In the community in which I serve, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon in the past couple of years. There are some start-up churches, of the non-denominational type, who are meeting in our community. They are young, passionate and energetic; and they have a sense of urgency to what they are doing. They exist to reach out to the lost. And their worship style seems to fit all of the stereotypes that we often think of. And while that style may not scratch me where I itch, I do believe that they play a role within the fabric of our community.
But here’s the thing I’ve noticed: About two years ago, one of these churches started putting out lawn signs. Lots of lawn signs. And not just on the corner near the school where they meet, it’s like they have infinite lawn sign budgets, and they put them out on every corner in our community. And most intersections had 4 signs…one for each corner. They would do this to advertise their worship schedule, or special events, or holiday services. Every month or two there was a new sign that was everywhere.
And then other churches seemed to notice, because all of a sudden, there were more signs. Competing signs. And so we have multiple signs on each corner, advertising for different events or worship services. This year, I’ve counted at least 4 or 5 different churches, all with lawn signs, advertising bigger and better Easter egg hunts. This spring I thought to myself: “Oh my gosh…what’s next? Those people who stand on corners, holding and waving signs advertising a store clearance?” And then (while I didn’t actually see it in person) I saw a photo posted of the bunny…waving the sign.
And so I roll my eyes. Because all of these signs…at some point, they just become litter…they become more clutter and people just filter and ignore.
But then I start to wonder about the ways we communicate.
In the ministry in which I am a part, we have e-newsletters…we tweet…we facebook…we instagram…we text…we mail…we announce… and I have to ask myself, “To what level is what I’m doing creating more clutter?”
Kym Meyer, who is a communications director at a large non-denominational congregation in Indiana, has an interesting book called “Less Clutter, Less Noise” about how churches communicate. Her premise is that more is not better. That we need to listen to how our people receive information, and then we need to be strategic, and to make the communication we share with them meaningful. And while there is a place for announcement, what resonates with people is engagement.
Lawn signs and bunnies don’t engage.
But what does?
We live in a time of information saturation. So what information sticks? What works?
I don’t have an answer for that. But I do nod my head when I hear Kem Meyer talking about engagement rather than noise. Perhaps the question we should be asking in our communication is not how can we “get them” to come…but rather how is our communication itself actually ministry? How can the medium itself be an actual tool for faith formation?
I’d love to hear about how you engage your people in your communication, for the sake of mission.
Networked in Christ,
The Network is excited to launch a partnership that is going to put new resources right into the palm of your hand. The “Things That Matter” podcast has been around for several years, and is a production of the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA, along with Nebraska Lutheran Campus Ministries.
We discovered the podcast last summer and immediately, we fell in love with the idea. The podcast is led by Pastor Adam White of Nebraska Lutheran Campus Ministries and Mitch McCartney
and Lisa Kramme, both of the Nebraska Synod staff. It typically consists of an interview with someone, “God Sightings” from Lisa and a “Question that Matters” from Pastor Adam.
There is a great vibe in the podcast. It’s kind of like a Ministry Morning Show. (I usually listen to it when I’m out walking in the morning…so that’s probably where the association came from.) The focus has been largely (but not exclusively) on resources and issues taking place in the Nebraska Synod. But as we started talking about it, we wondered if there was space for the podcast to grow, while still maintaining its local flavor.
The Network had talked from time to time about a podcast, but frankly, the time involved in setting something like that up seemed kind of daunting, and we didn’t really have any volunteers around for whom this would be a passion. So we hadn’t done anything with it. But here was something that already existed, and was good!
So we started a conversation: “What would it be like if the Network began co-sponsoring ‘Things That Matter,’” along with the synod and the campus ministries.
The existing podcast folks would bring the expertise and the passion…the Network would bring a potentially broader audience, and access to even more stories to tell, or resources to be shared.
Everyone involved got excited about the idea, so this past weekend at the Extravaganza, we launched the new partnership. Mitch and Lisa were present in the Exhibit Hall, recording podcasts live with guests who came out of the event…speakers, workshop leaders, Network leadership, authors, exhibitors…It seemed like every time I walked past, I saw them recording another show.
