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I am teaching a workshop at the National Lutheran Youth Ministry Conference in San Antonio this summer. The workshop is titled “Leveraging Social Media for Your Church’s Mission.” This post is part of a series relating to that workshop. Here’s a full listing of the topics.

Overview

Good social media doesn’t just happen. It’s intentional and deliberate. Today I will be looking at some tips for developing the foundations for successful social media usage at your church.

Develop a Strategy

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. Proverbs 21:5

As someone who actually dislikes social media, this was a critical step for me to wrap my mind around how we might use social media to enhance the mission of our church and reach others. There were too many options for what might happen in social media outlets that I was paralyzed. But once I had a good sense of strategy, it because much easier to implement. Your social media strategy will also help you make decisions about whether something gets posted, or how it gets written.

At First Trinity, our informal strategy is three-fold:

  • Tell stories.
  • Have conversation.
  • Stimulate growth.

Our early strategy started by watching this online seminar from Waterbrook Mulnomah. The video is not aging well in some respects with the addition of the Timeline feature to Pages on Facebook, but it’s still a pretty good starting point.

Developing a strategy is an evolving process. It’s a good idea to have a discussion with other key players (who might be included on your team of updaters) about your initial strategy. As you live with it and start applying it to your social media usage, you’ll find some things that need to be adjusted, added or dropped. A few questions you might consider as you talk:

  1. Why do you want to be on social media? Knowing why you’re there is a helpful starting point for your discussion. Social media might not be a right fit for your church or your staff. If you just want to use it because everyone else is doing it, this might not be the medium for you.
  2. What are your goals on for social media? In other words, what do you hope to accomplish? If there’s no goal behind your strategy, there’s no way to know if you’re being successful or if things are worth posting. These goals will actually help you create content that’s appropriate for your page as well.
  3. Is social media right the right tool? It might be. Or it might not be. Maybe some of the tools available are useful for you, but not all of them. Figure out which ones are right for you and focus on those. You might add more later, but it’s ok to focus your attention in the early stages. Once you hit a rhythm, you can expand your reach.
  4. Who will be using social media? Whose responsibility is it? A program or ministry owned by everyone is owned by no one. Figure out where it best falls in your ministry structure and give authority and responsibility to that person. You might have others who are using it on behalf of the church, but someone needs to own it, otherwise it might not happen.
  5. What’s the relationship between church and personal accounts? I have a Facebook profile, but I also manage the church Facebook page. I don’t speak for the church “officially” on my personal profile, but because I’m a staff-member, I always represent the church (and more importantly as a Christian, Jesus). What gets posted to the personal profiles of the staff affects how people see and interact with the church. Having a discussion with staffers about what they post and how they use Facebook personally could help how effective your corporate account is.

Build a Team

One of the biggest factors in building a successful social media presence for your church is building a good team. At First Trinity, we have five people who can update our Facebook page. Three of them are staff members and two of them are lay people. While the staff does most of the posting, our lay people have helped with posting stuff as well. Building a good team is important because:

  1. It diversifies content. I only come in contact with a small portion of what’s happening at First Trinity, most of it in my own ministry. Adding others to the team allows us to engage more content and provide a broader picture of life at First Trinity.
  2. It provides coverage. A larger team allows you to have “live” coverage at more events, but it also gets your more coverage throughout the day and week. One of our team members takes off on Fridays while two others are off on Monday. If something immediate comes up, we can post it as needed. If it were just me, I’d be working “24/7” if we wanted full coverage.
  3. Leads to higher quality. Being able to bounce ideas and strategies off others on the team leads to higher quality, more engaging content.

As you build your team, consider your own strengths and weaknesses and try to find others to help fill in the gaps. Spend some time training them on what type of content you’re looking for so they have a good understanding about the strategy. Communicate with them regularly so you can learn from one another and present a unified voice. Everyone posting the same thing within hours of each other probably isn’t a good idea. Keeping communications open will help reduce the frequency of that happening.

