How to Write a Book

How to Write a Book

So you want to write a book? We have some tips!

Christopher Hitchens once said, “Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”

Here at The Church Online, we take a different view. We think everyone has a book in them, but some people just need a little help getting it out.

But how does it work? How do we take the book in your head and turn it into a book held in everyone’s hand? To find out, take a look at these five parts of the book making process at The Church Online.

1. Find the voice

As writers, the way we think and speak comes out on every page. Some people are blunt and direct. Some are elliptical and poetic. Most people are somewhere in the middle. First, we find out what kind of writer you are so that our words come out as your words and our edits reflect your voice and tone. We want to make sure that we are giving life to your thoughts in your book.

2. Pitch an original story

You want a book about how Jonah relates to the modern world, but here at The Church Online, we know there’s a bit more to the story than that. We help you find a new angle on Jonah that’s never been done before, a book that feels necessary and exciting in a world that may have heard the story before.

3. Plot the path

You have the idea. Now how do you get from alpha to omega? This is often the step that makes people put down the pen and give up. Once we have your story down, we break it apart into pieces, outlining every element. Each chapter needs to have an idea, each idea has to fit together, and each idea has to lead to the ultimate message of the book.

4. Keep a tight leash on the message

Speaking of the message, this little guy has a way of running away from you once you get into the thick of the content, usually midway through your book writing process. It’s important to always keep an eye on where your message is and to bring it around enough to remind your reader without sounding repetitive. It’s a careful art, and one we pride ourselves on mastering here at The Church Online.

5. Get feedback and edit, edit, edit

Finally, we get to the part that bores most people but remains one of the most important steps: the editing. This is when you take a roughly cut piece of marble and sand it down to Michelangelo’s David. We work closely with you to find out how you feel about each word in your book and tweak every detail until it is perfect. We’ll take as much time as necessary to make sure the book matches the vision.

So, feel free to prove Christopher Hitchens wrong. Don’t keep your book inside. Bring it to us, and we’ll make sure the masterpiece you envision becomes a reality.

Using Social Media to Promote Your Church

Using Social Media to Promote Your Church

In the modern landscape of 21st century Christianity, no church can afford to avoid social media. In a time when even the Pope has joined evangelists, apologists, and presidents on Twitter, many faith-based organizations stand to get left behind if they pass up the opportunity to spread the Word online.

Even though we all know the necessity of social media, it can still be a tricky world to enter. With so many distractions to scroll through, how can a church make a mark on Facebook feeds?
Here are five ways to build up a successful social media platform for your church.

1. Develop a light touch

Whenever you are posting, try to keep the content brief, thoughtful, and if possible, fun. Twitter makes this easy for you by keeping everything to a character limit, but just because other platforms allow for more doesn’t mean you should abuse the privilege. Brief updates about the church, quotes from Scripture, and quick thoughts help people to absorb your message and stick around for more.

2. Make the content dynamic

Short and sweet is great, but even better is to show your message instead of just writing it out. Many churches simply get by with providing announcements of upcoming events on social media, which leaves a drab and uninteresting body of content that might keep the faithful informed but fails to bring anyone in who isn’t looking for an update on the church calendar.

A better way forward is to imagine all the different ways social media offers to make your followers want to visit your page. Create videos like sermon bumpers to hype your upcoming sermons. These short videos add drama and entertainment that a long, detailed post will never get across. Instead of just posting a verse from Scripture, turn it into a catchy image or gif. Posting short clips from recent sermons can also help engage your readers and remind them of the power of God in a way the words on the screen may fall short of doing.

3. Spread yourself out

When you start considering all these useful, flashy forms of communication, it becomes apparent that the primary social media sites aren’t going to be enough. The biggest dogs in the hunt, Facebook and Twitter, are the obvious places to log yourself into the online community, but don’t be afraid to expand into other social media to increase your dynamism. Create a YouTube channel and start posting those videos or even a church vlog (video blog). Post your Scripture images and photos from recent church events on Instagram. Offer your pastor up for an occasional Snapchat.
There are a number of platforms out there that have targeted audiences that might not be as dedicated to checking Facebook. LinkedIn can bring in more of a business dynamic, while Flickr tends to attract the more artistic visual crowd than Instagram. Even consider starting a blog on your website.

