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The 3 Big Questions of this Social, Digital Age

3 DialsI’ve decided to connect with a lot of people in a lot of different ways. I also read a lot of stuff, mostly online but also in print. And I try to write and share great content along the way. The problem is, each of these is never-ending. In other words, there will always be something else to read, someone else with whom to connect, and more to write. Especially now.

I’ve managed to boil my own approach to this new content-driven, socially-connected age down to three big questions. These three questions determine what I do the whole time I’m “working,” which rarely fits into an eight hour work schedule in the traditional sense.

Question #1: What Content Do I Need to Consume Today?

The answer to this question is a tough one. If I’m not careful, I can sit in front of the screen reading things all day long. The stream of information available never stops. Even the stream of good, useful content is overwhelming and too much for any one man army to keep up with. So there are some tools and approaches that help, and often our job is to decide which approach is most valuable today…

  • Read the hundreds of RSS feeds I read every day using Feedly. The pro is that I don’t miss anything from my sources, but the downside is I only read what I’ve been reading and only discover something new via recommendations by those whom I’m already reading.
  • Check Twitter, but especially my Twitter lists. Twitter, itself, is over-run with spammers, but I’ve carefully selected people for lists in a variety of niches. I’m exposed to much more content this way, but can’t even begin to read it all, and I sometimes miss my regular sources.
  • Read books. Real ones. With spines and the smell of paper and glue. I’ll read research-oriented books with my Kindle app, but I still love actual books.

Content gets spread and consumed in ways that are constantly developing. Some of you who are reading this had no idea those tools existed, so I chose not to overwhelm you with the other couple of dozen that I also use.

Here’s the problem with question #1: consuming content doesn’t actually accomplish anything. It makes me aware of what’s out there, but being aware is useless without the next two questions…

Question #2: With Whom Should I Connect Today?

You can read all day long. You’ll be smarter, but it won’t do you or anyone else any good. You need to connect with people. Everybody longs to be known and loved, and what I love about the social web is that the content we’ve been reading and consuming provides points of connection with people. By “content” I might mean a great article on something, or I might just mean Bob’s tweet about the big fish he caught.

So from the content I’m consuming, I’m doing two things. One is research – I’m building a library of ideas. But the other thing I’m doing is connecting. How?

  • By sharing someone’s content with someone else. Someone appreciates the promotion, and someone else appreciates receiving useful information. And someone (me, in particular) is in the middle of those other two someone’s connecting with both of them.
  • By discussing the content I’m reading. That discussion takes place through blog comments, on Twitter, or via a note in my Google Reader shared items. Or it takes place as I sort of “re-blog” it with a twist of my own put on it.
  • By contacting people. Most of us choose to stay behind the screen at a safe and somewhat anonymous distance. If that’s you, you’ve missed the point of “social.”

The social web opens the communication lines. We have access to new people. We are noticeable in ways never possible before. And we’re conversing with strangers who seem a little less strange with each point of contact.

Hyperlinks should lead us to photographs of faces, which should lead us to real people, which should provide a basis for knowing and being known.

The third big question is optional. It depends on your focus and your career path, but for a rapidly growing number of people, it’s becoming the crucial third question of this social, digital age…

Question #3: What Should I Write, Create, or Produce Today?

You don’t have to go down this road. You can be content to consume and connect and your world will be just fine. But we live in an age in which anyone and everyone can be a creator, writer, musician, journalist, reporter, connector, producer, prognosticator, teacher, or prophet. Yes, there are enormous risks with this, but there is no stopping it.

The tools that John and Jane Doe needed to have a voice are not only available and accessible now, they are improving every day. So having answered the other two questions – having consumed, having connected – I need to answer the question of what I’m going to create, write, or produce today.

  • I can write a blog.
  • I can post to Facebook.
  • I can tweet.
  • I can compose a symphony and share it with the world.
  • I can create art and post it up.
  • I can design a website and let it frame someone’s ideas.
  • I can challenge thinking.
  • I can comment on all the news that’s happening.
  • I can criticize.
  • I can praise.
  • I can state loudly and clearly that I’m going to be silent.

Here’s the problem with these three questions… I can’t ever chase all of the possibilities that result from all three. I’ll become a consumer who never produces and never connects, or a producer who never listens.

