From September through May, churches experience regularity and rhythm within their ministries and have a general understanding of the expected level of weekly attendance. This consistency and structure also allow for an understanding of the commitment level that volunteers are able to provide to support ministries during these months. Then summer comes and everything changes.
As a new and slower pace is introduced from June through August, some programs will end and special week-long activities like summer camp or marriage conferences happen, and the flow of ministry is altered. So how can churches deal with this change? Easy – preparation and technology.
Prepare the Way
With the right kind of preparation, the slip into the summer slowdown can be seamless and smooth. Honoring and planning during the summer months can even enable churches to start stronger in the fall with a significant improvement in ministry quality and attendance. Tech tools can help this process significantly and keep ministries and projects moving.
These 5 tech solutions can help ministry leaders and volunteers stay connected during the summer slowdown:
1) Virtual Collaboration
In-person meetings and planning sessions are ideal, whether meeting with parents, teenagers, volunteers, or staff. With the summer vacation season, this becomes increasingly challenging and during any season it is still tough to get an entire group of people in the same room at the same time. For those hard to coordinate times, consider cultivating a virtual communication rhythm to streamline conversations into one online location that anyone can access anytime and from any location. Here are three easy to use options:
Old-fashioned or not, and regardless of the present status of Facebook’s evolving position as a trusted communication platform, many churches and organizations rely heavily on their public Facebook place pages and private Facebook groups. These pages are essential for sharing important public information and for holding organizational forum discussions.
This widely-used free tool has become a virtual meeting place for churches. If every ministry department created their own Facebook group, added the necessary people, and requested that the group remain active and engaged during the summer, then planning and communications would have an instant home.
Facebook accounts for summer camps and programs are also helpful for sharing messages with parents and students about registration, fielding questions about materials, and providing the appropriate contact information for the program. Everyone can use Facebook, and ideally, it is a great tool if people in your congregation and ministries are already using it. If you have a Facebook-friendly congregation then use it. If not, maybe look into the other social media platforms your church uses to see if that might be a good fit.
Asana or Basecamp
Asana and Basecamp are specific online project management platforms. Asana enables individuals or project teams to pull all project components together in one place and its strengths are organization and progress tracking. Free plans offer up to 15 users and unlimited projects, tasks and conversations. Paid accounts include additional features, including access the new Timeline that keeps projects on track by date and the 100+ integrations with popular tools like Google apps, Microsoft Teams, Dropbox, MailChimp, Evernote, as well as analytics and reports.
Basecamp is also a task-oriented project management web application, but it also features its own messaging platform called Campfire as well as a document editing module. These are helpful to centralize all communications and documents. Need to ensure that the youth ministry volunteers are scheduling appointments with teenagers or that someone is filling in for collecting the offering plates? What about making sure that someone is still leading the summer small group? This is your platform. Activity updates are sent to all member emails and different modules can be created for the different ministries at your church. Automated email reminders can also be sent when due dates pass.
Both solutions can offer significant help to groups that want to stay connected and keep projects on track during the summer. Budgeting and church size should be taken into consideration when exploring any church project management software solutions.
Church Management Software
Church management software is often a full-service solution that provides project planning, calendaring, communication, reporting, and tracking features that ministry leaders could use to stay on top of their programs during the summer. Many ChMS offerings also include everything from databases, fundraising platforms, master calendars, check-in security services, website creation, and volunteer management. Ultimately, this is the resource for running numerous programs with many volunteers that require engaging with a large community. If your church already has a ChMS it might be the time to find out if it has features to benefit summer project planning as well.
2) Group and Mass Texting
Sending official communications to your team and members via email is important to ensure that there is always a central place to record and establish a dialogue in case someone in the conversation forgets an important detail or if a conflict arises. However, there is a time and place for texting. Maybe most importantly, texting can be used to reach out to someone who has not responded to emails. And group texting is effective for meeting reminders or last-minute check-ins on deliverables that need a quick answer or turnaround. For youth ministers, texting is also essential because most young people do not rely on email for day to day communication. Group texting or group chats via social media apps like Instagram are excellent ways to engage with them.
Mass texting services may be valuable in some scenarios, depending on your church size, and many churches have mass texting solutions in place for church-wide emergency communications. Depending on your church’s culture, members may like to receive text messages with regular, non-emergency updates too. Church communicators could survey congregations to find out if texting is a preferred method of communication.
Some ChMS providers may also include mass texting options, which is ideal because this is directly connected to the church database and increases accuracy and decreases the chance of members being left out. If your ChMS does not have this feature a few mass texting options include: Flocknote and Text In Church or check out the latest user reviews for a solution that fits your church’s needs.
There are also budget-friendly solutions for sending mass texts the old fashion way, using apps for Apple and Android devices. The key to successful mass texting is to make certain that everyone that is meant to be in the group is included in the group – and no one gets left out.
3) Video Conferencing
Being on vacation can mean something different to each person. Just because people are on vacation may not mean that they want to skip Bible Studies or miss out on important meetings or discussions altogether. First, find out if members want to continue holding and attending Bible Studies or other meetings during the summer. If yes, there are a handful of good video conferencing tools that could be a quick and easy solution to keep the group on track and provide an easy and free connection from any location, with the option of audio and video chats. [Below is an example of how CTT uses Zoom to record a video conference for YouTube.]
Many church techs have been using video chats for various community fellowship meetings where in-person gatherings were not possible. With this, ministry groups could have a great discussion from any location and at any time for free.
4) Video Devotionals
Using preplanned and prerecorded devotional messages or videos can keep groups or congregations better connected over the summer. These messages can be shared when meetings are just not possible and will keep groups and teams connected and the energy flowing.
Preplanning these video or audio devotional recordings can be as easy as asking several different leaders to record a quick 1-5 minute video on their smartphone about how God is working in their lives and a Scripture that ties in with it. Capturing 10-12 of these in the weeks leading up to summer vacation will give ministry leaders a specific connection point to reach congregations every week.
These videos can be shared on social media, websites or via email. A fun summer activity might be to ask people to share their own reaction videos to these devotionals from wherever they may be during the summer. This is where the energy and fun can really start flowing.
The YouVersion Bible App continues to help ministries engage with people in unique ways. What if the number one path to connecting with people this summer was through a specifically designed summer reading plan using the app? For those that miss services due to vacations, pastors and ministry leaders could break a 30-minute sermon down into a 7-day reading plan or create a supplemental reading plan that allows for a deeper look into the sermon message each week that small groups could use. Either way, members are engaging with fresh weekly content, staying engaged, and they can easily step back into the discussion when they return to church from vacations. YouVersion can be the place and tool to help build this summertime connection.
Plan to Stay Connected
All of the tech tools available to churches are only good enough if they are working to bring people closer together and closer to God. With prior planning, individuals and church leaders can see the slow spots in their summer schedules and create solutions to stay connected. This can also help people avoid any shades of summertime guilt or frustration that can come with being unavailable and out of sync for these months.
Finding ways to stay connected, while also getting the rest and relaxation everyone needs during the summer, is possible and can be very healthy. An added bonus is that all of this summer prep and connection just might make kicking off the fall church season easier and more enjoyable.
Everyone can appreciate that. And technology is supposed to help us save time, right? Make it live up to that promise this summer.