By Emily Kantner
Most churches are working hard to get every member of the church community involved with one ministry or another. Some screen every potential volunteer to ensure safety and a good fit while others choose to save time and money by skipping this process. After all, most churches don't have unlimited resources.
But as the need for background checks increases and the number of providers grows, the cost continues to drop. Even churches with a tight budget can afford to run background checks. In fact, they can't afford not to.
Why you should be running background checks
Many churches see hundreds of kids come through their doors each weekend. Although we’d like to think that our families are completely safe there, not everyone worshipping with us has a clean record. And some of those people are trying to volunteer within the church—including the children’s ministry.
LifeWay found that in their program, of the 142,000 background checks conducted by 7,700 churches since 2008, nearly half revealed a criminal offense, and 21% contained serious offenses including over 9,000 felonies.
God changes lives—even the lives of those who have a criminal record. But the church needs to actively seek out this information in order to keep predators away from children and protect the church community.
If you don’t do your research before opening up volunteer opportunities, your church and those who are serving could face unfair accusations and a damaged testimony. Conducting background checks and training everyone who serves will help to protect your ministry.
Parents’ peace of mind
When parents know you’ve done your homework to ensure that their kids are in safe hands, they’ll be able to focus on worship and want to come back. As the holiday season approaches and attendance spikes, make sure your church is an environment where visitors feel safe.
Background check best practices
Determine how often you’ll perform background checks on current staff and volunteers. Many organizations choose to repeat them annually, while others wait two to five years to update records. But some insurance carriers will deny coverage unless churches repeat background checks every 12 months.
You should also consider how you’ll handle any situation where someone leaves the church or takes a break from serving, then comes back. Most churches will restart the process.
Will you make each staff member and volunteer go through the background check process before they can serve or only those who will be working with children and financial information? Because many duties will overlap, enforcing background checks for everyone involved in ministry is the recommended practice.
Make sure that you’re not only running background checks on people who are new to your church but also those people who have been serving for 25 years before you implemented new standards. You might get some pushback, so help them understand the importance of these policies.
Create a process for handling results and respect the privacy of your church community. Keep hard copies in a locked file and digital records secured with a password. Limit the number of people who handle this sensitive information.
Make a plan for dealing with any unfavorable issues that come up from background check results. You may have to ask people to volunteer with another ministry because of a checkered past. Handle these situations delicately.
You’ve got a lot of options when choosing where you’ll get background checks done. Consider companies like SecureSearch that understand the unique needs of your church.
The extent of background checks will probably vary based on the person’s role, but you have a variety of resources available to you. (Keep in mind that some information also varies by state)
County and state criminal records
National criminal and sex offender database
Motor vehicle records
Employment and education verification
Develop a policy for background checks and stick to it. Otherwise people may feel like they’re being singled out or you could make an exception that could be devastating to your church.
Don’t stop there
Background checks are important, but they’re not always enough. You can do even more to make sure you’re providing a safe environment at your church.
Use discretion when assigning volunteers. Look for warning signs. Just because someone doesn’t have a record, doesn’t mean they should be working with kids.
Be smart. Avoid private one-on-one situations and always keep at least two adults in a room with children.
Be proactive and keep people accountable. Enforce a policy that requires staff and volunteers to alert the church of any arrests or legal issues.
Invest in training. Help those serving in your church know what characteristics and behaviors to look out for and how to avoid risky circumstances.
Make it easier with technology
Integrate background checks with your church management software to save a few steps and run automated reports. You’ll avoid entering those details into your database, always find the results when you need them, and have a simpler way to get updated information.
Check out these other resources on background checks and making your church a safe environment:
3 Things You Need to Know About Background Checks
Volunteer Background Checks: Giving Back Without Giving up on Privacy
The Top 5 Myths About Background Checks
Image credits: istockphoto.com
By Emily Kantner
It’s easy to be thankful when you've got a stomach full of turkey and pumpkin pie while watching football surrounded by family.
But expressing gratitude shouldn’t be limited to Turkey Day. Especially in the church, we should have a Thanksgiving mindset all year round. And that attitude of gratitude should be incorporated into your communication strategy.
Most churches depend on a team of volunteers to keep ministries running each week. You probably shoot them an email when you need help, but is recognizing their efforts a part of your regular communication strategy?
Although people don’t serve in order to receive praise, gratitude will leave volunteers more inclined to continue serving because their efforts are recognized and appreciated.
Personally thank volunteers while they’re in action. If you’re passing by the nursery on Sunday morning, take a few seconds to thank the volunteers who are changing diapers and handing out snacks.
Highlight a volunteer in your newsletter, on your blog, or with a Facebook post. Thank Sarah for her 12 years of selfless dedication to the youth group with a brief story of her experience in ministry.
Recognize volunteer efforts during church announcements. Give credit to the team that organized your Trunk or Treat outreach and feature a few snapshots from the event.
Turn the tables and host a thank you event where the typical volunteers are honored guests.
Automate. Sometimes you can’t personally thank every single volunteer, so schedule an email to participants following the Christmas cantata.
Send a handwritten card. Whether it’s a birthday wish or a simple thank you, the personal touch will go a long way in making volunteers feel appreciated.
Say thank you—without actually saying thank you. Sometimes actions speak louder than words, so show your gratitude by finding value in volunteers’ experience and understanding. Make it easy for them to communicate any needs or concerns with church leadership. Actively seek their input and take it to heart. Provide all the tools and training they need and work to accommodate their schedules.
