Intersections

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The Last Step

The following is an update for our Caring Bridge followers. If you aren’t up to speed, you can contact me on Facebook about a link.

Throughout this impossible journey that started on the last day of April, our mantra has been: Just get through the next step. Focus on the next thing and get it done. Don’t worry about what’s coming, just make it through the step in front of you. It’s how we’ve had to live to make it to this point. One foot in front of the other, only ever focusing on the next step.

In three days, exactly eight weeks after the first seizure, we take the last step. As Tuesday looms, it feels like I am standing on the edge of a great precipice. The last step is here and it feels like the biggest leap of faith in our lives.


God knew His people would need reminders of His almighty power to work salvation in their midst. There was an annual feast to remember how the angel of death passed them over in Egypt. The people placed memorial stones commemorating God’s faithfulness. They raised their Ebenezer in 1 Samuel 7:12 because “Till now the LORD has helped us.” Psalm 105:1-6 says:

1 Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
3 Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!
4 Seek the LORD and his strength;
Seek his presence continually!
5 Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
6 O offspring of Abraham, his servants!

As the last step looms, let us make known His deeds among the people and tell of all His wondrous works. We have seen God in so many ways. Here are but a few:

  • He blessed us with a great staff at the kids’ school. When Addie had that first seizure, the team at St. John’s jumped into action to care for our baby. Not once, but twice. And they’ve continued to work with us through tests and tests and more tests.
  • My amazing teammates in ministry have walked through this with us as they organized meal trains, prayer, help with the lawn, snacks and gift cards and so much more. They have encouraged us through this ordeal and supported us even when we couldn’t express what we needed.
  • There have been so many “random events” that aren’t so random… A therapy dog showing up in Radiology when we were waiting for the first MRI. The Tumor Review Board happened to be meeting hours after we met with the neurosurgeon to discuss treatment. They only meet every 2 weeks. Running into a member from church that works at Oishei before the spinal MRI a couple days ago. She bought a candy-coated apple for Addie—the same apple Addie desperately wanted on the way into the hospital for the MRI.
  • He has provided a great medical team: Dr. Reynolds, the surgeon. Dr. Fitzpatrick, the oncologist. Jessica and Tara, the child life specialists at Roswell and Oishei who have helped Addie (and her parents) understand what was coming and feel better about it. Dr. Katie, the child psychologist who came to the house to meet Addie and talk with her about all this crazy stuff.
  • Our earthly family that have walked this road with us, feeling the pain just as deeply as we do.
  • Our spiritual family, the people of God at First Trinity and all around the country. So many prayers and notes of encouragement and packages have arrived that it’s crazy.

God describes His people in Hebrews 12:1 as “a great cloud of witnesses”. What I love about this picture is that the people of God are not limited to those we walk with here and now. God’s people are connected in this great cloud of witnesses across space and time. We stand not only with His people here and now, but His faithful people from the past who have gone to be with Him in Heaven.

We stand with God’s people on the shores of the Red Sea, fearing death at the hands of the pursuing Pharaoh. We watch as the pillar of cloud and fire becomes our rear guard, holding the armies of Egypt back while God makes a way through the sea.

We stand with God’s people as they stare down the impossibly imposing walls of Jericho. We join them in marching around the city and blowing the trumpets. We lift a thunderous shout in unison, looking on in awe as God causes the walls to crumble and bring victory to His people.

We stand with God’s people cowering in fear as Goliath the giant mocks and taunts us. We wonder with them as God’s faithful servant David goes forth to do battle armed only with a sling and stones. Our hope rises as David defiantly declares that he comes to defeat Goliath in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel that Goliath defies. We rejoice as David prevails over the giant.

We stand with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they defy the king, refusing to bow down and worship him. Under threat of being burned alive in the fiery furnace, still they are confident that their God could deliver them. We are cast into the fire with them, only to find a fourth in the fire whose appearance is like a son of the gods, keeping us safe from the fire.

We stand with the people at the foot of the cross as Jesus breathes His last. We stand outside the sealed tomb, the place that holds all our hopes and dreams for salvation. We leave with great sorrow. But three days later, we return to find the stone rolled away, revealing an empty tomb. We tremble as the Angel speaks, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” With Mary and Mary, we rush to tell the disciples this great news when encounter Jesus on the road and fall at His feet and worship Him.


In three days, we will take the last step off the precipice into the hands of Jesus, the one who conquered death on the cross and rose three days later to bring everlasting life to His people. We are grateful for the cloud of witnesses who have been walking through this with us. On the other side of these three days, we look forward to joining with King David in Psalm 145:6-7, as we “speak of the might of God’s awesome deeds, and declare His greatness. We will pour forth the fame of God’s abundant goodness and sing aloud of His righteousness.”

Preschool Advertising 101: The Plan

We are really excited to be expanding the preschool at First Trinity. We haven’t really done much advertising in the past. Most of our families come from the church or word of mouth from other families in the preschool. With the expansion, we wanted to get a little more intentional about advertising. We took a survey of our families and found (not surprisingly) that many people look online for a preschool in addition to recommendations from friends.

We decided to take 3 first steps:

  1. Reorganize our preschool portion of the website into several smaller, more focused pages instead of one giant page with information. We’re also exploring moving the preschool to a separate website so they can have a more appropriate theme/design.
  2. Create an “Open House” event on Facebook and promote it through paid Facebook ads.
  3. Purchase some ads in Google search results that send people to a special open house page on our website.

