Mission Oriented Church Website Checklist

Seven out of ten potential church seekers will use your website as a determinative factor in deciding to make a visit (read more at “The Front Door Churches Often Forget”).

What Should Your Website Include?

  1. Address and worship times are easy to locate
  2. Only updated/relevant information [if you can’t update it, just delete it, it’s about quality, not quantity]
  3. Core beliefs
  4. Quality graphics–compelling, good resolution, no “clip art”
  5. Inviting ways to “Contact Us” (with an actual follow-up plan for inquiries)
  6. Appealing photos of pastors, staff, and other key leaders–this means current and focus on photos that are welcoming, this might mean more casual or photos of the person at work or at a hobby, think beyond typical “identification badge” style pictures to what might appeal most to those visiting your website
  7. Information about children’s/youth/student ministries.

Sometimes we can get lost in the quest for the “greatest” or “perfect” website. That’s a waste of time and effort. Before getting overwhelmed, start with these basics. Do the basics well, in an uncluttered, simple way. If your website helps get visitors in the door, then you can immerse them in the full richness and wealth of offerings, hospitality, and more that your church has to offer.

For Toy Sunday ~ Theme: Clean
Clean it up. 🙂 Image Credit: Hitty Evie via Flickr (CC BY NC ND 2.0)
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How Do We Talk About Money at Church?

Okay. So, you buy into the idea that churches need to foster and form disciples who give, not simply because money is needed, but as an act of worship, an action inherently a part of discipleship. But now what?

The most important way to demonstrate and communicate this to a local church is through Sunday preaching. This is such a difficult topic for many to preach on (and for many to hear!) it’s well suited for a sermon series. This creates the space for meditation on the Scriptures, discerning God’s will, and helping form hearers into the full picture and vision of what God is doing in their life, in the life of the local church/parish, and in salvation history. (Yeah, unlikely most hearers could take all of that in during one sermon!).

Adam Hamilton and the Rebuilt pastoral team both give the great advice that these kind of sermon series should be done sparingly. It’s a deep topic for disciples, not the focus for every season of the year. This opens up time and resources for preparation and follow-up!

Blueprints
Image: Carmen Degelia @ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

An Example of a Stewardship Series

As a great example of what an integrated series and follow-up can look like, check out Len Wilson’s project for St. Andrew United Methodist Church.

He explains:

“We broadened the message to include not just giving, but the entire spectrum of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus – for us, that includes a four part strategy of Worship, Connect, Serve and Give.

This four part strategy is embedded in the story of Jesus calling Simon Peter the fisherman on the shore in Luke 5. We used this story as the basis for the campaign, which ran for four Sundays. Here’s a description of the series from the Creative Brief I wrote”

The “Creative Brief” is a great tool for getting a grasp on a sample format for concisely communicating main ideas and deadlines in a way an entire church can plan around, so that all ministries are aligned and integrated in the effort!

Do you have any great tools you’d like to share to help others plan stewardship sermons? Tell us in the Comment Box!

Visual Illustrations for Teaching, Preaching, Presenting, and Beyond

Over at the ever-useful CMS website, Emily Carlton observes:

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus used parables and simple stories to explain complex concepts. It was a brilliant move—Jesus’ crowds contained mostly illiterate people who lived in a culture with a strong oral tradition. That meant the crowds knew how to listen and re-tell stories.

Visuals can help people receive the good news of Jesus.

Today’s culture differs. Oral traditions are minimal. We’re flooded with ads, marketing, content, and images on a daily basis, so much so that we tend to tune it all out. We usually aren’t great listeners, either. But we are incredibly literate when it comes to visuals. In fact, a study conducted by MIT neuroscientists in 2014 found the brain could recognize and identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

The MIT numbers might seem shocking, but other surveys and reports support the findings.

  • 65% of the population describes themselves as visual learners.
  • When information is presented verbally and visually, the retention rate after three days is six times greater than if it were presented only verbally.
  • Visual content is three times more likely to get shared on social media than any other type of content.

If you manage social media at your church or study the affects of sermon-related visuals on church attendees, you probably have qualitative proof to support the above numbers. If not, the numbers should still demonstrate just how important good visuals are to human learning, understanding, and recall. As church communicators, we can’t overlook that fact. Visuals can help people receive the good news of Jesus.

