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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 synch 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? 

5 Tech Tips to Simplify Small Group Management

  
  
  

By Emily Kantner

church small groupSmall groups are often the glue that keep people in a church community connected—especially in large churches. But managing everything from meeting locations to group attendance can become tedious and time consuming. Try these tips to simplify your small group process by making creative use of technology:  

1. Sign-up

Make it easy for people to find the right small group and get signed up. If the process is simple and convenient, more people will get involved.

  • Kiosks  

Station kiosks within your church so people can quickly connect with a small group after the Sunday morning service.

  • Website Portal

Allow people to log into a member portal on your church website where they can update their information, give, and even join a small group. Include a map feature on the small group search so they can find one close to home. Leaders can also use this tool to share links to study materials and location details. Make sure it’s easy to navigate so people don’t get frustrated and leave your website without getting connected with a group.

  • Mobile

Whether on your church’s mobile app or a smartphone-friendly sign-up through your website, adjust to the shift toward mobile and allow people to find a small group on the technology that’s always by their side.

2. Attendance

Small group leaders can log into the website portal to enter attendance records from each meeting rather than jotting down names in a notebook. If your church utilizes a check-in system for nursery, this same technology can help you quickly and easily manage attendance for your small groups.

3. Reporting

Run reports to find out how many of your people are involved and regularly attending a small group—this is crucial information for pastors and staff trying to gauge the spiritual growth and discipleship of their members. You can set goals for the percentage of people participating in a small group and monitor those statistics.

4. Mass communication

Rather than rushing to make phone calls to 15 people when you have to cancel this week’s small group, contact everyone immediately through mass communication tools. Shoot a quick text with last minute information or send an email to all participants so they know what to bring to the next meeting. Always consider a few important factors—who you’re trying to reach, what the message is, and when they need to know the information—to determine the best method of communicating with your small group.

5. Integrated ChMS

An integrated church management software will incorporate all of these features and provide you with some great insight when planning for future small groups. If you’re taking full advantage of the software, you can use the information you’ve collected to find new people to lead small groups based on their gifts and the ministry roles they’ve served in the past. You can also reference notes to choose topics that match the needs of your people—if you find that several people are struggling with addiction, it may be a good focus for a small group.

Ready to get started? Check out these other resources for more small group tips:

5 Steps for Starting a Small Group Ministry

You Know You Have the Right Small Group System When…

Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups—Lots of New Groups

5 Ways to Keep Visitors from Coming Back to Your Church

  
  
  

By Emily Kantner

church welcomeYour church would never post a sign telling people they aren’t welcome, but could you unknowingly be giving visitors the same impression by the way you’re treating them?

Here are five things NOT to do if you want to see visitors return to your church:

1. Make them feel like outsiders

Have you ever been to a party where everyone is laughing about an inside joke, but no one bothers to fill you in? Makes you feel pretty uncomfortable, doesn’t it? Don’t do the same thing to the people visiting your church. Avoid using obscure acronyms and evasive ministry titles in the bulletin or when delivering the announcements. Visitors may not know what an ABF is, but if you explain the opportunities to get involved with a small group, they’ll understand.

2. Forget about them

I once visited a church and filled out a form requesting more information and provided all my contact details. I never heard back from them. Nothing. It left a bad taste in my mouth, and I didn’t want to go back.

Don’t make this same mistake. Show people that you have a genuine interest in them and help them learn more about your ministry—and don’t wait too long. Nearly 90% of church visitors will return if someone follows up with them that same day. That number drops to 60% if you wait 24 hours to make contact. 

All of this follow up doesn’t need to—and often shouldn’t—be made by the pastor. Depending on the size of your church, delegate follow up to teams of volunteers based on location, demographic, or special interests. If you’re going to follow up in person, consider taking a small gift and be prepared to answer any questions they may have.

3. Be pushy and pressure them

While you should provide visitors with information on how they can connect and get involved with your church, don’t force them to sign up for a small group, the church picnic, and 15 ministries on their first visit. They shouldn’t feel like they’re signing their lives away, and you don’t want them to say “yes” out of guilt or obligation.

But you can help them with the next steps if they’re interested. Offer more information about the church and its ministries. Answer questions. Let them know the best way to get involved. Determine the next step you’d like them to take—attend a visitor’s luncheon or informational meeting—and give them an easy way to sign up.