Once everyone has a good understanding of what you’re looking for, empower them to post things and share with others.

Plan Content

Good content doesn’t just happen. Consistent content doesn’t just happen. It takes work and planning to be most effective when using social media. Some things to consider:

  1. What will you put on social media? Are you looking to provide devotional resources? Pictures from events? Video messages? Inspirational quotes? Make sure this content aligns with your strategy above, then set some benchmarks for yourself. “Every Friday we’ll share a new photo.” “Every Tuesday we’ll provide a short devotional.” “We will post one video per month that illustrates how God is moving.” These benchmarks will help you produce compelling content.
  2. How can you extend the life of your ministry events through social media? In other words, is there a way to take an offline event online for continued growth and discussion? Sharing pictures is an easy way of doing this. But maybe you also provide a discussion question based on the sermon, or a challenge to put faith into action after a Bible study.
  3. Schedule your time and batch content. If I had to update my social media manually, it would never maintain consistency. Instead, I use HootSuite to schedule content. I take 5-10 minutes to produce the content, then schedule it for publication over several days with HootSuite. Scheduling time to actually produce and schedule content will help you present a more cohesive message as you’re designing all the content while it’s fresh in your mind.
  4. Write shareable content. You can maximize your reach by writing content that others will want to share with their friends. Ask yourself: “Is this something I would consider sharing with my friends? What about my followers?” The more shareable content you have, the greater your reach and influence will be.

Top Nonprofits put together a really nice one-page graphic about planning your content. Click the image to go to the full file for printing.

 

I am teaching a workshop at the National Lutheran Youth Ministry Conference in San Antonio this summer. The workshop is titled “Leveraging Social Media for Your Church’s Mission.” This post is part of a series relating to that workshop. Here’s a full listing of the topics.

Overview

Social media is so large that it’s difficult to talk about everything that exists. The for purpose of this post, the “Big Picture” will be limited to blogging, social networks such as Facebook and video sharing. They are influenced by how we use each of these platforms at First Trinity.

Blogging

Blogging continues to be a fast-growing sector of social media. It’s not as “social” as something like Facebook, but still serves a valuable purpose for churches. The platform is great for extended posts that go deeper into a topic or are a little less “conversational” in nature. Blogs are great for sharing your views or ideas about a topic. They can be wide-ranging in topics, but it’s generally best to let blogs have one distinct “voice.” In other words, there is one author and face for the blog. The good thing is that you can have any number of church leaders blogging (we have 4 regular bloggers).

Setting up a blog is pretty painless. There are a number of options available:

While there are some really great things to say about all of these options, WordPress is by far my favorite platform. If you sign up for a blog at WordPress.com, you’ll have limited customization options with a few added options you can pay to use. The free account was my blogging platform of choice for several years. Recently, I moved this blog from WordPress.com and used their free software to host my own. It also runs the First Trinity Website.

All of our staff bloggers use WordPress. It’s a powerful, fast and easy-t0-learn. Google’s Blogger is a fair alternative, but not nearly as good. When I compared TypePad and WordPress, I felt like WordPress did everything TypePad did and more, all for free.

Social Networking

Social networks are really about building relationships with people and interacting together. The strength of any given network is largely determined by the size of the user base and if your circles (to borrow from Google+) are using it. It’s not unlike cell phones and the free “in-network” calls. If everyone in your family uses Sprint, it’s hard to get out because you lose the free minutes you experience from being in the same network. Social networks are similar. If all your friends use Facebook, Google+ won’t be as attractive to you because you won’t be able to communicate as easily.

Some of the major social network players include:

At First Trinity, we have chosen to focus most of our efforts on Facebook, because that’s where a great majority of our people are located. Google+ tends to have a smaller audience than Facebook, but provides similar features. Twitter is a supplement to the two that we often use for communicating in short bites (140 characters or less) on mission trips to Haiti, youth Workcamps or others that we do.