Check out 33 Ways to Show Appreciation to Volunteers at Your Church for more ideas.
You probably work hard to bring new people into your church, but do you thank them for coming once they visit?
Thank them from the pulpit. Don’t embarrass visitors by making them stand up or raise a hand, but tell them that you appreciate them joining you in worship.
Offer them a visitor gift in exchange for some basic contact information. Check out these ideas to make an irresistible gift bag.
Follow up with them. Whether it’s a letter, a phone call, or a personal visit, express your gratitude by following up with each person that visits your church for the first time or attends an event—and make sure it’s timely.
Visit 5 Ways to Keep Visitors from Coming Back to Your Church for more tips on visitor care.
Some people think that since church staff members are getting paid for their service, they don’t need to be thanked or encouraged. But pastors and other church staff typically make some kind of sacrifice in order to work in ministry—and many will end up suffering from ministry burnout. So make sure you’re expressing gratitude to your entire team.
Stop by their offices to say thank you—especially after they just completed a major project. Show them that you see their accomplishments as important too.
Encourage the church community to thank them—and not just those in leadership positions. The secretary and IT person should be recognized too.
Automate some thank you communication. After the busyness of the holiday season, send out some emails thanking your church staff for all their hard work preparing for the musical, outreach event, and Christmas Eve service.
Make sure you’re not grossly underpaying church staff if you can afford to give them a decent wage. Just because someone is dedicated to ministry doesn’t mean his family should live in squalor.
Check out Employees Need Appreciation in Churches Too for more information.
While it takes staff and volunteers to manage the day-to-day responsibilities of your church, they couldn’t get much done without the financial support of your church community. Are you thanking the people that faithfully give?
Incorporate a thank you in the bulletin or on a slide along with your weekly giving report. This might also serve as a reminder for those who’ve neglected their giving.
Include a thank you message with year-end contribution statements. If people print their own statements online, you can send them an email recognizing their financial support over the past year.
When your church reaches a financial milestone—like paying off the mortgage or raising the funds for a special missions project—express your gratitude in an email or letter to the church community.
Make it easy for people to give. Invest in the technology that will allow your loyal donors to give when and where it’s convenient for them and make sure you’ve communicated how to use these different options.
See HOW TO: Thank Online Donors for more insight.
While you’re not going to send Him an email or tag Him on Facebook, isn’t God the one who deserves the bulk of our thanksgiving?
It’s easy to get caught up in the things we don’t have—megachurch attendance, hundreds of volunteers, unlimited resources—but we need to acknowledge all that He has given to us.
Share with your church community what God has already done for your ministry rather than solely focusing on your wants for the future. Set an example of gratitude. Regularly thank God for his provision as a church family.
Because you can’t automate those thank yous.
By Emily Kantner
Did you know that 25% of Americans will only access the internet from mobile devices? By the end of 2014, 79% of all online traffic is expected to go through mobile devices. And it’s not just teenagers—56% of American adults own a smartphone. Does your church have a responsive website to accommodate all that mobile traffic?
What is responsive design?
Responsive web design refers to a website that will automatically adjust to fit the device a viewer is using—“one site for every screen.” So whether you’re pulling up your church website on an iPhone or a desktop, you’ll largely see the same content, but in the ideal format for that particular screen size.
But we have a mobile app!
A mobile app typically provides tools like event registration, giving, and check-in for the church community. As Steve Fogg explains, church apps “are for insiders, mobile web is for outsiders. That means that if a church is on a mission it should also create an experience crafted for the great commission.”
So while a mobile app is a wise investment for your church, it’s your website that will make the first impression to potential visitors. If they’re just trying to learn more about you before they attend a service, why would they install your app—or even know you have one?
Why Responsive Design?
Some churches are sticking to their regular websites and are not adjusting to the shift toward mobile. Others are opting for mobile websites. But responsive design is still the best option for most churches.
If a website is not responsive and requires a lot of pinching or scrolling, 99.5% of mobile users will not proceed past the homepage.
A responsive design usually renders the best experience for mobile users. Mobile sites require a redirect which will slow down load speeds—and most people won’t wait. But they’ll probably stick around longer with the improved usability of a responsive website.
And with only one URL—rather than a separate URL for a mobile website—responsive websites offer simplicity to potential visitors.
A responsive site will also provide a more consistent and fluid user experience.
Although a responsive website could mean some extra work or cost for your church in the beginning, it will be much easier to manage in the long run. You’ll only have to manage and maintain one website—rather than two separate sites—and duplicate content won’t be an issue.
It also means only one SEO campaign to monitor. If you’re sending people to both a desktop site and a mobile site, you’ll do twice the work to get people there. With a responsive website, all links will go to that single site rather than splitting traffic, and your organic search traffic won’t be negatively impacted.
Responsive design is also Google’s recommended configuration. Googlebots will only need to crawl your responsive website once (rather than multiple times with different agents for a mobile site). According to Google’s Webmasters, “this improvement in crawling efficiency can indirectly help Google index more of the site’s contents and keep it fresh.”
In fact, your website could be penalized if you don’t adjust. Google is currently testing a variety of methods to help mobile users identify mobile-friendly websites in search results. But these changes could also negatively impact websites that don't respond well to mobile devices.
With 67.5% of search engine queries coming through Google, you’ll want to keep them happy.
With one URL, one set of content, one code, and one experience for all devices, responsive design is probably the best option for your church.