One of the biggest complaints of the unchurched is that they believe churches only want their money. While you’re actually passing around the offering plate for your members to conveniently give, some visitors feel uncomfortable letting it pass by without dropping in a donation. Consider nixing the traditional offering in favor of giving kiosks, online giving, or an offering drop in the foyer.

4. Neglect them

If a visitor walks into a church of 75, everyone will likely notice. But recognizing visitors in a church of 7,500 can be a challenge, especially when you host multiple services.

So create a welcoming atmosphere from the time they walk in the door. A smiling face and kind word can make all the difference. Make sure you have friendly greeters stationed at the entrances—but don’t stop there. Encourage everyone in your church community to reach out and introduce themselves to people they don’t know. Avoid questions like, “Is this your first time here?” that might insult a longtime attendee. Opt for “I don’t think we’ve met yet” and a cordial introduction.

While we don’t like to compare church to a business, you really are trying to make a great first impression to visitors in order to sell them on your church. So think about a great customer service experience you’ve recently had—how did that coffee shop or bookstore make you feel valued? How can you recreate that positive experience for your visitors?

5. Keep them in the “visitor zone”

When people keep coming back to your church, don’t be afraid to move the relationship forward—they probably want to be more than just visitors. Let them out of the visitor zone!

  • Encourage them to check in from the very first time they visit—you’ll get their information for follow-up communication and help them make attendance a habit. Show visitors that you do want them to attend regularly.

  • Treat people like they’re more than just numbers. Form relationships with them. Help them get connected to a small group where they can grow and engage. If they find just five friends through your church, they’ll be less likely to leave.

  • Once they’ve decided to become a part of your church community, don’t make it easy for them to just blend in. Whether it’s attending a Sunday school class or serving in a ministry, keep them accountable and don’t lower your expectations. Thom Rainer has found that people generally don’t want to be active in a church that expects nothing of them. When people can just coast along unnoticed, that’s when you’ll see a higher turnover.

Check out these other great resources for more insight on church visitors:

6 Ways to Follow up on First Time Church Visitors
Church from a Visitor’s Perspective
How to Engage Church Attendees…Easter and Beyond 

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

 

 

Is a Church Check-in System Really Worth the Investment?

  
  
  

By Emily Kantner

check-in valueSwitching to a church check-in system would cost more than the pen and notepad you’re using right now. You also have to account for the hardware to use these programs. So is it really worth the cost from your church budget? What does a check-in system really have to offer?

The kids

Probably the greatest reason for implementing a check-in system at your church is to keep kids safe and accounted for. Even in this typically secure environment, a slight risk always exists. Someone could slip in the back door and try to lure children out of the nursery. Parents in the midst of a custody battle could discreetly pick up children when there’s no system for recognizing authorized guardians. But a poor check-in process—or none at all—should never be an excuse for child abduction. You can’t put a price tag on kids.  

Children should also be safe from any medical concerns when they’re in the hands of your kid’s ministry volunteers. About 8% of children have a food allergy. With snacks being passed around, your church needs an effective way to monitor which kids are at risk of developing a serious reaction should they get their hands on one of these treats. Allergies, medications, and health conditions can easily be documented and monitored with an effective check-in system.

Your church

If a child is hurt or abducted while in your care, the church could be held legally responsible. Without a check-in system in place to drastically reduce the chances of an emergency situation, your church could be left financially devastated. The reputation of your ministry is also at stake—visitors should feel confident leaving their children in the hands of your staff and volunteers. To keep them coming back, show them you value the safety of their children.

Whether you see 15 kids each Sunday or 1,500, a check-in system can lead to better organization for your church. Writing names on masking tape and sticking them on the backs of active toddlers is a quick way to lose track of children. Lists and clipboards leave a messy paper trail and even more work for your volunteers. But a touchscreen kiosk? That leaves volunteers to interact with the kids—not office supplies.

Not just for the kids

When most churches search for a check-in system, they have kid’s ministry in mind. But check-in can help streamline processes throughout your entire church.

Rather than passing attendance forms down the aisles and distracting from worship, utilize check-in stations to track attendance for weekly classes, small groups, and special events. Utilize a label printer to provide nametags for participants at a conference and simplify the entire process.

