A Cyberpilgrim's List of Web 2.0 Tools for Ministry

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Moovly

Tool: Moovly

moovly logo (501x199)Ready for another free animated movie/storytelling creation tool? At this point, I don’t think it is necessary to expound on the merits of using this type of tool. You wouldn’t be following this blog if you needed convincing. So, let’s get right into the details of another great animated  movie maker called Moovly.

Just like any other free version of software, it is limited in what you can do as compared to their paid subscriptions, but what is offered in the gratis version is quite impressive. Here’s what you get:

  • 10 minutes of movie length (most free version of other companies give you 2 – 5 minutes for free)
  • Ability to create an unlimited number of videos, but only 1 at a time
  • Resolution is standard definition at 480p. For HD, you need to subcribe to a paid plan.
  • A library of animated graphics, including the “Doodle Marker” – the hand and marker animation that can write and draw
  • Ability to upload your own pictures, sounds, and voice overs
  • Ability to export your creations to YouTube and Facebook
  • An opportunity to earn free credits to purchase things like background music

Just like an of these animators, it takes time to get used to the editor and get good at creating videos. Moovly is quite intuative and pretty easy to learn. check out the video below to see how Moovly works. Please share your creations with us!

 

Click here if you cannot see the video below.

 

 

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join.me

Budget. Return on investment. Value. Frequency of use. Ah, those pesky but necessary terms that help churches determine whether to make a purchase. The fact is, when investing in technology, these are very real things to think about. This is why finding solutions that may not be super feature rich, yet meet your needs, and are affordable (or even free) can help make these leaps of faith easier on the digestion.

The ability to offer online meetings is definitely one of those options that churches would like have but balk at it because of cost and how little it may be used. Fear not! There is an option that gives some of the benefits of GoToMeeting but at the cost of Skype (that’s free, by the way). It’s called join.me.

online meetingjoin.me is built by LogMeIn who connects millions of people to their devices, data, and apps every day. Their basic plan, which is free, offers you the ability to connect 10 people to a meeting, plus these features:

  • Mobile apps – works with iOS and Android.
  • Screen sharing – show your desktop to participants.
  • File transfer – send files to each other during the meeting.
  • Internet calling – connect through Voice over IP.
  • Share control – can give control of organizer’s screen to others, one person at a time.

For an annual bill of less than $13 a month, you get some nice extras:

  • Up to 250 participants
  • Unlimited audio – free international calls and meeting access via phone.
  • Share a window – choose a window to share, and keep the rest private. All alerts, email notifications, and third-party chats will be hidden.
  • Presenter swap – let someone else show his/her screen and become the presenter. Works with PC, Mac, or iPad.
  • Meeting lock – control who sees your screen.
  • Annotation – everyone can mark up the screen. As the presenter, you can take a snapshot of the screen for your records and clear the screen to start fresh again.
  • Record your meeting – record audio and visual and store it in LogMeIn’s cloud, Cubby.

If you want to have online meetings or have staff, committee members, parents, or teens attend an in-person meeting they might have otherwise missed, join.me is a great option for parishes looking for a simple needs solution or are limited by their budget. Nervous about trying it? Liturgical Publications, Inc. uses it for their online meetings across the country. Give it a try!

WuFoo

As someone who has worked as a consultant with churches to integrate technology into their ministries and now as the person responsible for communications within a parish, finding a good solution to online forms has been a difficult task. I’ve seen pdfs sent to recipients to be printed and returned; pdf forms that could be filled out online, but were difficult to construct; emails used to gather data and then used to create a spreadsheet; and templates for online forms that were limited and confusing. If this has been your experience too, then read on about a solution called WuFoo.

Owned by Survey Monkey, WuFoo allows you to build online forms that have a built-in, robust backend. The result is a browser based form, be it sign-up, availability, registration, survey, mailing list, contact, application, order, or invitation that is very user friendly and extremely easy to create.

