Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Facebook Page

Techno Deacon Recommended:
Yes, a great way to highlight your ministry's happenings for others where they already are.

Free (unless you want to pay to advertise your page)

If you are interested in how technology might best serve your church, it is safe to assume that you have at least heard of Facebook. Comparing official Facebook and U.S. Census statistics, there are more than 500 million unique Facebook users, which works out to being 7% of the global population. Although that is a surprising fact in itself, it is more noteworthy that there are more than 146 million in the United States and almost 17 million in Canada, which means that 47% of the United States population and 49% of the Canadian population are on Facebook. Although these statistics indicate that slightly over half of Americans and Candians do not make use of Facebook (and, therefore, your church should not rely solely on Facebook for fear of isolating and neglecting half your church), it is remarkable that almost half of these populations do make use of Facebook.

Facebook Pages (Page) can provide your ministry with some of the tools it needs to help interweave the life of the church with the lives of church members and to help church members invite their friends into the life of the church. Once you set up your Facebook Page, the members of your church can become "Fans" of the page by clicking the ubiquitous "Like" button. Once they have done this, everything that you do with the Page will automatically begin appearing on their "News Feed," a feature that highlights interesting developments among a Facebook user's social network when they first sign in to Facebook.

Features (and a few suggestions on how you might use them):
1. Announcements: When you post a "Status Update" on your Facebook page, that update will be posted prominently on your Page's "Wall" (the first thing people see when they visit your Facebook Page) and will be distributed to the News Feeds of all of the church members who have become Fans.
How you might use it: Whether you want to quickly distribute a passage of Scripture to help prepare people for Sunday Worship, let people know that the church will be closed today due to weather conditions, put out a call for prayer on an important issue, or send out a last minute reminder about an event, you could do it with Status Updates. You can't expect to reach everyone in your church this way, but you can expect this to help reach some people.

2. Events: Facebook Pages offer you an easy-to-use platform for listing your ministry's events. Within one or two minutes, you can provide the information on what event is coming up, when and where it will take place, provide a snazzy picture to help communicate what will be taking place, and send a Facebook invitation to every Fan of the Facebook Page. When the Fans (i.e. your church members) RSVP for the event, they will be reminded as the event approaches and offered the opportunity to send out invitations to their own Facebook Friends.
How you might use it: Your church will be meeting next Saturday at a local park to distribute meals and clothing to people in the community who are in need. You list the event on your Facebook Page and invite all the church members who are fans of the page. They RSVP as "Attending" and some of them invite their unchurched friends. As Tuesday approaches, those who have RSVPed are reminded of the event and of the need for donations.

3. Sharing Photos: Although there is no shortage of photo-sharing resources on the internet, Facebook offers a highly intuitive format for uploading photos, organizing them into albums, providing them with captions, "Tagging" the individuals in the pictures (telling who the people in the picture are so that the pictures also are available from their individual Facebook Profiles), and sharing the photos.
How you might use it: Photo sharing provides a helpful pictorial record of the life of the church, and also gives those interested in joining a church the opportunity to see in a small way what the church is like.
Warning: Sharing photos requires discretion. Be sure that those individuals appearing in the photos are comfortable having the images shared online, and be especially careful in obtaining parental permission before sharing any images of children.

4. Sharing Videos: Basically the same as Sharing Photos, except, of course, that you are also sharing videos.

5. Discussions: Although this feature seems to be seldom used, Facebook Pages offer a space in which the Fans of the Page can interact on a message board, potentially providing an avenue for theological discussion, sharing prayer requests, and reflecting on past events.

6. Importing Blogs: If your church or pastor has a blog, you can set up your Page to import the blog posts and distribute them among the Page's Fans, thereby encouraging people to read a blog when they might otherwise have been unaware that the blog even existed.

7. Linking to your Site: Perhaps your church has a website that you would like to help direct people to. You can easily provide links to your church's web page from the Facebook Page. There is also the potential for interweaving your website and Facebook Page (article forthcoming).

