When my children were younger I would give them iPads to hold their attention while I had to tend to other things. This early introduction helped them become comfortable with technology at an early age. Many of us have all seen toddlers who have been given an iPad or smart phone and watched them “click and swipe” to their favorite apps or watch their favorite netflix cartoon.
We are always looking at the ever-changing landscape of technology, and we see some great things on the horizon for Church, Tech and future iChurch Books. Click Here for Part 1
- Wearables - Wearables are web-enabled devices that we wear on our bodies (like VR headsets). Google Glass released their web-enabled glasses, but I believe they were ahead of their time and were not adopted by the masses (that and the $1500 price tag)....
We are always looking at the ever-changing landscape of technology, and we see some great things on the horizon for Church, Tech and future iChurch Books. Click Here for Part 2
- The Cloud - The Cloud is the best and worst thing that has happened to the Internet. It allows any size company to have the platform, software, and presence of a Fortune 500 company, which is a great thing.
I recently made a statement in a podcast that said, if the church didn’t stay up to date with technology, how quickly it’s changing, and understand its influence on society, the church might become irrelevant. The example I used was that we don’t see preachers preaching from stone tablets, scrolls, and parchments. They are using a copy of the Bible which was created using the technology of the printing press. Additionally, many of us have seen a toddler pick up an iPad or smartphone and instinctively know how to navigate/tap it and find their favorite app or game. We’ve also seen teenagers/young adults use texting, social media, photos, and videos from their mobile devices as easily as making calls. They are able to quickly and efficiently use multiple apps, platforms, and features of their devices and stay connected with their friends, celebrities, and anyone they deem important. Now consider that these devices are the oldest technology these people will see.
One of the responses I received was that the church will never become irrelevant because it’s God’s house and the Word of God will never be irrelevant. While I believe that God’s Word will never be irrelevant in the sense of it speaking to the state of the human soul and society, I was focusing less on the message and more on the method. The message will always be effective, revolutionary, and life-changing. However, if the method used to deliver the message is ineffective and outdated, how relevant can it be when the masses are not receiving it?
So the question was, “Why does technology permeate so many aspects of our lives but we go back in time when it comes to the church?
Technology is defined as the branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life, society, and the environment. Let’s look at two historical examples of technology currently being used by the church (Source: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/technology)
1. Chairs and Pews - Throughout most of the history of Christian worship, there were no pews or chairs. Not until the fourteenth century did seating gradually encroach upon the open space where the congregation stood and walked about during worship. In the late Middle Ages, the congregation sat down on the job and there was a drastic change in Christian worship—perhaps the most important in history. People, in effect, became custodians of individual spaces they occupied throughout the service. In other words, for the first fourteen centuries of Christianity, people stood throughout the worship service. (Source: http://thesecondeclectic.blogspot.com/2012/12/churches-without-chairs-how-christians.html)
2. The Printing Press - This technological advancement put the Bible in the hands of the masses. In 1455, the Gutenberg Bible was mass produced in Europe. Without the Bible, how would this have affected the impact of the church? One of the main informational resources and understanding of the Christian faith is the Bible, and the popularity of Christianity ties into how readily available the Bible is to everyone.
With these two technological implementations, the church transformed it’s worship experience and it’s distribution model. Today, with digital tools, we can touch all aspects of the church experience. In church, we have a variety of tools that can enhance the music, lighting, sermon, and other aspects to create an interactive, immersive worship experience. On the other hand, with websites, social media, mobile apps, internet tv, and internet church campuses, we have a variety of tools and platforms to reach people regardless of where they are and the device they use. We can connect with, engage, minister to, and change the lives of millions through something as small as an iPod. Therefore, with over 3 Billion people accessing the internet in 2015 and over 6 Billion mobile devices around the world, we have the largest digital mission field that is primed for the life-changing Gospel.
The question, now, is whether the church will use this technology to fulfill the Great Commission in taking the message to the uttermost parts of the world?
Over the last three years, The Potter’s House Church of Dallas has seen significant growth in a very nontraditional way. While most churches measure growth by attendance in the sanctuary, The Potter’s House saw a huge increase in their online presence. Going from a platform that reached thousands online to one that reaches millions was a strategic, focused effort and opened up new ministry opportunities for the church. With this type of growth, the one question that we are often asked is, how did you do it? Well, let’s look at one of the most important initial steps we took. Social Media, Internet Church, Internet TV, Mobile Apps and a myriad of other digital buzzwords are always thrown around when it comes to describing digital impact, but at The Potter’s House we started with our main platform, our ministry website. Our website was the most important online platform that we as a ministry had. Our internal research showed that up to 80% of our new visitors checked out our online properties first, more specifically our website. It was our largest welcome ministry, our largest information resources and the largest representation of the ministry. Our website spoke to people at times and in places no one else was speaking. The reason it was constantly speaking to people was that our website was made to be accessible, innovative, simple and practical.
