A Pastor’s Guide to Digital Outreach
By Andrea Bailey
Your church stands at a divide—the digital divide. With interactive tools like Web sites, MySpace, blogs and podcasts, churches have a historic opportunity to take the Gospel to the world, at the speed of light. But do you know how?
In 1990, British researcher Tim Berners-Lee wrote a computer program called “World Wide Web.” Little did he or anyone else know the revolutionary ways this experimental project would shape daily life some 17 years later. Today, the Internet is no longer just a research center; it’s where people live–communicating with family and friends, shopping, dating, banking, and even attending school.
So how does this watershed technology translate for you and your church—and outreach? Think about this Your church Web site isn’t just another place for information, but a connecting point for the community. Your sermon isn’t just 30 minutes of exposition for your congregation, but a podcast potentially reaching thousands. And your daily conversations don’t just happen over coffee with friends, but on your blog as you dialog with people you’ve never met—and may never meet.
But you’re a pastor—not necessarily a technology whiz. Do you know how to take advantage of these Web-based innovations? Fear not. We asked experts in every area- Web site consultant Anthony Coppedge; pastor and Reallivepreacher.com, blogger Gordon Atkinson; Digital Pastor/ podcasting expert David Russell; Lead Pastor and innovator Mark Batterson; and Web consultant/MySpace user Bill Seaver—to boil down all the tech language and complex applications to give you (or someone you know) the specific information and steps to move into the new digital age with confidence and effectiveness. Read on for your everything-you-need-to-know-to get-started guide to digital outreach.
Pastor’s Guide to MySpace- Bill Seaver
If you could take your church to one location and have access to some 50 million people, wouldn’t you do it? After all, each year churches send missionaries to foreign countries to reach certain people groups. From a missionary standpoint, MySpace.com is no less of a people group-millions of people congregate in a common place with a common means, sharing their own culture. In fact, for many 20- and 30-somethings, MySpace is their primary means of communication.
If you can get into this network and start learning the customs, you can begin connecting with the culture. Through these connections, relationships form, leading to witnessing and ministry opportunities. If you’re skeptical of MySpace as a witnessing tool, ask yourself: When was the last time I had the chance to really get inside the heads of unchurched teens and 20- and 30-somethings?
HOW TO DO IT:
Set-up Time: 1hour to complete your profile
Maintenance: 20 minutes a week to build community
1. Create a login ID on MySpace.com. You’ll use your e-mail address as your ID. Now create a password.
2. Name the profile for your church (First Church of Joliet) or for you as the pastor (Pastor Steve). I advise church staff members to each have their own profile; allowing people in their community to engage them personally.
3. Complete the information section of your profile. You’ll need about 30 minutes to fill in information about your interests, background and lifestyle. List everything from your education and marital status, to the music, books and TV shows you like.
4. Upload at least one digital image to use as your profile image. If it’s a church profile, use the church logo. If it’s an individual profile, use a picture of you. An image helps verify your identity.
5. Customize your layout. For most MySpace users, the plain white background doesn’t cut it, so do a Google search for “MySpace layouts.” Select one, then copy and paste the code into the “About” section of your profile. Make sure you paste it after the last word and punctuation mark in the section. This code gives the page a personalized look.
6. Add a song to your site. Find any musician’s MySpace page-it will have a player containing one to four songs. Under each song is a link that says “Add,” and when selected, the song automatically plays when someone visits your profile.
7. Get friends. Here’s where the outreach happens. You must send a request to add someone as your friend. Go to someone’s page and click the “Add a Friend” link under his or her picture. It sends that person a request to add him or her as your friend. That person will then accept or deny you as a friend, and if he or she accepts, his or her picture will appear in your “Friends” section, and vice versa. Other people can also request to add you as a friend-accept or deny them as desired.
8. Build community. Leave comments on your friends’ pages, and e-mail or instant message them on MySpace. Also blog and subscribe to other people’s blogs, and post your favorite videos and pictures. Guard against viruses and spyware, and monitor friends to ensure they don’t link off to offensive profiles.
Pastor’s Guide to Web Sites- Anthony D. Coppedge
Contrary to popular opinion, the outreach impact of a church Web site doesn’t depend on how “cool” it looks or how much Flash technology it has. You simply need a clean design and a smart infrastructure that tells visitors who you are.
Here’s a test: Ask someone, preferably a non-Christian who doesn’t attend your church, to visit your Web site. If he or she doesn’t immediately feel a sense of belonging—and instead feels like an “outsider”—you’re doing something wrong. First-time visitors must have a friendly, open experience with no churchy language or mention of things they don’t know or care about. I call this a visitor-centric interface. Your church’s home page must succinctly explain to a visitor who your church is and what you’re doing. This entry point is not the place to talk about the upcoming church picnic or the new building campaign.
