Video of the Week: Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell – The God Debate

Comedians Jamie Kilstein and John Fugelsang square off in a pop debate about the existence of God. This video could be a really good discussion starter on apologetics, the existence of God, or simply popular views about Jesus and Christianity. Check it out:

How To Successfully Brand Your Church

Branding and marketing is a difficult practice for many local churches, Christian non-profits, and even individual ministries to really grasp. Some churches have a logo that shows they haven’t thought about their brand for about 45 years. On the other side of the coin, some youth pastors are so concerned about their youth ministry’s logo and corresponding t-shirts that they really need to close their free trial of Adobe Creative Suite and step away from the MacBook Pro.

But branding and marketing aren’t really about logos, websites, signage, or even advertising. Branding is communicating who you really are (or perhaps more accurately, who you’re striving to be). Due to the dishonest nature of much of the marketing in our culture, some leaders bristle at the thought of deliberately branding and marketing their church or ministry. In reality, every church markets in that they communicate to people (both those who are part of there church and those who are not) something about themselves. The trick is to do this in a way that communicates what your church is “about” (or again, what you are striving to be “about”).

Since I’m no expert on branding and marketing, I’m grateful that Jesus actually addressed the issue of how leaders can successfully brand their local church (or youth ministry).

Surprised? I figured you might be. But he did.

Jesus actually let us know 2,000 years ago what brand his followers was to use that would let people know that his disciples were serious about following him. He may not have provided it to us in the form of a logo, but he was abundantly clear about it nonetheless:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

That’s our brand. That’s how we are supposed to proclaim to our communities why we are here and what we are about. It’s how people are supposed to know that your church is a church.

I’m not suggesting that you ditch your logo, your t-shirts, or your billboards and advertisements. That’s a part of our culture’s language, and so we’re wise to use that language well. But maybe we need to take more seriously the brand that Jesus gave us to use rather than trying to come up with something new that likely won’t wow people as much as we hope it will. After all, if we don’t love one another–and our communities–in a way that people will see at least a small glimpse of Jesus, then all the marketing in the world won’t help our local churches one bit.

Video of the Week: "I Love My Job" Facebook Video

This is a really cool video reminder of the blessing we have as youth pastors to be involved in students’ lives:

ASBO Jesus on Church Buildings

One of the blogs I subscribe to is cartoonist Jon Birch’s ASBO Jesus. (For an explanation of the name, ask a Brit.) I saw this cartoon last week, and I thought I’d share it here and use it as a conversation starter:

So, what do you think? Is the cartoon right on or does it miss the mark?

BONUS QUESTION: Does the cartoon have any application to youth ministry?

JustOne: An Online Conference for Women in Ministry and Pastors’ Wives

The JustOne Conference looks like an amazing, free opportunity to encourage women in ministry and pastors’ wives. I hadn’t ever heard of it until a couple of weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to watching at least one session with my wife, Jennifer. An online conference in itself is a VERY interesting way to use technology in ministry, so as a person who serves at a church that has recently started using video venues at our campuses (just for the sermons), it will be fun to watch it from that perspective, too. Check it out:

Need encouragement … challenge … connection … and inspiration …

All while sitting comfortably on your couch with a Latte in hand?

The JustONE Conference is a free virtual conference for all Pastors’ Wives and Women in Ministry. This 4 week conference will include over 20 speakers sharing from their personal lives and leadership. Each session will be shown 4 times during the week. So find a time that is right for your schedule, and join in!Continue Reading

Technical Notes and Lots of Wind

I had hoped to implement some changes to the blog this evening, in addition to sharing some cool news. However, last night and today, Northern Utah has been hit with an incredible wind storm. Our house is still without power, so we’re staying at a friend’s house tonight who does have power. So, the blog changes will come this weekend, and there may be a bit of disruption. In the meantime, here’s a photo of a couple of the many trees that were down at our church’s South Ogden campus:

The photo doesn’t do the scene justice, but you get the idea. In addition, we had some roof damage at our Bountiful campus, but there was far worse damage done elsewhere in the area. We’re thankful that our house didn’t seem to lose even a shingle. Definitely the most exciting weather day we’ve had in Utah for a while!

