Category Archives: church communication

Are You Listening to Your Gen Y?

A couple weeks ago I attended Edge: Online Promotion, a trade seminar on using social media to promote business. Initially, I questioned how worthwhile it would be because when I researched the presenter online, she looked to be all of 25-years-old.

I mean, really, how much professional experience could someone this age have? And how much Twittering could she be doing that actually substantiated something more than outings with her friends? After all, I need to learn how to market my business. I need to generate income!

Boy, was I wrong.

Caitlin McCabe is a social media strategist. Maybe you’re like me and wondering what this newly invented title does? According to her elevator pitch she develops “highly-detailed, research-based social media plans for brands that seek to utilize the latest tools to create relationships online, build brand buzz, and determine their ROI.”

Simply put, Caitlin helps businesses utilize online social media for their marketing purposes. Her client list includes Mitsubishi and Allstate Insurance. Clearly she’s more than narcissistic fluff.

Caitlin is a smart cookie who’s quick on the draw. She knows big name companies now recognize social media as a viable and necessary marketing tool. She’s in the forefront of advising them and I bet she’s getting paid pretty good to do so.

So what’s my point? And how does this relate to communicating Christ?

Well, let me ask my question again…are you listening to your Gen Y?

As longtime church members, wizened with experience and age, it’s easy for us to feel we know the “best way” to manage our congregation. We make all the decisions because, after all, we’re the only ones attending meetings and volunteering to serve.

But in today’s age, is our way always best? Do we even know all the possibilities?

When was the last time you contacted 20-30 year olds and asked their opinion on your church website? Or the monthly newsletter? Do they even read the newsletter? Have you asked them to set up a church Facebook account? Or a Twitter?

When was the last time you seriously considered their suggestions?

There’s a reason big companies are listening to Gen Y. God has blessed this generation with innovative ideas very different than those of generations before them. Their creative thinking is setting the pace for today’s technological world.

Our churches need to listen to Gen Y too.

Reaching Out with LinkedIn

puzzleYesterday, I attended a St. Paul’s Business Builders meeting and came back really pumped. The featured guest was Wayne Breitbarth, who spoke on using LinkedIn to stay connected. My purpose was for business, but I came away in awe of how this technological brainstorm can benefit churches.

LinkedIn, like Facebook, MySpace and many others, is a social networking site. Unlike others, it’s a business site and, for the most part, is without the worthless banter you’ll find elsewhere. LinkedIn’s purpose is for users to maintain a list of business connections they know and trust. As of July 2009, there were 43 million registered users.

What makes LinkedIn so fascinating are its “degrees of separation.” Remember the joke about the six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon? Well, LinkedIn narrows this down to three: direct connections, second-degree connections and third-degree connections. While your direct connections are those you know and trust, their direct connections become your second-degree and their second-degree become your third. I know, it sounds a little complicated, if not pyramidal. But compare it to the old-fashioned ideal of gaining introductions to distant people via a mutual, trusted friend.

So, how can churches gain from this? Well, how limited is your creativity?

For starters, LinkedIn users are allowed three website listings on their profile page—the page viewed by your connections or the public, depending on your choice of settings. What a great way to direct millions to your church’s website! Be sure to click “edit” and give the link a name other than “My Website.”

LinkedIn has powerful search features. Businesses use this feature to seek resources for their bottom line. Churches can seek resources for their heavenly goal. Are you looking to build a new building and want to hire a contractor affiliated with your beliefs? Are you looking for a graphic designer for your congregation’s identity? Search LinkedIn’s people, jobs, companies, business, answers, inbox or group options.

LinkedIn’s Groups feature is exciting. It’s comforting. It’s welcoming. Groups are communities based on common interests and affiliations, where members can communicate via forums and LinkedIn messaging (email). Users can easily join one of the thousands of groups already formed (I searched the “church” category and came up with 1,749). Or users can create a group of their own. Imagine a group for your congregation and exchanging encouragement, prayers, schedules and news.

Perhaps LinkedIn’s greatest feature is one I should reiterate: 43 million users. Even if this is a passing fad, it currently has the attention of forty-three million people. Talk about going out into the world with the message of Christ!

Feeling Welcomed

A story regarding education on today’s National Public Radio stated that even in overly large classrooms, when the teacher stands outside the door and greets students as they come in,  they feel more welcomed and individualized.

Such a simple thing. And so very true.

As adults, we haven’t outgrown the need to feel welcomed. Isn’t it nice when the pastor greets you at the church door? And what about members of the congregation? Isn’t welcoming to have them receive you as well?

Such a simple way of communicating the love of Christ. Welcome!

Twittering for Christ

Last Thursday, the world was Twitterless for a day. Supposedly, we nearly fell apart. What is this Twitter we hear so much about? Is it something we can use for Christ?

Twitter is one of the many forms of social media communication. It’s mini-messaging to subscribers. Or it’s abbreviated blogging to the cyberworld. It’s a free, easy and quick way to get your message out to the masses—140 characters quick, in fact, meaning you can only use up to 140 letters and spaces to write your message, a.k.a. as a tweet.

At first, Twitter may seem kind of stupid. I mean, does the world really care what each of us is doing (the initial question users answer)? But wait. According to The New York Times, 45 million people are “legitimate visitors.” If that’s true, perhaps Twitter’s not such a stupid way to reach the tech savvy crowd in your congregation or the world with your message of Christ.

