Telling Your Story Through Technology
Legendary documentarian Ken Burns says that the best stories are about "One plus one equals three."
A good story is more than simply the sum of its parts. There is something beyond the words and the data and the images. And it is more than a lot of technology which is not an end unto itself but a means to an end.
In truth, there is not just one way — one formula if you will — for describing what good story and good storytelling is. It's complicated and professional storytellers will give you different answers. The same is true about what technology to use.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money in order to have several avenues in which to tell your story. Considering that more than half of the congregations in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference have less than 100 members and less than 50 persons attend worship each week, here are 10 basic ways to amplify your story no matter the size of the church.
Complete your Find-a-Church profile
Every congregation has a web presence even if they do not have a website, courtesy of The United Methodist Church.
Find-a-Church is a church locator tool that is integrated in the denomination's Rethink Church website. This website is visited by more than 30,000 visitors each month, primarily by those seeking to find a church home.
Churches can go to the Find-a-Church home page and by clicking the link Update Your Page Now in the lower right-hand corner. Updated information about your church is critical to giving visitors information. Avoid “in church” talk and remember to tell your story in a conversational way.
The two key questions most seekers ask when visiting a church is:
- Is there anyone there like me?
- How do I become a part if I like what I see?
Use these questions to guide your writing and in telling your story.
Get on Facebook
Facebook has become the major platform for social media. While initially a platform for students, Facebook has become a major way for folks of all ages to keep in touch with one another and share photographs.
While some people believe that Facebook is for youth and young adults, churches should not expect this vehicle to be a major feeder for those two age groups. When Facebook enlarged its circle to include all ages, parents and grandparents flocked to Facebook, thinking it would be a great way to keep track of their children and grandchildren. So as the older generations moved to Facebook, youth and young adults have resorted to text messaging with their friends. The fastest growing segment of users on Facebook are women ages 29-54.
Churches have two options for setting up a presence on Facebook:
- Groups -- this option is great for small audiences; the group can be changed to a closed group if desired; is permission-based and persons are added by members; groups have both chat and message features; members can post on the wall; event notification is available; there is no customization or hosting of applications; no vanity URL but vanity email address; and persons can also be notified of new posts by email. Groups are great for two-way communication and is best used as an internal communication vehicle with existing members.
- Pages -- this option is great for large audiences. Since pages are always open to the public, churches would want to avoid posting personal or internal information. Pages become your public storefront. Anyone can join by “liking” your page; chat and group message features are not available; and administrators determine whether “fans” (those who like a page) can post to the wall. Event notification is available and applications are customizable using developer tools provided by Facebook. A vanity URL is available to any page that gets 25 or more fans. Fans can also receive notifications of new posts on their news feeds. Pages are useful for one-way communication and is best used as an external or outreach vehicle with folks who do not know much about your congregation and church. As a result, remember to avoid “insider” language in your posts.
Update your IGRC Church Profile Page and Facebook widget
Visit the IGRC website and locate your church in the Church locator. Make sure the information is current and up-to-date, including service times, pastor’s names, website address (if you have one) and both the physical and mailing address for the church. The physical address is important for the user to obtain directions through Google maps to the church. The mailing address is important if someone wishes to contact you.
As churches go through charge realignments, keeping this information updated is important. Conference and district staff do their best to keep this information current; however, some changes are made and “fall through the cracks.” Help us keep the information current.
If the church has a Facebook page or group, it is possible to publish the URL for it and create a widget that shows the number of fans or members your page or group has. It also provides the user an easy way to go to your Facebook and like your page or join your group.
Consider a website
When considering a website, one should ask the questions, “Why do I need one?” and “What is the end use of the website?” Answering these questions can both assess the need for a website as well as guide how the website, if needed, is designed.
A small church, using both Find-a-Church and a Facebook page, if done well, may not need a website. However, a website can provide yet another tool that combines information for the church family as well as outreach tools for those who are seeking a church home.
One of the first things you must consider is how much you want to spend on a website and what expertise does your church have in website design and who can provide content that stays current and is relevant to the audiences you are trying to reach.
Although the options are many and the cost can run from a few dollars a month (for webhosting your site) on up, there are three broad approaches you will want to consider:
- Do it yourself -- you will need to find someone who knows design and code
- Template -- this is where the look of the website is pre-designed. One such company working with churches is E-zekiel. Another provider is Wix.
- Blogging software -- Software like WordPress can be used to build a website. One other resource to consider if choosing this option is the Word Press Driven Church.