Website Redesign

We moved from a single page to six total pages. The pages are:

  1. Preschool Home
    1. Large photo of the teachers and students from Sunbeam Sunday.
    2. Brief overview of the school.
    3. Quotes from eight current parents that capture some of the best things about the school.
  2. Classes: We list what classes we offer, including a brief description of what students learn in the class, student/teacher ratios, days the class is offered, and a picture from that age group.
  3. Enrollment: Everything you need to enroll in the school on one page. Most of this is legacy content from the old site and will be reorganized when we launch a dedicated website.
  4. Areas of Study: A more complete list of what kids learn across all classes by participating for three years. This is a direct copy/paste from the parent handbook from this past year for now. More revamp to come in a new site.
  5. Staff listing and bios.
  6. Open House: A page dedicated to the open house event and used in the Google Ads campaign.

Facebook Ads

We chose to create an event for the open house and focus our advertising efforts on the event rather than “likes” or a specific product (in this case enrollment in our school). Facebook lets us use high quality stock photos for the ads for free, which is great. Here’s the 6 we used:

Preschool Facebook Ad 3

Preschool Facebook Ad 1

Preschool Facebook Ad 6

Preschool Facebook Ad 5

Preschool Facebook Ad 2

Preschool Facebook Ad 4

We have the opportunity to asses how the ads are doing and turn off the lower performers. More on that in another post probably.

Google Search Ads

I’ve never purchased ads with Google before, so this was a great first experience. We redeemed an ad promotion to get $75 free after spending $25, which makes for a pretty good deal. The ads point people to the open house page on our website. If I were to do it again, I’d create a campaign that focuses on a specific action on our website instead of just viewing the page to better assess the effectiveness of the campaign.

Here’s what the ads ended up looking like:

Preschool Google Search AdOn our survey, we asked parents to give us 5 words that describe the school. These three were the most frequently mentioned when we were ready to create the ad. Side note: we pay for each click, so don’t go searching for the ad to click and see what happens! 🙂

7 Effective Ways to Use Facebook for Churches and Why it Matters! | theCross Mount Dora

Found this post shared in a Facebook group I’m a part of for church people involved in communications. Very interesting stuff in the article, especially about how Facebook is a form of reaching into our community. As we think about new ways of measuring engagement outside of the church and living our faith outside the four walls of the church building, stuff like this will be super helpful.

I’m especially interested in the possibilities for posting quotes from the sermon and/or scriptures and celebrating volunteers. Interesting stuff.

For a church that’s only 3.5 years old and worships just over 400, we have just reached over 3000 likes on Facebook. And here’s the coolest part about the people that are engaging with us on Facebook: 98% of the likes and the people that are reached are people within our immediate context.

Source: 7 Effective Ways to Use Facebook for Churches and Why it Matters! | theCross Mount Dora

Lord’s Prayer 4: Lead us Not Into Temptation, Deliver Us From Evil

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

The-Lord's-Prayer-Web-Header-580

God always provides a way out when we are tempted. He also is our defense against all evil.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Read James 1:13-14

  • Underline: God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
  • Circle: each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
  • Margin: God doesn’t tempt me.

Read 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

  • Underline: he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
  • Margin: God helps me resist temptation.

Read 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

  • Underline: Both Verses
  • Margin: God is with me.

Read James 1:2-3

  • Underline: that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
  • Margin: Temptation makes us stronger.

God is good and can only give good to His people. Sometimes we struggle with why God would then tempt us with bad things. The truth, however, is that God does not tempt us. Rather, as James said, we are tempted by the devil and our own evil desires. Yet while God allows us to be tempted, he restrains the Devil in a way that always allows us to resist the temptation. We take courage in the fact that Jesus Himself faced every temptation that we do, and yet resisted them. We know that God walks with us through the temptation and refines and molds our faith through the process.

Deliver us from evil

Read Proverbs 18:10

  • Underline: The name of the LORD is a strong tower
  • Margin: The Lord protects.

Read 2 Thessalonians 3:3

  • Underline: Entire Verse
  • Margin: The Lord protects.

Read John 17:14-15

  • Underline: My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
  • Margin: We will be attacked, but God protects.

God is oftentimes referred to in the Bible as our protector. He is a strong tower, a mighty fortress, our deliver. And so here we call upon God to protect us from all evil. Jesus tells us that we will in fact have trouble in this world. He didn’t ask God to remove us from this evil world, but rather that God would protect us as we live in this world.

Class Documents

Back in 2012, I released my first set of Lenten Worship Backgrounds. At the time, we were using the same blank slide for the entire service. I’ve since gone back and re-done the slides to include the different parts of the service. Here’s a preview of some of the slides:

You can access the full set of backgrounds for General Lent/Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday via this Dropbox folder. There’s a green version for use on Easter in the original post linked above, but it’s only the blank slide. I ended up creating a completely different set for Easter.

Solving the Church Communications Conundrum

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.

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

Now Testing: Church Membership Portal

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.

Church Member Website Usage Data

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:

[table class=”table table-border” colalign=”center|center”]

Visits/Month,Responses

1-2,23

3-5,11

6-10,6

11+,1[/table]

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?”

[table class=”table table-border” colalign=”center|center” colwidth=”65%|35%”]

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[/table]

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.

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