What Can the Church Do?

Fixing a church’s visual learning problem isn’t as easy as slapping some pictures on the screens. Studies show that visuals aren’t well received when they clearly employ stock photos, aren’t directly related to the content being shared, or are stretched or pixelated in some way

Carlton is spot on. We indeed live in a visual culture. And this isn’t a bad thing, necessarily–it’s an opportunity. We can ask, as teachers, preachers, and communicators interested in forming missionary disciples, how do we ensure our ways of communicating resonate in our visual culture? 

bible-basics2-240
Bergsma illustration via marccardaronella.com

Earlier this year, at the Notre Dame Preaching Conference: Alyce McKenzie offered this lecture on the topic. And, I think one of the finest modern examples, is John Bergsma‘s use of stick-figures to unpack the Bible…check it out here and here. Bergsma’s illustrations are memorable, simple, and impactful–I’ve used them with preschoolers, elementary school children, and adult seminary students–all with great results! 🙂

Do you have any great examples or best practices in visual illustration? Share in the Comments!

Beyond “Bad Communication”

Stuck
an approach to bad communication (Image: Epien, CC BY NC ND 2.0)


Quite a few ministries, organizations, and even large nonprofits or businesses would quickly say (with a sigh!), “ugh, our communication is bad…we need to communicate better around here.”

The problem is, that’s hard to take action to improve, because it’s so vague. Bad. Communication. That’s it. A short phrase that can become an apologetic substitute for improving organizational health and effectiveness.

Here’s a list (certainly not exhaustive, but a start!) to help us as ministry leaders think beyond “bad communication.”

How’s Your Communication?

Is there an abundance of two-way communication between leaders and their teams? Is this communication building two-way trust? If not, consider why. Is it the frequency? Content? Medium? Interpersonal relationships? Etc.

Are two-way communication and dialogue present during planning, preparation, implementation, and assessment? Some organizations have a temptation to only dialogue during planning, or wait until implementation for dialogue. The reality is that two-way communication should be present in all stages of running a program, process, event, etc.

Does dialogue with teams and subordinates actually help senior leaders increase their understanding of the situation/environment of ministry, resolve potential misunderstandings, or assess how things are going? If not, senior leaders need to change their questions and style of communication so that two-way communication isn’t a “box to check,” but actually impacts the organization.

Are leaders and team members learning from one another when they have two-way communication? [If not, what looks like a true dialogue is really still “one-way” communication where the leader imparts information to the subordinate.]

Does two-way communication create new solutions or ideas that are jointly developed by different members of an organization? Because that’s the point 😉 right? Not just talk, but talk that yields better solutions/ideas than would have existed without dialogue.

Is dialogue, collaboration, and two-way communication (vertically and horizontally) part of the culture? Is it something people sense and “breathe in” when they enter your organization? Is it rewarded and encouraged?

Does two-way communication lead to consensus and resolution of conflicts? If not, why?

Do communications lead to new understanding/awareness? Or, is it simply transmitting information.  

Do communications create shared ownership or issues and solutions? If not, why?

Do leaders themselves know the mission and broader messages? Do they share information that provides greater context, sense of purpose, and reasons behind decisions? Or, do leaders simply share the minimal details of what a team member “needs” to do their job at the moment?

Does increasing communication reduce anxiety and rumors within your organization? If not, why?

Is communication timely enough so that both leaders and team members can adapt to changing situations? Or, is it often shared too late to be of value or impact? 

Does two-way communication leave team members feeling more motivated to support the organization’s plans and mission? Appreciated for their input? Or, is it just “occupying time” in their day to go listen to “the boss.” 

Here’s a test: is the person in your organization who’d be your replacement communicated with enough that they’d be prepared to step in, if needed? Are they close? Or, are they so under-communicated with that it’s laughable that he/she could smoothly step in, in an emergency? 

Are leaders out and about, frequently, to listen, coach, and clarify–even beyond those they “formally” supervise? Do leaders share what they hear and see while “out and about” with other key leaders as a part of decisionmaking? Or, are leaders rarely seen/heard by ordinary members of the organization? 

