face and say, “I’m going to do a prayer fast today,” it would come off as ego talking. When you post this online, you are inviting someone into that dialogue and painting a story using graphics and words. Every status and photo is a chapter in your life that you choose to include others in and live as an example through discipling each other.
  • As you build your friendships online, consider meeting that stranger in a public place for coffee during the day. News stories occasionally share the horrors of doing such a thing. We can either be afraid and immobile or be discerning in where and who we meet.
  • Pick a culture and learn about it. Find groups of that culture online and get involved in conversations.

Transforming a community isn’t done by hoping someone else will do it. It takes a deliberate joint effort from a congregation, leadership, and missionaries using all the communication tools in front of us, including face-to-face. The next time you see a news story you are tempted to share, wait.

  • Read the whole article,
  • Google volunteer opportunities in and out of church areas that reach out to that demographic,
  • and share a solution with the story.

Get involved in someone else’s story and be part of the change you’d like to see in your community.

Thoughts? Can I pray with you?

Still a Mail Chimp Fan

A post popped up in Jenn’s Trends Facebook Group, signaling a change to Mail Chimp. This caused some anxiety, and I’ve observed other changes already. It’s the industry adjusting to the different ways we communicate.

With only a 20% open rate commercially depending upon the business and my observance of a 50% open rate in my lists, postcards make sense. Mail Chimp is offering postcards for less than a dollar each, including the stamp and mailing. They will even find people’s addresses. Spam laws make adding people to Mail Chimp taboo who have not requested it. Instead of opting for Mail Chimp’s postcards, I’ve gone to Vista Print and use a label template to keep my contact lists updated.

Postcards are a great addition though to a missionary’s toolbox. No one opens an envelope. They see what is inside right away. Granted, this also means you cannot print anything confidential on a postcard. My “story postcards” are like Daily Breads meet the missionary update. They both inform and inspire. It is my way of giving my list of people something that is art; something tangible for them to look at to encourage them in their Christian walk and to remind them to pray. So, yea, for Mail Chimp innovation.

Mail Chimp also does,
• Landing pages (for those without a webpage)
• Facebook Ads
• Social Posts
• CRM Marketing

Before my new calling with WorldVenture, a missionary agency, I stopped using Constant Contact because I could only make one list and no free plan existed. Mail Chimp allowed numerous records with many names (up to 2,000). The one change that happened means I cannot make different lists. Instead, I need to utilize more tags and segmenting.

Tags allow me to send an email from the audience landing page to a specific group of tags only. Segmenting will enable me to set up a list that grows according to how I add people to the list or how people sign up. I utilize segmenting to send emails to different people rather than all at once. Currently, I am redoing my Mail Chimp list to put churches on a once per month update and individuals, too, who do not want weekly updates. One list is for people who frequently open my updates. As others open or not open, this list is continuously updated by Mail Chimp through segmenting.

I’ve considered an upgrade in Mail Chimp for a long time to get better templates. The free plan only offers basic templates. The first price tier gives access to all templates, A/B testing, custom branding, and also support. The next step up in the pricing tier adds automation, retargeting ads, custom templates, and advanced audience insights. Their pricing tiers simplify and generously expand on how many contacts you can have per pricing tier. For instance, I am on the free plan which allows 2,000 names (including, thanks to the GDPR laws, those who have unsubscribed).

The pricing tier I considered allows up to 100,000 names. I’ll never get that many names, but at $14.99 a month, it’s affordable. Their competitor, Constant Contact, includes an image library, marketing calendar, etc. At $20.00 a month, Constant Contact only allows up to 500 names. Mail Chimp is still friendly to non-profits in this way, giving a generous audience count. Are the changes coming to Mail Chimp concerning?

My anxiety has diminished somewhat. For my colleagues, I still think Mail Chimp (paid or free) is the best, user-friendly product for what we do.

8 Ways to Live Better Online

From Gloom to Gratitude: 8 Skills to Cultivate Joy by Allison Aubrey inspired this post. Read it and see how you can use what she wrote. Meanwhile, their eight skills inspired me. Here are my online versions of them.

Facebook’s memories remind us of the good (and bad) of past postings. During the day, Facebook may pop up on my newsfeed to show me an old post and ask if I want to re-post it. It forces us to focus on ourselves, what we’ve posted, our thoughts and emotions. Like seeing a commercial over and over again, it drills the thoughts we’ve posted into our heart, sometimes staining it. The more we focus on it the more we become like it, act like it, feel like it, and even relive bad memories.

In Georgia, I focused a small portion of my workshop on self-focusing on the Kingdom–using social media to keep you accountable to your personal goals, spiritual growth, and at the same time, living out the Great Commission. Judith Moskowitz of Northwestern University created an eight-technique approach as discussed in this article, but I was inspired to change it towards a self-focus on Kingdom so we don’t become what we post:

  1. Use your smartphone to snap a picture of one positive thing that happened during the day. Post it on Facebook or Instagram with a lead in that uses Scripture and words from the heart. Why was that event so positive to you? Event is loosely used. My friend posted a picture of the eggs she plopped into a bowl. They formed a smiling face. It helped her give thanks to God.
  2. Be grateful. Chris Copeland (WorldVenture) did a 20-minute Facebook live devotional on the new official WorldVenture Facebook Group. In this post, he mentioned a gratitude journal. A friend of mine uses her photography skills to post pictures online of things that make her feel grateful. Start a jar and write down on sticky notes all the little things you are grateful for and drop them in the jar. Review them at the end of the year.
  3. How did you use your spiritual gifts today? How did you help someone else focus on their strengths? In a non-bragging way, share your story online with a selfie or a picture that makes you happy. Inspire generosity. Help another human discover God-given gifts and abilities.
  4. Use social media to remain accountable to your goals. Have a trusted friend be on the watch for it to encourage you to stick to your goals.
  5. On Social Media, we like to complain. How can we reframe our complaint? While the article uses being stuck in traffic as an example, I would add to use being stuck in traffic to pray (with eyes open, of course!). Share on social media how you reframed a complaint that darkened your heart.
  6. Intentionally go to your friend’s profiles. Find a status and comment on it meaningfully. Start a conversation. Give a compliment. (1 Thessalonians 5:11). If a friend checks into a restaurant, text her to see if she wants to meet.
  7. Focus your mind on Scripture when tensions rise. Take a walk, go for a run, or hike and take the time to notice what God is doing in the world. Taking a break from Social Media is good.
  8. Think of others online first. Delete posts if need be should it cause others to look bad or comments hijack your purpose for posting. Comments can take things on a different thread than what you intended. Always honor others online with your words. Your words are actions.

The online life is a visual story and less literal. As you practice a more positive experience online, perhaps the memories from Facebook will brighten your day, encourage you to keep going or show you where you need to improve. It will improve your mood.

Would you suggest any others?

3 Ways to Help Your Organization Online

The sheer amount of content getting shared online is one of the biggest distribution hurdles marketers face. As Perri Robinson, head of marketing at Meltwater, says, “No matter how good (your content) is, it matters how you are distributing it.”5 Ways to Get More People to Your Content

A complaint among churches could be summed up like this: It’s challenging to get content from the various ministries in the congregation for the purpose of sharing online. As WorldVenture’s Digital Engagement and Disciple-Making Coordinator, I get it. We have over 500 appointees and teammates worldwide. My job is to get content from them that engages our audience. Our mission is to make disciples of all people, including making disciples online. As a trainer of churches who are interested in doing digital discipleship, getting content is key for engagement and can be a resource for your supporters and congregation to spark conversations with the unloved, the unchurched, and the unreached.

Just throwing content up on your social media without thought or prayer is unthinkable. Instead, consider how you can strategically use content to engage with your community as a church, a missionary organization, or a ministry. In 5 Ways to Get More People to Your Content, they write,

“Developing a relationship requires more than an email that says, ‘Check out this content,’ Perri says. ‘I create a dialogue. For example, I’d say, ‘I found tip five really useful, have you thought about doing this as well?’”

Who are Your Influencers?

Most people who attend your church are online. Identify the ones who have their phones and are taking pictures. Follow and friend them on social media. Pay close attention to what they post and their privacy settings. If it’s public, share the post to your page or group with an open-ended question as suggested above. If you work for a missionary agency, ask first before you share even if it is a public post.

Use your Facebook page to tag organizations and influencers that provide useful resources for your congregation to use on their own social media to start godly conversations. In this, you join with other like-minded organizations by generously sharing their stuff on your timeline. One other suggestion in getting content for your organization’s social media is persistence.

At first, getting content will be frustrating. People will forget. Your emails will end up in spam. They will get irritated because you asked again. Most people who are not social media people will not understand the issue of timing.

Advertising on Social Media

Start a Budget Line Item for Social Media Advertising where people in your congregation can donate to help you reach your community with advertisements towards specific interests and people groups. Small churches can benefit from this.

Get to know your community, their issues, trends, and be involved in local Facebook groups. Boost or advertise your best and most well-like content to get the most out of your money. Target specific people and interests.

Bring on The Experts

My favorite example of great advertising was an article about how a toilet paper company in Turkey hired a child development expert (versus providing answers via Google search) to help parents in potty training. Overnight, they had millions of likes on the page itself. Your church, ministry, and missionary organization has experts. Bring them in on the team and assign them a topic to be an ‘expert’ in to offer advice online to those in your community or abroad around the brand of your organization.

Offering value to your readers is an old concept. Early bloggers adopted this. Give your audience something of value to apply to their own lives. We should never market our churches, organizations, or ministries. We should build relationships with our communities and help our congregations understand social media to use it to make disciples, to mentor, to share the Gospel.

What Social Media Needs…

“As social media ramp up in the majority world especially, many in the West are finding themselves increasingly disillusioned. Some are convinced that nothing good can possibly come of social media usage based on the fracturing and division it brings, especially amid recent political differences. While Facebook has unprecedented potential to bring people, ideas and groups together, it just as equally can degenerate into a soapbox that rarely changes anyone’s opinions.” Facebooking the Unreached

As I finished reading Facebooking the Unreached and the Media Impact Report, I am no less convinced that social media and technology in all its forms are capable of reaching the unreached. I could talk about the barriers I have encountered, but instead will share what this kind of ministry needs…

  • A teachable spirit.
  • Bold courage.
  • Humility.
  • Faith to walk the unknown and face fear.
  • An understanding that the culture has changed and the world has changed. Time for grieving what was and for stepping out into this new frontier is now. In the words of one of my pastors (paraphrased), “The good old days are not here yet. When Jesus comes, then it will be the good days. The good days are coming.”
  • People willing to learn how to write emotion and show emotion. Social media is a visual story. It’s an open canvas with unlimited possibilities of expression.

Church leaders only need to make the connection of the online world and Biblical application, adding how to reach people online via even Facebook, in a consistent manner in spite of how the congregation may feel. Over time, if the leader is the example online that he wants of his congregation, the congregation will eventually follow. What we need online are people who can…

  • Exercise self-control (A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.Proverbs 25:28).
  • Get to know their audience so they understand trigger words which may shut down communication. Say the same thing a different way. (Romans 14:13, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.)

The quote above accurately portrays the West (that’s us, by the way) and their use of social media. Some are disillusioned because they only need our leaders in church and our missionary organizations to help us get a better grasp on this tool and use it more intentionally.