Have your volunteers check in when they arrive for duty at the nursery or welcome center. Track their service so you know who’s showing up and what areas of ministry fit each person’s unique gifts. Utilize this information to thank volunteers and reach out when your church has a need for help.  

Speed up the process by allowing entire families to check into multiple classes in a matter of seconds. You can control which events and classes are available to each person based on age, gender, or other criteria. So if mom is checking in for the family, she’ll be reminded of the ladies’ brunch—but this wouldn’t be an option for her husband or kids.

Get the most out of your check-in system

  • Integrate your check-in system with your ChMS to eliminate repeat data entry—your records will be automatically updated

  • Custom brand your check-in stations with images, colors, and logos unique to your church and its various ministries  

  • Take advantage of the multiple secure access methods—fingerprint, barcode, pin number—so people have quick options for checking in

  • Utilize a label printer to print nametags for children—including medical information—and security receipts for guardians

  • Track attendance and volunteer participation to help you gauge the discipleship of your church community

  • Send out follow-up communications based on attendance at events and services

  • Allow check-in offline when you don’t have access to an internet connection or lose power and your database will update once you reconnect

  • Train your volunteers and staff to effectively use this resource

Want to learn more about how a check-in system can help your ministry? Get started! 

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

Should You Text Your Church Community?

  
  
  

By Emily Kantner

texting churchAs of this January, 90% of American adults own a cell phone, and 81% use their phones to send or receive text messages.

Most people keep those phones within arm’s reach all day—and night. On average, they look at their phones 150 times each day—whether or not a call, message, or alert has come through. In fact, 75% of Americans won’t even make a trip to the restroom without that connection to the world.

While this reliance on technology can be a challenge to overcome when leading a worship service or teaching a room full of teens, churches can take advantage of the texting craze to communicate with their people.

Why texting?

Texting can be quick—for both the sender and the receiver. Traditionally limited to 160 characters, texts can communicate a brief message in a matter of seconds. And unlike emails that may go unnoticed for hours or days, they’re usually read within 5 seconds.  

That’s why text messages are ideal for short, timely alerts like cancellations, reminders, and emergency notifications. If a service is cancelled due to icy roads or a small group has to switch its meeting location last minute, shoot a quick text to all participants. The timeliness of these mobile communications can prevent the frustration of people showing up to an empty building because they didn’t get the memo.

Texting doesn’t have to replace all other methods of reaching people—it can complement your existing communication process. For years Facebook stood as one of the greatest ways to notify people of urgent information. But with recent algorithm changes, your updates are getting through to fewer and fewer people. So adding a text to the mix will increase the number of people you can reach in just a short time.

While texts should be concise, sometimes you might want to expand upon the message. You can include links to more detailed information on your website—and now that 58% of cell phone owners have a smart phone, many people can easily access those links. They’re actually almost five times as likely to follow that link in a text message rather than an email.

Whether you’re contacting 7,000 church attendees or 15 small group members, mass texting can simplify the communication process. This tool is available as a free resource from Elexio for churches that use our ChMS. You can text everyone in the church who has a mobile phone number listed, or communicate with a smaller group or list of people based on certain criteria. It’s a fast and flexible way to stay connected with your community.

Before you get started…

  • Have people opt in to receive your texts or at least inform them that providing a mobile phone number will automatically sign them up for those alerts unless they opt out. Some people don’t have unlimited texting and could be faced with unexpected fees if you don’t give them proper notice.

  • Although you want to maintain this form of communication, make it easy for people to opt out of texts if they prefer other contact methods.

  • Properly manage the phone numbers in your database so you’re not trying to text a landline or a phone that can’t receive text messages.

  • Don’t spam people with repetitive, unimportant text messages. People will quickly opt out to avoid these annoying texts.

  • Avoid the junior high text talk—TTYL, LOL, JK—but do get to the point and keep messages as brief as possible. Always proofread before you hit send and look for any spelling errors.

  • Remember that texting is ideal for brief, time-sensitive alerts that don’t require a personal interaction. Don’t send long texts that might break into multiple messages or discuss serious issues that demand a face-to-face conversation.

  • Consider the demographics and technical ability of your individual church community before implementing this strategy. Texting is probably not the best solution if your congregation still prefers rotary phones. Do they own cell phones and know how to text? Is mobile the best way to reach them?