Check out these resources for more information on responsive websites:
Mobile Responsive Church Website Design 101
Google Hates Your Mobile Website (Here’s How to Fix It)
Responsive Mobile Design for Your Church
Some churches struggle to incorporate technology into their assimilation processes. In this whiteboard session, Rodney explains how you can simplify assimilation—drawing from Toy Story.
Elexio Whiteboard - Assimilation from Elexio on Vimeo.
Hi. Welcome to Elexio Whiteboard. If there was a top ten list of Christian buzzwords, I feel certain 'assimilation' would make the list. It's something that most churches are talking about, strategizing about, thinking about, maybe keeping pastors up at night.
Today in the Elexio Whiteboard we're going to talk about how you can use technology to leverage the assimilation process.
When I think assimilation, I think Toy Story. Now stay with me. Toy Story is actually, in my opinion, a movie in many ways about assimilation. You've got this guy, Buzz Lightyear, who joins a group of toys and he feels like a foreigner.
We're going to talk about three scenes from Toy Story that can help us see how technology could leverage the assimilation process.
The first one is Apps. As we look at it, actually the second one's Apps, and the third one is Apps. We'll get to that. It looks like I don't know how to spell, but stick with me.
The first one is Get A Process. I think of the scene where Woody calls all the toys together and he's got this crucial concern that the family is moving and he doesn't want any toy to be left behind.
I love it because in his speech he just says, "If you don't have a buddy, get one" and I would say the same thing as a church. Before you can use technology to leverage the assimilation process, you have to get a process.
The next thing I would say, once you get a process, is to Document a Process. This is, again, also not technology necessarily, but it's getting down on paper with the key leaders at your church not just big ideas about what we're going to do in generalities, but very specific things that we are going to do as a church and as a church leadership to make efforts towards assimilation.
Get a process, document a process.
Now, it's Automate a Process. Really, I say that comes in three main ways. Automated communication in the form of letters, emails and phone calls.
You may be thinking we're doing all those things right now, but if your process heavily depends on somebody, church staff or church volunteer, remembering to do these things, if you've documented that you want to make sure we send a letter in the first week, an email in the second week and a phone call somewhere in between, but you don't have any automation supporting that, you certainly run the risk of the best intentions not happening.
If we think in our Toy Story terms somebody's going to get left behind simply because automation didn't help you in the process.
This really does start to speak to what technology does your church have to be able to automate the processes you've come up with? Again, letters, emails, phone calls.
The automation process is going to depend on having technology that is flexible. Some software packages you may have or other technologies you have at your church, you may hit brick walls where you've got this wonderfully documented process, but you're not able to really translate it into automation because you're stuck with potentially terminology that is foreign to your church or processes that are very rigid in the technology.
The ability to automate it and then avoid those brick walls is going to be a real key to being able to leverage technology to serve assimilation.
Finally, the final thing says App and I'm reminded of the scene in Toy Story where Buzz arrives for the first time. As I said, that's the whole concept of the movie, there's this new toy, he comes.
When he first arrives, he's looking around and everything is very different to what he's used to and the other toys are looking at him and thinking you're very different. I can't help but think about how that is for people who visit churches.
Churches themselves are different. Your church may be very different than what this person grew up with if they didn't grow up in a church at all, and your church is serving communion and reciting prayers. There's a foreignness that has to be bridged and really that is at the heart of the assimilation process.
We have our documented, our automated, now a real enhancement to that can be and now I'm using the term properly here, gaving a church app. Having a church app is going to help you be, by default, relevant.
The degree and quality of your app is going to certainly say more and more, but just having one alone is going to help you in our culture be relevant. Getting the church app in the first place is the first step. It'll show some relevance.
I'd say the second thing that if your app, if you already have one or if you're looking to have one, the thing that you want to look for is can we communicate who we are as a church through the app? Can it say something about our church culture?
I'd say one of the great ways to do that is with video content. I think when people like Buzz, when he arrives in the room and he doesn't know what's going on, if he could pull up a video and watch and see, here's how these people interact. Here's Woody giving a speech. I would say the same thing about the people who come to your church.
If they can pull up a video that says, “There's the pastor, and here's what he speaks about,” it will help communicate your culture through a device that people are already very comfortable with. You’ve bridged the gap in many by simply having the app in the first place.
The final thing I would say that an app should have, if it's going to really help with the assimilation process, is to have your church directory accessible through the app.
You may not want that to be available for everybody who downloads your app, so maybe it's something that has to be given permission to get there, but once somebody is a part of your church being able to pull up a church directory is a great way for them to feel more comfortable.
Three ways. Relevance, culture, directory. Those are possible ways to have an app affect assimilation. In general I would say, the whole process related to assimilation, it can get a bad feeling associated with it.
When we think of assimilation we sometimes think of that movie, the Star Trek movie from back in the 1990s, I think it was called First Contact and there was this alien race called the Borg. The Borg said they were going to assimilate everyone and their general theme was your individuality will no longer be important and you'll be part of the collective. If that term starts to lean that way it could not be something you really want your church to be associated with.
When we think assimilation what we really want to think about, what I like to think about, is really one of the final scenes from Toy Story which is Buzz has been through, pretty much been through the assimilation process. He really is part of the toys. There is a scene in the end where he and Woody end up flying through the sky and there's fear, they think they're going to fall, but they utilize an individuality that Buzz brings by the wings that pop out and they're able to drift right where they want to be.
I would say that's the beautiful thing about assimilation. All of these people coming to your church, shepherded through the process that you've developed, enhanced by the app that you potentially have, so that they can take what is individual about them and make your church what it's supposed to be which is something that is pleasing to God.