So go to www.ThingsThatMatterLand.com to get more info, or subscribe via iTunes. You can also get there by going to the Network web site and clicking on “Things That Matter Podcast” under the “Resources” tab. It’s an awesome show and another great way to stay in touch and to be a part of the community!
Networked in Christ
We figured out a way of creating a “custom Extravaganza schedule” pulling Network information out of our mobile app and importing only the events that you want, directly into your smartphone calendar. It’s really quite easy. Here’s what you do: (Please note that the screen shots on this are from an iPhone. I suspect the process will look a little bit different on the Android platform.)
5 Easy Steps:
1. Open your Network mobile app. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, you can do so for either Android or iOS platforms by going to http://www.elcaymnet.org/App. Once you open the app, it will take you to the main menu. From the main menu, you’ll want to click on “Events.”
2. Once the “Events” section is open, you can swipe from right to left to go from day to day, and up and down to look at different events at different times. Look through the full schedule and figure out which events you might want to put into your own personal calendar. Click on that event. For this demonstration, I selected General Session 1 on Friday night.
3. Once you’ve opened the “event” that you want to save, click on the button on the right side called “Add to Calendar. Note that if you want, you can also set a “reminder” here that will pop up from the app to remind you. But if you want to put it in your calendar, click the “Add to Calendar” button. The app will open your calendar program and create an event within it automatically.
4. Once the event dialog box is open, you can do any editing that you might want to do (you can set an alarm for the event if you want) and then click “Done.” (Again, it might be a little bit different in the Android. I’m not familiar with that platform, so I can’t say for sure.)
5. And, your event will look something like this within your phone app!
Hopefully this might be a helpful tool for you in your event planning!
Networked in Christ,
Ok, I am totally a digital tools and productivity nerd.
Because my personality type (INFP) is by nature, not one that thinks or acts in a linear way, and this is complicated by the fact that I am also an “abstract random reflective”…well, it’s a miracle that I ever complete anything.
So I find myself having to compensate for my nature with tools that help me to keep on track. I find that I work best when I have clear systems that allow me to stay on the rails. When I find myself not taking advantage of these tools, well…”SQUIRREL!”
So I’ve always loved shopping around for new ways of trying to keep organized and on track. I love walking around office supply stores (nerd alert!). I love shopping the app store under the categories of “organization” and “productivity.” I love trying new methods and systems to see if they help me to be more organized. I also love hearing what other folks do.
So I thought I’d share a few of my favorite digital tools and systems, in hopes that you’ll reply and share yours. First, I need to give you my “operating system.” For my personal life, as well as my Network work, I use a MacBook Pro. I also use an iPhone and an iPad. At my desk at my congregation, it is a Dell laptop. So I have to live and work in both the PC and Apple worlds, and need systems that will allow these two worlds to talk with each other.
Here’s what I use:
Calendar – I use the standard calendar app that comes with the Mac and syncs with both the iPad and the iPhone. It’s very serviceable, though I’m not a fan of the “look” of the app (the month view in particular) since the new operating systems launched. I would be very open to looking at a new option, as long as it will sync between all my devices. Any suggestions?
Nozbe – It’s not the prettiest “to-do” app, but it’s got a lot of muscle under the hood, and it is regularly being updated and maintained. You can assign tasks to different contexts (i.e. ‘errands’ or ‘office’) and can create your own contexts (i.e. ‘caribou.’) You can also assign times to the task, for how long you estimate something will take. Which means you could say to yourself “I’m at Caribou and have 5 minutes before I need to leave…any tasks that I can do that fit those criteria?” It has multiple views (calendar is my favorite and it has robust notification options, and you can attach documents or notes. It’s also relatively easy to use. The interface could use a redesign, but it’s not bad.
Evernote – I love Evernote. I just wished I remembered to use it more. It can do a ton of stuff, and it syncs between all of my devices. I can use it for notes, for planning…I just haven’t turned it into my default “g0-to” note taking platform yet. I’d like to develop that as more of a habit.
Dropbox – I love Dropbox. It is a non-negotiable for me. I use it for backing up all my data files, and for sharing those files between my different devices. I can start a sermon on my PC in the office, and finish it on my Mac at the coffee shop. I also use it to share large files with others that are too large to e-mail. My wife and I have our family photos in a shared folder. I pay for the enhanced service with more storage. It’s totally worth it to me.