When you’re in a pinch and need to reach your church community fast, why not send the message directly to their fingertips?

Check out some more information on texting and mobile technology for the church:

5 Reasons Your Church Should Consider SMS Text Messaging for Outreach

How to Engage Your Church Community through Mobile

Mobile Technology and the Church 

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

How to Navigate the Church Blogosphere

  
  
  

By Emily Kantner

church blog

With millions of blogs now online and hundreds of new ones popping up each day, many churches are jumping on the blog bandwagon. And this trend is here to stay—at least for a while. If you haven’t started blogging for your church already, should you? And how can you use a blog to effectively complement your ministry?

Should your church have a blog?

  • Consider your church community. Look at the demographics. Are they online and tech-savvy? Will they read your blog? If most of your members don’t even have internet access, a blog may not be the most effective tool for your church.

  • Do you have the time and resources to effectively manage a blog? If you’re going to tackle blogging, you should be able to post on a regular basis and closely monitor any comments it triggers.

  • Do you—or the person who will spearhead this project—possess the writing abilities and knowledge to manage a blog? Writing a conversational blog requires a style that is very different from a theological dissertation.

If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then a blog is probably a great option for your church!

The benefits of a church blog


  • A church blog that produces relevant information will create community, engagement, and conversation. You’ll get people to think and interact with each other as they sort through the details. People across the country or globe might even discover your blog—people who would never enter your physical church but can still become a part of your online community.
  • Great content will reinforce the reputation and reliability of your church. Consistently writing about specific topics could eventually make you a ministry expert or at least build credibility.  
  • A blog can drive traffic to your website and result in better Google search rankings. New content—especially when written with SEO in mind—can improve the visibility of your website to people looking for a church.  
  • It is an affordable and relatively simple way of reaching people. Whether you use WordPress or a blogging tool within your CMS, the time investment of a blog is usually the greatest expense.

Blogging best practices         


  • Keep in mind that a church blog is not an online bulletin board or event calendar. Use it to delve deeper into the Sunday morning topic. Highlight the impact of a specific ministry or volunteer. Share what God’s been teaching you through a Bible study. But don’t let your blog turn into a boring announcement page.
  • Come up with an attention-grabbing headline. You can ask a question, offer a how-to, or explore the 10 tips to XYZ—list posts and bullet points are easiest to read! Convince people that the post will be worth their time so they click. But don’t be clever at the expense of clarity. Tell them what the post will be about in an interesting—and keyword-friendly—way.
  • Write for the average person in your church. Don’t try to impress people with big words or overly deep theological concepts. Keep a conversational tone and loosely follow spelling and grammar rules—it’s ok to end a sentence with a preposition if it sounds natural! While you should consider SEO, don’t write keyword-heavy posts for robots. If you’re producing well-written, useful content, Google should be happy.
  • Dedicate adequate time to your blog. Monitor and respond to comments quickly—you don’t want your blog to look like a ghost town! Determine how often you will blog and stick to it. Consistency in posting is more important than frequency. You could start off with one post per month and gradually work your way to a weekly post.
  • Include a photo with a keyword-rich description in each post. Like an intriguing headline, an eye-catching image can increase the interest in your blog post and improve SEO. But be mindful of licensing issues when using images you find online. Consider taking your own photos—you don’t need to be a professional photographer—or purchasing them from a site like Lightstock to avoid any legal problems.  
  • Make it simple for people to subscribe to your blog and share the posts via social media. While you should promote your own posts through these channels as well, you can only reach a limited number of people. But when others can easily share your content, your audience immediately grows.
  • Try out some of these ideas when your blog is stuck in a rut or just getting started:
    • Embed a video that relates to your topic within the post
    • Ask someone from within the church, another ministry leader, or an expert on a specific topic to guest post on your blog
    • End the post with a question to spark a conversation in the comments
    • Share links to other sites and further study materials

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see much traffic on your blog right away. Be patient until it catches on—it can take up to a year or longer to establish your online community. Continue to regularly post good content, and the people will come.

Check out these other resources for some more insight on blogging for your church:

4 Reasons Your Church Should Blog

Should Your Church Have a Blog?

Why Your Church Desperately Needs a Good Blog

7 Reasons Every Pastor Should Have a Blog

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

Does your small church need ChMS?

