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So I’m going to the Echo Conference in Dallas, TX (USA) next week. It’s for leaders that use media, the internet, and other forms of technology as a tool for the church. I get paid to go to conferences like this for my work and I’ve participated in these kinds of conferences or trade shows (yes they have trade shows for churches too).

There are a lot of conferences and training events out there that compete for the attention of the church staff.  There are denominational events, those put on by the church’s affiliation or events surrounding a subject like worship or leadership in church.  And the staff person must decide which events are most valuable while remaining a good steward of the church’s budget.

We are called to come together and meet as Christians and we also understand that iron sharpens iron. And when thousands of people commit to coming to these events year after year, it also becomes a place of commerce for many vendors.  Is that ok?  I happen to work for a vendor like this but I also know my own heart and I pray often about my motivations.  At what point are these vendors and event organizers trying to create revenue rather than equipping leaders? My answer is: the vendors wouldn’t come if there wasn’t money to be made.  My bosses wouldn’t let me attend or buy booth space if the end goal was to spread love.

It’s obvious that the makers of technology like projectors, video cameras, and computers are interested in sales.  It wouldn’t make sense for them to give their products away, would it?  And before technology was heavily involved in the church did we have the same scrutiny of stain glass makers and the people who make wooden pews?  We are called to be IN the world not OF the world.  So even though we participate in events that are consumer related and we’re treated like businesses by vendors we are still the church.

What are your experiences and what is your feedback?

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I have just come across a discussion started by Michael Boyink suggesting that web designers should not work for free when it comes to creating sites for churches because that inherently means that the organisations that the work is done for do not value it.

Because when a church gets a website for free, it evidently has no value. Things with no value get replaced or reimplemented on a moment’s notice, on staff whim, or as soon as the person leading the effort is called away.

The comments on this piece numbered 85 when he closed commenting, and on Church Marketing Sucks comments are still coming in, so it is obviously a topic that people have strong opinions on.

The criticism around this says that the website creation should be a gift without reservation to the church and what they do with it is their business, but this misses the point of the article. Churches that invest nothing in the original design and building of a website are not likely to invest the relevant resources ongoing to develop compelling and relevant content for the site.

And when someone else offers to take over the site, the old design is too easily abandoned (as it costs nothing) and replaced, when in fact the time spent on the redesign could have been better used on content. Michael Boyink suggests that churches that pay for the site in the first place are more likely to commit the relevant resources to get the most out of their investment.

Facebook have introduced ‘pages’ for organisations, so rather than multiple groups or closed networks any organisation can set up a page including churches that they can use to promote themselves.

Having set up a Facebook group for our church, and managing to recruit some church members to join up (13 members at the last count), I thought it would be good to have something a little more official. On the face of it, pages look quite similar to groups but with some small differences, such as fans instead of members.

Another more frustrating difference was that there was no mechanism for me to invite people to join. I had to go back to the Facebook group and message all members to let them know about the page. I think Facebook want you to run an advertising campaign to gain ‘fans’.

One advantage over groups is the ability to have applications, but at present it seems that most applications are not compatible yet for pages, application developers need to revise their work.

It seems likely that these pages will be indexed by search engines, looking at the church’s page without logging in gives quite a but of info (but not who the fans are).

You can create a Facebook page for your church by going to the business section of Facebook.

Help via: Dave Walker gives his take on ‘Facebook pages’.

After I heard the announcement of pages, I couldn’t work out how to add one, so dismissed it as something launched for North Americans. Seeing Dave become a fan of his church in my Facebook mini-feed encouraged me to look harder.

One purpose of a church website is to allow people to easily contact the church with queries, especially if they have had no previous contact.

We might prefer potential guests to use the phone, but people find email useful simple queries that they can submit anytime. And as churches, we want to encourage a connection every way we can.

When you list the email address on the church website though, there is a problem. This is because, spammers can then see it and add it to their databases. They can do this either manually or more likely in an automated fashion. When a church contact email receives many spam, it becomes harder to deal with and busy staff can mean that false positives are not checked on a regular basis.

A List Apart has an article called Graceful E-Mail Obfuscation, which looks at the history of techniques to fox spammers and what can be done now.

The article particularly looks at the issue of user-friendliness, because adding ‘REMOVE-ME’ to an email address is at best inconvenient for a user. And as churches, we do want to encourage people to contact us as much as possible.

Previously I looked at how to add simple maps to your church website, but for a wordpress site this was complicated, because of the artificiall nature of the directory structure if the site is using re-written URLs. Basically a plugin was required.

Now Google has provided another mechanism for including maps that can be inserted simply by embedding them in pages. All that is needed is to copy some HTML code and paste into your church’s webpage.

You need to login to your account on Google and click on ‘Maps’, then ‘My Maps’ to get started. When you are happy with the map, you can click the ‘emded this in a webpage link’ on the right hand side. If your map is of a church in the UK, then I recommend signing into Google from Google UK, as I had problems otherwise.

You can add other features easily to the map, such as other important points nearby to the church. For example, car parks and travel facilities (trains, buses etc.). This become clickable, and can contain other helpful information.

You can see it in action on my church’s website.

Last week we acquired a Nintendo Wii and connected to our wireless home network (it was surprisingly easy to do). And since then we have been using to the Internet Channel (powered by Opera) for ‘incidental surfing’. Such as checking the cricket score, tv-guide etc. rather than booting up the PC. It works fantastically (here is a press release and more info from Opera).

Then we looked at the church website to see if that worked and it looked fine. However there were two problems;

  • PDF files: PDF files cannot be viewed at present, so the weekly bulletins can only be viewed as HTML (if available). This follows the suggestion in the comments to a previous post that having an HTML version is essential, not optional.
  • eBible plugin: this plugin does not work, the ‘pop-up’ is permanently open, making other text unreadable. (The comments to the plugin post on eBible.com are closed however, so I’ll have to find another way to report the problem).

It might be hard to imagine someone sitting on their settee on a Saturday afternoon looking for a church, but just in case, it is worth checking that your church’s website is accessible and readable on a Wii.


Previously: Changing your web viewing glasses

A WordPress plugin has been released to bring bible verses in blog posts to life, by linking them to eBible.com and also showing the verse as a ‘tooltip’ via the title tag.

There is a demo blog which shows the plugin in action.

Like other plugins, you drop it into the wordpress plugin folder, but before it works you need to complete the options screen. Most importantly is the eBible.com API key that you need. You can get a free one here.

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