The essence of our current social media conundrum is that I have to find a way to hold these three big questions in tension every day. I’m going to miss something. I’m going to miss someone. But I can connect with someone too. I can seize the opportunity to do something worthwhile that contributes in some way to how everyone else is answering these same three questions.

This is social media. Actually, this is just life. We’re just calling it “social media” because that’s the thing to call it right now. Soon, it will just be “media” and “social” will be assumed.

5 Trends Church Communications Leaders Should Watch in 2013

Responsive

Image via Mashable

Things are changing rapidly in the world of communications tools. I’m even writing a book about how to communicate an unchanging gospel in such a rapidly changing world. On LinkedIn’s blog, Ilya Pozin shared 9 trends entrepreneurs need to watch in 2013, and four of them (my first four below) jumped out at me concerning the world of church communications.

1. Crowdfunding

With the flow of capital to entrepreneurs becoming smaller and smaller each year, we’re likely to see an even greater rise in crowdfunding platforms. In fact, these collectively generous communities are estimated to transact as much as $500 billion in 2013.

2. Going Global

Today’s technological world allows us access to customers from all over the globe. Bringing successful U.S. business models into developing or trailing countries presents an opportunity for startups in every industry. Startups like Pheed, 2U, and Threadless have already made the jump into the global waters with successful outcomes.

3. Better Social Platforms

The need for higher quality content online will certainly drive a social trend in 2013 with the creation of more advanced content-driven social networks. Pheed is an example of a social platform that I feel will reach even larger audiences in 2013.

4. Great Emphasis On Company Culture

Creating a positive company culture will be of stronger emphasis for startups in 2013. Many startups are taking new steps toward building cultures that define their products. One step I firmly believe in: dismantling hierarchies, which can eliminate micromanaging and other attitudes that squash innovation.

5. Responsive Web Design

And a fifth, not mentioned by Pozin, but definitely more vital than ever in the upcoming year will be responsive web design, which refers to a website’s ability to detect a user’s browser size or device and re-arrange and adjust its content to fit. My site, along with pastors.com, were converted to responsive designs earlier this year and GraceHillsChurch.com will follow suit in the next month or so.

These are five of many. What else is happening that church communications leaders need to be thinking about?

The Ultimate Church Membership Database Software [Updated]

Elvanto - Best Web-based Church Management Software

doesn’t exist. Or at least I didn’t think it did, until I discovered Elvanto. I’m updating this post. You can read about the dilema I was in, and then below, why Elvanto is my new favorite solution…

There are plenty of choices. Their ads run in major magazines and in the sidebars of popular blogs, but the solution I’m looking for can’t be found, and I think I know a few reasons why this is so.

We’re currently trying to use one of the most popular systems. It is robust with capabilities, but it doesn’t speak my human language. To get information, I have to mine it and export reports. I can’t just “browse” stuff. It, like most of its competitors, was built by extremely smart people who speak the languages of code, databases, and systems, but sometimes struggle with the language of people. It takes more time to manage the system than to actually use it to reach into a person’s life. I know one church of about 500 who has a staff member solely dedicated to managing the church membership database, full-time. Brethren, these things ought not to be so.

Let me describe for you a few of the things I’m looking for, and perhaps you can point me to the as-of-yet undiscovered solution for which I’ve been roaming the earth these many months…

  • Cloud-based so many users can access it from anywhere.
  • A sweet UI, comparable to the beautiful interface of Planning Center.
  • A UI designed for people who use Facebook, not database experts.
  • Looks like a Mac, not a PC.
  • Browsable, so I don’t have to pull any reports. My staff should never have to see the word query. Ever.
  • Integrated with Google Apps so when I send an email, my contacts includes our membership data (kind of a bonus, I know).
  • Integrated with MailChimp so we can send beautiful, socially advanced email newsletters.
  • A simple small group finder tool that utilizes the simplicity and familiarity of Google Maps.
  • Simple tools to allow small group leaders to quickly communicate with group members.
  • Socially-savvy, like Rapportive, so that I can see Facebook and Twitter profile links based on email addresses (another bonus feature).
  • Spiritual growth oriented so that I can very simply chart whether someone has been baptized, has been through our membership class, our maturity class, etc.
  • Emails leaders automatically, including all contact info so the leader doesn’t have to login, when they’ve indicated an interest in helping in some area or a need for help in some way.
  • Does NOT expect me to attend a webinar to sign up. When do you have time for a webinar about software?
  • Lets me instantly have a free trial for 5 or 10 database records.
  • Simple statistical tracking so I can plug in attendance and commitment numbers in 23 seconds or less and later see how many lives are being changed and where we need to improve.