  
  
  

By Emily Kantner

small churchWhile most discussions surrounding modern ministry turn to packed megachurches, not much attention is given to those that make up the majority of churches in America. According to the National Congregations Study, the average Christian church has 186 regular attendees. And 59% of US churches have 99 or fewer in weekly attendance.

Although small churches may not have the same number of resources and members as a larger church, technology like church management software can still be a valuable tool for them. But taking the step to a ChMS is a major decision. If your small church is considering the move, check out the answers to these four common questions:

1. Does my small church really need a ChMS?

Many small churches may think that a ChMS is unnecessary because of their size—they only have 75 members, so why would they need the same technology as a church of 7,500? But the basic processes that shape how the church operates are the same whether you’re a small congregation or a megachurch.

Every church still needs an organized method for managing membership records, events, and communication. Small churches have donations to record and ministry roles to fill. Just because your country church sees humble attendance numbers doesn’t mean your ministry is any less important than the large urban churches.

In an effort to save money and resources, many smaller churches will turn to a program like Excel for managing all of their church data. But as more and more information is added to the mix, records can become overwhelming to manage in this format.

By streamlining processes with a ChMS, churches can better care for visitors, members, and volunteers. They can easily follow up and monitor the discipleship process. So people aren’t just visiting your church—they’re staying and getting connected. And your church starts to grow.

2. Can my small church afford a ChMS?

Don’t be scared away by confusing pricing pyramids and numbers that seem to exhaust your church budget. The price you pay typically depends on the size of your church—average weekly attendance, for example. So the cost for your small church would be much less than your large counterpart. And many providers, like Elexio, offer special pricing for church plants.

While an added cost each month could seem like a drain on your finances, consider the time your staff and volunteers will save on one-time data entry. When everything is in the same place, you can work efficiently and dedicate more resources to discipleship.

Many churches that adopt church management software and its added giving options also see an increase in donations. People are more inclined to give when it’s easier for them, so the ChMS often begins to pay for itself.

Open source software has become popular among smaller churches because free sounds like a great price. But understand that these products can cost the church in the long run—in more than just financial ways. They often don’t have the funds or manpower to keep the technology current, make bug fixes, or provide support. If you opt for an open source software now, you may eventually need to make the switch to a paid ChMS.

3. How do I know which ChMS is right for my church?

While cost is certainly going to come into play when selecting a ChMS, the price tag should not be the only determining factor. Church management software is not one-size-fits-all. As a small church, you should look for a solution that’s simple enough to use for the basic functions you need right now but can still grow with you. Will it integrate with other solutions when the church grows, yet allow you to engage and connect as you do now?

Some other important questions to consider—especially if a non-tech staff person or volunteer will be managing the system—are: Can they offer the personal support you need? Can you contact them in a variety of ways and expect a timely response? Is it easy for staff and volunteers to use, yet powerful?

4. How can my small church get started?

  • Make sure you have the resources to effectively manage a ChMS database. Even the best solutions will have a learning curve and require substantial time to manage. Recruit the help you’ll need to get started—staff or volunteers who can dedicate the energy needed to effectively use this tool for your ministry.

  • Do your research and take advantage of free demos to find the best fit for your church. Ask questions. Read the reviews. Choosing a ChMS for your church is an important decision.

  • Pray and seek advice as you narrow down the list of contenders. Hopefully you will stick with your ChMS for years to come, so you want to find a good match for your ministry.

Would you like to learn about how Elexio can help the small church? Get started now!

Check out some other great resources for the small church:

Stretchy Software: ChMS that Grows with Your Small Church

The Innovative Small Church

Too Small to Buy Church Management Software? 

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

The 10 Commandments of Church Twitter Use

  
  
  

By Emily Kantner

iStock 000021682373Small resized 600According to a study from ROAR, 77% of churches are using Twitter—second only to Facebook and ahead of other social networks like Instagram and Pinterest. But while some are effectively using Twitter to engage their church community, many churches are struggling to make sense of the platform. Twitter can be a great communication tool for ministry as long as churches avoid breaking these 10 commandments:

1. Thou shalt not be willy nilly

When diving into Twitter, Facebook, or any new platform, developing a strategy is crucial. And this social media strategy should fit within the overall marketing plan for your church. Don’t just jump on Twitter because that’s what everyone else is doing. Does it make sense for your church? Is the community you’re trying to reach there? Do you have the resources to effectively manage it? A lot of churches can answer yes to these three questions. But they still need to determine how to create tweets that will complement their other efforts, leading to engagement and awareness.

