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Is Your Church Getting the Most out of Trunk or Treat?

  
  
  

By Emily Kantnertrunk or treat

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.

Social Media

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.

Follow-ups

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

Church Branding: Before You Pick Your Logo...

  
  
  

By Emily Kantner church brand fish

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

Why the Moms in Your Church Need Mobile Check-in

  
  
  

By Emily KantnerMom

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 resized 600

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!

Grow Your Church with Google's Ad Grants Program

  
  
  

Free Money resized 600Today'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:

adwords signup

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:  

adwords welcome resized 600

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.  

adwords setup

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:  

adwords location resized 600

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:  

adwords budget resized 600

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.  

adwords phone resized 600

Once this is done, click “Save and Continue” and you’ll move on to your first Ad Group:  

adwords group resized 600

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.  

adwords keywords resized 600

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.)

adwords dash

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.

Good Luck!

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.

Elexio Whiteboard: Ugly Church Websites

  
  
  

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. 

Video Transcription

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.

Need help with your church website? We can help! 

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

Is Your Church on Instagram?

  
  
  

By Emily Kantner

instagramMost 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.

Why Instagram?

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

 

 

8 Small Changes that Could Keep Millennials in Your Church

  
  
  

By Emily Kantner

millennial churchThe latest buzzword surrounding churches focused on growth is millennials—young adults primarily in their 20s right now.

While church attendance as a whole has seen a dip in recent years, Barna found that the number of unchurched millennials has grown from 44% to 52% in the last decade.

In an effort to appeal to the millennial population, many churches are switching up worship styles, changing service formats, and adding coffee shops. And then there are the pastors donning tattoos and a soul patch to appear relatable. Some go so far as softening their stance on hot button issues to seem more approachable and welcoming. But even that doesn’t seem to keep them around for the long haul.

Take it from a millennial—you don’t need to water down the gospel or change your identity to be accessible to that generation. But you can make a few small changes to your processes to make it easier for them to get plugged in and grow:

1. Website Presence

Whether they hear about your church from a friend or a flyer in Starbucks catches their eye, millennials will go online to learn more about your church before visiting. Once they get there, what will they find? Is your website responsive and user-friendly? Can they find the information they need like service times and what to expect? If millennials discover an outdated website, they may never give your church a chance.

2. Social Media

Is your church on social media? While not every platform is right for every church, these networks are where millennials spend a bulk of their time. Find the ones that work best for your unique situation and start engaging.

3. Connection

Millennials are relational. If they go to a church for six months but still slip out each Sunday unnoticed, there’s a good chance they won’t stick around much longer. Have you made it easy for them to find and sign up for a small group? Age-based groups are great for introducing millennials to others at the same stage of life, but don’t overlook the value of mentorship and intergenerational fellowship.

4. Service Opportunities

Most millennials have grandiose dreams of changing the world and leaving a lasting mark. While some of these goals seem lofty, unlikely even, churches should provide opportunities for them to get involved and serve. Is your church focused on missional ministry? Have you made it easy for millennials—and the rest of your church—to find service opportunities?

5. Media Center

According to Barna, 31% of all millennials watch videos online pertaining to their faith and 30% search for spiritual content online. Have you made content like sermon series and further study materials accessible from your website? You could even reach millennials across the country with video resources in your Media Center.

6. Giving Options

Along with the desire to make a difference through service, most millennials want to contribute financially to causes and organizations they care about. But a lot of them don’t carry cash and have never written a check. The option to donate online, through mobile, or at a giving kiosk—and to the fund of their choosing—will appeal to millennials who only carry plastic.  

7. Communication

Do you consider who you’re trying to reach before determining which communication method to use? Each situation will be different, but a quick text, Facebook update, or brief email is usually best for reaching millennials who are glued to their smartphones at all times.  

8. Mobile

Millennials can do just about anything on their iPhones now—look up Scripture, pay bills, interact with friends and family. So they’ve come to expect this kind of flexibility in every area of life. Your church can adjust to this shift toward mobile through a church app that allows millennials to register and pay for events, access a church directory, or listen to the latest sermon audio.

