communication photo

Church Communications is a difficult and often thankless job. When you are doing it well, people don’t seem to notice. When you aren’t doing it well, people aren’t afraid to let you know. Lately, I’ve been struggling with people telling us that we “don’t communicate well” at First Trinity. I’m not entirely certain that I know what that even means except that we aren’t doing it well.

Here’s what I think it could mean:

  • People aren’t hearing what they want to hear. Lots of talk about about why we use Garamond over Times New Roman in our print publications when no one cares about the typeface is not communicating. It’s just noise. (FWIW, it’s because Garamond looks much more fluid than Times New Roman, which is just plain ugly.)
  • People want to hear process, not (just) results. It’s great that we’re trying something new, but why are we doing it? How did we arrive at that decision? Who even made the decision?
  • People like Paul Harvey and want to hear “the rest of the story.” You told us about this all-church study, but then it just disappeared into oblivion. Did anyone do anything as a result of this class? How did it go? Did anyone even come?
  • People want you to communicate with them, not at them. More simply, people want to be involved in the conversation.
  • People want to hear from a variety of voices. It’s easier to ignore one person than multiple voices. Different voices/styles reach different people. Adding more people to the conversation helps communication. It’s harder to coordinate, but it’s more effective.

I’m trying to figure out what exactly we’re doing wrong with communications, but there’s no sense waiting for the answer before getting started. If you wait for the “right” answer, you’ll end up spinning your wheels and never addressing the problem. I actually created a content plan a few months ago, but I got caught up in “perfecting” the plan and the systems to make it happen that nothing actually happened. Ooops.

So we’re diving in. Here are some of the things we’re either already doing or will be coming up soon on the new First Trinity Blog:

  • Process, not just results: Why We’re Trying No Sharing of the Peace
  • The rest of the story: 40 Days of Love Recap, Kingdom Quest Service Project Update, God is Moving at the University of Buffalo
  • Multiple voices: In addition to myself, Sue Steege, Bekah Freed, and Annie Reed are writing content for the blog. Annie is doing a series of four Advent devotions, the first of which is coming on Monday. I’m also working at finding a mix of regular writers for recurring types of posts (like the devotions) and also including some guest writers.

I’m not sure we have the right answer yet, but I feel good about being on the path to get there. If you have ideas for content that people might be interested in from a church blog, I’d love to hear them.

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Advent is just around the corner. If your church is looking for some free backgrounds to use in worship (or wherever) during the season, you’re welcome to download and use these as you see fit. As I worked on the design, I wanted to capture the spirit of Advent, while staying away from the candle motif. As we think about Advent being a season of anticipation as we journey towards the birth of Christ, it felt like Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem was a good fit.

The silhouette in the background came from Shutterstock.These files may be freely distributed under the Creative Commons Non-Commercial Attribution License. Please link people to this blog post when sharing the files. You might also be interested in my other backgrounds.

Download FREE Advent Backgrounds

Bob Face

In our ongoing efforts to update the First Trinity website, we are getting ready to launch an online portal for members and guests to access and update some of their information and have it sync up with our database. Here are some of the things you can do through the portal, along with a note indicating how “ready” the feature is. (NOTE: Everything is protected by both a password on your end, and a manual approval on our end before you can access many of the features belowActually: If the email you use matches the one we have in our database for you already, your account will automatically be linked to your records after you click the validation link that comes to the email address you register. In other words, no one can sign you up except you, provided you don’t share your email password with others. If your email does not match the one in our system, then we have to make the match manually before you can see your giving records.

  • View an online directory. Accounts that have been verified and linked by a staff member can choose to “opt in” to the online membership directory. You control how much information various permission levels can see in the directory. You can only view the directory if you have opted in. This feature is ready, but very people are in the directory as we are just starting with the roll out.
  • Access giving records. Accounts that have been verified and linked by a staff member are able to view their giving statements. No one else has access to your records. The reports can be downloaded directly from the website and printed for use in filing taxes as well. This feature is ready.
  • Find a ministry group to participate in. All users who register are able to look for open groups and request information from the group leader directly through the website. Once you express interest, group leaders are able to follow up and add you to their group so you can see some additional information like meeting times/locations, group directory, etc. This feature is only partially implemented as we only have a few test groups currently.