One of the most innovative changes I have seen regarding websites in the last 10 years has been responsive design. Responsive design is a development style that creates websites that adapt to the device the user is on. Once the website is created, if a user is on a mobile phone, ipad or desktop computer, they are still able to use your website accordingly. This feature is very important because we are seeing many organizations design websites for desktop usage but people are increasingly viewing websites from mobile devices. Studies show that we are never more than 3 feet away from our mobile devices and we check them over 40 times a day, thus our mobile phones are the way we continually stay connected. As we checked our google analytics, we saw that our users we coming to our websites from their mobile devices more than traditional desktop computers and we had to make sure our websites could adapt to this shift in browsing behaviors. Additionally, we have created more engaging experiences online that mimic the social media experience. While people want to come to websites that are informative and educate people on what they were looking for, the customized engaging experience is one that allows people to stay on our site longer and helps us better understand what our online users are looking for in their online ministry experience.
We didn’t just want the external part of the website to be easy to use, we also wanted the internal (back-end) part to be easy to use as well. In order to complete this we moved all of our web platforms into content management systems (CMS). Wordpress is one of the best website content management systems available and with the numerous templates and add-ons, you can make some powerful websites that are innovative, responsive, engaging and impactful. But the best part with using a CMS is that multiple people can work on a website at the same time and make updates without being super technical. Content Management Systems provide the technical prowess for tech geeks like myself as well as the ease of use for nontechnical people like our admins who want to update a few words of text on the about-us page.
Overall, we find that the online experience and numerous platforms that we have created at our ministry are very effective in reaching people all around the world with the gospel. But we have realized that the most important digital platform that we have is our website and we want to make sure it represents the ministry with excellence and gives people the best experience online.
Traditionally, when churches were organized, their goals were to impact the community and bring the gospel to the locals. The pastor would be a part of the community and everyone in the geographical area would be the focus of the church. Today, things have changed and the moment you go online (social media, website, mobile, internet TV), you have the potential to become an international ministry. Church is happening outside the walls of the sanctuary and churches need to adapt and take the ministry to the people. Additionally, the way people want to connect with their churches has expanded beyond the traditional midweek and weekend services, now they want to connect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from anywhere in the world on any internet enabled device. Enter the Internet Church Campus and the need for an online extension of the offline church. The Internet Church Campus is more than a streaming page that broadcasts live services a few times a week, it’s a fully functional, interactive online experience with an online pastor and online members. This is not just a place for people who don’t want to come to service and choose to watch online, this is a place for people who are online members of this church and possibly live in places that traditional church locations are not an option. Next question is “How can you implement this for your church?”, well i’m glad you asked.
At The Potter’s House of Dallas Internet Church Campus we have quite a few parts of our online campus which include our online streaming platform, campus blog, mobile app, internet tv channel, social media platforms, online campus pastor, 20 online chat hosts and 10 online prayer partners (and 2 tech geeks watching the platform, including myself). That’s quite a number of people but we have an online audience of about 20,000 emembers. You can create an internet church campus with a much smaller number of people and at a cost of FREE!
Here are the four things you need to create an internet church campus: - Streaming Video Player - Online Church Platform with Live Chat and Social Media Integration - Online Donations Software - Online pastor (who can be a chat host and prayer partner and more)
The streaming video player is what you use to stream live from your weekly services. Free options are Ustream.tv or Livestream.com. I have seen both of those used frequently but do keep in mind that the free options have commercials and sometimes those commercials are not church friendly. Another option for live streaming for free is YouTube. When you setup a YouTube for Nonprofits channel, usually after receiving the Google Grants $10,000 Ad program option, you can use YouTube to stream live services (make sure you don’t use copyrighted music because that will get your channel shut down). Google Grants is a great program that nonprofits can take advantage of to drive traffic to their websites and of course it is FREE. Lastly, if you decide that you don’t want to stream live services then you can record your service and use YouTube or Vimeo to load up an archived video of the service, that will also work on the next step we discuss below, the online church platform.