Video

Posting videos online can be a great tool for helping people understand who you are as a church. Whether it’s a welcome video on your website, a video “advertisement” for an event or just a video of something that happened at your church. There are really only two major players in the hosted video market:

Several years ago when I first looked at hosting video online, YouTube had a limit on video duration that was shorter than what we needed, so we decided to go with Vimeo. Over the years, however, that limit was removed and we use YouTube exclusively for hosting video. It’s easy to use, fast, and easy to embed in other projects like our website, blogs and Facebook. Vimeo is an excellent alternative, though the lion’s share of the traffic goes through YouTube (3 billions hours/month watched at time of publication).

If you’re looking for livestreaming of events, there are two companies that I’m familiar with:

I have not used either service extensively. Both are ad-supported for free accounts and come with some restrictions. Both have paid accounts available as well.

 

When I was in High School, I used to download MP3s and video games illegally. It was fun hunting for the songs and software I wanted but “couldn’t afford” or “wouldn’t have  bought anyway.” But as a I matured in my faith, I realized this practice didn’t line up with God’s plan for my life or my ministry.Too often, the church infringes copyrights. We tell ourselves it’s because we’re doing the Lord’s work, so it’s OK to “borrow” images, music or software.

Using images in your ministry can really enhance your message, helping it stay in the minds of your hearers. Research shows that the more senses you can engage, the better the chance your content will stick. So what image options are available to churches that won’t break the budget?

One of the nice things about the internet is that there are lots of people willing to share their material with the world. Creative Commons provides a legal framework for making this happen. Photographers (among other types of artists) can choose to license their works for use under certain conditions. Check the Creative Commons Site for specific information about the licenses that are available. They can range from a simple attribution to more complex rights regarding modifications and new works based on the original image.

We use Creative Commons licensed photos almost exclusively in our sermon PowerPoints to help reinforce the message, with a simple credit on the bottom of the slides. On digital materials (like this blog), I like to link the photo to the original author so people can access it themselves. Of course, the license is just about worthless if you can’t find images. So how do you filter through the millions of images that are available for the Creative Commons licensed ones? Here are a few options:

Compfight.com

Compfight is my go-to site for finding images. It’s not the most expansive 0ption (it only searches Flickr.com images), but it’s the easiest to use and quickly navigate. Type a search term into the box and hit enter to start finding images. After you’re first search, you’ll need to adjust some options to only get the Creative Commons content.

I grabbed this image from a sample search I did for trees. There are four sets of options to choose from in the left column of the page. They are:

Tags only / All text

This group decides what gets searched. Tags only will search the tags that people associate with their photos on Flickr. A good photographer will have lots of tags, others might have only one. For example, a “tree” photo might be tagged simply tree, or could include green, blue, sky, bark, ground, and bright as it describes other elements or characteristics of the photo. I’ve found searching tags only eliminates some lower quality images, but gives fewer results. All text will search the tags and any information entered in the description of the photo. This might include a story about where they were when they took the photo or other random details. If you can’t find an image from Tags only, try switching to All text.

Any license / Creative commons / Commercial

The search defaults to any license, which is fine if you’re just looking for inspiration. You’ll have to click through to each image to see if it’s actually usable, however. Creative commons will restrict your search to the images that are freely usable, assuming you follow the Creative Commons licensing restrictions the photographer licensed the photo under. The license appears in the right column of the Flickr page for the image. Hover over the icons below the licenses header to see which restrictions apply. The Commercial option will further restrict the search to items that can be used commercially. These images aren’t necessarily free–most can be licensed via links on the Flickr page.

Show originals / Hide originals / Only originals

Show or Hide originals will either display (or not) the original image size when you hover over the image in the search results. I find this option helpful if I need a high-resolution photo. For projection, you can usually get away with an 800×600 image or larger. 1024×768 or higher is preferred. Only originals will only show the photos that actually have an original that you can download.

Safe / Unsafe

This is a content filter for safe or unsafe images. I leave it on Safe, which eliminates some naughty images, but not all of them. Your best bet for eliminating naughty images is thinking about your search terms carefully. I remember trying to find an image to go with the verse in Genesis about God creating garments of skin for Adam and Eve. I put “leather” in the search box and got some …provocative… images.