HOW TO DO IT:
Set-up Time: A few weeks to make Web site changes
Maintenance: Every six months, overhaul your site
Your home page navigation bar or section should include five key components (buttons):
1. About us. Who you are, your service times, your beliefs, full names and contact info for all staff members.
2. Ministries. What you’re about, what you’re doing in the community and contact information for each ministry.
3. Location. Your physical address, including directions (maps.google.com). If you have more than one site, list the addresses for all the sites.
4. Look and Listen. Media downloads such as podcasts or videos to allow people to experience your church before they visit.
5. Contact Us. Your mailing and/or physical address, e-mail and telephone number. Be sure to also include the number of an on-call crisis counselor. To do this, use an 800 number that forwards to any number you assign.
Typically, don’t put more than five buttons in your navigation. If your information doesn’t fit in one of the above categories, you don’t need it on your Web site.
Then, make sure you tailor your site to your church’s target audience. Whether you like it or not, you’re going to reach a certain type of person who’s most likely to come to your church, so your Web site’s appearance should reflect this person’s interests. For example, if you’re trying to reach young families, your Web site should focus on kid-friendly offerings.
A word of caution: Stay true to your church’s DNA. Don’t put up a site that uses rock music, Flash technology and a deep radio voice if that’s not even close to the actual worship experience. Your site should look and feel like your church.
While your Web site needs to be visitor-focused, you can also create a member-friendly entry point. Design a login area, where church members who have registered for the site can enjoy a customized experience. For example, some members might sign up for information about events for the junior high ministry. The site then “sets their preferences,” and when they log on the next time, the information they requested is pushed to them. Members can also synchronize their e-mail and receive church updates automatically in their inbox. In this way, members don’t have to go through the “front door” of your Web site, which should be exclusively geared to visitors.
Most importantly, you should outsource Web site changes if you can’t do them yourself. There’s nothing wrong with admitting your church isn’t equipped to create, administrate and maintain a robust Web site. Hiring an outside company to help you get started and maintain your Web site is as important as making sure you pay the electric bill at church. Do it, or visitors will be in the dark!
PASTOR’S GUIDE TO BLOGGING-Gordon Atkinson
Soon after I started my blog, Reallivepreacher.com, I began communicating with a gay man in California who is living with AIDS. Through my blog, we began what has become a four-year friendship. Recently, he called me. I had written something on my blog that had moved him, and he phoned to tell me, “I just wanted you to know, I kind of think about myself as a Christian now.”
I’ve had a number of these types of encounters through my blog, and all of them came out of an honest sharing of who I am, instead of attempts to evangelize. I now believe, as do many pastors around the world, that my blog is as fruitful an instrument as my pulpit.
HOW TO DO IT:
Set-up Time: 20 minutes to set up your blog
Maintenance: 15 minutes a day to blog
1. Choose blog software. TypePad.com and WordPress.com offer both easy and inexpensive ways to create a professional blog. Blogger.com is free.
2. Register a domain name (such as Johnsmith.com), and direct it to your blog URL. If you switch to different blog software or another service, you’ll be able to take your name and your readership with you. Register a domain name at Yahoo.com under the Small Business section.
3. Start writing. You’re entering a system of writing and publishing that’s purely natural selection. Be honest, talk straight and write well. If your blogs are intriguing and eloquent, you’ll eventually attract readers. Make sure you include an “About” section to let readers know who you are.
4. Promote your blog. It’s rare that someone starts a blog, and a lot of people find it immediately. However, you can promote your blog by using targeted keywords in your titles, links and blog posts. Search engines like Google look for these words, and you’ll maximize the chances of your blog appearing in search results.
You can also promote your blog by actively participating in the blogging community. Some simple ways to do this:
Visit other blogs, read them and leave a comment with your blog address.
Reference, quote and link to other blogs in your blog.
“Blogroll” other writers, which means listing their blog among “favorite blogs” on your site. Understand that in the blogosphere, being blogrolled is a big deal, but when people list you, they often expect you to return the favor.
5. Use good blogging etiquette. It’s OK to give your honest opinion in a blog comment. Don’t be surprised when people do on yours. When you’re leaving a comment on someone else’s blog, realize this is not objective journalism–it’s a blog.
6. Write several times a week. When you don’t update your blog frequently, readers move on.
7. Be aware. Everything you say has consequences. In any church, pastors who write honestly about their struggles will have critics.
8. Don’t preach. The blog world is particularly sensitive to agenda-driven blogs. Instead, think “conversation” and honestly share who you are. Blogs are a wonderful way to share with people you might never meet, but remember to do other bloggers the honor of being in relationship with them.
Pastor’s Guide to Podcasting-David Russell and Mark Batterson
At National Community Church (NCC) in Washington, D.C., we are deeply convicted of the need to redeem technology and use it for God’s purposes. There’s a strong tradition for that. Gutenberg could have copied anything on his printing press, but he chose the Gospel.