When you’re trying to engage millennials, it’s important to stay current with technology trends in order to be relevant. It’s not about getting the pastor into a pair of skinny jeans or changing the message. Millennials want transparency and authenticity. Don’t change who you are as a church or a pastor—just find ways to incorporate their expectations into your processes.

Check out some other great resources on reaching millennials:

3 Big Ideas for Your Church to Connect with Millennials

How to Use Technology to Re-Engage Millennials

Where Do Millennials Attend Church?

3 Ways to Re-Engage the Lost Millennial Audience 

 

Image credits: istockphoto.com

Collaborating with Other Churches Using ChMS

  
  
  

By Emily Kantner

ChMS conferenceProbably the most common reason pastors and church staff alike leave the ministry is burnout. With overwhelming expectations and responsibilities, life in ministry can be challenging. But every little detail shouldn’t be a source of anxiety for your team—like frustrations with your software. Find the value in collaborating with others using ChMS in their ministries to alleviate some of the stress.

No matter the size, location, or affiliation of your church, others are struggling to implement best practices just like you. Which reports are the most important to run each week? How can I utilize the software to help the assimilation process? What’s the best way to get people to use our mobile app?

These are the kinds of questions that only other people in ministry could understand. So reach out to fellow church staffers and you’ll find a great resource.

  • Share your daily struggles.

Whether you’re heading up the IT staff and you’ve got extensive technical issues to discuss or you’re pastoring a church of 50 and responsible for the entire database, other people are facing the same challenges.  

  • Learn from others’ experiences and strengths. And provide insight, too!

You may be new to implementing a kid’s check-in system, but the children’s pastor at a neighboring church is an expert—and he’d probably like to hear how you got so many people to sign up to serve in the church. Collaborate with others in ministry to diminish your inexperience or weaknesses in certain areas and help out another church.

  • Get ideas and innovate.

As you talk with others in ministry, you’ll gleam bits of knowledge and creative ideas that you can adopt at your church. And when you’re all facing the same hurdles, you can work together to find innovative solutions.

  • Find encouragement.

See how God is working in other ministries. Learn how He’s using people all over the world. You may be frustrated now, but you’ll see that others have already walked that road and can relate.

Remember that you’re not in a business where everyone needs to keep success secrets to themselves. We’re all working toward the same goal of building the Kingdom! When you collaborate with other churches you’re creating relationships, a support system, and friends.

Collaboration Opportunities:

  • Engage online

It’s easier than ever to connect with people from all over the world through blogs and social media. Check out ministry or church tech blogs. Subscribe and become active in those online communities. Sometimes you’ll learn more in the discussion that happens in the comments than from the post itself and meet some great people. Get started now—we welcome comments and conversation on this blog!

  • Connect with churches in your area or of similar size or ministry process

Other churches in your region or fellow church planters are probably addressing the same issues right now. Find them online or ask your ChMS provider for nearby references—especially if you’re just getting started with the software.

  • Attend conferences

Whether it’s conferences like Catalyst and the Global Leadership Summit or Elexio’s user conference ELEXICON 15 (Educate. Collaborate Innovate.), you can learn from the speakers AND the other attendees!  

Don’t Return to the Stone Age: Offline Church Check-in

  
  
  

By Emily Kantner

cavemen resized 600When you’re accustomed to an intuitive check-in system, scrambling for a pen and paper because the internet’s down can feel like you’re returning to the Stone Age.

After scanning your fingerprint on a touchscreen kiosk, you might as well be clocking out from the Slate Rock and Gravel Company with a slab of stone like Fred Flintstone.

But not all church check-in systems require an active internet connection to function. Some offer both online and offline function so you’re never left stranded.

Why you might need it

Whether you’re meeting at a small building in the country or a megachurch in the heart of a major city, the internet connection is not always reliable. You can invest in the best technology and a seamless set-up, but weather can be spotty—and so can your connection.