4. Integrate your message and keep it consistent

The sky is the limit with different social media platforms; just don’t spread yourself thin. Ideally, if used correctly, these multiple platforms should be a boon, allowing you to put up more content that can then be shared in multiple places. Your Instagram posts can also be posted on Facebook and Twitter. Your Snapchat can be advertised in your Twitter bio. Linking everything together creates a homogenous atmosphere that suggests a busy, active, and interactive church.

Make sure your message and tone remains consistent, though. If it comes down to keeping content consistent or cutting content, always go with quality over quantity. Making sure everyone involved in your social media presence is on the same page about where your church stands and what it stands for is crucial. No matter where a follower clicks, they should be presented with a different side of the same church.

5. Remember to be social

Finally, all of this is only useful if you have people looking at what you are sharing with the world. There’s a reason these are called “social” networks. It can be tempting to simply use these platforms as another pulpit, as a place for one-way conversation in which your church speaks and the internet listens, but to maximize your church’s presence, it’s helpful to try to engage as much as preach. Respond to others who message you, share content from other users, and link to thoughtful, on topic articles. You might extend yourself and connect with other likeminded churches online and share each other’s content. By seeming available and building up good will in the online community, your efforts will be responded to in kind, and you can expect far more positive feedback.

How to Brand Your Company with the Perfect Logo

How to Brand Your Company with the Perfect Logo

A good logo is essential to any organization, whether it is a church, business, or non-profit group. A logo may be one of the first pieces of information people see, revealing more about your organization than you may expect. A poorly designed logo will reflect negatively on your organization and is a sure sign of poor branding.

Too many organizations miss the mark when trying to create high-quality designs, but business owners and designers alike need to remember that the logo is the first step to creating a brand for your organization. It is just as important to create a strong foundation for your company’s image with your intended demographic. For maximum impact, be sure to make your logo simple, memorable, versatile, appropriate, and timeless. Do not make your logo trite, cliché, confusing, or misguided. Consumers are savvy, and they will remember a logo that is impactful. They will also forget logos that are all show with no substance or look like logos they’ve seen before.

When working with designers, be sure to follow these five rules for logo development:

Scalability and Color

Your logo should look just as good on a small button as it does on a large billboard. It should also be just as impactful in black and white as it is in color. Make sure the logo isn’t over-complicated with details that will confuse. Keep in mind that the color palette should be one that would work well with other complementary colors.

Authenticity

Your organization is unique with a specific vision. Embrace it. Your logo should reflect your vision creatively, communicating what the organization stands for.

Memorability

Ideally, people should feel an emotional connection to the organization based on the logo, whether they’ve been involved with your organization for five minutes or five years. A memorable logo will fuel the fire of the connection. Start with a simple, professional design and go from there. Most importantly, make sure your logo is memorable for a good reason—not because it’s crazy and ridiculous, but because it’s unique, balanced, and professional.

Wording

Be concise with the wording of your logo. No one is going to remember a lengthy tagline and it will crowd the design of the logo. Don’t junk it up with wordiness. It needs to be clean and memorable. Some organizations take advantage of initialism, an abbreviation consisting of initial letters that are pronounced separately. Again, keep it short.

Aestheticism

Don’t turn your logo into just another mandatory mark—a necessity of branding efforts. Honor your organization and create something beautiful and appealing.

Women in Ministry: Dealing with Stress

Women in Ministry: Dealing with Stress

Today’s women wear many hats. On any given day, a woman who centers her work around the family can put 100 miles on her car simply running errands and getting her kids to activities. A woman who works outside the home will attend meetings all day, drive through rush hour, and still have to make dinner, give the kids baths, and help with homework. In ministry, trying to balance work, home life, and sometimes school or another job becomes tricky. Single women are not immune to the pressures either. Even though they may not have to factor in marriage responsibilities or children, many report being asked to do more by church leadership and other members because people assume that they have the time to donate to others.