Basecamp – This is a great collaborative project management, cloud-based piece of software. It highlights threaded message boards, with e-mail notifications, file storage, a collaborative text writing tool and “to-do” functions that you can assign and which automatically reminds people of before they are done. Some of the same functions are available for free from Google, but they aren’t integrated nearly as well, and the interface is much harder to work with. Basecamp’s philosophy is that less clutter is more. I love working in Basecamp. It’s especially great for Network stuff…when we’re working with teams who are dispersed all over the country, it’s really an indispensable tool.
HootSuite – HootSuite is another one that I think I underutilize. It is a social media dashboard and interface. You can schedule tweets and Facebook posts to go at different times, and you can work collaboratively. It’s what we use to schedule the Network’s social media. It’s fairly intuitive. I’d really love to learn more about the other stuff it can do.
Google Voice – And it’s free? You can get a phone number and some cool tools that automate how calls are handled. (i.e. multiple voicemail responses that can be assigned to different callers.) A personal and a professional voicemail? But it also sends you texts with transcripts of your voicemails.
Kindle – I’m guessing you read a lot. I do. It’s one of the primary ways we stay connected to the world around us. So I’ve moved probably 80% of my reading to the Kindle platform. I find that I read more, because I always have e-books with me. Reading more is good.
Office Apps – I grew up on Microsoft Office, but it’s big and cumbersome. Using Microsoft Office is kind of like swatting a fly with a sledge hammer. The Mac world is relatively new to me, but I’m learning to really like Numbers, Pages and the other Apple products. They are much more nimble. I just wish the rest of the world used them. I have to have Microsoft Office because that’s what I need for sending files back and forth.
That’s basically it. There are probably other pieces too, but these I use almost daily in some way, shape or form.
So I’m curious what you use to keep yourself on track? Of if you have any feedback on my choices above. Please reply and share your thoughts. The nerd in me would like to know.
Networked in Christ,
I admit it – full disclosure – I would be paying attention to what’s going on at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly anyway. I would be. These kinds of things fascinate me. How organizations function together and how decisions are made is at least as interesting to me as the actual decisions that are made.
I hear from a lot of folks that they really don’t follow things like the Churchwide Assembly (CWA), which begins today in Pittsburgh. They feel disconnected from the larger church, or they feel like the agenda at the assemblies doesn’t relate to their daily life. I know a few who are still feeling the aftereffects from the 2009 assembly and their hope is just that the CWA just doesn’t do anything that is going to wind up in the headlines.
I understand all those feelings. They are legitimate. But there are some really good reasons for those of us who care about faith formation in the life of the church to pay attention to what will be happening in Pittsburgh this week. Here are some of my thoughts:
- The world is run by those who go to meetings. It’s just true. Deal with it.
- The decisions that are made by the Churchwide Assembly can have huge ramifications for our congregations. (Those who disagree must have been out on vacation for the entire year after the 2009 event.) Sometimes the decisions made at the Assembly trickle down to congregations. Sometimes they flood. Either way, I think it’s good to know what’s coming.
- The Assembly is where priorities for our church are made manifest in programs and in budget. An example: once upon a time, just prior to the merger that formed the ELCA, there were between 15 and 17 churchwide staff working in youth ministry in the three predecessor churches. Twenty-five years later, that number is three plus a contract staff person. And two of those positions and the contract staff are funded not by the churchwide organization itself, but by the ELCA Youth Gathering. The budget for the ELCA is approved by the CWA. What kind of message do we think this sort of budget shift over 25 years sends to the whole of the denomination? What does it say about the value the ELCA places on ministry with the young?And ask those who are committed to Christian Education about the priorities of the church, or outdoor ministries, both areas where there are no staff left in the churchwide offices.The Churchwide Assembly is where these decisions are approved.
- The Churchwide Assembly is where our leadership is elected. Our Presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson, is up for re-election. Whether or not you believe that Bishop Hanson should or should not serve another term, what will be interesting to me is the conversation about the future vision of our church. What will our future direction be? For a denomination that has been (numerically) in decline and feels like it has been in “hunkering down” mode, how do we begin to look outward in mission? Those are the conversations I’m interested in. Those are the conversations that will happen in Pittsburgh this week as priorities and leadership is set.