Thanks for watching The Elexio Whiteboard. We'll talk to you later.
Video transcription by Speechpad.com
By Emily Kantner
It’s that time of year when churches invite their members to fill parking lots with cars covered by DIY costumes and pack their trunks with candy corn and peanut butter cups.
Trunk or Treat is about providing a fun, safe activity for kids and families in your community. If done properly, it can be a great outreach initiative.
So you’ve got the kids, cars, and candy ready to go—but how do you make sure this amounts to more than just a night of fun and nauseating amounts of sugar?
Although it’s probably a little late to begin planning or advertising for this year, there are still some things you can do to ensure a successful Trunk or Treat.
Hopefully you’ve been promoting your Trunk or Treat event for several weeks now. But even if you’re behind on the marketing, you can still use social media to attract more people—up until the day of your event!
If your church has an active social media presence, consider creating an event hashtag. You can use it leading up to Trunk or Treat, during the fun, and after the event as you share details and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
You can also create buzz by inviting people to a public event on Facebook. It’s not so much about predicting attendance as it is about creating awareness. But it will help you gauge what kind of turnout to expect.
Need some more last minute volunteers? Recruit help from your church community by sharing those service opportunities throughout your social channels. Get them involved after the event, too by having them share posts, pictures, and updates with their friends.
Before posting pictures online, make sure you have consent from parents—and watch out for license plates. Your social media activity could backfire if you don’t respect people’s privacy.
Event Day Considerations
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the event, but make sure you’re prepared with more than just some sweet treats.
On Trunk or Treat night, take advantage of the fact that hundreds of people from your local community are pouring into your parking lot. Advertise another upcoming event for kids and families so they’ll come back for more fun.
Make sure you have plenty of volunteers available to not only hand out candy and help with the grunt work of the event, but also to engage with the families and answer any questions from parents.
One of the biggest draws of Trunk or Treat is that it’s typically safer than children roaming neighborhoods in the dark. So make sure you take all the necessary precautions to ensure a secure environment for families.
Don’t miss an opportunity to learn more about the people from your local community so you can follow up with them later.
Ask parents and guardians to fill out visitor connection cards or enter their information on a check-in kiosk. Keep it short, though. You’re providing a free event to the community, so don’t make people feel like there are strings attached to your friendly gesture.
Consider allowing those cards to serve as an entry form to win a drawing–for something that is worth sharing their contact information.
Be straightforward. People will be more likely to give you their information if you tell them what you’re going to do with it. Will you send them a letter or add them to your weekly newsletter?
Use that valuable information within the next few days after your event—while the fun is still fresh in their minds. Get them entered into your database and into a workflow so they receive an automated email or letter. Have a member of your follow-up team call them. Invite them to the next family-friendly event at your church. Use Trunk or Treat as just the first step in making families familiar with your church.
Most of these ideas are perfect for other seasonal activities your church plans like a fall festival or spring fling. Throw seamless events, but make sure you focus on more on the outreach opportunities—isn’t that why you’re doing it, after all?
Check out these other resources on effective follow-up:
Fantastic Family Follow Up
Follow-up after a Church Holiday Outreach Event: Speed Dating or Relationship Building?
8 Effective Ways to Follow up with Guests at Your Church
By Emily Kantner
Whether you’re planting a church, considering an overhaul of your current branding, or you just need to make things fresh, make sure you put in the time to do it right.
Why it matters
No matter where you’re located or what you believe, people are going to form an opinion about your church. And it’s usually not based on personal experience.
The brand that you establish for your church will affect your reputation in the community, even if you haven’t put any conscious effort into creating one. You want people to hear your name or see your logo and remember you—for the right reasons. A strong branding strategy will go a long way in giving your church that credibility in outreach.
More than an ichthus
You don’t need a logo that incorporates a cross, a dove, a fish, and a crown of thorns. People will probably know that you’re a church even if you don’t pack every single Biblical symbol into your design.
Nor do you need to name your church First Community Calvary Grace Bible Fellowship. We get it—you’re a church! Keep it simple rather than trying to incorporate too many stereotypical elements into your unique branding.
But your church brand is more than just your name, logo, and color scheme. Of course those elements are all important in solidifying your branding. But before you examine your tagline and fonts, make sure you’ve identified how you want to represent your church and consider these guidelines:
1. Be authentic
While you want to attract new people to your church, you need to make sure that you’re doing it the right way. Your branding shouldn’t be a clever disguise that lures people in with false imagery and unrealistic expectations of who you are—stay true to your identity.
Consider your mission statement and what’s important to your church. If you’re having a difficult time pinpointing those unique elements, answer these questions to help you discover what the heart of your brand truly is.
2. Be relevant
Relevance doesn’t mean becoming worldly or compromising your standards—it means relating to the community you’re trying to reach. What is your church doing to meet the needs of the overwhelming homeless population in your city? How are you helping single parent families in your area? Let these kinds of considerations influence your messaging as you develop a brand.
It also means avoiding acronyms or cryptic church-speak that might alienate the unchurched. Creative names for your kid’s ministry or Sunday school classes can be fun, but make sure they’re clear enough that a first time visitor would understand.
3. Be transparent
If your church does meet a specific need in the surrounding community, express how a burden to reach troubled teens led local families to found your church. Let people know what makes your church distinctive.
Your branding should allow people to glean some insight into who you are as a church. That doesn’t mean telling your 20 year history in a logo, but that story should help shape your branding strategy.