Does communication within the organization lead to people feeling more cared for, on a daily or weekly basis? If not, why? 

Can team members share honest opinions with leaders, without fear of negative consequences? Or, do leaders hold grudges or subtly penalize those who provide feedback? 

Do leaders actively listen to all perspectives when seeking information on a topic or concern? Or, do they avoid “difficult” information that doesn’t fit the mold? 

Do leaders communicate the why, most important tasks of the organization, and the desired outcome of current efforts? Or, is everyone seemingly working on a different sense of priorities, without a shared understanding of purpose?

Do communications from leaders express not merely tasks, but the realm of what’s possible for a subordinate, how far a team member can/should take the initiative, in a way that still supports the central vision for the organization?

Do leaders check to make sure subordinates, team members, and everyone understands the mission, vision, and top priorities for the present? Or do they assume, “if I said it” or “if I communicated it once,” it’s been received and clearly understood by all?

Do leaders provide guidance and tasks to subordinates in a way that tells them the results to be achieved, but not how to do it–maximizing individual freedom and initiative? Or, do leaders micromanage in dictating exactly how a task should be approached.

Is the information and content communicated within an organization actually linked to decisions, and decisions then to actions? Or, is it just “talk.”

Is communication unconstrained and continuous? Or, do people feel as if there are only certain times, places, and occasions when two-way vertical or horizontal communication is relevant for the organization?

Where Next?

If you find yourself answering “no” to any of these prompts, then start probing deeper into how you can change that one, outcome based indicator of communication within your organization. And then 😉 come back and read the list to find another indicator to improve.

Conversations with Jesus: Example #2

 

How often do we have conversations in ministry and wonder, was I imitating Christ? 

Yes, it’s an impossible standard. But, by examining the way we converse with others through the lens of “customer service” can help us relate to others and communicate more like Jesus did during his earthly ministry. A mentor once suggested these questions:

  • What is it I’m trying to communicate?
  • What do I hope to get out of this interaction?
  • What would Jesus do in this conversation?
  • What’s His heart for the person?

Last month in Example #1 we looked at a public scene, Jesus’ first synagogue sermon. Today we’re looking at a more private example, Jesus’ one-on-one conversation with Peter in the presence of a few others, while fishing (Luke 5:1-11).

Jesus begins his conversation with Peter, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (5:4). The intention of Jesus’ words is to empower. To build. To encourage the experience of success. To encourage one who has been disappointed before at this task.

Now, how might this intention have come across to Peter? He replies, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets” (5:5). “Master,” a title for an authority figure one is obligated to recognize–not the phrase a follower or true-believer would use. It’s almost a bit begrudging. And before Peter gives his “yes” (where Peter reminds Jesus again that he’s only doing this to honor his “command”) he subtly reminds Jesus that he (who is actually a trained and experienced fisherman) has already attempted this.

But ultimately, Peter was open to the positive intention of Jesus’ heart. Peter assumed Jesus’ good will and gave him a chance. Peter chooses the path of taking upon himself Jesus’ yoke (Lk 7:36-50), which means he’s yielding control to Jesus, letting the ball stay in Jesus’ court for at least a moment–even if he hasn’t fully bought in to the direction this is headed.

We see here that Jesus continues to move forward. What Jesus wants to communicate is deeper than “winning” this first exchange with Peter. Jesus shows some tactical patience here, to let the situation develop further, rather than assuming his entire message needs to be heard and understood right away.

This works for Jesus because his actions then evoke trust. After the miraculous catch of so many fish their nets nearly break (5:6), Peter drops to his knees at the feet of Jesus and exclaims, “Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man” (5:8). Lord is a title of expectant trust. A “lord” provides and protects–quite a shift from Peter’s initial acknowledgement of Jesus as merely Master.

Trust is now present in the conversation. While we might hope for many things, many good intentions to come from our conversations with others–trust is a baseline. Trust makes those other hopes become realities. This example shows that while what Jesus aimed for in the communication has happened–it didn’t merely happen because of his words. He did a miracle, an obvious one (to Peter). Jesus earned trust, and because of that his message was heard and acted upon, as Peter (plus James and John) leave their belongings on the shoreline, and become Jesus’ followers. 

