Boost Productivity by Removing Decisions

remove decisions and boost productivityWhen you remove a decision from your life, you allow more time and energy for something else. We are often creatures of habit. This article explores areas we can embrace that trait and boost productivity. Dig in and find ways to save mental power for the decisions that matter most.
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Boost Creativity by Removing Things

creativity-by-removingYour church communications team wants to be creative. Digital ministries want interesting ways to reach potential and existing customers. These new ideas do not come us by accident. They often happen because of rigorous precautions we put in place. Let us look at some examples and see what lessons we can learn. Perhaps the next breakthrough in creativity is just around the corner!

Remove Distractions

Pixar is one of the most creative movie companies around. Yet they are quite particular in how they create their movie storyboards. They affix their papers to a wall, with clear thumbtacks, exactly 1 centimeter in from the corners. This uniform design creates a distraction-free environment. They lay out their movies, frame by frame on these papers. This allows them to focus on each shot, and tell the best story possible.

What can you do at your church to remove distractions? Here are just a few ideas I could come up with:

  • Create a meeting space with nothing on the walls but whiteboards
  • Have quiet times in the office, with no phone calls or loud conversations
  • Set up a decoration-free cubicle for co-workers to share

Fewer Decisions

Another company famous for creativity is Apple. They are one of the leaders in technology industry. The man often credited with their success is the late Steve Jobs. One trademark of his life was the small detail of his clothes. He wore the same outfit to work every day. Blue jeans, black mock turtleneck, and sneakers. It was one less thing to think about. Many high-ranking people have similar routines. They reduce the number of daily decisions to maximize the time they can spend on each one.

Where can you remove decisions from your operations? Often you need to create a guide or artifact to help inform your daily design decisions.

  • Well-defined branding guide tell you what font to use on a social media graphic
  • A website style guide help you know what color a blog post heading should be
  • Your voice and tone guide better informs pastors and other content writers

Avoid Fads

In 1961, Vince Lombardi made history with the Green Bay Packers football team. He started spring training by saying “Gentlemen, this is a football.” He began by assuming they knew nothing about the game. They focused on the absolute basics of blocking, tackling, running, and passing. They went on to one of the most dominating franchises of early professional football. They removed the latest fads and found success.

Where are you going to focus your effort? While a new trend may have big returns, basics will help you in the long run.

  • A well-designed, maintained, responsive website still matters
  • Check grammar and spelling on all your writing
  • Take the time to test technology, designs, content, and calls to action

Action Item

Start by discussing with your church leadership why creativity is important. I am sure many of them have wanted to revitalize their spiritual lives. One method is a retreat. They remove the daily grind and focus on their relationship with God. Let them know these ideas for boosting creativity are in the same spirit. Pray over what ideas that make sense for your teams. Try one at a time, and measure the success. In no time, your team will have many new ideas to help your digital ministries!

Photo courtesy of T.A.

Creating Sustainable Digital Ownership

abandoned propertiesYou made your church a website, but nobody updates it. You created social media accounts, and they sit dormant. What can you do to get that lagging ministry invested in their digital properties? Build half the property yourself. Then work with ministry leaders to develop the other half. This strategy has many benefits. Help them create a digital property so there is a sense of ownership. Develop a schedule and ask your leadership to help keep everyone on track. Create a strong sense of digital ownership.

Investment

It is a simple concept. You care about what you earn, more than what you are just given. Your ministries will appreciate the properties they help create. Plus, it is a training opportunity. They will learn many new skills, such as:

  • Writing content for the web
  • Creating meaningful calls to action
  • Developing their brand on social media
  • Engaging audiences in digital ministry
  • Interpret basic analytics results

Time

It will take time to help ministry leaders learn. That of course is time you are not performing your usual duties. But once they are trained, you should be free to work in other areas. Be even more efficient to host a workshop for several leaders at once. The time you spend training will pay off with excited and empowered ministries.

Empathy

When you work together, you learn about each other. Digital ownership works both ways. Ministry leaders of course figure out how to create an effective online platform. In turn, you learn about their ministry and the challenges they face. Both sides will gain an appreciation for what the other does. The more understanding, the more effective a team your church will be.

Ideas

You most likely have been doing this whole church communications thing for a while. You might have taken programming classes, or attended technology conferences. But your ministry leaders are experts in their respective fields as well. They know what people ask about. Every day they see what members and visitors struggle with. That is valuable knowledge for creating better digital communities. Social media posts are far more effective when you know your audience’s problems.