Here’s how some churches and individuals are Twittering for Christ:

Twitter Prayers: like an old-fashioned prayer chain, only faster

St.Mark’s Lutheran: a church and school announcement board

TheGodSeekers: sharing prayers and Bible verses

LifeisGod: a testimonial of faith

Are you Twittering for Christ? If so, please share with us!

Shame on Google

photo credit Debbi Smirnoff

photo credit Debbi Smirnoff

So it seems Google—that search engine magnate labeled the most powerful brand in the world—doesn’t feel the need to compensate its creative talent.

Last week, The New York Times wrote of Google’s invitation to prominent artists to contribute artwork for its new Google Chrome browser.

Compensation? None.

Understandably, many of these artists felt somewhat hung out to dry. And, admirably, as much as they’d love Google’s exposure, many rejected it with outspoken opinions.

How does that relate to us and our work of communicating Christ?

Certainly, it doesn’t, right? After all, our churches don’t have the multi-billion dollar income of Google’s. Nor do we share its wordly mission. The church is excluded from respecting the work of creatives because, after all, it’s for the Lord, right?

Wrong.

God blesses people with creative talents, of which many use  to earn a living. They study their craft and spend great time developing it. Their work, known as intellectual property, deserves respect. God also commands us to respect our nation’s laws and says,  “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men…” (1 Peter 2:13).

Here are a few things to keep in mind, as we show Christian respect to creatives and our laws.

  • Graphic design, illustrations, photography, music and written words are all exclusively owned by their creators, including those posted on the Internet. To use them without permission violates the U.S. Copyright Law. It’s stealing.
  • Fair Use, a section of the copyright law, offers a little leeway. However, it’s very ambiguous and contextual, and churches shouldn’t feel it offers complete exemption from the law. Church Marketing Sucks posted an interesting discussion on how it applies to religious organizations.
  • Professionals work hard to create their craft. Just as a church compensates a plumber or electrician, so should it compensate a professional artist.
  • Many professionals donate projects out of love for God and their church. Pro-bono, however, does not mean “no value, no time or no effort.” Creative work can command $50-150/hr., elsewhere. Respect this work. Respect the professional’s time, just as you would someone you were paying.

An Up-to-Date Website: Accessibility

When it comes to today’s websites, of the Three A’s (Audience, Application, Accessibility), perhaps accessibility is most important. No matter who your audience is or how well you’ve applied good elements, if your website is inaccessible, it serves no purpose.

Accessibility
We hear this word all the time these days. What’s it mean?

Accessibility means making your website accessible, or viewable, to as many people possible, no matter what browser or device they’re using.

The internet isn’t just for computers anymore. According to The Kelsey Group, almost 40 percent of users of mobile devices such as ipods, iphones and Blackberries are using them to access the internet. And you don’t have to live under a rock to know mobile devices are commonplace to anyone under the age of 50.

As Christians, there’s another online presence we should consider: those with disabilities using special browsers to accommodate their needs. Many of our old ways of designing, such as frames and outdated coding, are inaccessible to people using such browsers.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) offers extremely detailed instructions for online accessibility. In reality, this reads a bit like Greek to most of us. Here are a few basics, however, to get you started:

Limit Flash
Flash is fancy. Flash is fun. And nowadays most computers can handle it. But mobile devices and many browsers for visually impaired viewers still cannot. Use Flash as an accessory but never for vital content.

Think scrolling
Mobile device screens utilize lots of vertical scrolling. Now’s the time to get rid of that introductory splash page and your wide width dimensions. If you’re designing specifically for mobile devices, downsize your site to a width of 320 pixels and put your best and most sought after information at the top of the page.

Use semantic code (at least HTML 4.0 Transitional)
Sorry folks, Word, Publisher and FrontPage just don’t cut it. These are not reliable web design programs and the code they deliver do not meet today’s standards. Learn to code. Use a true WYSIWYG program such as Dreamweaver.

Does all this seem too complicated?

Well, sometimes it might just make more sense to consider a professional. Let them do what they’re good at, so you have time to do what you’re good at.

An Up-to-Date Website: Application

Reaching your audience is crucial to keeping your audience. This applies even more to the internet, where our attentions are pulled in so many directions. The second of the three A’s (Audience, Application and Accessibility) shows how a few design and content elements make a huge difference in reaching your audience. While specific audiences require specific applications, there are some commonalities that work for all. Let’s look at those today.

Show, don’t tell
Yes, we’re reading more and more words online these days—on Facebook, blogs and Twitter, that is. When it comes to websites, however, a picture still says more than a thousand words. Don’t tell viewers your church focuses on youth. Instead, show it focuses on youth. Show images of young people on your home page. Use images liberally. Edit your text liberally.

3-click navigation
The same two rules apply today as in the past: Keep navigation simple and use the 3-click rule. Users should be able to go anywhere on your site within three clicks.

Use the right font
San serif fonts, namely Arial and Verdana, have long been the preferred choice for online reading. Without tails at the end of each letter, they present the easiest reading from a computer screen (as opposed to serif fonts which are the easiest to read on a printed page).

But times are-a-changing! We now have Georgia, a serif font developed specifically for the web. This is an easy-to-read screen font and has become very popular in today’s websites, including this blog.

Frequent content updates
The days of putting a website online and never touching it again are over. Viewers now want updates and they want them often. An outdated, old-news website is an absolute no-no. Many designers now create sites with owner content management systems (CMS), thus enabling church personnel to easily update their own information.

So, now you’ve applied design and content elements that reach your audience. Next, we’ll make sure your site is accessible to your audience.