Choosing (and Using) an Image

Once you’ve set your search terms, all of the images will appear on the right. Click on an image to go to the Flickr page for the image. Here’s an example page we used in our Easter sermon. To access larger versions of the image for download (if they exist), right-click on the image and choose the resolution you want to use. If you did it correctly, you should end up on this page. Now you can right-click the image and choose “Save image as…” or similar, depending on which web browser you use. You can also choose “Copy image” and just paste it into your presentation.

For the photo credit, I use: “Photo: username (website)” as the template. In this case, the username would be dtcchc, which you can find on the top of the page you were on when you saved the image. For website, I use Flickr.com for this image. If you’re using it online, you can link the photo to the image page that has the comments on it (on Flickr, that’s the page that ends with a number instead of photostream).

Other Options

Definitely start with CompFight, as it’s easy to use and accesses a large database of available photos on Flickr. You can also try Every Stock Photo, a site that searches Flickr and several other sites. I’ve also found some good images on Deviant Art, though there’s no easy search tool to restrict images there to only Creative Commons content. There’s also more questionable images on Deviant Art, so search at your own risk. The easiest way to find the creative commons is through a custom Google search. Enter in the search box:

site:deviantart.com “creative commons” search term(s)

The site: modifier will limit Google’s search to only that website. “creative commons” (with the quotes) will restrict results to only those that include the words “creative commons”, which will be present on pages that have the license. Search terms will narrow down the options to your subject matter. You won’t see previews, so you’ll have to click through each link to see what the image looks like. It’s definitely my last choice for searching, but there have been some good finds in there on occasion.

One of the things I’ve been working on is developing some consistent looks throughout our ministries that reflect our story. Eventually, I’d like all of our graphics to have similar themes and follow some consistent design guidelines, but still be tailored for a particular ministry area. Lately, I’ve been working on bringing that consistent look to Everyday Faith.

Everyday Faith is a ministry that walks alongside families, marking spiritual milestones and helping families connect with God’s Word along the way. There are programs from birth through High School graduation that happen. This quarter, the “My Bible” event is running for students in grades 3 and 4 and their parents. They’ll gather around the Bible and learn how to grow closer together with God. We decided it was time to update the PowerPoint slides for Everyday Faith, so we created a new look to complement our existing designs:

Typically, we try to reserve the bottom 20-25% of a slide for artwork and the remaining 75-80% for content related to the ministry. Much like our worship slides, the logo is in the bottom left corner. We’d actually be able to use this slide in worship and not make any changes to our existing slides beyond the background switch. We simplified the Everyday Faith logo in the bottom right to use the same font as our Kingdom Quest ministry, our primary Children’s Ministry program.

It was important for the graphics to include life, energy and motion. These are key concepts critical to spiritual development and children’s ministry, so we wanted to convey them visually. The children jumping did a nice job of bringing in those elements. We’ll also be able to expand on this slide as needed for the other stages of Everyday Faith. Parents holding a baby can replace the jumping children for the Baby Blessing Event. High School students can be swapped in for the High School Graduation Event.

I’ll post another set of graphics later this week with our updated table tents for the event that use the Kingdom Quest images (with one replacement).

Christ Is Risen [Radio Edit] by Matt Maher on Grooveshark
One Thing Remains by Kristian Stanfill on Grooveshark

I am continually amused when people come to me for help with Facebook. I’ve been asked to talk about social media to others because I’m perceived to be good with this stuff. The truth is, I’m good with computers and technology, and I can usually figure out something if I have to, but Facebook (and social media in general) has never been an interest or passion of mine. Truth be told, if I didn’t work for a church, I probably wouldn’t spend any time on them. By all accounts, I appear to be an extrovert, but my heart’s desire is to be an introvert, or at least an internet hermit.