Jesus had a firm hope for Peter at the start, but he allowed the conversation to develop. Jesus didn’t push back on Peter’s initial response, but moved forward to earn greater trust. Jesus’ heart was for the potential in Peter from his first words of encouragement, through Peter’s rebuff, right through to Peter’s final acceptance and entry into a trusting relationship with his Lord.

brooklyn_museum_-_the_miraculous_draught_of_fishes_28la_pc3aache_miraculeuse29_-_james_tissot_-_overall
James Tissot, “The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (La pêche miraculeuse)” (The Brooklyn Museum)

 

Customer Service for Missionary Disciples

Customer Service on Day 357
Manchester City Library via Flickr; CC BY-SA 2.0

As leaders, evangelists, and/or missionary disciples, we’re all in customer service.

Now this is strictly a metaphor, because as Christians we’ve got nothing to sell (in fact, we’re sharing the free gift of God in Jesus Christ) and aim to foster, not consumers, but empowered, Spirit-filled Christ-followers. To use the metaphor, how’s your customer service?

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the habit in ministerial leadership or evangelism of thinking only of the “big wins.” But what of the small, everyday victories of a person satisfied, known, heard, and loved? These too are vitally important, as these moments reveal the fruits of the Holy Spirit in us, our ability to participate in God’s self-giving love, and our growth in virtue.

How does Jesus model this for us?

Example 1: Jesus’ Public Preaching Debut (Lk 4:16-30)

Not long after his baptism in the Jordan and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus is given the opportunity for some liturgical preaching in the local synagogue. After the proclamation of the Scripture (which turns out to be from the prophet Isaiah), he declares: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21). The assembly hears “gracious words” and Luke reports (literally, in the Greek) that they “witnessed him [Jesus]”–they fully experienced the moment (Lk 4:22). Many English translations give it a positive spin (i.e. “they spoke well of him [Jesus]”), but we see this isn’t quite the case since the hearers want to get rid of Jesus by throwing him off a cliff, and Jesus himself turns to the proverbial wisdom, “no prophet is acceptable in his own country” (Lk 4:23-24).

What can we learn about Jesus’ “customer service”? His hopes for communication here? His heart and concern for the people and situation he enters into?

First, Jesus has Good News. Jesus has a Yes–glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind (Lk 4:1819; Is 61:12; Is 58:6).

But, even when we have a new yes to share, we shouldn’t expect to immediately please everyone. Sometimes in ministry, this can throw us for a loop, causing us to become defensive, cynical, or disheartened–because we’ve got something good, something needed, something that should bring joy and excitement–yet we experience rejection or discord.

Take-away #1: Jesus doesn’t change or soft-pedal his Good News. Though his “gracious” words aren’t well received (because they are grace for the “wrong people,” you know–those outsider, non-believers with a totally different culture) he still shares them.

Take-away #2: Jesus is okay with the fact that his communication for the better leads to “wondering,” confusion, and/or uncertainty. In ministry, we’re being unrealistic if we expect simple agree or disagree responses from those we communicate with. Those who wonder or express confusion aren’t enemies of the cause–they might be in transition, or on the way, if we as communicators continue to reach out to them. If we avoid setting fixed boundaries of “supporters” and “road-blockers” within our organizations.

Take-away #3: Jesus doesn’t verbally, personally confront those who disagree. He expresses the reality of the situation–that challenging words are generally not well received close to home, to those with the greatest perception of “loss” from a change of the status quo–but does not attack anyone personally. Jesus’ heart is for the future conversion, in purely human images, a “customer service” oriented toward the long-term.

Those who heard Jesus’ sermon that day, they might not have been ready for Jesus’ love for them. Yet, Jesus’ interactions with them reveal that he wants to hear them, nonetheless. Jesus wants them to experience being known, even if they’re not ready to accept or agree. It’s a level of “customer service” (to put it mildly!) we can all aim for as we communicate vision, strategy, and more in our ministries.

Love Seeing This on a Parish Website

I was doing some scouting for an upcoming vacation and saw this on a parish webpage:

Whether you were raised CatholicProtestantatheistagnostic, or have never even considered church, religion, and spirituality, there is a place for you here.

Love it. Thanks Church of Saint Patrick!