WuFoo

You begin in the form builder where most of the work is drag and drop. Having a rough sketch of what you want the form to look like will help you in this process. With its automatic backend building, as you add rules for a cleaner look, WuFoo will let you know if something is not working. This is very helpful if you have a complex form such as an availability form with lots of dates or a new parishioner form. You can give it a customized look with its themes and the ability to include your parish logo. You cam embed the form with codes WuFoo provides. You can accept payments. WuFoo can even set up notifications to be sent by email to the user and anyone who needs to be informed once the form has been completed. Moreover, if you need to compile your data into a spreadsheet, WuFoo allows you to import everything into an Excel document all at once.

So if I’m telling you about this tool, it is supposed to be free. The trial of three forms is free. To go beyond that, there is a monthly/annual fee. For most churches, you are looking at $15 – $30 a month depending on the choice of plan. What you will save in paper and labor alone will offset the cost. The parish I work at started using WuFoo less than a year ago. Currently we have forms for new parishioner registration, cantor and musician availability, lector availability, server availability, facility/room requests, IT service requests, and vacation/personal time requests. We have plans to continue to grow our use including registration for our intergenerational faith formation program.

If you are looking for a one-stop site to meet all of your online form building needs, give WuFoo a try!

Remind 101

Tool: Remind 101

One of the more daunting tasks in church ministry is good communication. So much of the church world is dependent on volunteers to come in and make things go. The reality is that these people have their own lives, and occasionally forget some of their commitments to their churches. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to instantly connect with a specific group of people to remind them of meetings coming up or service commitments, broadcast time change alerts, or post last minute cancelations, without worrying about whether or not they opened their email? There is! It’s called Remind 101.

Remind 101 is designed specifically for schools, but the applications are very useful for parish work.

Benefits:

  • Privacy – There is no exchange of phone numbers. Remind 101 sets you up with a dummy phone number that recipients see, and you never see their number. Also, texting is one way and only in groups. People will not be able to respond to your reminders. This is a huge benefit in the current safe environment climate we face.
  • Ease of use – Remind 101 is incredibly intuitive. Your recipients only have to read texts. Joining your group is as easy as sending a text. Management on your end is a snap and you can do it from your phone, tablet, or laptop/desktop. Beyond this, you can schedule your texts so you post your reminders at your convenience.
  • Multiple groups – Everyone in ministry works with more than one group. You can manage multiple groups from your one account. A history of your reminders is also kept so you know what was sent to who.
  • It’s free! – Enough said!

Applications:

  • Meeting reminders
  • Service work reminders
  • Schedule reminders for liturgy ministers such as lectors and servers
  • Time change alerts
  • Cancelation alerts due to bad weather

These are just a few possibilities. I’m sure you can think of more. My advice, give Remind 101 a test spin and see if you like it. No cost, no commitment. You truly have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by trying this out. Check out this video to learn more about Remind 101 in the classroom.

Click here if you cannot see the video below.

GroupMe

Tool: GroupMe

One of the more fun things about ministry is gathering groups of people together for a variety of functions: prayer groups, bible study, mission trips, service projects, annual events, etc. A couple of challenging aspects of running or participating in these communities is coordinating and communicating effectively, especially on the fly or in last minute situations. One to one and group text messaging has really helped in this aspect, but depending on your phone or data plan, accomplishing this task could be cumbersome or expensive. There is a free app out there, however, that can help deal with these issues. It’s called GroupMe.

logo[1]GroupMe (part of the Skype family) provides free group text messaging for anyone who has downloaded the app. It works on the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone platforms and can be used to text from your computer or tablet as well. Don’t have a smartphone? No problem. GroupMe is able to work over Short Message Service (SMS) texting phones, too, which means that any older phone that can text will still suffice. Some of the features include the ability to send photos, “like” posts, share locations, direct message one person in your group(s), “mute” conversations that you no longer want to follow, or text specific members of your group(s) rather than everyone.