4. Be unified
As your church considers its branding as a whole, make sure that everyone is on the same page. The sub-branding for each individual ministry should be complementary—it shouldn’t conflict with the church’s brand or compete with other ministries.
Your church should have a consistent, unified brand across all platforms, not silos that can be detrimental to the church. Once you have these strategies in place, opt for a brand guide that will keep everyone in the know.
Adapting as you grow
As your church grows, it will become increasingly difficult to enforce branding that stays true to your church identity. If you’re a multi-site church, determine early on how you’ll tackle this challenge—will each location have its own website, logo, social accounts? Even if you don’t have the resources to hire someone, entrust a single person with monitoring your brand on all levels.
Check out these other great resources on developing your church brand:
Building Your Church Brand like a President
10 Church Branding Myths
6 Ways to Create a Consistent Church Brand
By Emily Kantner
Your church has got a great check-in system: a couple kiosks, label printers, barcode scanners. But what about mobile check-in? For the sake of the moms in your church, you might want to take advantage of this convenient feature.
Just imagine a mom from your church hauling her six little ones to church Sunday morning—alone. It’s six on one. Even with well-behaved kids, those are terrible odds.
After a series of spills and tantrums, she packs the kids into her minivan and takes off for church.
Twelve are we there yets later, they pull into the parking lot. While the kids are still buckled in, mom whips out her iPhone, opens the church mobile app, and uses express check-in to get the entire crew checked in.
She unloads the van, scans the confirmation code on her phone at a kiosk inside, and grabs the printed nametags that display soy, dairy, and peanut allergies. Drop the kids off at their classrooms, and it’s on to sixty minutes of peaceful, uninterrupted worship for this exhausted mom.
But what if one of those kids dropped her brand new phone in the bathtub this morning? Rather than trying to harness six rowdy kids in the check-in kiosk line, she can walk over to a volunteer checking people in from a tablet. Tell him their names, and she’s done.
Now picture that scenario without mobile check-in. That’s when mom really feels outnumbered. Even though check-in kiosks are fast and efficient, it seems like everyone shows up to church five minutes before the service starts, resulting in a long line and congestion surrounding check-in stations. And mom is trying to keep six tired, fussy kids still and quiet until they make it to the front of the line. They sneak off, spill juice, have accidents—so mom gets the kids checked in with enough time to catch the last thirty seconds of the closing song.
Helping Your Church Community
Mobile check-in isn’t just another shiny new feature. It’s about making things practical, convenient, and easy for your church community—especially the mom who’s got her hands full on a Sunday morning. And that’s because mobile check-in:
Minimizes the number of check-in kiosks needed
Eliminates crowded check-in stations
Operates on iOS and Android mobile devices
Works even when check-in kiosks are running offline
Is included in the free mobile app with Elexio’s database and check-in
Of course the dads, grandparents, and basically everyone else in your church will be happy you made the switch, too. But it’s those moms running on two hours of sleep and a pot of French roast who will be extra-thankful for this lifesaver.
So consider adopting mobile check-in for your church, at least until moms grow three more arms or every kid in your church suddenly turns into an angel.
Now if only there were an app for that…
Want to learn more about mobile check-in? Check out the video and let us answer your questions!
Today's post is by guest blogger Nicole Kohler.
Did you know that Google gives out $10,000 in no-strings-attached advertising credit each month to nonprofit organizations – including churches? Did you also know that you can use this credit to bring new members into your church? It’s true: Google’s Ad Grants program, administered through Google AdWords, gives nonprofit organizations (including churches) up to $329 per day to place ads on the top and side of search results, driving clicks to their website…for free.
If you’re not familiar with Google AdWords, or you’d like to find out how to take advantage of the Google Ad Grants program, this tutorial should help. Read on to learn how you can grow your membership through the power of free advertising!
Who Can Use Google Ad Grants?
Free advertising might sound too good to be true – but for churches, charities, and other nonprofit organizations, it’s not. As long as your organization has a current 501(c)(3) status and has a functional website, you should be eligible.
Here are a few other things you should know about using Google Ad Grants:
Government agencies, academic institutions, childcare centers, and medical organizations can’t use the program – so promoting your church-sponsored daycare is off the table
However, according to Google, you can use the program for philanthropic education programs, including church-sponsored preschool or other learning programs
You must have current 501(c)(3) status as assigned by the IRS and a valid EIN; copies of letters from the IRS are not sufficient proof of status (pending or otherwise)
Websites that use AdSense ads or affiliate advertising, or those that request donations outside of the traditional philanthropic scope (e.g. asking for property donations), are not eligible
To remain eligible, you must actively manage your account, which Google defines as “logging in monthly and making at least one change to your account every 90 days”
You’ll also need a current Google AdWords account to take advantage of the program. AdWords, which is Google’s advertising program, is where you’ll create and modify ads, increase and decrease your ad spend, and do all other activities related to your advertising campaigns.
If you’re already running a pay-per-click (PPC) program, you’re probably fairly familiar with AdWords. But if not, this next tutorial should help you learn the ropes.
Signing Up for Google AdWords
To sign up for AdWords, you’ll first need a Google account – like one you already use for Gmail, YouTube, Google+, or any other Google service. This account will be used to manage your advertising, so choose it carefully!
Once you have your account chosen, go to http://adwords.google.com and sign in. You will be asked to sign up on a very simple screen like this one:
Choose your email address, country, time zone, and currency before clicking “Save and continue.” Once you have done this, you’ll be welcomed to an empty dashboard:
Creating Campaigns and Ad Groups
At this point, if you are planning to use AdWords only for your grant-sponsored advertising, you don’t have to do anything else. However, I would suggest playing around with a test campaign to understand how the program works, just so you know what to do when the time comes!