And one that’s not so much a feature, but more about the company behind the app… Does not require everything down to my blood type to see a demo, which is so obviously a means of putting me into your lead-tracking, marketing, and bordering-on-spam sales flow where I’ll receive a high pressure phone call and email every other day until I finally block your number on my phone. If you build the kind of app I’m talking about, you won’t need a salesforce-like lead-tracking tool. Instead, you’ll have to figure out how you’ll scale it to handle the flocks of new users signing up.

And I’m sure there is more, but basically, something akin to the tools that 37Signals builds, but with a few tweaks for a church’s specific needs. A few come close on features, but look like they were built in QBasic on a monochrome Tandy. Others have a nicer design, but I can’t kick stuff around without signing my life and privacy over first. Oh for a true, new media and open web mindset among church software developers.

All I’m really asking for is a simple, cloud-based, socially-savvy, people-oriented app, for which I would gladly pay money for the benefits I would receive. I know you’re trying to earn a profit in a non-profit world, and that’s cool with me if it allows you to do awesome stuff for the kingdom.

Is it out there? Have I simply been unaware? If you point me to the thing for which I seek, I shall update this post to sing your praises and plug your product to the masses – for free – because that’s how this new web wide world works.

Hence my update… I love Elvanto. It has that sweet user interface for which I was searching. It’s people-oriented. It’s communications-savvy. It never demands that I understand boolean string queries. It’s customizable and tracks everything I’m interested in tracking, handles check-in’s, offers metrics, and is super easy to use. I’ll write another post about it soon, but for now, I’m following through on my promise mentioned above. Elvanto, I’m singing your praises to the masses.

One more update (9/20/12)…

We’ve just finished (I hope) the arduous task of canceling our account with FellowshipOne, a leading provider of church management software. I know people who swear by F1. I think they have a smart team of developers and everyone I worked with there was very friendly, but the user interface is heavy, bulky, and complex. We were approached and offered one free year as a church plant if we would just pay the up front setup cost ($250). We paid that, tried to use the software for a couple of months, and eventually gave up in frustration before finding Elvanto.

I did not realize the contract for the software we didn’t decide to keep using bound us for another year if it automatically renewed. I am solely responsible for not reading the contract closely enough and canceling in time, so we will be paying that final invoice for the software that didn’t meet our needs. In fact, FellowshipOne sees it as a “sign of grace” to only require 30% of the remaining contract of an unsatisfied customer. But buyer beware, many companies still operate under a marketing, pricing, and contract system that is very out of step with the new web app culture and strangely resembles the process of buying a cell phone or satellite dish. So read carefully. Some good companies, with great people and decent software, have an outdated and frustrating business model.

With Elvanto, you can cancel anytime… but I don’t think we will be anytime soon. 

Try Elvanto for FREE!

One Day In the Life of the Internet

The people at MBAonline.com have put together a detailed infographic representing what happens in a 24 hour life cycle on the internet. It’s fascinating, but even more, it’s important for church leaders to “know the times” and understand how churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike tend to think, interact, communication, and consume information. So study it well…

A Day in the Internet

Created by: MBA Online

Hey Church, Wake Up to Online Outreach… Like Yesterday

Theres This Web Thing

Theres This Web Thing

I happened to catch a news release about some pretty phenomenal research findings concerning the rapid rise in the usage of online social networking…

The percentage of Americans age 12 and older who have a profile on one or more social networking Web sites has reached almost half (48 percent) of the population in 2010 – double the level from two years ago (24 percent in 2008), according to the new national survey from Arbitron Inc. (NYSE: ARB) and Edison Research, The Infinite Dial 2010: Digital Platforms and the Future of Radio.

And reading further, one line jumped out at me… “For the first time, more Americans say the Internet is “most essential” to their lives when given a choice along with television, radio, and newspapers…” This breaks many decades of media dominance by television.

What should the church make of all of this? [Read more…]