And the Church needs to compete. We need to get our message into the hands of as many people as possible, and podcasts—digital broadcasts made available on the Internet—are proving very effective. If it’s worth preaching, it’s worth podcasting. Podcast your weekly messages, but also explore other types of podcasts: 20-minute motivational talks, updates, core values, leader touch-points, “radio shows.”
At NCC, we ask new visitors how they heard about us, and they often recount stumbling across our podcasts on a friend’s MySpace. Although approximately 1,000 people around the Q.C. Metroplex attend our weekly services, thousands more tune in to our weekly podcasts.
HOW TO DO IT:
Set-up Time: 1–2 hours to record your podcast
Maintenance: 1 hour a week to podcast your weekly sermon
1. Plug your microphone into your computer.
a. Recommended Mics:
i. Samson COIU (samsontech.com), $80
ii. The Heil PR40 (heilsound.com), $260
2. Open your recording application and set up the track(s) you want to record. This process depends on the software you’re using, so check the Help section for more detailed instructions.
a. Recommended recording applications for Windows:
ii. Adobe Audition adobe.com/products/audition), $300
b. Recommended Mac applications:
i. Garage Band and iWeb, packaged with OSX
ii. Apple Logic (apple.com/logic), $300 for Express version
3. Check the mic “levels” to make sure you don’t see red on the level meter when you talk, which could cause distorted output. Laugh or speak at your highest volume while checking to ensure the recording isn’t going to “peak.” Record a few seconds of talking at normal volume, then stop and play back that section. Sound good? Delete that track.
4. Prepare the room for recording. Close all doors and windows. If the room has hard floors, lay down towels or blankets throughout the room. Eliminate any other obvious ambient noise—fans, cell phones, digital watches.
5. Start recording. Keep podcasts, even sermons, to 30 minutes or less, or you’ll lose most of your audience. Begin your regular sermons with a shout-out to your podcast audience to make them feel included. When you’ve finished, press the stop button in the recording application and save the work there. Edit the track(s) if you need to add royalty-free music intros, fix speech errors or boost a weak mic signal.
6. Export the final version to mp3 format. Pay attention only to the exporting option called the “bitrate” option. The ideal bitrate for an mp3 podcast is 64 kbps on a monochannel format. The resulting clarity is near that of a CD, with a manage-able file size. Name the output file whatever you like, but keep it short.
a. CD Ripping: If you already record your weekend sermons onto CD, use iTunes or another CD ripping application to encode straight to mp3 file format.
7. Locate your Web host. This is online space where you’ll store and deliver your podcast files.
a. Recommended Web Hosts:
i. Our Media (ourmedia.org), free
ii. land1 (landl.com), $2.24/month
8. Upload the mp3 file to a directory on your Web hosting space using an FTP client.
(FTP means “file transfer protocol,” responsible for managing file transfer on the Web.)
a. Recommended FTP for Windows:
i. SmartFTP (smartftp.com), $37
b. Recommended FTP for Mac:
i. Fetch (fetchsoftworks.com), $25
Now create a folder called “podcast.” Inside, create a folder called “Audio” to differentiate between audio and video podcasts. Upload the file inside that folder. The direct link to that mp3 file will be: http://www.yourdomain.com/podcast/audio/yourfile.mp3. Make a note of that link and be precise. Capitalization and accuracy are important.
9. Deliver your audio file on the Web. Podcasting offers a method of subscription using technology called RSS or “Really Simple Syndication,” which pulls a set of data (like text, audio or video) into one place for your listeners.
Use a blogging tool like WordPress (wordpress.org) or Blogger (blogger.com) to deliver your podcast. If you don’t already have an account, sign up for one to receive a domain, such as yourchurch. WordPress.com. Log in. Now create a “post” with the title and description of your podcast. Then add that link in the description and “publish” the post. Also post the podcast on your MySpace profile.
Congratulations! You just made your podcast publicly available and simultaneously created a podcast feed. See it for yourself by going to yourchurch.wordpress.com/feed. It won’t make sense to you, but it will to podcast feed readers.
10. Let iTunes know you’re there. iTunes (apple.com/itunes) is the indisputable king of podcasting directories–it’s a good idea to be listed there. To do this, submit your podcast feed to the iTunes directory. Once your podcast is listed with iTunes, create a one-click link to the podcast and send it via e-mail or post it to your Web site, giving people with iTunes a simple method of subscribing.
You’re done! Audiences can now access your podcast with just a computer and an Internet connection. If podcasting still sounds too complex, recruit tech-savvy teenagers in your church to help. ‘
FOR A PASTOR’S GUIDE TO E-NEWSLETTERS, VISIT OUTREACHMAGAZINE.COM
This article “A Pastor’s Guide to Digital Outreach” written by various authors is excerpted from Outreach Magazine a Jan/Feb 2007 edition.
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