 2. Thou shalt not be an egghead

Utilize the image blocks on Twitter to include relevant profile and header photos. If you don’t, you’ll forever have the image of an egg or some other default avatar representing your church. When people see this, they’ll assume the church either doesn’t use the account or doesn’t know what they’re doing—and they probably won’t follow you.

 3. Thou shalt not be mysterious

Your church may have a unique name, but did you know there are about a jazillion named “Calvary Church” or “Faith Fellowship?”  And that’s ok—they’re great names! But how will people know if they’ve found your Dallas campus or a church in Idaho? Complete your Twitter profile by using the bio portion—tell them who you are and where you’re located and link to your website

 4. Thou shalt not grow cobwebs on Twitter  

Just like with other social media outlets, you should maintain consistency on Twitter. Don’t tweet 25 times one day, and then go silent for two months. This is a surefire way to lose followers. Establish some type of schedule or guideline—like 5 tweets each day—and stick with it.

 5. Thou shalt not be a robot

Automation tools can come in handy for organizations like churches—but be careful not to over-automate. Some things can only be shared in real time. If people always see stale content on your Twitter because you scheduled your tweets two months out, they’ll probably unfollow you.

Keep track of current events and be practical in order to stay relevant to your online community.

During a national tragedy, a silly post or a funny picture of the pastor would be inappropriate. Even when otherwise harmless, tweets that have been scheduled should be reevaluated in these kinds of situations.

Your church should also avoid auto-following anyone who follows the church. Take a look at the profiles before follow backs. Do they seem like legitimate accounts? Or are they sending out spammy links? Creating community through mutual relationships is great, but be sure to protect your church from fake accounts.

Finally, avoid sending canned private messages to new followers—especially asking them to like your Facebook page or take some other action immediately. They just followed you on Twitter, so prove that you have something to offer them before asking for more.

 6. Thou shalt not use Twitter as a boxing ring

People expect churches to hold firmly to certain values. And you should. But that doesn’t mean you should employ your Twitter account to debate eschatology and hot topics with strangers. These discussions can get heated, and the last thing you want to do is scare people away from your church because you lost your cool in a tweet war.

 7. Thou shalt not be anti-social

Sometimes in the mad dash to come up with clever, relevant tweets, churches forget that Twitter is a social network. You’re supposed to engage with your community—answer their questions, thank them for retweeting your content, and sometimes even respond to their criticism. Rather than break the sixth commandment (on this list, but please don’t murder anyone either), kindly respond to any negative words and direct the conversation offline if possible: “We’re genuinely sorry you had a bad experience at Faith Church. Please see the private message we just sent you so we can fix the situation.” Follow up with those who aren’t just trolls, and they may become your greatest cheerleaders after you make the effort to clear things up.

 8. Thou shalt not toot thy own horn 

In the age of selfies, it can be difficult to remember that social media was not designed for self-promotion. Make sure your church demonstrates humility by not just pumping out its own updates, but also sharing information from others that would be useful to your audience. Don’t become your own graven image or retweet every positive comment about your church. Focus on your community rather than vanity metrics like number of retweets or shares.

 9. Thou shalt not host a takeover

Remember that the church Twitter account should be about the church. It’s great to post a photo of the staff or share what the day-to-day operations of the church look like. But don’t get carried away. Some churches run out of ideas, so the pastor starts posting selfies or the secretary tweets out photos of her lunch each day. Keep in mind that this isn’t a personal account, and your community is looking for relevant, useful information about your church—not pictures of a bologna sandwich.

 10. #Thou #shalt #not #use #9 #hashtags #in #every #tweet

Please don’t hashtag every single word in a tweet. And please don’t hashtag words like “thou” and “use.” Even though hashtags have been around for a few years and are becoming popular on multiple platforms, many people still don’t understand the concept. They were intended to make it easy for people to find more content on the same topic. So if your church is tweeting the link to a sermon on being a witness for Christ, then try a hashtag like #saltandlight. But what are the odds anyone is searching for #wecantwaittoseeyouatcommunitychurchonsunday? (I bet you had to try a couple times to even read that!)