Become a Beta Tester

As we get ready to launch this portal to the entire congregation, I’m interested in people creating accounts so we can test the system and see what pitfalls there are. At this point, I only really need people who have been to First Trinity in person. We have the ability to add people from the web registration process to our database, but I don’t want to add unnecessary records. I’ve included a set of directions below for signing up. If you have questions about the process, you can get in touch with me via the comments here or on Facebook.

Registration Instructions

  1. Go to https://firsttrinity.infellowship.com/
  2. Click the green blue “Sign Up” link in the bottom right of the white window.
  3. Fill out the information that is requested.
  4. Click “Create Account”.
  5. You will receive an email with a link to verify your account. Click it to do so.
  6. Go back to http://firsttrinity.infellowship.com/
  7. Sign in using your email and password.

Remember that there is a delay as we manually sync your account with the one in our database, so some features like the online giving records won’t work until we make the link for your account.

Numbers And Finance

I recently ran a survey to find out how members of a church use their church’s website.

A note about the data…

Let me preface this by saying the sample size is nowhere near large (or diverse) enough to be incredibly meaningful, but it does provide some helpful data nonetheless. There were a total of 42 responses. I don’t know for sure, but I expect a vast majority of those responses came from people at my own church. Our existing website undoubtedly influenced their answers. I realized this when I had a conversation with one member about the survey. She was surprised to see that “online giving” was even an option people would look for. We don’t have that feature currently, so people don’t look for it. Therefore, a disproportionate number of people probably did not choose that. Similarly, our previous website was almost exclusively built around upcoming events and registrations for those events, which you will see reflected as a high priority from these results.

So for now, take the survey with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, here’s a breakdown of some of the more interesting things from the survey:

Frequency of Visits

I asked people how frequently they visited their church’s website in a given month. Here were the responses:

Visits/Month Responses
1-2 23
3-5 11
6-10 6
11+ 1

As I mentioned earlier, our website didn’t have much to entice people back on a regular basis. I am considering some sort of more regular content in a traditional “blog” style as a way of getting people to interact with the website more and to double as a teaching opportunity.

Purpose of the Visits

Here are how the pre-configured options ranked in the survey for the question “What were you hoping to find/do on your church’s website?”

Option Responses
Information about Upcoming Events 40
Sermon Recordings 21
Sign Up/Register for Event 16
News/Photos From Past Events 13
Prayer Requests 10
Leadership Information (Staff Bios, Contact Info, etc.) 10
Volunteer Opportunities at Church 10
Resources to Grow Closer to Jesus. (Devotions, Bible Reading Plans, Prayer Guides, etc.) 9
Participate in an Ongoing Ministry (Youth Group, Sunday School, etc.) 8
Online Giving Options 5
Resources to Help in Your Daily Living (Parenting Tips, How to Cope with Grief, etc.) 5
Join a Small Group/Life Group 3
Give Feedback to the Church Leadership 2

Again, the results were not surprising considering the primary emphasis of our previous website. I was surprised to see a relatively large number of people who look for news and photos from past events. We don’t report these things much on our website, but we do post pictures and recaps of ministry on our Facebook page pretty regularly. Also not surprisingly, “Join a life group” was very low in our results. There is no easy way to even find life groups on our old site, let alone join one.

What Was Missing on the Church Website

This section asked people to share what they had hoped to find on their church’s website, but couldn’t. Some of the frequent responses:

  • Current newsletter/calendar/announcements.
  • Staff photos/bios/contact information.
  • Service/Bible Study times.
  • Address/Contact info.

Biggest Frustrations with Church Websites

This section asked people to share their greatest frustrations with their church’s website. Some of the key themes in the responses include:

  • Navigation – People found the websites to be too difficult to navigate and find what they were looking for. This was one of the main goals of our new site–to simplify the navigation system so people can quickly find what they are looking for.
  • Lack of new/updated contact – We’ve all seen that church website that lists a coming event prominently on the front page, only to see that it actually happened several months ago. This also includes sermons not getting posted for several weeks from a couple comments.
  • Lack of online giving options – People are looking for convenient ways to give to a church and aren’t able to find it on their church’s website.

If you would like to contribute to the survey data, you can find it here. Feel free to share with friends who are members of a church.

There’s lots of information online about why guests access a church website, but what about members? I can’t find a good source of information about why members at a church visit their church’s website. So I need your help! This survey is by no means scientific, but it will give me a starting point. Mark your answers below and if you don’t mind, send the link to your church-going friends to get their feedback. I’ll report back with my findings in a later post.