Action Item

Start writing a course of action for your next website or social media overhaul. Bake the notion of digital ownership into it from the start. Determine what the communications team will build. Then see where your ministry leaders can pitch in to finish up. Work alongside each other to better understand each other’s obstacles. In the end you will have leaders interested in maintaining their digital ministries. Plus you will have more time to start those new projects. Get going and build half a digital ministry!

This article was inspired by the 99% Invisible podcast “Half a House

This photo courtesy of Meve TA

Jumpstart your Social Media Presence

jump-start-social-mediaMany churches have a presence on social media. But how do you start something new? Or what is more common, how do you revive an old account? The feeling of hopelessness may be overwhelming. When you say something on social media, you swear you can hear the echo. Here are some tips to combat that and jump start your new or resurrected social media presence.

Broadcast Your Presence

This does not mean you should broadcast on social media. That medium is best utilized as a conversation area. What you need to do is let people know where you exist. For starters, this means putting social media icons on your communications. This could be your website, bulletins, and email newsletters. Mention them during your announcements, podcasts, or anywhere else you are talking. Yet I challenge you to take it a step further. Do not just say “follow us on (insert platform here)”. Give them a reason why. Tell them they will get the latest news, updates, devotionals, etc. While it may not cost any money for them to follow you, they are paying with their privacy. You may see more of their profile if they follow you. Or you now have the ability to send direct messages to them. Regardless, treat them with respect and only deliver what you promised.

Crowdsource Your Reach

With every post, ask people to like and share. But instead of asking the entire church to do this, keep it in a smaller setting. Ask parents to share info about your youth ministries. Have your Bible studies share posted content with each other. Social media platforms make their money from advertising. They will count it against you if there is a massive change in how your audience shares your posts. Keep it segregated to a specific ministry or group so the jump in shares is not significant. For more information, see my article that digs deeper into this idea.

Pay For Your Reach

This is the first of two options that involve sending some money. When you broadcast on social media, you only reach a small percentage of people that like or follow you. The easiest way to boost your presence is to pay for it. Yes you can ask people to share your content. But this ensures your message reaches more of the people that showed an interest in your church. The good things is that most social media platforms provide you statistics. This way you can measure how effective each post is. Plus most website analytics packages show how many visitors came from social media. Use this to justify future spending, or know when it is time to change tactics.

Contests

I will be honest in that I am not a big fan of this option. Bring in a visitor with the hopes of winning some sort of physical prize. But if you need to build an audience quickly, this is the way to do it. Many “unchurched” people are willing to click on a link to take them to a contest. I would suggest that you tie your gift to the Gospel. Giving away an iPod? Have an audiobook version of the Bible on it. Contest for an iPad? Load it up with plenty of Christian eBooks. Just balance the request with the gift. A larger prize means giving more verifyable personal information. For me, that means at least a name, email, and phone number.

Electronic Giveaways

This may be a softer alternative to giving away a tangible gift. Use the Gospel connections from the previous example. Yet instead of a contest, just give them away. Also, I would just make it a smaller gift and ask. Does your pastor have a book? Perhaps you can give away a few chapters as an eBook in exchange for an email subscription. Maybe you have a creative church band that created some original recordings. Give away a popular worship song when someone follows you on social media. The ideal thing is to give away something that is somewhat cheap. The price the users pays is an opportunity for you to communicate with them.

Call to Action

Whatever way you get people to visit your social media platform, have a next step ready. You want them to follow on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Then what? Subscribe to a newsletter. Next, ask for church membership. Then move on to volunteering opportunities. How about small groups and Bible studies? Determine the path from curious visitor to fully-engaged member. Then lay out those opportunities along your digital funnel. I explored this idea in another article about Avoiding Dead Ends. The goal is to make learning about the Christian journey as easy as possible.

Good Content

You can find many easy ways to draw a crowd. To keep them around, you must have good content. Make sure your deliver your daily devotional with regularity. Do some post production work on your pastor’s sermon podcast. Hire a designer to review your email newsletter templates. This might mean having to hire some help. You spent time and money getting someone to your digital ministry. Do not waste it by not having good content for them!

Action Item

If you want to blow up your social media game, you must do at least one of the first five steps. But know that the last two are required. Remember that your goal is not a temporary increase in engagement. The Kingdom deserves new, engaged believers, not passive interest. Also, inform your leadership that some of these options will cost money. Lastly, let everyone know that not all statistics are equal. Work with senior church leadership to determine what figures they want to change. Remind them that views and followers are a passive form of interest. Focus on numbers that show engagement.