Women tend to take on a lot. In their roles as family caretakers, many find that the cooking, the cleaning, the nurturing, and the organizing falls to them. Add to that the breadwinning role and a role in ministry leadership, and the already-full plate begins to overflow. As the caretakers and multitaskers, it is hard for women to admit that they are feeling stressed, disengaged, or even depressed because of the full lives they appear to lead.

“Being able to recognize that we all have our limitations is the first step in understanding how to acknowledge and address our stress or burnout in daily life and in ministry work,” says Krista Kerin, Ministry Development Consultant at The Church Online. She adds that she is glad to see churches and women’s groups alike addressing this issue directly.

Experts tell us that understanding the stages that we might go through in the throes of our most stressful seasons in life is paramount to identifying what causes us stress. Only then can we take steps to stop those stress-inducing behaviors and patterns, and eventually, overcome the issues. We must learn to recognize our stress symptoms, stress compensation behaviors, and stress breaking points.

Many times, our stress symptoms are issues that we live with every day like headaches, stomach issues, or insomnia, which we tell ourselves are normal everyday issues. These minor problems can be our bodies telling us to slow down and decompress. When we use stress compensation behaviors, we are trying to make the best of a bad situation by scrambling to make deadlines or putting others’ needs before our own. Ultimately, when we reach our stress breaking point, we experience the depression and hopelessness that comes from fatigue and the constant sense that we are over-scheduled and not good enough. After this, we are ready to make changes, but only after we have hit our breaking point.

Start to break the pattern by first understanding your stress symptoms. Next, seek help when you find the urge to get into your stress compensation behaviors. Finally, know that, when you reach your stress breaking point, you can rebound from it and make changes in life that will help you stop the cycle of over-extending yourself in life and in ministry.

Faith Break : Speaking Out

Faith Break: Speaking Out

Proverbs 15:1-2

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge,
but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. (NIV)

Anyone who has ever had to give an important speech or had to write an important article knows the frantic search for the right voice. While we all speak and write every day in our own unique voices, we only become aware of what that voice means when we are in a position where our words are being judged and weighed by others.

For those who spend their Sundays at the pulpit or for those whose mission it is not just to sell a product but to defend and spread the Word of God, this is a particularly strong concern. Speaking the Word is an act of the greatest consequence. Taking the wrong tone can take someone down the wrong path and away from faith, while the right tone can lead a fleeing sheep back to the fold. In such moments, we wish to speak with “the tongue of the wise” and not “the mouth of the fool,” but how can we know the difference?

In the Bible, few people hear the voice of God directly. The prophets all speak with His voice, spreading His message. So rare and powerful is this gift, many of the books of the bible bear the names of those who have heard Him. We know these people to be honest and righteous now, but from the perspective of a man or woman of Jerusalem, the prophet is only one of many claiming to have the answers. It is a daunting task to take the divine truth and set it down in words that average people can understand. After all, most of us feel God and know God but don’t receive His Word directly in the way the prophets did.

However, it is clear that God wants us to be careful with our words at every moment in our lives, not just in a performance. Not only is “a word fitly spoken…like apples of gold/In settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11, NKJV), but crass words act against our purposes. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (4:29). This is a sentiment Our Lord understood well when He said, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them” (Matthew 15:11).

So we must be careful with our words. But we aren’t left with a clear idea on how to do that. Now we can look to Ecclesiastes. In chapter five, Solomon tells us, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools” (5:1). The wisest king in history would know something about that. And his advice is the same here as in Proverbs (5:2):

Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.

We should speak few words, always listening before we speak. And who should we listen to except God? We must hear his directions in everything around us. Though some of us stand at the pulpit and some of us preach to the crowd, we must remember that speech was designed for conversation, that we have to listen before we can respond. We must listen and not be impatient to hear what God wants us to say and what voice He has in mind for us. Or, as James put it, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20).