A Theology of Buildings, Ministry, and High-Cost Tools, Part 1

The church campus (our church currently has three campuses) I serve at is about to undertake a remodel/building project. I’m pretty excited about it, because it will give the high school ministry a bit bigger of a meeting space, while focusing on providing more room for small groups to meet at church.

As we’ve been meeting with our architect and drawing up plans, it’s hard for my mind not to wander to the purpose and need of buildings in the life of a church. I’m thankful that I serve at a church that approaches buildings and construction conservatively (spend what we have, NOT what money we think will come in if we have a really cool building). Still, in our last meeting, we talked about the need to determine what kind of audio/visual equipment we’d like to have in our new meeting space, and I found myself struggling with making a distinction between what would be fun to have and what tools I feel is really necessary for how God is leading us to serve our church and community. So, I emailed my good friend and missionary (currently serving in Kenya) Jim to see what he thought. He’s got an amazing heart for God’s Kingdom and is a really sharp thinker and writer. I was interested in his response, because he’s anything but a bells-and-whistles kind of guy; he grew up in a church that gives away a huge chunk of its budget to domestic and international missions (I believe it’s one-half of the budget, but I haven’t double-checked that). Here’s what I asked him (I’ve provided just the highlights):

What role does a building play in church life? I think our church approaches building conservatively…I just wonder what buildings really do, such as our new youth rooms (not really new construction, just moving locations and pushing some walls around). Are we building cathedrals that will one day sit empty like the grand cathedrals in Europe?…Do we really need to spend thousands on a sound system for high school students? Or could I teach the word of God just as effectively with a Bible and a bullhorn?

Here are some highlights of his response (shared with permission):

Heh! Easy question… *sarcasm*

It’s easy to say that a fancy building is NOT what the church should be about. The early church had NO building. Yes, a Bible and bullhorn is probably just as good as a thousands of dollar sound system with lights and fog… Much more effective than a bullhorn and a Bible is a meal and a conversation or a cup of Starbucks and some prayer or just working alongside somebody for a few hours. I think making a more ‘interactive’ experience with the audience probably makes it even easier to fall into the trap of attending church for the experience rather than focusing on experiencing God. So not only is it easy to argue that a cutting-edge building is unnecessary, but even detrimental.

BUT – the American church has great value – even her conventions. The ripest fruit sits in American churches expecting a certain experience… and a good sound system. That experience is probably an easier ‘in’ for an authentic gospel than anywhere else in the world. Give the sleeping heart an experience – that gets interested people in the door. Then through radical personal interaction with a few, maybe a large-scale change can be triggered. The Western church needs revival (to use an old-fashioned and over-used term). Nice sound systems will NOT bring it, but it does attract what might be the largest crowd in the world that is ripe for authentic revival. The way we think about Christianity in the West needs to change. A state-of-the-art building will not change it in the least – it’s probably a negative reinforcement – but there is great potential for a radically different faith sitting in ‘pews’ every Sunday. Using convention to capture their attention/vision for a moment could be one of our most effective tools for spreading a desire for relationship with Christ and radical faith with Him, as I see it.

In part 2 I’ll try to organize my thoughts into a “theology of buildings and ministry tools” for lack of a better phrase. What do you think about the questions I posed to Jim or his response?

Update: Read part 2 here.

Worship Service Announcement Video

This month, our church started showing an announcement video before service starts, rather than “live” announcements. Other than trying to communicate clearly, a main motivation was to find a way to highlight important things in the worship service without awkwardly sticking them right in the middle of the worship service. This past weekend (Easter), we played this during the service to highlight it for guests, but generally it plays right before and right after each service.

Video Announcements 4/24/11 from The Heights Community on Vimeo.

Hopefully this will help us communicate a bit clearer. What are some ways that you’ve found that works in communicating what’s going on at your church to people attending worship services?