Now that you make it to the end of this article, start the process off well with prayer. Ask for wisdom and guidance, as well as the discipline to follow through with His plans.

Photo courtesy of Theophilus Photography

Thanks to T.J. Boykin for asking me about this topic!

Digital Solutions to Reduce Social Anxieties

social-anxietyBeing out in public is not enjoyable for everyone. There are a multitude of situations and reasons why. What we need to remember is not to punish anyone because of it. Nor should we deny them the Gospel. Solutions exist to allow for personal connection that is not face-to-face. Here are a few scenarios and some possible solutions for these anxieties.

First, please know that I am not a psychologist. I have no medical training and offer no medical advice. If you have one of these situations, please seek professional help. These solutions are about how to get you connected to a church, not cure a condition.

Fear of Crowds

Some people start to cringe at the thought of being surrounded by a large crowd. They often feel closed in and suffocated. You may have someone suffering through this anxiety in your church right now. Maybe even this week, someone sat through a service, paralyzed with fear. Publishing sermon recordings on YouTube is a great way to connect with these people.

Public Speaking

One of the most well-known fears people have is public speaking. It often outranks the fear of dying. Yet in many of our group ministries we ask people to talk in front of others. Smaller groups may not reduce that fear. Use chat or video conferencing to allow people to connect from the comfort of their own homes.

New Spaces

Sometimes just the thought of going into an unknown situation can keep someone at bay. They may want to test the culture of the church out before they arrive on site. Recorded sermons, worship services, and provide walkthroughs of your church. They need to know what to expect when they walk through the door.

Mental Disorders

There are many mental health and neurological conditions that make people avoid crowds. Something as Tourette’s syndrome can be a huge challenge in a church environment. ADHD can make paying attention to sermon especially difficult. The private setting of streaming sermons makes dealing with these scenarios easier. You remove the stares and awkward glances. Your audience can take a break by pausing a recorded sermon.

Avoiding Specific People

We may not want to think about it, but another group of people may be worried about a more specific threat. The circumstances can be wide and varied. But instead of asking someone to leave your church, find a digital solution. This is not a disorder or medical condition. But anxiety is anxiety regardless of the cause. A parent can rest easier they will not violate a restraining order if they attend a service. These are difficult situations for a church to deal with. I hope a digital solution can have wide-ranging positive effects.

Action Item

As a first step, record your sermons. If possible, add recordings of your worship. Check with copyright laws first depending on your style of music. This allows you to distribute that content to anyone suffering from those conditions. Then add a snippet of video or audio that addresses your remote audience. Give them information about how they can connect face-to-face, in smaller groups. Provide a doorway for anyone with those fears to ease into the culture of your church. Remind your leadership that not everyone is outgoing and worry-free. These resources are a blessing to anyone who needs the Gospel, but is burdened with hardships.

Photo courtesy of Brenton Nicholls

Can Your Content be Weaponized?

weaponizing-contentWords and images can hurt. Those originating by our friends and family can hurt more. And those that have the supposed backing of religion can be devastating. Curate your digital ministry’s content to prevent these kinds of scars. This article goes into various ways your well-meaning content can lead to pain.

Remembering Sadness

Facebook had a feature called “Year in Review” a while back. It showed you some of your most popular posts as a highlight of the year. The problem was that often those posts received attention because they were heartbreaking. Mothers saw pictures of their unborn children lost to miscarriage. Friends saw posts of pictures of friends they lost to cancer. People saw photos of their previously whole family before divorce tore them apart. There were many cases where the most popular memories were painful ones. Consider how your congregation will feel around specific holidays and post appropriate content. Remember that for every few people celebrating, there is one mourning a loss.

Avoiding Sidewalk Preaching

Most churches frown upon the idea of a sidewalk preacher, yelling about doom and gloom. I imagine you and your church want to promote the message of the Gospel. You promote love and forgiveness above all things. Many passages of scripture can be taken out of context to shout a message of hatred and exclusion. Avoid posting content that could be easily converted to a message of anger. Yes, we know unforgiven sinners face an eternity of suffering in Hell. But until that day occurs, strive to save everyone with demonstrations of Christ’s love. Echo these sentiments on your website and social media presence.

Discouraging Unwarranted Interventions

Often times people will feel too exposed to shout to the masses. Sidewalk preachers seem too radical. Yet the same posture in the comfort of their own home feels safe. Avoid giving people fuel to post and share information about their loved ones. First, I am not social worker. But interventions should occur only when many people observe destructive behavior. Not when one person feels goaded on by an out-of-context piece of scripture found on the Internet. Do not provide the fuel for someone’s anger to shatter a family. Encourage your audience to seek professional help first.

