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Technology tips for churches on a budget

Online communication is a key platform for sharing the Gospel, but paying for the technology behind livestreaming services and developing social media may seem daunting. The Rev. David Johnson has some suggestions for ways that clergy members can make better use of technology without spending a bundle. Photo by Andre Taissin, courtesy of Unsplash.
Online communication is a key platform for sharing the Gospel, but paying for the technology behind livestreaming services and developing social media may seem daunting. The Rev. David Johnson has some suggestions for ways that clergy members can make better use of technology without spending a bundle. Photo by Andre Taissin, courtesy of Unsplash.

The pandemic is proving that online communication can, indeed, be a platform for sharing the Gospel. While more congregations are livestreaming their services and developing social media, churches that were online before the pandemic have stepped up their virtual presence.

 

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The Rev. David Johnson, associate pastor at Trinity UMC in Beaumont, Texas, says that many resources, such as apps and software products, are available to help clergy. He also says that there are ways to use technology without breaking the bank.

Johnson pays particular attention to technological trends. He often reads about and researches the subject and even signs up for trials of new software. From experience, he has learned what is most effective. For example, he likes to use project management tools such as Basecamp.

Johnson says software can aid clergy in numerous ways. There are sermon-preparation programs, including Evernote (a native note-taking app), Logos Bible Software and Sermonary, that are designed to maximize the time you have getting ready for Sundays.

In addition, apps such as Mint or Expensify can help pastors manage their finances. And there are others that can help clergy stay on top of their health by monitoring their sleep cycles and managing their workouts. Johnson, for instance, is an avid user of Nike Run Club and Map My Run.

Apps also can help busy clergy with forgetfulness. Johnson said that he uses LastPass, a secure password manager to keep track of all those pesky passwords.

“Technology is both a blessing and an imperative,” Johnson said. “It can be a useful tool in your life to make things easier.”

Johnson offers the following tips to help pastors benefit from technology while keeping an eye on costs:

Take advantage of free programs. Johnson is a fan of G Suite, which includes Google Calendar, Docs, Sheets and Slides. Basically, Google provides its own version of Excel, PowerPoint and Word for free. 

For $6 a month, you can get Google Workplace, which specifically creates a space and method for organizing business, similar to Basecamp or Asana.  

Johnson often uses Google Docs to modify tasks in real time during virtual or phone meetings so that everyone involved can see and track changes. Google makes it easy for team members to create and assign tasks.

Johnson said that Google Calendar is a particularly useful free program that can help busy pastors stay organized. He often connects it with Zoom to send out invites. 

“It’s a great way to make sure a meeting happens,” he said. “I really like G Suite. It’s an easy way to do project management.”

Johnson says that there are several free apps that are worth exploring. He particularly enjoys the Centering Prayer app available through Contemplative Outreach.

Buy software at a discount. Services such as TechSoup offer nonprofits discounted software, including Microsoft Office, QuickBooks and Adobe, as well as refurbished computers and affordable hotspots. TechSoup also offers services to help navigate technology.

Get creative with social media. Social media is not a bulletin board. 

“You can engage with people on social media to build their spiritual lives,” Johnson says. “You can do more with this than just get people here on Sunday morning. It’s about communication and community.”

Plus, social media is free. Churches can consider creating a Bible study on Instagram or even trying a gospel music competition. Small churches can collaborate to create a large audience and together host a speaker or event on Facebook Live.

Johnson compares social media to Paul’s use of the technology — the Roman road system — during his time. 

“Roman roads connected the world in ways it never had been before, but there were dangers on that road,” he said. “Imagine if those dangers stopped Paul.”

While there may be dangers associated with social media, Johnson says that there also are opportunities for the church to excel and become a source of positivity.

“If Christians don’t want to go in the dark places, we allow them to stay dark,” he said. “We are called to go to places of darkness and shine a light in there.”

Get a trial but beware. Johnson has a caveat when it comes to trials.

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“I think for any pastor at almost any age, a trial can be useful,” he said. “But they hope you forget.”

Instead, be smart and remember to end the service if you don’t want it after the trial period. Also, some providers of software or apps will offer a simpler, free version to explore without the hassle.

Johnson suggests you take time and look for specials. Often, companies will run a promotion or offer a discount, and that might be worth the wait.

Read and research. Johnson suggests following Pro Church Tools, a site that provides a variety of resources for clergy. There are free tools ranging from how to create a successful Facebook ad to deciding the best color schemes for church websites. 

Spending time reviewing software and apps can ensure that clergy find efficient technological solutions. 

“The more you study a tool, the more you can innovate in the way you use it,” he said.

For example, he says that each social media platform has a different objective. Facebook was built to develop connections and tell stories. TikTok has a more humorous bent. Instagram is more focused on visuals. 

“Know how a platform is used, and don’t be afraid to get creative,” he said.

Don’t forget about online giving. One of the best uses for technology is making it easier for members to donate to the church. That has certainly been a lesson during the pandemic. Online platforms have helped churches continue their giving programs. 

There are several options. While Tithe.ly offers a free mobile giving app, Johnson said that Trinity UMC uses Shelby for its giving program. 

“There are some differences with each program, even though they seem very similar,” Johnson said.

Regardless of which program fits your church best, one thing is certain: “You need to have some form of online giving,” Johnson said.

Which apps, software and resources do you use at your church? We would love to hear from you about what has been beneficial — and what hasn’t — and if you have advice to share with other congregations.

Republished with permission from the Texas Annual Conference website.