In case you might not have picked up on it, I’m a fan of technology. I’m also very pro technology when it comes to church and leveraging that technology to make things interactive, engaging and user-friendly. So if your church isn’t on the technology train yet or you’re wondering if there’s something new that you might be missing, here’s some places to start:
5. Get On Facebook
Unless you’ve been under a technological rock for the last 5 years, Facebook is pretty much the biggest thing since, well, the internet. Right now, Facebook boasts some 800 million active members. In the United States, more than half of adults are active on Facebook. In short, if your church doesn’t have a presence on Facebook, you’re missing out.
What makes Facebook popular and why it works so well for churches is that it’s all about interaction. Websites are more one-sided: come here and read about or watch what’s happening. Facebook is a place for people to not only read about your church but comment, ask questions, start discussions and engage in community. Yes there are ways to do those things off of Facebook, but if that’s where people are, why not go to them?
Where do I start?
If you haven’t setup a Facebook page for your church, here’s a helpful guide. Also, consider integrating Facebook and your website using a variety of Facebook’s Social Plugins allowing people to comment, like or share pages of your site with their friends.
[March 20, 2012 Edit: With the new Facebook Timeline getting added to all Facebook pages, here’s a really helpful visual guide to get the most out of your church’s page.]
4. Encourage People to Use their Phones in Church
I’ve mentioned this idea before and it was met with resistance, mostly because when we see someone on their phone we automatically assume they’re texting or are otherwise disengaged from what’s happening. We need to reconsider the negative stigma and embrace using cell phones – especially smart phones – in church. First of all, within a few years, we won’t even need to say “smart” phone because it’s getting increasingly difficult to get a regular “dumb” phone. Smart phones are the
future present. Secondly, nearly everyone carries their phone AT ALL TIMES. It’s a tool that’s at their disposal every minute. Why would you not leverage smartphone technology at church?!
Where do I start?
- With smart phone in hand, your people have the Bible wherever they go. During worship, we use YouVersion’s (the best online Bible app out there) Live Events feature to post our message outline where people can follow along, take notes, highlight passages and even interact with the message.
- Using a bar code reader app (which is nearly standard on every phone now) people can scan QR codes placed in the bulletin to take them off the page and to the website for information or to sign up. I’ve written about how we do this at Journey before so check it out if you want to get started.
- At Journey, one area we need to improve in is making our website mobile friendly. It’s overdue for an upgrade and one of the top priorities is making it easier to use on mobile devices and tablets. If you have the ability, making your church website mobile friendly will improve your user’s experience and will encourage them to come back to the site on their phone later.
3. Eliminate Paper Wherever You Can
Until iPads and tablets become cheap enough for everyone to afford you can’t go entirely paperless, though I often dream of the day when everyone comes into church, pulls out their tablet and downloads the bulletin on their device with no printing or copying required! Until then, we have to print stuff. The key is printing only what you must and eliminating where you can.
Where do I start?
I see a lot of churches abandoning their printed bulletins in favor of a simple one-page announcement sheet. If your church can do it and get away with it, great! At Journey, our bulletin is just one page. We keep the information concise and direct people to the website for everything else.
For us, the website is the central hub for information. By reinforcing that it’s where to find information AND keeping it daily updated, people will use it regularly. Using QR codes (as I mentioned above) help us to do this with minimal effort on the part of the user. While we haven’t done away with our bulletin, we don’t print up fliers or brochures for every event and every ministry. We put together a useful and informative page on our website and direct everyone there. Make sure your website is always updated and current both in content and in appearance. For most websites, a good rule of thumb is to review your design every two years. Two calendar years is roughly the equivalent of a decade in internet time.  A lot can change technologically and stylistically in a short time!