If you have a decent following on Twitter, consider using a custom hashtag for a church event or campaign. For example, when hosting a large conference, encourage attendees to tweet live with a hashtag like #CCC2014. It will get people engaged and create buzz around your event.

The key here is to always use hashtags wisely and sparingly. Limit yourself to two or three max per tweet.

 

Check out these other great resources as you develop your church Twitter strategy:

Top 10 Things Churches Need to Know about Twitter

Twitter’s New Profiles: Everything You Need to Know

Ten Things Not to Do on Twitter 

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

The Cookie Threat: Allergy Awareness in Kid’s Ministry

  
  
  

By Emily Kantner

church cookieWhenever I think back to my time in nursery or children’s church, I can’t remember much about the Sunday school teachers or the flannel graph lessons. Call me a heathen, but I remember snack time. Animal crackers or those generic-brand Oreos? I could take them or leave them. What I wanted were the ring butter cookies—they were snacks and accessories. And a couple times a month, every kid got a few of these golden goodies to eat (or wear), no questions asked.

With a sister who suffers from Celiac disease, I wonder what would happen if these gluten-filled treats got into the wrong little hands. Such food intolerances are a serious issue, but allergies could lead to significant medical problems or even death.

Allergy awareness has come a long way since I was a toddler, but many churches are still struggling to properly care for children with special dietary and health requirements.

The Facts

According to a 2009-2010 study, about 8% of children have a food allergy, and 38.7% of them have a history of severe allergic reactions. Those numbers seem to grow every year—approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011.  

90% of all food allergies are attributed to eight foods: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. Makes you rethink the choice of cheese crackers and chocolate chip cookies as the snack choice, doesn’t it?

Many children also suffer from allergies to non-food items like latex, medication, and creams you may be using in the nursery.

Even beyond allergies, specific medical needs can leave kid’s ministry a hotbed for potential danger.

The Concerns

The greatest concern, of course, is child safety. No ministry wants to see a child rushed to the emergency room because of an unknown health condition or an allergen-packed snack.

But beyond the immediate safety of children is the concern of their parents. They should be able to trust your staff and volunteers enough to feel comfortable leaving their vulnerable kids in their hands. You want them to be able to leave any concerns at the door so they can focus on worship, fellowship, and their own spiritual development. Especially when dealing with visiting families, you should show credibility in these areas so they keep coming back.

The liability of the church and its volunteers is also at stake when dealing with allergies and medical conditions. Should a child have a serious reaction, the church could face legal consequences—beyond the tragedy that a little one was harmed. A lack of awareness and one incident could be devastating to a ministry.  

The Solutions

Although there are several things that could go wrong, churches can prepare and equip their people to deal with children’s medical issues.   

Utilizing a check-in system that prints labels for children that can include allergies, medical needs, and any special instructions is one of the best ways to prevent any health scares. Parents won’t have to worry about personally telling every nursery worker about Billy’s soy allergy, and the critical information will follow him wherever he crawls. Ministry staff won’t need to keep a mental list of which kid has which allergy—they can simply check each label before handing off a treat.

Churches should also provide volunteers and staff with the proper training to understand allergies, intolerances, and other health concerns. Awareness is key. The problem is much more serious and sensitive than most people understand—just a trace of eggs or contact with peanuts could be enough to trigger a reaction. Make sure workers always double-check the labels for hidden ingredients—different brands of the same item can contain very different ingredients. Allergens find a way to sneak into most foods where you’d never expect to find them. Proper protocol may require more than one kind of snack available, and some churches are eliminating them altogether. Always require anyone who will be in contact with children to wash their hands, as cross-contamination can also lead to problems.

Being proactive is most important, but accidents happen. So learn to be reactive as well. Along with prevention training, ensure at least one volunteer or staff member in attendance knows how to administer epinephrine and CPR, and always keep first-aid supplies nearby. Develop an emergency response plan, and contact parents or guardians immediately after an incident occurs—never try to hide and solve the problem without involving them.

Get started with a church check-in system today and take advantage of some other great resources:

Allergies in the Classroom

Why Your Church Needs a Plan for Allergic Reactions

Food Allergy Basics 

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

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