Action Item

You will not get every social media interaction right. But do what you can to not get it wrong. Consider every way your message can be twisted. I am not saying to not stand behind scripture. But please do not choose controversial pieces to start an online debate. Save more confrontational verses for one-on-one conversation where you can explain the cultural context. Do not provide a well meaning member the ammunition to create a big “church hurt”. Because scars left by the church, be it in person, or digital, leave deep wounds. Provide content that promotes love and healing as often as possible.

This article was partly inspired by The Big Web Show #144 Design for Real Life with Eric Meyer

Photo courtesy of Free Bible Images

Moving Beyond Responsive Design

adaptive-designWe all should know about responsive design. Yet design techniques continued to evolve. Adaptive design is one of the latest buzzwords in the mobile web community. In this article I will describe the difference between responsive and adaptive design. I also go into detail when each should be used. Finally, we will explore a way ahead for integrating these methods with your current projects.

Responsive Design

What Is It?

This was our initial attempt to solve the problem of one site for many device types. The browser renders content based on the size of the screen. The layout changes, not the content. That said, sometimes images are cropped or scaled to account for the smaller browser size. But it is always the same content.

When To Use It

Responsive design is the primary method of presenting websites more effectively on mobile devices. It provides a solution to many problems. You have one team creating one set of content on one website. It is a simplistic solution to a complex problem. But it is one that works well for most situations. For more information about using this, check out my two articles on this topic; Approaches to Mobile Website and Responding to Responsive Websites

Adaptive Design

What Is It?

Adaptive design is the strategy of serving up specific content depending on the device. The browser detects the device and passes that information to the web server. The server then sends back content specifically created for that device. This is different because you must create several versions of content. This custom solution can be technology- and maintenance-intensive.

When To Use It

Certain content requires specialized experience. Some multimedia players work better on the desktop than in a mobile device. Another scenario is rendering tables. Large grids of data are what some users want to see. A table of features, or a spreadsheet of financial information is what needs presented. But those usually do not work well for a small screen. These scenarios must be carefully selected. They will create more overhead for your teams. This is for both the development and maintenance of those extra scenarios. But the benefit is a better experience for all devices.

Action Item

The way ahead should not be one method or the other. It is both. To be honest, responsive design solves most church website situations. But some situations need for you to provide unique content and features. The way you will find these scenarios is through testing. Test your site on several devices. This means several operating systems and device types. Then find solutions that fix the problem you encountered. In the end, create an experience that is pleasurable no matter the technology used to view it.

This article was inspired by the talk that Karen McGrane gave at Web Design Day 2016

Photo courtesy of Thad Zajdowicz

Helping the Weak Links in Digital Ministry

weak-linksWhat is the best way To build up your church communications team? How can you bolster the entire church technology community? There are many approaches you can take to these problems. I suggest by helping your weakest links first. This article delves into why.
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Preparing Churches for the Zero UI Revolution

zero-uiHave you ever seen an application with no user interface? Many of you have used them without even knowing it. They only need us to speak. The spectrum ranges from automated phone directories, to the Apple’s Siri. The next question is “how does this relate to my church?” The problem arises when those zero UI application cannot find information about your church. Without properly encoded data, you make programs work extra hard to know about your church. Here are ways to help spread the word to those devices we only talk to.
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Getting Maximum ROI on Interns

treating-interns-rightThe summer is winding down and college students are getting ready to head back to school. Some lucky ones had an opportunity to work as interns during their break from classes. If you have an internship program, I have some ideas how to get the most from it. If you do not, I will give you encouragement to start one.
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Know When to Take a Break

take-a-breakSometimes we need to listen to the gentle whisper of God’s voice. The easiest way to do this take a queue from our anatomy. Two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. We need to look and listen more than we talk. Our jobs do not afford us this luxury very often. You feel pressure to produce content for social media. The next website update needs happen today. It seems the world will end if the spaghetti dinner does not get the press pastor thinks it deserves. Maybe you need a change of pace. This 250th milestone article is about taking a break.
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Improving Your Creative Process

boost-creativityCreativity is at the core of digital ministry. We take the message of the Gospel and spread it using technology. That is not always an easy task. The biggest trap we face are the ruts we get into. Every week we have the same publishing schedule. The only real breaks we see are the big holidays. When those events are upon us, what can we do to produce creative solutions? Here are four ways to boost your creativity and help your church’s mission.
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