If your website looks like the MySpace of a 12 year old, it’s probably time to consider updating it…
Another way we eliminate paper with technology at church is by not printing music for our worship team. We use Planning Center Online to plan, schedule and distribute all the necessary materials for our team digitally. It has the added bonus of having a music stand app which turns any computer or tablet into a digital music stand. We’ve used this for several months now and our musicians especially love it. For vocalists, we use ProPresenter’s Stage Display. We’ve always used a monitor on stage for words, but it was the same as the screen for the congregation. Starting in ProPresenter 4.0, they added a stage display, which is essentially a teleprompter. The best feature is that it displays the current lyrics AND the next slide, so even if the slide operator is slow on the click, the singers have the words before they’re up.
Yes, there is a cost associated with Planning Center and ProPresenter, but it’s minimal. The benefit and savings in reduced printing, copying and time using Planning Center Online make it worth the small amount it costs. ProPersenter, with it’s incredible ease of use and stellar features, is worth the one time purchase cost. If you’re considering options like this and aren’t sure if you can afford it, take the time to consider the costs and benefits and even find other churches that are using them and pay them a visit.
2. Go Hollywood!
With decent cameras and video editing software becoming pretty mainstream now, there is no reason not to use these tools. One easy way that I would encourage almost every church to do immediately is replace their spoken announcements with video announcements. There are several reasons:
- It takes way longer than you think to speak the announcements on stage. If you think you’re going to get up and talk for just 30 seconds about the upcoming mission trip, think again. You’ll inevitably launch into a story or go into lots of detail that’s not necessary and before you know it you’ve spent 5 minutes and that’s not the only announcement you have to give. Scripting and videoing the announcements keeps them short and concise. No extraneous details – just what people need and the action steps they should take.
- It’s more captivating. The reason we talk longer than expected in person when giving announcements is that when it’s just words, we lose people quickly. It’s easy to look away or mentally move on to something else. When it’s a large moving image with helpful supporting graphics and information it makes it more engaging.
- It’s sharable. You can post your announcements to your Facebook page, on your website or YouTube to make them available beyond Sunday morning.
Where do I start?
Almost every computer now comes with some pre-installed video editing software. We use iMovie and Final Cut on our Mac. The latest edition of iMovie is nearly as powerful as our old version of Final Cut and it only cost $15. iMovie gets us through the majority of the simple editing projects we have.
We purchased a modest used HD camera a few years ago and it does a very good job. But before that, we used my old video camera that I bought years ago. I’ve even used my digital camera to record video to use in our announcements since it records in 720p. The point is, use what you have to get started. Fancy equipment can come later.
When shooting announcements, keep it simple and short. When we first started doing announcements on video a few years ago, they were skits that setup the announcement. While they were often funny and people enjoyed them, they remembered the skits, not the announcement. We took a hiatus and retooled it to be like a newscast with one or two people sharing the information directly. The information is getting across better this way. Find what works for your culture and don’t be afraid to change it if it’s not working.
1. Hire Digital Band Members
One of the latest ways we’re using technology at Journey is by adding to our instrumentation digitally. For several years worship teams have used loops or backing tracks for their teams. There are lots of different ways to carry out this depending on your skill level, the need and the time and money you want to invest. Since Journey is on a shoestring budget [read: we’re broke] the only way we could make it happen is to do it spending next to nothing. I’m working on a full post with all the details about how we make it work for us, but essentially we use a computer running Finale to play instrument parts and a click track through the system that our band plays along with. The computer plays the instruments that we don’t already have – strings, brass, orchestral percussion, woodwinds, etc. It’s only to enhance, not replace.
Where do I start?
Identify what you want to accomplish by adding digital instruments. If you want to replace a key instrument that isn’t there you’ll need a different approach than if you just want to add some extra flair to your existing team. Since there are lots of different ways to do this, look for a post on this topic here coming soon!
There are lots of ways to leverage new technology at church. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new tools or methods. Above all though, remember that technology is merely a tool to help us carry out our mission of reaching a hurting world with the saving Gospel of Christ. Don’t let the technology steal the spotlight – let it help reflect it!