So it’s funny that part of my job at First Trinity is to manage online communications strategy. Thankfully, I have some much more competent staff members here like Bekah Freed and Sue Steege. They’re gracious in helping to manage our Facebook Page, but I still have to be involved. So, in the interest of helping others, here are some of the steps we took, and the things I learned, for getting your church on Facebook.

Have a Strategy

One of my biggest challenges with social media is being strategic and adding value. I don’t want to just share fluff about my life or what I’m eating at any given time. It was hard for me to think about creating a strategy, so Bekah, Sue, Pastor Chuck and I participated in a webinar on the topic. I can’t recommend it enough as a starting point for you. Waterbrook Multnomah put it on. Click here to participate. With the change to Timeline view on pages, some of the information is outdated, but it’s still worth your time.

We’re still formulating a formal strategy, but we’re working under the guiding principle that we want to use the page to foster conversation and connections, while sharing news and happenings in a more story-based format and less informational. We also want to contribute to people’s spiritual growth through things like our daily Bible thoughts.

Convey Your Story

A while back we hired a communications consultant who helped us discover God’s story in this place, who He shaped this congregation of believers to be. It was a great process and we ended up with some solid content to help convey who we are. These three statements have become core to how we communicate and do ministry. Your Facebook page should be a reflection of who God has created your church to be in the world.

For our cover photo on the new timeline, we chose to use a collage of pictures that tries to convey our story. The “Celebrating Life Together” is the summary form of one of our three story statements linked above. I used Photoshop to put it together, but Google’s Picasa can do a collage fairly quickly as well. I got the idea from this article on Church Mag.

Your cover photo is the first thing people see when they land on your page. It should be bright and attractive, setting the mood for your page. Your content, however, is what will reinforce and develop your story. What you post and share, and the conversations you have, will refine and shape that first impression.

Develop a Routine

Sue likes to joke that I’m “Mr. Try It For A While.” I like to test out the new technologies and websites that appear, but I rarely stick to them. In the case of Facebook, one of my challenges was always remembering to go there and continue using it. I’d get on for a while, then forget about it and not update. The thing about social media for churches, especially Facebook, is that once you start, it’s really hard to stop. People will start to expect updates. So don’t be afraid to develop a routine for your social media use.

We use HootSuite to batch-post updates to Facebook. It can also do Twitter and their working on Google+ Page support as well. You can write several posts in advance and schedule them to go out at later times. You can also create a file to upload in bulk. I currently have scheduled updates for our Daily Bible Thoughts at 7 a.m. (hoping to catch people for morning devotions) and a 1 p.m. Thursday update with the Scripture readings for the upcoming weekend’s worship.

The scheduled updates are supplemented with “as we can” posts that are done when we think of them. This insures there will always be some content coming, but we’re also not beholden to the schedule and can post updates immediately if needed. These updates tend to be re-posts of staff blogs when they happen, pictures from an event, special videos and events, etc.

Blessed Redeemer (Live) by Casting Crowns on Grooveshark

One of the things I love about my current job is planning worship services, especially the Holy Week run from Palm Sunday through Easter. It includes my favorite service of the year: Good Friday. For me, it’s the perfect blend of contemporary and traditional, ancient and modern. It’s sensory and participatory.

This year, I think we’ve made some more tweaks and additions to make it even better. Our 2012 Good Friday celebration includes the following:

  • A kick-off video that sets the stage for the service by looking ahead to Easter. It’s actually a nice bookend to the return of the Christ Candle at the end of the service, a reminder that Easter is coming.
  • Several traditional hymns. Sue Brese is absolutely brilliant at choosing hymns that reinforce and enhance the message. So thankful for her ministry.
  • Our traditional procession to the cross, where people get to hang “sin strips” on the cross that’s been in our chancel since Ash Wednesday and will continue to decorate it through Easter.
  • The seven last words of Christ, interspersed with responses from the congregation and music.
  • A gradual darkening of the sanctuary, a traditional mark of the Tenebrae service.
  • A contemporary song sung by Bekah Freed. This year we’re using a Casting Crowns song (check back on Sunday for a taste) during the cross processional.
  • Vinegar scents during the processional. We think we’ve got a good solution for making this more effective this year.
  • A new ending video for the departure of the Christ Candle. No preview, you’ll just have to wait for it. 😉