Click “Create your first campaign” and you’ll be sent to a new screen to set up your first advertising campaign. This will look extremely overwhelming and confusing the first time, but don’t worry: Google has great help resources, and you typically don’t need to change most of the options you see on these setup screens, either.
On this page, you’ll be prompted to create a campaign. A campaign consists of one or more ads that share one budget, and typically target one broad product or service. As a church, you will probably only ever have one or two campaigns, but ecommerce stores or manufacturers might have multiple – for example, a campaign for each group of products, or for each service they offer.
For your test campaign, you can focus on setting two parameters: location and budget. To start, scroll down until you see “Locations” and click the radio button that says “Let me choose…” This will allow you to start typing in the name of a city or area:
You can do some really great things with location targeting, as you can see in the screenshot above. However, it’s best not to be too broad, because you run the risk of wasting your ad dollars on views by those who aren’t even near your church. So pick a local city or two before moving on.
Continue scrolling down the page until you reach the bottom, where you’ll see a small box to define your budget:
Since the Grants program provides you with about $329 per day to use on your free advertising, let’s enter $329 in that box.
Below this, you’ll see a few other cool options, which allow you to add location information, links, or phone numbers to your ads. Whether you do these or not is entirely up to you. However, if you want to encourage people to call and/or visit your church, it’s not a bad idea to check the first and third options. The second option is mostly beneficial if you want to send those who see your ads to a “why join us” or other form of targeted landing page.
If you click any of these options, you’ll be prompted to fill in your location, phone number, or sitelink information. Click the “+ New” button at the bottom of each gray menu that appears to add new items, and a popup window will open to ask you for the details required.
Once this is done, click “Save and Continue” and you’ll move on to your first Ad Group:
This is where you’ll write a test ad. Google has some great examples of ads you can model yours off of, but don’t be afraid to get creative! Think about ways that you can capture the interest of potential churchgoers as they are scrolling through search results.
Finally, below this you’ll see an empty box asking you to enter keywords for your ad group. This is where you can enter the words and phrases that will help determine where your ad appears. These keywords should be pretty straightforward – for example, if you’re a church in Harrisburg, PA, you might target phrases like “church in Harrisburg,” “UCC Harrisburg PA,” “Harrisburg church,” and so on.
At the bottom of this page, you’ll see an option to proceed with your campaign and ad group and set up billing, or “set up billing later.” Click the latter and you’ll be able to view your AdWords dashboard, and explore the campaign manager and Ad Group tools, without having to pay anything. (Don’t worry – your ads won’t be active, and you won’t be charged anything.)
Spend some time exploring AdWords and getting to know the options you have available. This dashboard will be more interesting once you have actual data to look at, but it’s still a good idea to invest an hour or two in trying out different settings, adding and removing keywords, and reading up on basic PPC strategies, before you launch right into the Google Ad Grants program.
Applying for Google Ad Grants
Once your AdWords account is created, you will also need to create a Google for Nonprofits account. You can do that from this page.
After both accounts have been created, head over to this Google Support page to follow the step-by-step instructions to apply for Ad Grants.
After your application has been submitted, Google will review your eligibility and supporting documents, then contact you with their decision. If all goes well and your documentation is in order, you’ll be approved!
Once your application is approved, you’ll receive $10,000 in AdWords credit deposited into your account monthly. As mentioned, your spending limit on this credit is $329 per day (but you can spend less, or can spend all of it plus some of your own money if you want to place additional ads).
How Can We Use Ad Grants to Increase Our Membership?
So you’ve been awarded your free credit… now what do you do with it?
There are a variety of ways that you can grow your fellowship and increase interest in your church with these free ads. Here are a few ideas:
Location targeting: Perhaps the most obvious strategy, you can reach anyone who may be new to your area or searching for a new church with location-targeted ads. Target phrases like “church in (city)” or “(city) worship” to find these individuals.
Event promotion: Have a special event coming up? Whether it’s Vacation Bible School, a rummage sale, or just your annual Christmas service, you can use limited-time ads to promote it. Don’t be afraid to get broader with these keywords, or leave out the religious aspect: you’re more likely to reach people searching for “(city) rummage sale” or “Christmas services” than you are “(city) church yard sale” or “church choir.”
Donation drives: This may seem backwards, but you can absolutely run ads asking for donations. People who are searching for charities to donate their time, energy, and money to will see and appreciate your ads, provided they are for a good cause. Use your space to promote something like a church-sponsored soup kitchen or fundraiser vs your weekly collection, and you’re likely to see a higher response.
Volunteer recruitment: Need a few extra hands for an event you have coming up? Set aside some of your credit to run an ad or two asking for volunteers. If they’re looking for a place to worship, they might just stick around.
Content marketing: If you are using content marketing to reach potential worshippers, you can promote this content with your ads. Just make sure your destination URL points to the content itself, as opposed to your homepage or an un-targeted landing page – otherwise you’ll be wasting your clicks.
You can get a few more ideas on using your Ad Grants budget right here.
A Few Final Things to Keep In Mind
As already mentioned, once your ads are set up, you will need to log in once per month and make at least one change every 90 days to keep your account active. If this is not done, your grants will expire.
It’s not a good idea to “set it and forget it” when it comes to AdWords anyway, though. There’s certainly the temptation to look at Ad Grants as “free money,” but that doesn’t mean it should be wasted on ads that don’t convert or drive any interest. If an ad isn’t working – or an ad is working extremely well – you should adjust your campaigns accordingly.
