Churches of every size can benefit from a variety of technological tools, especially now that more than 87 percent of American adults online. An increase in options during the past decade has led to more advantages—yet it’s also caused confusion for many churches. Pastors and staff often feel overwhelmed by the sheer amounts of work involved just to keep up with changes.
Let’s look at several technology-related initiatives, broken down by church size (although all of them should be considered by churches at all levels), that can help your church and its goals without becoming overly complex.
Small Church (less than 100 members): Tweets, Blogs, and Facebook
If your church is just getting started, or it’s been around for a while but doesn’t yet have a strong presence on the internet, several simple and inexpensive technology projects can help you build awareness for your church, keep in touch with people within your congregation, and achieve broader communication goals.
One of the easiest projects that can perhaps have the most benefit to your ministry is to start a blog. The best way to go about this is to start a blog in connecting with your church website. WordPress is surprisingly simple to set up, create posts, and upload images, and videos. Another bonus: With a blog, your pastor or church leaders can write about points not mentioned in the sermon, discuss ministry aspirations, hint at goals for the future, and even bring up personal issues to begin a more authentic communication channel within your church. Set up the option to email subscribers with new blog posts automatically to ensure your congregation can find the blog posts.
Twitter is now the third-largest social networking website, next to YouTube and Facebook. It can’t be ignored—and it can be an effective tool for ministry. Twitter, known as a micro-blogging service because it allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (known as tweets), publishes text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length. Users send and receive updates for free from any device with an internet connection, making it incredibly simple to share what you’re doing, what your ministry is working on, and things people can check out on your blog and website to extend the online hand of friendship. Using a social media management solution such as Hootsuite can help you manage your social networks and schedule updates for the future.
Facebook can be a wonderful, free tool to connect with people online. You’ll quickly find that many people in your congregation are already members. After you set up an account for your church, you can “friend” members who also are on the site, usually by finding them by e-mail address. It is also helpful for your pastor and church leaders to develop their own Facebook page in order to be authentically sharing and engaging with members.
There are other social networks that churches can harness for marketing and evangelism such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Google Plus, YouTube, and more. But Facebook is probably the most popular network with the broadest range of ages from preteens to octogenarians.
Medium Church (100-500 members): Websites, Management, and Donations
As a mid-sized church, you may have a technology budget that allows you to take on a few more projects that extend beyond what’s free. As your church grows, you’ll find that building a more interactive and purposeful website is critical; that using a web-based management system can make ministry run smoother; and that the ability to take online donations becomes critical.
A study done by Monk Development in 2012 found that 46% of people said a church’s website was important in picking a church to visit. That’s a huge percentage of people looking to your church website as the virtual front door of your church. What does your website say about your church? Does it reflect your church values, missions, and even physical presence?
There are a number of good website options out there that range from a low, one-time setup price and monthly fee to thousands of dollars upfront to completely customize a website. Work with a company that specializes in the church market and builds sites that are innovative, interesting, and easy to use. It’s great to use a provider that offers a content management system, which allows anyone with or without tech training to make updates and layout changes with ease. The overall win is to find a solution that allows your site to:
- Get a strong feel for what your church community is like including style of worship and programs and classes offered
- Provide a place to connect members and reach out via social media links
- Have access to the church’s online calendar, online donations, and online registration for events
The internet has spawned a new generation of church management software (ChMS) applications that are completely web-based and offer many new features. Social networking and project workflow tools are now available in ChMS solutions, in addition to managing church membership data and financial records. A web-based ChMS is hosted online, in a secure environment, and does not require monthly software updates since everything is done online. With most pastors and leaders on the go, the ability to access data from the web is critical for maximum efficiency. Most ChMS providers charge according to the number of records or members, making it an affordable option for nearly any sized church. Overall, effective web-based ChMS packages seek to:
- Provide multiple access points to data
- Reduce the duplication of work
- Streamline tasks and workflow so that people at your church don’t slip through the cracks
- Integrate more easily with the church website in order to get more people connected and involved
Providing online giving through your church website can increase the size, frequency, and regularity of people’s giving. With 41% of churches seeing an increase of 5% or more in online donations this year, according to the State of the Plate 2016 survey, digital giving should be a priority. The majority of people do not carry cash and checkbooks so debit and credit card giving, and even text giving, are viable options that should not be overlooked.