So yes, I’m a church nerd. And while I don’t expect you to join me in my nerd-hood, I do believe that important decisions and conversations will happen this week that will affect our ministry, yes at the congregational level.
The assembly is using the Twitter hashtag #elcacwa. You can also track the event via the web site at www.elca.org/cwa. Also, I’d recommend following both Paul Amlin, the program director for youth ministries tweets. He can be found at @elcayouth. And the ELCA has its own feed at @elca.
I invite you to join me in paying attention.
I am more and more convinced that for the church in all its expressions (congregational… synodical…denominational…) is going to grow into the next era, we are going to need to learn to think very differently. The days of working to protect the institution, and to contain decision making, leadership and power, are pretty much gone.
So it was with high hopes that I recently read the book by Jeff Jarvis called What Would Google Do? Google, to me, represents one of a few companies that are stretching the boundaries of life’s operating systems. My world is different because of Google…I’d venture a guess that yours is too. Their approach and their impact have shifted the way we gather and disseminate information, the way we communicate and the way that money will be earned or shared in the future.
The church (generally) lives and works in an old operating system. Much of the rest of our culture is moving into a new operating system.
The church has 3 choices, it seems to me, in how to react:
- Deny and ignore. And become irrelevant.
- Be reactive, and follow.
- Be proactive, and lead.
I would choose #3. #2 would be ok, if we’re not capable of doing #3. But I’d really much rather do #3. #1 is not an option.
According to Jarvis, what Google has done has been to create a new platform for how information is accessed and communicated. Information is no longer contained in the “central library” that we have to travel to to access. And, we’ve moved even beyond now dispersed information that we can access from the comfort of our own couch (though we still can…and that’s really fun!)
Information is now crowd sourced. The public is involved in the process of distilling and evaluating information. There is almost a sense of common communal wisdom that gathers and shares information, developing it further in the process. No one person has their hand on the rudder any more. It is a community that creates content.
The tools that Google has created: Google search, Google Maps, Google Reader, Gmail, YouTube, Google Voice, etc are all free to use and to further develop. What other companies would view as “product,” Google sees as an integral part of the platform. For Google, the platform is not the product, the process is. And they make their money by exposing people to the process and allowing either subscriptions or ads to monetize it.
The future, according to Jarvis, is not going to be about products, but about the process…and the process will live (as Google does) in a perpetual state of “beta.”
What does this tell us about the church? Especially the church of choice #3? I’m not sure yet…I’m still processing that. I’d be interested in your thoughts.
Some of my initial thoughts include:
- distribution of power, control and leadership instead of the centralization of it.
- crowdsourcing of resources.
- the denomination as platform instead of as organization.
- Curation of information creates that platform…the method and mode may change and adapt, but the platforem remains stable. See the Extravaganza ’13 talks by John Roberto for more on how the church can do this.
The book is a worthy read. It’s not perfect, and Jarvis admits to his hypocrisy (i.e. the future of publishing is not in books…but I’m publishing a book). The first half of the book is really interesting. The last 150 or so pages, are going through segments of society, applying Google principles to “what might be.” He never gets to the religious world in doing that.
But anything that helps us think more about option #3 is, I think, worthwhile, and What Would Google Do? does that.
Some of you may have noticed that the Network’s mobile app is having some issues. (I know this because you’ve e-mailed me) It’s pretty disappointing because of the time and energy that went into developing the app, and the important role it has played in our communications strategy. So what’s the problem?
The short answer is: when your app tries to connect to the servers at our host company, the servers aren’t responding. That’s because they’re turned off.
Here’s the longer answer: The company we are purchasing our app service from is in the midst of a significant internal conflict and lawsuit involving the former CEO and the owner. If you’d like more information on the details, you can read the release from the company (and even copies of the legal filings) by going to http://www.igivings.com
Since the owner of the company could not guarantee the safety and security of the apps, and the data stored within the server, the decision was made to shut the servers down until the situation gets resolved. We don’t know exactly how long that wil take. There is a legal process in place right now and there is a hearing on May 25th.
We’ll hope that this gets resolved quickly and that the app is reactivated. We’ll let you know as soon as that happens. Thanks for your patience!