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Here’s a set of Pentecost/Holy Spirit-themed backgrounds I created for worship at First Trinity Lutheran Church. You can download the files via Dropbox below. There are blank slides in blue, brown, green, orange, purple, red and teal. There are slides in various colors for different parts of the worship service (see Dropbox link for full preview). We use the slides once a year on Pentecost Sunday.

The fire texture came from Fire-Love-Account on Deviant Art. The original flame icon came from ecelop via Vector Stock. I modified the flame to create the dove portion.

Download FREE Pentecost/Holy Spirit Backgrounds

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Here’s a set of Easter Backgrounds I created for worship at First Trinity Lutheran Church. You can download the files via Dropbox below. There are blank slides in blue, brown, green, orange, purple, red and teal. There are slides in various colors for different parts of the worship service (see Dropbox link for full preview). We use the slides on Easter Sunday through Pentecost.

Download FREE Easter Backgrounds

“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”

St. Augustine, Confessions

It’s time to launch a new website for First Trinity. It’s been two years since our last major redesign, and as is always the case, we’ve outgrown the existing structure. Here are some of the resources that are influencing the latest version of the website:

Some of my goals for the new site:

  1. Guests are the first priority. Lots of members use our website, but we’re going to be intentional about targeting guests first and foremost. The front page in it’s current form tells a story as you scroll down. The basic outline:
    1. Two quick facts about us in visual form. The first is that we provide relevant teaching for your life today and that you don’t need to know everything (or anything!) about the Bible to come here. The second is that we want to pray for you, with a link to submit prayer requests to our prayer wall.
    2. What we believe. Rather than an itemized list of doctrines, it’s a more personal call to the guest. A “read more” button will lead to more standard theological beliefs like Communion, Baptism, etc.) The four key points:
      1. God is for you.
      2. We aren’t perfect.
      3. God has a plan for you.
      4. Check us out from the comfort of home. (Listen to sermons online to find out more about what we believe.)
    3. Be our guest at worship, highlighting the service times and a brief description about each, including how many people typically come to that service. There will also be a link back to a page with more information about our services, including some sample services.
    4. Our current sermon series topics. Rather than “This week” being highlights, we’ll list all of the topics in a particular series. This saves us from updating that page every week, but it also gives people a broader sense of what we’re talking about. I’m unsure if it would be a turn-off to see we’re on the last topic in a series, causing them to not visit. Subject to change.
    5. Address, phone number, “get directions” link, and an embedded map.
    6. Ad for Lifetree Cafe (subject to change)
  2. Provide regular content updates that teach and build community. Maybe it’s a short devotional about the message topic from the previous week, or a longer post that explores what we believe about a particular topic. We can share some ministry success stories, similar to the Bi-Annual Report articles written by others or something else. I’m not sure exactly what all we’ll include, but I think something regular might be helpful.
  3. Identify a better way to promote ongoing ministries and events.
  4. Outline a clear “next step” path to spiritual improvement on the website, connected with what we’re doing at Launch and other classes.

The new site will be ready sometime this summer. There might even be a sneak peek here at some point…. Stay tuned…

This is part of an ongoing series on the Cornerstone Confirmation Curriculum we are developing at First Trinity Lutheran Church. (Main Confirmation Page)

Lord's Supper 580

Key Theme: Jesus leaves some last instructions, including a special meal for our spiritual health.

Read John 13:12-17

  • Underline: Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.
  • Write: Serve others

Read John 13:31-35

  • Underline: A new command I give you: Love one another
  • Write: Love others

Read John 14:1-7

  • Underline: I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the father except through me.
  • Write: Jesus alone saves

Read John 14:15-20

  • Underline: Because I live, you also will live.
  • Write: Jesus is our life source

Read John 14:27-28

  • Underline: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
  • Write: Jesus gives us peace

Read John 15:1-8

  • Underline: verse 5
  • Write: Actions come from Faith

Read John 15:18-21

  • Underline: Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
  • Write: We will be treated like Jesus

Read John 15:26-27

  • Underline: you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
  • Write: Tell others about Jesus

On the night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas, arrested by the Romans, Jesus took time to be with His disciples and share a meal with them. That evening—the day before He would be crucified—Jesus wanted to share some important truth with His dear friends and disciples. Imagine being in a position where you knew you were about to die and had one last chance to share what was important with your family and friends. This is what Jesus did in the hours leading up to His death.

Read Matthew 26:26-28

After relating some important truth and final advice for the disciples, Jesus instituted a new practice that was meant to encourage and uplift His people. We will explore what happened with

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