8. Applications: Facebook Pages can also make use of applications that offer even more features on your Facebook Page. A few are helpful, many are not, but you could try to employ them creatively.

Other Ideas for How You Might Use It:
For a church plant, a Facebook Page can be a great way to begin spreading awareness of the plant's existence among the local community as you make friends and connect with them on Facebook.
For missionaries, a Facebook Page provides you with an easy way to update your supporters on the life and needs of your mission.

Helpful Examples

Friday, January 14, 2011

Google Voice

Techno Deacon Recommended:
Yes, a potential asset for any ministry, particularly those that are new or cash-poor.

Free for Almost Everything; Very Reasonable International Calling Rates

Google Voice (GV) may be one of the most useful technological tools the internet offers to churches in general church plants in particular. Although it offers a whole host of impressive features (discussed below), Google Voice is at its most basic a working internet telephone and call-forwarding program. When you sign up for Google Voice, you are asked to select a new phone number which will become your own. Phone numbers are available in most U.S. area codes (at least for now, I do not know how long the supply will last) and you can even try to find a number that holds a helpful mnemonic device within its digits (like 555-555-TECH), although there are no guarantees that you will find exactly what you want.
Once you have registered your number, you can link it to one or more pre-existing phone numbers for call redirection.

Features (and a few suggestions on how you might use them):
1. Call-forwarding: Let's say that you register the Google Voice number "555-5555" for your church. Google Voice can direct all calls coming into your Google Voice number to one or more pre-existing numbers. This means that you could publish 555-5555 as your church's phone number, and every time that someone calls the church at that number, his call would automatically ring the pastor's, associate pastor's, and secretary's cell phones.
Alternatively, for a church plant, the pastor (who may be the entire staff) could register 555-5555 as the church phone number and set it up to ring his cell phone. That way, even an infant church can have an official phone number for convenience and the sake of a public presence, and the pastor does not need to give out his personal cell number.

2. Call-Filtering: Let's assume that you, the church planting pastor, have your GV number redirecting to your personal cell phone. If every call is automatically redirected to your cell phone, then your personal cell phone has now become the official church phone and might be receiving all manner of calls any time of day. "What's the point of having the number, then?" you might ask. GV has an answer for you.
GV allows you to manage your contacts both individually and as groups. This means that you could (at a very basic level) set up four contact groups: Family, Friends, Church Members, and Unknown Callers. You can then define rules for what happens when someone from any one of the groups gives you a call. You might make sure that the Family group always rings both your cell phone and your home phone, no matter the time of day. The Friends group might ring your cell and house phone, but only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Church Members might ring only your cell phone from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Unknown Callers might ring your cell phone, but only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Another scenario: Your church might have an after-hours emergency number that redirects to a different staff member each night, so that no one staff member is always on call in the case of an emergency but someone is always available.
The Call-Filtering feature is far more powerful than these examples, but these should help get your imagination stirring about the possibilities.

3. Voicemail: Google Voice comes equipped with a powerful voicemail system, which allows you to pick up your voicemail either over the phone or online (you can even retain recorded voicemail messages online for later listening). You have the option of directing only your Google Voice calls to the GV voicemail (helpful for retaining an altogether separate phone account for your ministry) or all calls, including those dialed to your personal phone number (helpful if you want to keep everything in one place).

4. Conference Calls: You can speak with four others at one time... for free.

5. Call Recording: If you receive a call on your Google Voice number, you can record it by pressing 4. Pressing 4 will trigger an announcement alerting everyone on the line that the call is being recorded (no illegal, unknown call recording). Press 4 again and the call ceases to be recorded. The recorded conversation will appear as an MP3 in your Google Voice inbox.

6. Inexpensive International Calling: Compared to the rates of many companies, international calls are quite expensive. You can see the rates here. This means that your church can keep in touch with its missionaries with less expense. Alternatively, if your missionaries have internet access, you could speak for free using Google Voice or Skype over the internet.

7. Free Domestic Calls: Any domestic (to the USA or Canada) outgoing calls from Google Voice, either from your phone or computer, will be free, at least for 2011.