Additionally, after your ads have been running for a while, you’ll find that there’s a wealth of information on your hands. You’ll be able to see which ads received the most clicks and when. Additionally, if you connect your AdWords account to Google Analytics, you’ll be able to dig deeper, learning the age and gender of those clickers, which ad landing pages have the highest engagement, and so on. This can present you with some very real, actionable information about those interested in your fellowship that can be used to your advantage in other marketing activities.
For example, let’s say you’re finding that a high number of 20-something females are clicking your location-based ads, reading your content, but leaving your site after a few minutes. If you know that females around this age respond well to email marketing, you could add a “subscribe to our email” pop-up on your content to capture their information and possibly bring them to your church, as opposed to losing their interest after a few minutes of reading.
I hope this tutorial has helped you learn about AdWords and the Google Ad Grants program. If you decide to take advantage of Google’s generous advertising credits for nonprofits, I wish you the best of luck! AdWords may seem overwhelming at first, but with a little time and experience, it can be an enormous benefit to organizations of every size and shape, fellowships included.
About the author:
Nicole Kohler is a Web Content Strategist for WebpageFX, where she spends her time writing blog posts, how-tos, and emails that help people better understand online marketing. In her free time, Nicole enjoys hanging out with her husband and pets, playing video games, and reading classic literature. Follow her on Twitter @nicoleckohler.
A lot of churches struggle to create websites with great design and function. In today's Whiteboard session, Elexio team member Rodney discusses what makes a church website ugly and what you can do if your church is making those mistakes.
Hi, and welcome to an Elexio Whiteboard. Today we are talking about ugly which can be a bit of a sensitive topic. If I'm saying your baby is ugly, or your shirt is ugly, you might feel a little offended by that. Hopefully, you won't be offended today when we talk about ugly church websites. And before you turn off the video thinking that, “Hey, my site looks great,” we're going to talk about how sites can be ugly on the outside and ugly on the inside. Let's get started with outside ugliness.
One of the fastest ways you can make your site ugly on the outside is an overuse of kingdom color. What I mean by that is there are colors that the church uses: royal blue, purple, maroon, deep red. Those are some of the colors that we sometimes associate with Jesus. It's a great thing for the Easter cantata, not such a good thing for your church website. If you've overused or exclusively used kingdom colors on your site, it's a great way to get started down the path of an ugly church website.
Let's look at number two, warped faces. You know, I love it when I go to a church's website and they've chosen to put the staff directory on the site. It's a great way to connect and feel like you maybe know these people and really get used to who the pastors are, but it can really go wrong if those faces look like this or like this. They're all stretched out one way or another, or maybe they're a little fuzzy. Well, that's a sign that when you loaded up the picture it didn't fit properly. And things go wrong when we don't pay attention to the quality of our photographs on our site. So if you're looking for ways to make sure that your church website isn't ugly on the outside, take a hard look at the photos that you are using. Are they fuzzy? Are they warped? You're down a path of ugliness if they are.
Number three, I've seen that guy. What I mean by that is in my line of work I have an opportunity to visit a lot of church websites. I'll notice that the same photos are used on different sites. And it's the use of stock photography, which certainly has its place, but if you take a look at your site and it's exclusively using stock photography, you may have a problem. Also, I would say, take a look at the churches in your area. Look at their sites. If you see some of the same pictures being used, you have the potential of ugliness on your website because you overused stock photography.
The last way that you might make your church website ugly on the outside really relates to content as opposed to design. Most of these things are about design. Papa Bear here is a way that you can make your site ugly on the outside because it has too much content. Or I might say in Papa Bear terms, it's hot with content, because we know Papa Bear's porridge was just too hot. Your home page can get in that same way if you've tried to put everything there. You're talking about upcoming events, and what your church's methods are, and beliefs are, and you've got a thousand pictures, and all those things, and you've overloaded your home page. You may have good choices here but a bad choice here, you've got Papa Bear syndrome and your website has stepped over into the world of ugly.
Well, there are potentially other ways that your site could be ugly. Here's what I would say to fix it. Gather a team of people who are willing to speak frankly about what the site looks like. Take a hard look. Look at other sites of churches in your community across the nation and then get help of some sort. There are professional organizations that can help you. Find a pathway to solve these problems. It's really not that hard.
Now, let's look at something that is a little bit harder, though. What if your church website is ugly on the inside? Now, what I mean by that is, first of all, Web 2.0, and it came and you missed it. Now, I know what some of you are doing, because you're that kind of folks. You're out looking for some update you were supposed to install to the internet that is Web 2.0. That's not what that means. It's simply a phrase to refer to a movement in websites that would make them more interactive. Think Facebook. I mean, that's the poster child of Web 2.0.
But church websites can do it as well. I'll give you an example. Wouldn't it be great if your regular attenders could hit your website and not only do online donations but be able to run their own contribution statement right from your site, and not just for things they've given online, for all types of gifts. That's a great way to simply make your website 2.0 compatible.
There's others. How about small groups? Could you give your small group leaders the ability to take attendance from your website for the small group meeting that's happening at their house? That's also a great way to make your site lovely on the inside, because it has functionality for the people who attend your church. Web 2.0 strategies, those are some things. And there are many more. Dream up what could our site be as a resource for our church. Web 2.0.