There are fees involved with nearly every option, so it’s important to take a close look at the costs and processes for setting up a merchant account, and what the percentage fees are for every transaction. The majority of web-based ChMS providers now offer online giving, in addition to the ability to take online registrations and payments for events. However, it’s wise to evaluate stand-alone online giving providers in order to weigh all options. Security is something to pay close attention to: an online giving provider should be Payment Card Industry Compliant (pcisecuritystandards.org) in order to protect your members’ credit card data, and to help protect your church from liability.
Church Website Resources:
- Grace Church Sites
- Ministry Designs
- Ministry Brands: Clover Sites, Ekklesia360, E-Zekiel, FaithHighway, SiteOrganic, BridgeElement, Build a Church Website
Church Management Software Resources:
- ACS Technologies
- By the Book
- Church Community Builder
- Ministry Brands: Elexio, Fellowship One, Parish Soft, Shelby Systems, Church Office Online, SimpleChurch CRM
- Touchpoint Software
- Rock RMS
- Seraphim Software
Online Giving Resources:
- Ministry Designs
- Ministry Brands: easyTithe, eGiving by NCS Services, SimpleGive, eGiving.com, Giving Kiosk, EFT Plus, eGive
Large Church (500+members): Streaming and Integration
Many large churches have the same ministry desires and goals, but do things on a much bigger scale. As a church grows, the technology needs drastically change. Most large churches and mega churches incorporate cutting-edge technologies into their ministries; in fact, many ministries grow to mega church size because they incorporate technologies and tools often used by secular organizations to instead impact people with the Gospel message.
One way large churches use technology well is by creating an internet and media ministry team for multi-site streaming. When churches grow beyond their physical facilities, some open additional locations and stream the same live sermon message from a video feed sent through the internet. This allows churches to duplicate their efforts in order to reach more people. As of 2015, about 10% of all Protestant churchgoers attend a multisite church campus, according to multisite expert, Mulitisite Solutions.
Many churches of all sizes also use audio and video podcasting, creating online audio and video files of sermons and making them available for listening, watching, and downloading online. This can be a very effective way of enlarging your ministry beyond the four walls of your church. Many churches use iTunes to podcast sermons and link to this from their church website. iTunes allows churches to podcast for free.
Ministry done well is a ministry whose right hand knows what the left hand is doing. It’s easy to have disjointed departments as the church grows steadily, but at some point, it is necessary to integrate all ministries so that everyone is on the same page aiming to meet the same goals. Technology can accomplish this, either through a church management software that offers task management and workflow, or through online collaboration tools, such as Basecamp for a reasonable monthly fee. There are also newcomers to the market each year like Roco CPM, which created its own acronym, “church project management.” The end result is a website together with internal management software that pulls together the public and private sides of the church to form one unified organization that engages everyone in active participation.
Lastly, with the dominance of internet-ready smartphones taking precedence in everyone’s pocket, the proliferation of apps, or applications, have become extremely popular. This technology product has been “all the rage” for churches over the past five years. Some churches execute this well, and others don’t. Many church management software providers, as well as online giving providers, have started including a free app with their solutions in order to sweeten the pot, so to speak. If you start online giving, you get a free app so that people can easily download the app and give via the app, thereby streamlining the process. As with everything, weigh out the positives and negatives to see what is the least expensive and provides the most helpful and easy-to-use tech tools to best fit your congregation’s needs.
Church Live Streaming Resources:
Church Podcasting Resources:
Church App Resources:
[Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by our friends at Christianity Today Pastors.]