Storms, provider issues, limited internet access, and a high traffic volume could all bring your smooth check-in process to a screeching halt.

But if you can check people in offline, there’s no panic when the Wi-Fi fails–at least not for your kid’s ministry volunteers.  

What it means

1. Flexibility

You don’t need to be dependent on a fickle internet connection. Rather than relocate your kid’s ministry to be central to a router, you could station your computer or check-in system in an obscure hallway and the software would still do its job.

You might not even dream of running check-in kiosks offsite or at outdoor events with no internet access. But your church can still track attendance when you function offline. 

Portable churches face unique challenges. Connectivity can be an issue when you don’t have a permanent home. So no matter where you meet, checking people in with a system that will work anywhere is a great convenience.

2. Consistency

Most new visitors are impressed by a sleek check-in system—it means the church is current and their kids are safe. But when you’re switching from a barcode scanner one week to a tablet the next week, people might not get the best perception of your church.

3. Efficiency

If you’re using a check-in system that can only operate online, you’ll be stuck finding another way to track attendance and monitor kids when you lose your internet connection—scribbling down names, throwing improvised duct tape nametags on kids, and organizing that information. You’ll have to enter all those records into your database later, once your internet problems are resolved. But functioning offline means you don’t need to waste time manually entering data.  

How it works

A check-in system like Elexio’s is web-based, but can also work locally on a desktop or kiosk when offline. Once you have an active internet connection again, the information will sync and update your database. So your information is always available and you’ll avoid downtime even if you can’t get online.

You can’t anticipate every hiccup in ministry, but you can be prepared with the right technology so you don’t revert to the Stone Age.

Learn more about our check-in solution if you’d like to stay in the 21st century even when the Wi-Fi fails! 

Communication: Leadership Fundamentals from GLS 14

  
  
  

gls

Last week a group of our Elexio staff attended a satellite location of the 2014 Global Leadership Summit hosted by Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Community Church. One of the primary focuses of several speakers throughout the event was communication. Although a foundational element in leadership training, it is often overlooked or quickly forgotten in church leadership. But these three speakers contributed some unique thoughts and perspectives on communication in church (or business) leadership.  

1. Joseph Grenny—author, speaker, and leading social scientist for business performance discussed the Crucial Conversations of leadership from his best-selling book. He pointed out that “when the stakes are high, emotions run strong, and opinions differ, masters of crucial conversations create alignment and agreement.” And why does that matter? “Because this can foster a culture of open dialogue, mistakes are caught earlier, decisions are implemented more effectively, and innovation flows more routinely.”

2. Similarly, Patrick Lencioni addressed a lack of vulnerability in communication as one of the most dangerous mistakes in leadership. He explained that this is a fear-driven response originating from embarrassment, loss, or inferiority that leads us to guard our communication. But when we are transparent and vulnerable, we often strengthen our relationships rather than break them down. If we’re vulnerable and the relationship still dissolves, we must question how strong the relationship really was.

3. Wilfredo “Choco” De Jesus, pastor of the Chicago-based New Life Covenant Church, challenged the reason we communicate, poignantly demanding, “if you’re not going to do anything about the answer, then don’t ask.” Challenged in his own ministry to become fully reliant on the work of the Holy Spirit, he’s learned to embrace the response of people when he engages them—regardless of how absurd it may be. He provided several practical examples and proposed that with revelation comes responsibility. So when we approach communication, we must ask if it’s for the personal benefit of getting our point across or if we're truly prepared to respond to the answer we receive. It may seem like a great challenge, but that's when we need to exercise faith in our all-powerful God.

These are just a few of the powerful words spoken at the Global Leadership Summit. We pray that if you attended, the Lord has already begun to work in you and your church to help you apply these learned traits in your ministry leadership. Our team here at Elexio has been equally challenged to implement these ideas in our business. We look forward to putting the communication principles into practice as we seek to serve you into the future!

We’d like to hear—what did you learn at GLS? 

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