Of course, the top-secret, behind-the-scenes, insider story for this service is that we’ve got a great team that works on it. This year, it was Sue Brese, Bekah, Sue Steege, Pastor Chuck and myself. Kathy Figini will help with the altar decorations again this year and we’ve got lots of other people who will be participating to make the service powerful. There are some God-ideas in the service this year, and I think you’ll like it.

Anatomy of a Worship Slide

January 17, 2012

I read an article today about projecting content (lyrics, readings, etc.) during worship. It had some tips to help projected content be more helpful for worshipers. I was pleased to see that our system passes the test for all of their tips, but the article got me thinking about what we’re doing with projection.

One of the first things I did when I switched into my current position was overhaul the projection system. At the time, we only projected lyrics to songs and each song was made up of an entirely different set of images, with little consistency from slide to slide. While I liked the additional art involved in the old style, I often felt that it was more distracting than helpful. Text would start at different positions on the screen, which makes it harder to track when flipping through multiple slides in the presentation. More problematic was that the design time it took to make each song was too high to sustain, especially once we started to project the entire service and move away from paper bulletins.

So I set to work designing a new system for projection. My guiding principles were:

  1. Readability is job 1. Moving to a paperless worship service meant the slides had to be readable above all else. After researching online, white text on darker backgrounds would result in the highest readability we could obtain. After our new projection system was installed, I invited some of our older members to do a readability test for font sizes to determine a minimum font size. Our standard is 32pt Calibri, 4 points above the minimum depth. Stand/Sit rubrics, Scripture references and service notes are 28pt.
  2. We can’t abandon the art. White text on black is the most readable combination, but I’m not sure it’s the best solution if we want to draw people into worship. Artwork and content are locked in a complex dance routine. After some trial designs, i decided to reserve the top 80% of the slide for content, and let the artwork reside in the bottom 20%.
  3. Design tells our story. Our three core story statements would influence the design so that the slides emphasize and reinforce who we believe God has called us to be at First Trinity. The primary story statement that I chose to focus on with the slide design was “Rooted and Relevant.” We have deep historical roots, but relevant expressions of faith. The primary font on the slides is Exocet Heavy, an “old” looking font based on ancient Greek and Roman design. Behind it sits the King & Queen, a more modern script, but with hints of old England calligraphy. The text show what part of the service we’re currently in, and matches the single page Order of Service that people receive in worship. The background has a rock texture applied to it, a nod to the solid foundation of God’s Word that our worship is based on.
  4. Icons and color amplify the mood. Behind the fonts sit black graphics with a soft light filter to allow the background to show through. The images are meant to help reinforce and teach what the various parts of the service are all about. They are subtle clues to the purpose of this section of the service. Times of song and celebration include people in celebratory poses. Prayer has a person on bowed down on their knees before God, illustrating our humble hearts in prayer. The Agnus Dei (Latin for “Lamb of God”) has a lamb in the background, a reminder of the perfect sacrifice of Christ. Confession and Absolution have a hill with three crosses, a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for us. When possible, I chose traditional, liturgical colors. Confession/Absolution are purple, the color for Lent, a season of repentance. Scripture, Creeds and Baptism are blue, the color of life-giving water. The Lord’s Supper is brown, the color of a rich loaf of bread, fresh from the oven. Sometimes there wasn’t an obvious color, so I just chose something that worked.
  5. Sustainability and Speed. The slides have to be easy to create once in PowerPoint. With the use of master slides and formatting in PowerPoint, I’m able to convert the contemporary service (4-5 pages of printed text) into PowerPoint in under 45 minutes (assuming I get that long without distractions). Because verbiage changes from week-to-week, very few slides are reused. The design had to accommodate this.