Regardless of the option, you need to register a domain name (the www address) that is unique. Edifax ( is a recommended registrar with domain registration costing $15 per year with a sliding economy of scale for registering for a longer term.
Every website will also need to then find a web hosting service which provides the server where the website will be located. IGRC Communications provides web hosting space for $15 per month. There are cheaper options and some providers, such as E-zekiel, that provides a domain registration, website design and web hosting in a bundled package.
Add a Visitor’s Section to Your Website
If you have a website, do you have a section specifically for prospective visitors to answer some of their most basic questions? Remember…the seeker is wanting to know what the church is like and what the church is about.
Information about nursery facilities, style of worship, and information about Communion (is it by intinction or little cups?), baptism, confirmation and membership, and style of dress, allows the visitor to your website to get a snapshot of the church before ever coming through the door. And one word of caution: be authentic about who you are. Nothing will undercut your outreach like false advertising.
Do a website audit
Once you have your website designed, do an audit and see if you have covered all the bases. IGRC Communications has a downloadable Website Audit Form that can assist you with this process.
Existing websites can also use the form as a checkup to see if the site has those essential elements that can make or break the effectiveness of your website.
Add sermon audio files
Your website can have interactivity by producing sermons on the website. As long as your pastor waives any copyright consideration, sermons can be posted without any additional licensing.
If a church desires to post the entire worship service (with music), then the church will need to obtain a podcasting or mechanical license from CCLI or OneLicense.net to broadcast the services on the internet. This is in addition to the CCLI or CVLI license you may have for using music not in the hymnal for worship. These licenses only apply to actual performance on site; they do not cover broadcast on the internet. Shut-in recordings, provided they only go to shut-ins, are considered an extension of the actual service and are covered without additional licensing.
A provider, Sermon.net has a free service that will enable a church to upload their sermons each week. The free version does have ads that will appear, but a premium account, at the cost of $40 per month, removes the ads. If a church wishes to upload video files instead of audio files, they will need the $40 a month account.
One nice feature from Sermon.net is the ability to embed a player onto your website. This is the best of both worlds: visitors play the sermons on your site but the playback is actually done from the Sermon.net servers. Sermons can be uploaded weekly to the Sermon.net and you are able to include the scripture text, title of sermon, name of speaker and if it is part of a series. All of these fields are searchable on the embedded player.
Add the bells and whistles
Features such as the Upper Room devotional can be linked to your website and Facebook. This provides new and fresh content each day and gives your visitors a reason to check your sites daily.
Push folks to your website
Electronic newsletters are an inexpensive way to provide information. E-newsletters are different than conventional newsletters in that full stories are posted to the website. E-newsletters provide one or two opening paragraphs of the story as a “teaser” with a link to the website to “read more.”
An e-newsletter service, Mail Chimp, offers non-profits a free package if you are sending to less than 2,000 email addresses with a limit of 12,000 e-newsletters per month.
The most popular e-newsletter service, Constant Contact, has a variety of services with prices starting at $15 per month. Other services include a survey module, online registration for an additional cost. Constant Contact is the service used by IGRC Communications. Discounts are available for pre-payment of six months or a year and a 20 percent pre-payment discount for six months and 30 percent pre-payment discount for a year.
Strengthen your connection
One of the strengths of The United Methodist Church is the connectional system. There are several ways IGRC Communications can be of assistance.
- Contact IGRC Communications and update your subscription list to The Current. Each church is allocated free subscriptions to The Current. Every church has a minimum of four subscriptions and is based upon the church’s average worship attendance. Churches can go online by visiting the IGRC Subscription Center. The church’s user name is the church’s conference number (consisting of four digits and a letter). The password is the church’s six-digit GCFA number. Contact Michele Willson by calling 217-529-3122 to obtain either or both pieces of information. This should be done at the same time the church is preparing for charge conference so that its leadership can receive the free copies. Additional copies beyond the free copies can be obtained at a cost for $15 per year.
- Send your stories and photos for publication in The Current. We welcome submissions of local church news. The Current is generally published monthly on the last Friday of the month with notable exceptions (due to Annual Conference, Thanksgiving and Christmas). The copy deadline is the Friday before publication (and posted on the IGRC calendar. Photos also enhances the story and are also welcome. Photos must be in a digital format with a resolution of at least 300 dots per inch. Although photos can be a minimum of 72 dpi for web use, print requirements need a greater resolution.