Warm Weather & Raised Spirits

As I feel the longer days, the warmer weather, and the abundant life of birds flying and people walking their dogs I can’t help but feel…lighter, happier.  Even in the midst of miscarriage, Carrie and I were able to go camping one evening in mid-May and have been taking the dog on very enjoyable, long walks.  Although we found ourselves in the midst of a struggle, the season lightened our load, I think.
I suspect that it wasn’t just the weather.  It was also activity.  This is confirmed by the CDC, which reports:
…Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and may help you sleep better. Research has shown that doing aerobic or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes can give you these mental health benefits….
When I’m feeling upset, depressed, or just a little bored or sad, my body tricks me.  My body ‘tells me’ that I want to sit in front of the tv or eat my feelings or mope about, but what my body wants will just make my mood worse.  I have found that if I get up off the couch and take a walk, even the shortest little walk around the block, my mood will improve and I will feel mentally, physically, and spiritually better than I did before.
My hope for all the people of this church is that we would take advantage of the beautiful weather, but not just watch it through the window.  Let’s find safe and age-appropriate avenues for holistically strengthening our health with a little bit of activity.
blessings,









*This blog has been reprinted from the Normal First United Methodist Church’s June Newsletter.

That’s your new website?  Really?
Image found at:  http://www.webtemplatesgallery.com/

I’m in the midst of thinking about church websites.  I started, as many pastors do, by looking at what I think are “better” church websites.  What I find are a lot of sites that look the same:

  1. You have the static, old HTML format pages that are out-of-date, not relatable,  and …well… ancient.  No thanks.
  2. You have the cookie-cutter sites from E-zekiel or some other company that are obvious from a mile away, are unintuitive, have back-end management systems that are either so complicated that staff job descriptions should require programming languages or are so watered down that you can’t implement mainstream apps like google and youtube, well, enough said, No thanks.
  3. Or you have, what I’ll call, the next-wave church website.  They are much better.  They are visually stimulating and are setup for more dynamic content and they are far less expensive than they used to be.  But they still all look much like one another…  they are still trapped in this mindset of “come to us,” and they still tend to be ‘information-based’ instead of relational.
These websites have come a long way, but I feel like even the best of them are still running behind corporate websites saying, “We want to be like you.  Wait up!”
What is it we need for the church of this millennium?  What is the right answer for us?
In my blog I have already been shouting (in fact, I’m blue in the face) that we need dynamic, relational content on our sites…but I’ve, sadly, always been thinking of the existing model of church website with ‘dynamic’ content and more relational content in an existing structure.
This week I’ve been thinking that this is altogether the wrong concept.
Right now, the typical church website tends to have information about itself, some stories about upcoming events (all of this in a depressingly informational style), a calendar, a link to sermons / bulletins, and the *ALL-IMPORTANT* newsletter.  Hmmm,  Church websites, then, are taking a variety of things we already and making their proprietary website a forum for distributing them.
Why are we letting a gutenberg-based (500 year old technology) medium, for instance, dictate how we do church communications?  Why all the disjunct technologies and modes put together in such a contrived fashion???  How do we think completely out-of-the-box to redefine how our church communicates both on-line and internally?
I have a couple of thoughts, but, to be fair, I need to work on them here in Normal before I say anymore here online!  Put on your thinking caps and let’s get outside of the box.  Let’s transform church communications.
Here is to Creative and Effective Communicating!
Re-Thinking Communications at Church

In the church we are pretty good at one thing:  continuing to do what we’ve always done without asking ourselves “why?”  Now, I’ll give you one thing:  we do often ask, “how do I do this better?” But we’re often operating under the delusion that the newsletter or mailing formula we’ve used is the only way to do it.  Usually we are looking at a newsletter or bulletin or congregational letter and we are saying, “This is okay but I want it to look better or be more effective.”

That is simply the wrong approach.

Lately, I’ve been looking at church newsletters and bulletins (not just the ones from my churches) and I’ve asked myself that first question a lot over the past few months.  I’ve considered some re-designs.  I’ve thought about whitespace, flow, and consistency.  I’ve looked at these documents from every perspective of design and communication that I can think of…

…but I had failed to ask the really pertinent questions.  I had failed to think fully outside of the box.

This week I took some time to contemplate questions like, “What are we trying to accomplish,” and “what media (and format) would work best to do that?”

I made several realizations that I hope to share with you in the near future, once I put them into practice.

In the meantime, I beg all pastors and church leaders interested in effective communications in their church to do as I’ve done this week:  set aside your current publications and think bigger:

  1. What are you trying to accomplish with your church?
  2. What audiences do you need to communicate with?
    (worshipers, inactive members, active leaders, outsiders)
  3. What do you want to communicate to each of these audiences?
  4. What is the most effective means to use?
blessings,
How Do I Do This Job?!?

An appointment to a new church can be a anxiety-laden experience.

  • You still have to have your head in the game at your current church.
  • You need to start developing relationships with people at the new church
  • and…you have to begin thinking about what ministry is possible with the new congregation.

First, I admit that I have it easy in this appointment change because I am on a medical leave after my brain surgery.  I am working ‘ahead’ on some things from the comfort of my home, but I am still anxiously imagining ministry in this new place that I don’t yet know or fully understand yet.

I know, I know, partly I just have to go be with them and the rest will come…but that doesn’t stop my head from spinning with ideas.