Today, the Network introduces our new mobile app! For both the Android and Apple (iOS) platforms, this app is awesome!
- A “live” events calendar
- Direct feed of the Network blog
- A directory of Network leadership
- A media library
- Network News
- A “prayer wall.” Post prayer requests, and respond!
- Direct links to contact us
- Feeds from our Facebook and Twitter feeds
- Streaming media of past Extravaganza keynote speakers…3rdTuesday Conversation webinars and Practice Discipleship webinars
- An online Bible (adding more version to it soon!)
- A function to send the Network new ideas
- Quick easy ways to make donations to the Network, or to other ministries we support
- A GPS powered “Local Network Finder” (coming in March)
- A Programs function, with more content from our programs (coming in March)
This is going to be great! Carry the Network with you wherever you go!
What is the key to effectiveness in a national network? Communication. This opens up whole new ways for us to connect with each other. We’re very excited abou the possibilities. Lots of hours have gone into this project, and we are grateful to the team who put it together: Michael Sladek, Andy Arnold and Rachel Claseman. And we’re grateful to our Network partner, iGivings, for working with us on it to put it all together!
Please note that when you log in, you will be asked if you want to register. We strongly recommend registering. It will allow you to participate in some of the stuff that you otherwise would not be able to participate in.
Visit the Network App home page for more detailed information!
I was talking with a friend who serves in a different congregation in a different state earlier in the week. He said that he was looking
forward to the next couple of weeks with a sense of dread. “Why is that?” I asked. “Because it’s all going to be about the ELCA Youth Gathering. The Facebook posts, the Twitter feed…it seems like I’ve heard a ton already this spring and it’s just going to get worse.”
He had made the decision (for his own reasons…I disagreed with him, but they are his own reasons…) not to bring young people to the Gathering this year. That’s fine. That is his and his congregation’s choice.
“But the whole world seems to revolve around the gathering as it gets closer.” he said.
I reached deep down into my bag of pastoral care tricks:
“Suck it up, buttercup.”
On one level, I get his complaints. The Gathering is a big deal. A really, really big deal. There will be 35,000 people gathered there this year. And it’s almost all done by volunteers (with a healthy dose of the Holy Spirit). That’s huge. And he’s right: it’s been active on the twitter feeds…active on the facebook pages…it’s what a lot of our congregations have poured time and resources into. So for those who are choosing not to go, I totally understand your frustration if this is what you’re hearing about right now more than anything else.
But here’s the deal: I can’t do much to make you feel any better.
For whatever reason (again, let’s give some credit to the Holy Spirit) the Gathering has, going back to the 1950’s, crossed a tipping point in the life of the church. This event has traction. This event has legs. I find it remarkable that the Gathering doesn’t even have to promote who the speakers or musicians are. They don’t do that until a couple of months before the young people board buses. But without knowing the program, without knowing what’s going to happen, people come. It’s breathtaking, when you think about it.
People become because as an event, the Gathering is life-changing. People come because as an event, the Gathering is community-changing. People come because as an event, a relationship between a community of pilgrims and an entire city is formed. People come because faith is formed throughout the event.
But there is a challenge ahead of us: How do we make this less of an event, and more of an ongoing ministry that continues to form faith, form relationships and transform lives?
We’re doing some thinking about that. In upcoming months you are going to hear more about “Practice Discipleship Phase 2” which will hopefully build on the infrastructure that has been built for this Gathering. I think it’s going to be really exciting.
And in a couple of ways, it is going to answer the objections of my friend. If the Gathering becomes a catalyst for a renewal of faith formation for young people, families and congregations, then it is less about event, and more about long-term ministry. Hopefully the buzz around the Gathering doesn’t fade, and the energy is chanelled in new directions. I really believe that this year, there is the potential for a whole new thing to come out of the Gathering.
Please join me in praying for the Gathering. Please join me in praying for the Gathering, for the young people and their leaders who travel there, for the teams, and for the city of New Orleans. And pray for these new directions that might arise out of this experience.
And in the worst case, my friend will have about 2.5 years ahead of him before the Twitter and Facebook streams really heat up again for the next Gathering!
See most of you in New Orleans!
PS – On Twitter, follow the hashtag #cwts12 for an up to the minute feed on the event!