It is from the wisdom of this approach that a voice can be found. If we are listening for God’s words, as well as the needs of our congregations or neighbors, our own words will begin to meld with God’s voice. Just like a child learns to speak by imitating a parent, so too will our voice suit God and our flock if we are willing to listen first and then speak gently. If we commit to this path, there will be no trouble in finding the right voice. The voice will come of its own, and the service to the Lord will be certain.

Expanding Church Outreach

Expanding Church Outreach: Strategies

Marketing your organization each year is a critical element of an overall growth and outreach plan. Plans to move ideas forward and highlight all the good points and positive movement in a year, a month, or even a week are imperative to grow, get messages out, and make sure that products and services are accessible to the proper demographic.

As Christians, we understand the good work being done, and we relish in the fellowship, the outreach, and the interaction with our pastors and fellow worshippers. Melissa Wharton, President and CEO of The Church Online notes that “Everyone, from the pastoral and ministry teams, administrative teams, church members, and those who live in the community should have a vested interest in the growth and the success of the ministry.

Ministries play a critical role in not only the spiritual wellbeing of its members, but also in the vitality of the communities they are a part of.” It is important to ensure your church or organization is meeting the needs of its members and the community. This involves accessibility, including expanded access to worship and community-based services. A user-friendly website can ease the process of tithing, prayer, ministry, or any other group involvement. The Church Online has recorded a sharp growth in online giving (an increase greater than 6x) over the last two years and has also noted a higher level of participation in ministry activities when online tools are incorporated into ministry websites making it simple for supporters to participate in ministry activities such as small groups, classes, special events and more.

Streaming live services and offering video on demand are a couple of other services you can utilize to help expand your message and your work to national, and even international, communities. Ongoing communication is imperative. Book publishing, weekly blogging, and regular video production and outreach will keep communication consistent, lively, and inspirational. Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, located in the East End of Pittsburgh, PA has found a great way to successfully contribute to their communication efforts. They have initiated a prosperous small group program that encourages fellowship with others while at the same time providing a biblical study component.

Aligning with the current ministry theme at the time, each of their curriculum workbooks has been written and provided to be engaging, inspirational, and enjoyable. Mt. Ararat integrates the workbooks with an effectively managed website, captivating videos, and inspiring pastor’s messages to keep communication alive and consistent.

Check back here weekly for more directed marketing tips from The Church Online’s Technology, Marketing, Design, and Publishing teams. We’ll be discussing how to start your marketing and growth efforts, how to expand on what you already have in place, and how to assess whether or not your current plan is meeting your organization’s goals.

We invite you to join us for weekly goal-setting as we continue this new year and have to face all those resolutions we have set—both personal and professional. Make 2019 your organization’s year for change and growth!

Welcoming Visitors at Church

Welcoming Visitors at Church

When visiting a church for the first time, visitors can form an impression of the church and even the pastor and leaders by how warmly they are welcomed. Many of us have heard stories of or have even been “welcomed” by a less-than-friendly usher or greeter.

While we make attempts to be courteous and open to visitors, no matter where we worship, we must put in the extra effort it takes to reach out and help our special guests feel at home. Here are some tips that can help make newcomers feel more welcome and comfortable:

• As members and/or regular church attendees, we should endeavor to make visitors feel welcome. Just remember how you felt as a visitor in a new place. A friendly, welcoming face helps to ease any initial doubts about the decision the visitor has made to visit the church.

• Treat visitors as guests in God’s house, not as strangers. Use the same hospitality in church that you would for an honored guest in your own home. Their comfort and needs are of utmost importance.

• Act as a tour guide and provide a map of the church if there is one. Show them where all the resources are, from the bathroom, to the youth areas if they have children, to the fellowship hall. If there is a welcome center, encourage them to visit it.

• Remember the importance of nonverbal communication. With a smile on your face, make friendly eye contact. A gentle touch on the shoulder or a handshake wouldn’t hurt, either.

• Initiate conversation and greet guests at their level. If your guest is a child or in a wheelchair, try not to talk down to them. If you are physically able to, kneel down to ensure you are on the same eye level.

• Learn about your guests. Remember their names, ask them a few simple questions, and listen to their responses. Take a genuine interest in them. However, try not to get too personal with your initial questions, as this could scare a newcomer away!