Your online church platform is the main component of your internet church experience. There are many options out there such as MediaSocial.tv but the most cost effective one is Church Online Platform. This platform, built by the amazing people at LifeChurch.tv has integrated all of the great features their online campuses are known for such as Live Chat, Notes, Social Media Integration/Sharing and Scheduling. Setup is quick and easy and they host the platform for you. You can add a link for your online donation page (use Paypal.com if you don’t have other options) and people can donate while watching the services.
Lastly, you need an online pastor, someone to lead this online community, guide the conversations, pray for people, connect with people and disciple people as they utilize this online ministry platform. Here is also a place to utilize volunteers who can help connect with people as your online audience continues to grow.
If you want to learn more you can check out http://onlinechurchleaders.com/ where there are a variety of online experts teaching thousands of church leaders how to leverage technology to expand ministry and further the great commission.
After you have implemented a great social media strategy and have seen people respond and interact with you on your networks, it’s time to analyze your results, optimize your strategy and repeat. Many organizations don’t analyze their social media results; they take the approach of “just put it on Facebook or Twitter” and hope for the best. If your ministry takes the time to develop a social media strategy then it should take the time to measure the results. Analyze Your Results In order to effectively measure social media results you need to assess quite a few things such as: • How many people are seeing the posts, tweets? • How many people are sharing your posts, tweets? • What is the demographic of your online audience (age, sex, location)? • How many people are following your social media links back to your website? • How many people are clicking on the links that you are posting? • Who are your most important and influential followers? These stats are measured and calculated by quite a few online software programs that your ministry should utilize. SproutSocial.com or SimplyMeasured.com are social media analytics companies that take your Facebook and Twitter profiles and provide analytics on your social media strategies. Facebook insights is the analytics section on Facebook Fan Pages that provides demographic information on your pages’ fans. Hootsuite.com is a great software that we spoke of earlier that helps manage social media strategies by scheduling posts to a variety of networks and it also has analytics reporting features that can help your ministry measure the effectiveness of your campaigns. Finally, Google Analytics has a Social Reporting feature that reports traffic that comes to your website from Social Media networks. This feature is called Google Social Media Analytics and it is very important in measuring the impact of your social media campaigns.
Optimize Your Strategy Looking at your social media analytics and comparing the data of what you posted, when you posted, how often you posted and which networks yielded which responses, we can now look at ways to optimize our results. First, you want to see which times people responded to your posts. On average this is between the hours of 7am – 11am and 6pm – 11pm. Next, you want to see which days garner the highest response, and more often than not this is Saturdays and Tuesdays. Additionally, as you optimize your strategy you want to continue to create and distribute visual content to your networks. Continue to find ways to create innovative and inspiring photos and videos that will engage your audience as well as compel them to share. If they are not sharing, liking, retweeting or commenting enough to your content, then add more calls to actions in your posts. Finally, utilize your hashtags on Twitter, Google+ and Instragram. Hashtags can help you create, get involved and control conversations that occur about your ministry as well as give you numerous opportunities to reach people where they are at and conduct ministry.
Repeat When you know better, you do better and knowledge is power! With that being stated, now that you have analyzed your results and optimized your strategy, it’s time to repeat. Repeat the process of posting to your social media networks at the optimized times with the optimized content to achieve optimized results.
Innovation is defined as a new method, idea, service or product that creates value. Most often innovation is initially misunderstood, seen as impossible, implausible, unaffordable and unattainable. Roger's innovation curve has 16% of people as innovators (2.5%) and early adopters (13.5%) of new ideas, while the other 84% are the early majority (34%), late majority (34%) and Laggards (16%). This example shows that there are always a small few that see things coming over the horizon and get on board as others still take the wait/hope/resist-change approach. But as time progresses, what were once innovative ideas become the norm and it's time to start the innovative process again. for early adopters, then the early majority Now let's look at innovation in the church environment and how we innovate 4 Jesus. Preaching from iPads is sometimes seen as a huge innovation but it's the same as advancement preaching from bibles instead of scrolls. Watching streaming services online is very innovative and initially we did that from our desktops and laptops but now watching services on the go, anytime, anywhere from anyplace via our mobile devices is indeed a great example of innovatively taking the ministry to the people.
But the real questions are what's coming next in terms of innovation for ministry and how can churches take advantage, well I'm glad you asked. Join Justin Blaney, Nils Smith, Rich Birch and myself via Google Hangout as we discuss Innovation in ministry and how the church will advance in the digital age. We will talk about Internet Church Campuses, Mobile Apps, Online Streaming, Google Glass, Virtual Reality, Internet TV and so much more.
Tune in Tuesday, September 2 at 1pm CST (11amPST/ 12pmMST/ 2pmEST) via Google Hangout at http://www.i4j.org/tech