Archives For Technology

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! 🙂

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:

[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.

Learning Excel: Brief Overview

September 24, 2013

Here’s a brief overview video I made using Jing to teach some basic tips and tricks in Microsoft Excel. The free version of Jing is limited to 5 minutes, so the video doesn’t cover much. During the video, I’ll cover:

  1. Using Excel to automatically fill in the next months in a series.
  2. Creating a SUM formula for a range of data in a column.
  3. Adding a SUM formula for a range of data in a row.
  4. Highlighting the most important information on the table, the grand total, so it’s easy to find at a glance.

If you have any questions, or other ideas to cover, let me know in the comments. You can make the video full screen (and thus actually readable) by clicking the small icon on the bottom right of the video after hitting play.


Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

I decided to take an ad out on Facebook this past Christmas season. Here are some of my thoughts on the experience and results.

The first step in the process was deciding what to advertise. After some discussion with the staff here at First Trinity, I decided to focus on Christmas Eve/Day worship services. We wanted to use our “Hope Restored” sermon series graphic as the picture. Because of limited space and some ad restrictions, we only listed the service times without other information. Clicking the ad would take you through to our First Trinity Facebook Page.

Here was the final version of the ad:

FT-Facebook-Ad---Christmas-Eve-2012

Because the Facebook page would be the landing spot for our advertisement, I decided to do a quick redesign of our cover photo to match the look of the advertisement so people would know they landed on the right page. I ended up going with this design, which also highlights the service schedule:

FT Facebook Cover Photo - Christmas Eve 2012 580

After deciding on the content and updating the landing page, we narrowed down our target demographic. We wanted to try to find people who would be responsible for making the decisions about Christmas Eve worship. We decided on the following demographic:

  • Lives within 21 miles of Tonawanda, NY
  • 21 years or older
  • Female

This resulted in a potential audience of 5,560 people. The ad ran from December 12 through the 24th. Here’s what happened:

  • There were 67,563 impressions. This is the raw number of times the ad was displayed for the 5,560 people.
  • 18 people clicked the ad and performed 37 actions. This is a click-through rate of .027%.
  • The 37 actions were:
    • 20 viewed our photos.
    • 7 liked posts on our page.
    • 3 liked our page.
    • 7 performed other actions of some sort (video plays, commented on posts, mentioned our page to someone else)

The total cost for the ad was $30. Overall, I found the process a little confusing at first, but once I figured out the system it was fairly straight-forward. I think our next series of ads will focus on something more digital (resource on our website, posts on our page) rather than a specific event or worship service at our church, though I’m not certain yet what it will be or when we might do it.

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.

What is Hootsuite?

Hootsuite is a tool for managing your social media. After some configuration, it allows you to view many of your social media outlets in one stream, giving you an “at-a-glance” view of all of your social media. Converting Copy has a good tutorial on using Hootsuite. One of the key features that drove us to Hootsuite for managing our social media was the ability to schedule tweets and Facebook page updates for a specified time in the future.

The tutorial linked above goes into the basics of how to use Hootsuite’s scheduling feature. But why is this feature so valuable? It gives us the ability to really capitalize on our planned content. Being able to schedule content for posting in the future means that we can generate posts, load them into Hootsuite and then let it do it’s thing. One of our goals for social media (really, for all of our ministries) is to stimulate growth.

At First Trinity, we recently took a spiritual life survey through Willow Creek’s REVEAL program. It helped us rethink our ministry strategy. Instead of developing programs that provide spiritual growth, we instead want to stimulate growth in people. While that might include traditional ministries like Sunday School, Sermons and Activities, it’s more important to help people take these spiritual practices outside of the church and use them on their own. A key piece of making that happen is embedding Scripture in everything we do.

To that end, we started publishing a daily Bible verse on our Facebook page. We have compiled 120 verses that we post at random. I use Excel to randomize the order, add dates and upload it to Hootsuite. Hootsuite then does the daily grind of actually posting them at 7 a.m. every morning. I haven’t done much formatting for the file, and there aren’t instructions, but you can download it here. I plan to update the sheet to make it more user-friendly in the future.

Bulk Update Resources

When I first started using the Hootsuite bulk scheduler, I found I needed to do some work to get my content formatted correctly for upload. Being somewhat of an Excel junkie, I decided what we needed was a tool to take some of the tedium and frustration out of the process. And thus was born the Hootsuite Bulk Upload Tool (download).

Currently, the file allows you to choose a start date, frequency for posting (daily, every other day, every third day, weekly), and total number of messages. You can then configure your messages by choosing a lead text (optional), message content, closing text (optional). This results in the following: [Lead Text]Message[Closing Text]. To avoid extra spaces in the final message, you’ll need to add a space after the “lead text” in the cell, and start your closing text with a space. Once you try the worksheet, it will make more sense.

After reviewing the final messages, you can add URLs (optional) and then save the file for upload to Hootsuite. All of the instructions are in the file. It’s an Excel Template, so you shouldn’t be able to easily overwrite the original. Check back here for changes to the tool in the future.

Download the Hootsuite Bulk Upload Tool v. 1.0.1

Hootsuite Bulk Upload Tool Changelog

  • v1.0 (Original Release)
  • v1.0.1
    • Added Character Count for Twitter
    • Clarified instructions to include warning that Hootsuite does not allow duplicate messages to be uploaded in the same file.

Download the Daily Bible Verses spreadsheet

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.

 

App Industry Infographic

Downtime For Your Brain

August 25, 2010

I ran across an interesting story about research about how digital devices deprive the brain of needed downtime. An excerpt:

At the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued.

Even though people feel entertained, even relaxed, when they multitask while exercising, or pass a moment at the bus stop by catching a quick video clip, they might be taxing their brains, scientists say.

I figured this might be useful when talking with those young church workers I mentioned last week.

Of course, we should take the research with a grain of salt… After all, Michigan contributed to it… 🙂