• Help visitors find seating to accommodate their family. Better yet, invite them to sit with you if there is enough space. Whenever possible, do not let visitors sit alone.

• Invite guests to join you for an activity, whether it be to introduce them to other members at the church through a small group or to invite them to corporate Bible study.

• Ask visitors to fill out a visitor registration card with an option to opt-in for email alerts. Don’t automatically sign up guests for emails and newsletters they may not want. Do direct them to the church’s website for more information, though.

• Thank visitors for coming and let them know you hope to see them again. And if you have the opportunity to see them again, make sure you extend the same courtesies extended prior.

Design Trends

5 Ways to Amp up your Web Design

We live in a digital age where people are constantly immersed in the digital media that exists all around them, especially in the palm of their hands. Your online presence (or lack thereof) says more about you than you think. Having a website makes you look up-to-date, legitimate, and credible. How you present yourself initially to a viewer will make or break their perception of you. People expect fast, modern-looking sites, and they are easily turned off by a site that doesn’t appeal to their standards. If they feel that your website is dated, not relatable, difficult to navigate, or boring, then chances are that they will move on to the next search result until they find one that seems more promising. After all, if you haven’t updated your website since 2003, how can they really be sure you will even answer your email or return a phone call?

So, in this two-part series, we’re going to explore a few of the top design trends to consider when evaluating your current website or planning to launch a freshly-developed one.

1. Responsive Design

The fact of the matter is that most people now access the internet first and foremost (or even solely) from a mobile device. The days of static web design—a design that is built to fit only one type of screen size—are over. Now, it is not only standard, but crucial practice to utilize a responsive layout that will adapt appropriately to fit different monitor sizes or devices.

Investing in a mobile responsive website will allow users to easily visit your site from their phone verses a desktop computer. Nothing is going to turn off your page’s visitors like trying to view a desktop site from a mobile device. Nobody likes the inconvenience of having to try to zoom or click buttons too small for the tip of a finger to press. The more difficult you make this for the visitors to your page, the less time they will be willing to spend there. From a potentially dedicated new follower to somebody else’s client or congregant, your site’s inability to respond to mobile devices could send people straight back to Google to look for someone who understands today’s technology standards.

2. Authentic, High-Quality Photography and Video

As the average user experiences increasingly fast internet speeds, it is more and more possible to support large, high-quality photo and video without significantly impacting page load time, which had been an issue in years past. Now that you don’t have to wrestle between speed and content, eye-catching and creative photography and videography is a great tool to draw people into your site and make them want to spend time there.

High quality photos and video are key. Nothing makes a site look more outdated than blurry iPhone photos on your website. If your organization doesn’t have access to a high-quality camera, consider hiring a photographer for a few events or if purse strings are tight, a photography student may be willing to help you to expand their portfolio.

To maximize the potential of images and video, make them visible in the header area of your website and as background elements. This not only makes you look professional, it also calls upon the strongest human sense to capture the attention of users and engage them in your website’s content. If you really want to “wow” people, great photography and videography is a crucial element to pay attention to.

Make sure, though, that the images and video interact well with the overall message and purpose of your site. If these glossy elements clash with what you mean to represent, you may turn people away at the door. An image of a wide expanse of nature may be beautiful, but it may play against you if your church or business is city-based. Try to keep in mind what you think your visitor wants to see in those attention-grabbing pieces of media. Those pieces need to add up to an accurate image of what you represent.

3. Flat, Minimal Design

The appeal of flat, minimal design was probably inspired by branding introduced by Apple, Inc. Think of the clean look Apple presents the world: lots of open space on the page with a few sharp, clear images. This has become the preferred look across the web now, and users will reward you when they see it.

In an added benefit to the “cool” factor, a flat, minimal web design keeps your website from looking cluttered and focuses on quality content and information (along with those eye-catching images and videos mentioned above) that users find pertinent without the unnecessary, distracting bells and whistles.

While it can be tempting to throw all of the clever tricks you and your web designer know onto the page, keeping things simple and neat keeps users from having to constantly dig for what they are interested in on your website. As another nice bonus, it translates better into mobile-friendly layouts.