The third way, I think, your site can be or could be ugly on the inside is one size fits some. In other words, your site is one size fits some. Now, you may have already noticed on the video that I have an extremely large head. When I go to buy hats, I'll sometimes pick up a hat that says one size fits all. And I pick up the hat thinking it's going to fit great, and I put it on, and it doesn't, because it's really one size fits some. And I would say the same thing about some of your website. If your site doesn't respond well to mobile device traffic, in other words somebody visits your site through a mobile device and they have to do a lot of pinching and scrolling to make it look right and even see what the content is, your site isn't responding well to mobile devices. You can solve that problem. You can make your site, have design that fixes that problem.
The third thing that I would say could make your site be ugly on the inside is Fernando's Hideaway. Now, stick with me here. There was a skit on Saturday Night Live done by Billy Crystal, and the guy's name was Fernando. He hosted a show, and he was over the top, he spoke with an Argentinian accent, and he had a catchphrase at the end of his show. And the catchphrase was this, “I'd rather look good than feel good any day.”
And I would say that the same thing happens with some websites, and it's actually the opposite of the problems we talked about over here. You've gone so far down the path of great design that you've forgotten that 43% of the people who visit your site, any site, all church sites, those people are looking for your service times. If you've made it so cool that they don't see this quickly, you may have a site that has gone ugly on the inside because it's not helping the people who visit it.
There's other ways that you could make an ugly on the inside mistake. There are other ways you can make an ugly on the outside mistake. We've just mentioned some of them here today. The key point for all of these is you need to be the hero at your church. And I would say that you can do that simply by gathering a group of people together, taking that frank look, and then finally get some help. There are ways to help here. These are potentially a little more complex. This is one of those areas you've got to look at your church management software and see does it connect potentially with our website, and if it doesn't what are we going to do about that.
Well, I want to close by just simply saying this is Biblical. Now, I may be out there a little bit, because I know what you're thinking, “There's nothing in the Bible about good design or websites at all,” and I agree, there's certainly not. But there are things that talk about that the folks who are singers in any service where we're honoring and worshiping God, that those people should be well trained. The Old Testament specifically talks about that.
And I would say the same thing about these. This is the modern world, and if your site has ugliness in one way or another, and you're just trying to solve it on your own, you could be in danger of not having a fix. So, again, be the hero at your church. Thanks for watching an Elexio Whiteboard.
Video transcription by Speechpad.com
By Emily Kantner
Most churches have a Facebook page. A lot are busy tweeting. But the number of churches on Instagram is growing, too. Should you jump on the bandwagon?
While Facebook is still the most widely used social network, numbers on the platform have been fluctuating recently—especially among teens and millennials. As grandparents finally begin to master likes and shares, their grandkids are flocking to new social networks where they hope to find a younger, hipper crowd. Enter Instagram.
As of March 2014, Instagram has over 200 million active monthly users, and 34% of US teens and millennials (ages 14-32) use the network. These numbers continue to grow.
The growing popularity of Instagram is partly due to its appeal to our visual culture. Most people would rather look at a flashy picture than read a post. After all, isn’t a picture worth a thousand words?
Instagram introduced video in 2013, so users can now share up to 15 seconds of video content with their followers. Sure, you can share images and even longer videos on Facebook, but Instagram is solely visual—no FarmVille invites!
Instagram is also popular with the tech-savvy generations because it’s almost exclusively mobile—you can’t post pictures or search hashtags from a desktop. It’s easy to use, and the filters will make any amateur photographer feel like Ansel Adams.
And although some large national companies are dabbling in paid advertising, Instagram is not completely pay to play like Facebook. Your posts will be visible to all of your followers when they log in.
Instagram—the right way
Just like with any other social network, you should keep some best practices in mind when using Instagram for your church:
Make it easy for people to find you. Include a link to your Instagram profile on your church website along with your other social pages.
Don’t feed into the selfie craze. The occasional goofy picture of staff is ok, but your church account shouldn’t look like it belongs to a teenage girl.
Use hashtags wisely. Much like Twitter, users can search for related posts based on hashtags within Instagram. Keep them simple, limit to two or three per post, and make sure you’ve spelled them correctly before hitting share.
Use the location feature within Instagram so people can find other photos that were taken at your church.
Consider sharing some of your Instagram posts directly to other accounts like Facebook and Twitter. You’ll get more mileage out of your photos and videos which could lead to more followers.
Remember that Instagram is a fun way to interact with your church community—in addition to your overall strategy. Not everyone will be on Instagram or see every post, so this shouldn’t be the only way you communicate.
Instagram for your church
Although many churches have seen success engaging their people on Instagram, it’s not right for every church. Consider the demographic of your church and whether or not they have smartphones. Will anyone even see the posts? Also remember that while Instagram is easy to use, it’s not the most convenient to manage. You’ll need to post from the app in real time as Instagram doesn’t allow you to schedule posts or share videos and images from a desktop.
If you’ve decided that Instagram is right for your church, try some of the ideas to engage your community:
Promote a special event coming up your church. You can also share photos and video during the event plus recap when it’s over.
Recruit volunteers and tell people where you have service needs.
Introduce new staff members to the church community.
Showcase individual ministries and their leaders within the church.
Highlight an upcoming sermon series at your church to build some interest and excitement.
Show people what goes on behind the scenes of your church each week.
Provide the information that visitors would want to know if they stumble upon your profile—service times and a sense of what to expect from your church.
How is your church using Instagram?
Check out these other resources for using Instagram at your church:
20 Great Ways to Use Instagram at Your Church
8 Creative Ways to Use Instagram Video for Your Church
Your Church Should Be Paying Attention to Instagram