First and foremost on my mind, of course, is communication.  As an associate pastor I’m not sure how much I can influence the church in communicating in the ways I’ve been outlining on this blog, but that won’t hamper my enthusiasm…

  • I am concerned with developing a more effective (and relational) presence on Facebook.  They are a urban, on-campus church of about 1500 members but have 40 people on their Facebook page.  I can’t help but think we can explode that!  We can develop an atmosphere of check-ins, upload more photos and videos from around the church, and encourage relational posts (and sharing blogs).  What else are people doing out there?  Help me dream!
  • I think that blogging is one of the most effective ways a church can develop an online presence, but I’m just an associate pastor.  Does anyone have ideas for how an associate can get others blogging?  Anyone out there doing it effectively, especially where there isn’t currently a culture of blogging?
  • This next one may surprise you.  I think that printed media can be a highly effective mode of communication. So much communication is shifting to the internet that more-and-more people will be surprised by and notice real life mail, I think.  Yet, what a church puts out should not simply be a repository of small type and long articles.  It has to be concise, relational…and (this is the big one) high quality.  It has to look and be great!  And, by the way, what we put in worshiper’s hands on Sunday morning should be high quality and add to the worship experience, hopefully adding to the experience visually (with photos).  How important is it to have color capability?  How does one help train and inspire staff in not just publishing technique, but also taste?  (Again, not an indictment on the current staff…I just don’t know yet)
  • Oh, and the website… well, there is work to be done but until we develop social media and dynamic content I’m not sure it’s time to put too much energy into the internet presence with the least future potential.  This article shows that blogging and social media combined is outpacing website connections for churches and I think we’re only at the beginning. (38 percent of respondents said they had accessed a religious website and 41 percent had liked a religious institution, friended a religious leader, or read a religion oriented blog)  Most importantly, we should note:  17% had read a blog whereas people who had visited their religious institutions website (19%) won by a surprisingly narrow margin of only 2%.

Well, those of you involved with organizations, please leave me comments on how you do communication or send me an email!

Title image was found at:  http://www.ksrealitybites.com/2010/02/online-therapy-for-office-stress.html

Dynamic, Emotive Content

    For the past two weeks I’ve spent a lot of time considering communications and church.  You see, as a church we have typical ways of communicating:  Weekly bulletin, monthly newsletter, sunday morning announcements, and let us not forget those pesky phone calls and emails from the pastor, secretary or volunteer coordinator.  Now, of course we have many new ways of communicating with our congregations such as e-news emails, but if you look at the types of communication I have listed so far, I have focused on informational communication.

    The newsletter or bulletin are perfect examples of informational communication.  Green Bay First United Methodist Church has a beautiful example of a newsletter.  I mean, the newsletter itself is perfection.  It is professionally edited and printed with color and photos and graphics.  Yet no matter how often it is sent out, no matter how much information is contained in it’s 12 or 16 pages, there are always people who chronically say, “Why didn’t I know about [church event of choice goes here]?”  How many church communicators have had this very problem?  Now before I try to diagnose this issue let me step back and say that the newsletter is very effective for those people who receive it and read through the whole thing from cover to cover.  (and this is not exclusively the action of the elderly despite common misconceptions)
    Well, for one thing, everyone wants to stuff a newsletter or bulletin full of their committee’s or groups news items not to mention local community announcements.  Well, this isn’t a bad thing.  The newsletter is meant to be a clearing house for information, like a newspaper.  Yet, Newspapers are barely surviving right now.  Is it perhaps time to recognize that (generally speaking) a new generation receive their news differently than the past?  The problem is not how much information is in the newsletter (sometimes, it is actually an issue of prioritizing news: but this is not the subject of this blog) but simply the way in which people are now trained to receive news and information.
    For me, I have iGoogle setup so that when I bring up my browser, I have my favorite calendars (my personal, school and church calendars) which show up to the left of the screen, weather in evanston, pittsfield, and st. louis to the right and top news stories in the center.  As I get into blogging I’m also beginning to setup a list of favorite blogs and youtube channels.  You see, I don’t have to sift through 12 pages of newsprint with information of no interest in order to find the things that are important to me.  I can type words into a search engine or have dynamic content streamed right into my browser.
    If the church is interested in communicating effectively we need to look carefully at how people already communicate outside of the church.  How they calendar; what their texting and facebooking habits are; and how they ‘surf the web.’ What we will find is that church websites that are generally static, have proprietary calendars and are information driven are already antiquated.  So what would be effective?
    The most memorable and effective communication we do is face-to-face communication.  Whether it is a sermon, a story or a simple greeting in the hallway we are communicating information, sure.  But we are, more importantly, communicating relationally.  We are sharing stories and it is not just one-way.  This is what Communicating Christ, when done effectively, will look like.  Our websites should have dynamic content streaming in from parishioner’s blogs and youtube channels.  We would tell stories and express testimony as our primary goal on the website of the church with concise and clear information with those stories.  We will utilize mainstream communication avenues to provide content so that those interested in our programs can pipe our blogs, calendars, and videos into their existing programs and websites and do away with the need for people to sift through long articles and complicated websites for the information that pertains to them.
    It is time for our churches to rethink communication and not in emulation of other churches, but we must look at our own communities and ascertain how they already communicate, clarify what conversations our church community should be engaging, and find creative ways for these conversations to take place in ways and through forums which is accessible for our community.