A word of caution, though. Minimal design reinforces the need for quality content with carefully chosen colors, use of white space, and intriguing photography to effectively engage and inform users. With fewer distractions, the quality of your content shows through—like everything else—much more clearly.

The flat, minimal design is key to any site that wants to look like it was made today and not 1996. But it’s not as simple as copying Apple’s use of space. There are a number of smaller elements required to really make the site’s design come together.

4. Bold, Strong Typography and Iconography

Larger, simpler type usage and fonts on websites has the double benefit of being trendy and also eye-catching. It aids in the process of developing a minimal design and allows designers to place emphasis and call-outs on a site in a clean, catchy way. Plus, with more font resources than ever, designers are able to call on more fonts for usage, allowing many designers to get creative.

The use of icons as a design is on the rise as well. Icons are easy to remember graphics that quickly convey ideas. Icons create simplified visual interest in conjunction with headline text or as stand-alone items. As with photographs, icons help encapsulate your identity at a glance in a way text simply isn’t able to. Although you want to avoid cluttering the page with too much, a few choice icons can save a lot of space and make the text you do use stand out more.

5. Hover States

A hover state is an action that occurs when a user puts their cursor over a particular item. A common example is with navigation menu entries: when moused over, the color of the menu item changes.
But, hover states can be so much more. Examples of these include size changes upon roll over, icon swaps, or images fading and blurring. This is becoming a popular way to engage users in conjunction with minimal design framework. Hover states make things “pop.” These simple animations add areas of interest and creativity to a website without being distracting or gaudy.

These are only a couple simple trends in the world of site building. Design trends are constantly changing as new innovative ideas change how we experience the internet every day. As you can see, at the current moment, it is imperative to adapt to the fact that most websites are accessed via mobile devices.

At the same time, users now expect to see a clean, minimalistic design that delivers information in a heavily visual fashion. Even if you don’t personally care about these things in your online experience, it is important to stand out and avoid falling behind in website trends because many people judge a business or ministry from that first impression. Having a site that looks modern and interacts in the way users expect it to can make all the difference between a user sticking around to learn all about you and drifting off to the next link on Google. Make sure, based on their web experience with you, that they don’t need to search any further.

3 Tips to Target Millennials in Your Church

3 Tips to Target Millennials in Your Church

It’s the demographic everyone is after: young men and women. Whether it is soda, cinema, or salvation, all our society’s advertising efforts are directed towards the Millennial generation. But with all that inundation of advertising, all that claim on young people’s time, how can you and your church stand out?

Here are three tips to get your message in front of young eyes and bring the young flock back into the church.

1. Don’t be Condescending

It’s easy to think of Millennials as internet obsessed and flighty. But don’t underestimate them. Millennials are the most educated generation yet. When you interact with millennials, be it in person or online, it’s best to treat them like adults.

Mutual respect goes a long way with this generation, and they’re more willing to learn from you if you prove to them that you’re respectful. Maybe you’ll learn something, too!

2. Be upfront with the direct generation

Millennials are tired of being targeted by advertisers looking to sell. At this point, they’ve seen all the tricks in the book. They’ve been raised on colorful commercials for sugary cereal and have come of age in a world of viral marketing. But the thing that works best and cuts through the new century’s cynicism is genuineness. People like John Green, who specialize in being genuine and upfront, develop huge followings. And those followings remain loyal.

By refusing to play the game of salesmanship with your church and instead putting forward an open, concise, and honest message of what you stand for, you will get much more attention than all the flash you could think up would have brought.

3. Let technology be your friend

This is perhaps the most obvious point, but one well worth remembering. Most of life for young people is lived online. Be prepared to meet Millennials in their preferred world of communication. That means not just Facebook and Twitter but Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat, among others. Always be ready to jump into new technology. You’ll have much more success if you bring your church to them than if you expect them to come to church.

All this can seem a little hard to handle for people already busy trying to keep God in the lives of every person in their community. Next time you are looking to spread the Word to the next generation, remember these helpful tips.