Youth Ministry Communication Avenues – Part 2

Earlier this week, I posted some tips on communicating to the students and families in your youth ministry.  To follow up, I’d like to share a bit about how we communicate to students and parents at our church.  I hope these notes are helpful. Here are our basic communication avenues:

Church-wide communication
We are blessed to have a Communication Team (made up of paid administrative assistants) that’s responsible for overseeing all our electronic and print communications for our church. The Communication Team puts our youth information in church-wide communication, including the quarterly print newsletter, huge pre-printed bulletin boards in high traffic areas, the monthly “Inside Trax” email that gets sent out (as well as printed for those who don’t want to be on our church’s email list), and weekly bulletin announcements.
Because we’re consistent about making our information available in these publications, parents know that they can keep up to date on what’s going on. Note: these communication avenues work because we plan ahead at least one quarter, if not longer.  Good communication requires good planning.

Print communication
For the first six years I was a youth pastor, I always did a monthly print newsletter. For the most part, parents liked it because it always included a monthly calendar to post on the fridge, and students liked seeing their faces in the photos (I always kept careful track to include as many students over the course of the year as possible). However, that’s a lot of money when you add in postage. So, the only print communication we do these days are nice postcards/brochures and posters that we hand out for events.  For 2-3 special events a year, we pay the postage to have them mailed out. I was hesitant to stop the monthly newsletter, but the world has not crashed down around me yet.

Weekly Emails
I send out a weekly announcement email (see my note on YouthTracker.net below) to everyone I have an email address for. Enough parents appreciate it that we still send them out, even though this method is becoming less and less effective. I try to keep the announcements short, and point people to our website for further information.

Text Updates
We send text updates through YouthTracker.net (see below) a few times a month.  This is a great communication tool, and relatively inexpensive (our plan is $20/mo for unlimited texts). Typically, there are reminder texts to alert students and parents about registration deadlines or a change in our regular schedule. Where appropriate, I’ll include a bit.ly link to our website.

Weekly Announcements
We have a group of students who produce our weekly announcement videos, and they’re a lot of fun. It gets the message across, and we make sure to encourage students to take some kind of action (fill out a sign up sheet or grab their parents to fill out a registration form). I also post the video on YouTube and Facebook, but it doesn’t get more than a dozen or so views throughout the week.

Website
We have a high school ministry website that’s powered by WordPress. It’s a pretty basic setup that’s designed to 1) let web visitors inquiring about our church know what’s going on in terms of high school ministry and 2) create a place where parents know they can find event information and registration forms. I’ve never asked our web guy what kind of traffic we get, but I know several families count on being able to download forms off the website to get things in on time. Of course, if you have a website, don’t look foolish by not having it up to date. I usually post events three times a year (each semester and summer), and then I only have to do minor updates once a month or so.

Facebook
We put events on our Facebook page, as well as reminders, updates and such. I’m not sure how effective for us Facebook is in terms of communicating what’s going on, but I know some families like it to keep them updated. We do have a lot of students on Facebook who “like” our page, so I see this as a good way to simply keep our stuff in front of students.

YouthTracker.net
We use YouthTacker.net as our database tool, and it includes tools to send mass emails and mass texts. It’s super-easy to use, and the customer service is great. They have been great at updating their service based on our feature requests, and it really fits what we do. Their email and texting interfaces and features are a bit bulky, but they get the job done. There are some other good email and texting services out there (think Constant Contact and SimplyTXT), but the benefit to us in using YouthTracker.net is that we don’t have to manage separate databases; we can manage students, events, emails, and texting all from one interface. If you are looking for a database program or service, I’d definitely recommend checking them out.

I think I’ve covered all the bases of what we do. I realize that some of these avenues rely on some paid staff that not every church has–such as Amazing Angie, our youth and children’s administrative assistant–but I believe that for the most part, just about any youth ministry can communicate well in their context and within their budget. It just takes a little effort and a lot of consistency.

What communication avenues work well at your church? If you’re a communication guru (which I’m not), what advice do you have to offer?