The ministry applications are pretty straight forward. If you have a group of people that need to communicate with each other or the organizer needs to contact regularly, GroupMe is a very convenient way to do that. So why not just use group email? Not everyone is near a computer to check emails, but their phones are usually on them. Older phones may not receive email. Depending on data plans, email and texts cost money to receive and send. Texts are instantaneous; emails need to wait for the browser to refresh if the receiver doesn’t know it is coming. This concept is extremely important for emergency situations or last minute change of plans.

There are some things to be aware of before going the GroupMe route. One is a group size limitation of 25. This is to prevent spammers from bothering your groups. If you contact their support, GroupMe will work with you on expanding the size limitation. Another concern is anyone who will receive texts from any group through SMS (that is, without the GroupMe app). Without the features of the app, there is no user control. Everything the group sends goes to them and everything they send goes to the group. A talkative group could get expensive depending on the person’s data plan. If possible, have everyone in your group download the app.

Coordinating and communicating with groups can be challenging at times. Check out GroupMe. It could be the solution you are looking for.

SignUpGenius

Tool: SignUpGenius

Volunteer sign-up and organization: the burden of any ministry within any church. Recruiting, availability, scheduling, rescheduling, phone calling, and follow-up phone calling eat up a lot of valuable time. Wouldn’t it be easier to create a sign-up sheet online and email parishioners to volunteer rather than try to track them down at mass or by phone? The truth is there are a number of online tools that allow you to do this such as SignUpGenius.

 SignUpGenius

SignUpGenius is a free service, which, of course, means online ads. The ads are provided through Google, and any questionable advertising is filtered out, which is important if you plan on using this tool with teens. An ad free version is available for a small fee.

SignUpGenius provides themed templates, including ones specifically for churches, that can be customized with images and logos allowing the user to create content with a WYSIWYG (“What you see is what you get”) interface. Sign-up formatting is flexible offering traditional sign-ups; non-date specific forms for ongoing lists; and options for RSVPs, limited or unlimited quantities and comment fields.

As the administrator of the sign-up pages, you can opt for password protection, limit page access to particular groups, and offer a name only option for people nervous about providing their email addresses. SignUpGenius does not sell or distribute email addresses to third parties. In addition you have the ability to use bulk email for easy communication through a saved address book that can be exported to Excel. You can also defer management of any list to another user for the times you want to distribute responsibility to other people plus other helpful administrative tools.

On the user side, SignUpGenius pages can be integrated with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest along with calendars such as Outlook, iCal, and Google. Volunteers can also receive automated email reminders and text reminders as well as edit and swap with other users for schedule changes.

Check out this video to see how easy SignUpGenius is to use:

 

 

So in which ways can a church use SignUpGenius? Whenever you need people to volunteer for a ministry, such as reading at mass; organize what people are bringing to a gathering, such as a potluck dinner; schedule people for any reason throughout the year, such as cantors for mass or snacks for religious ed. classes; or track donations desired and given for an event, such as a mission trip.

Churches depend heavily on volunteers for many aspects of everyday parish life. Trying to recruit and organize those people can be a taxing chore. SignUpGenius can help ease the load of some of your ministerial duties.

WeGather

Tool: WeGather

Answer this question: What is the #1 goal of any church? Answer: To build community. To help in this mission, there are many wonderful tools available through the Internet to share information and socialize. But perhaps with all those different tools, you feel a bit overwhelmed. One ministry group communicates on Facebook, another on Google Plus, and yet another through Yahoo! Groups. For some people, it can get very confusing trying to remember which group is where, especially if you are the organizer of many ministry teams and events. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a tool that allowed you to organize your entire parish’s social groups and ministries, sent email from centralized lists, shared a single calendar that filters events based on group, and allowed your parishioners to socialize online in a safe and secure environment? Wouldn’t it be even better if it were free? Guess what? There is such a tool! It’s called WeGather.

WeGather

WeGather was developed by Liturgical Publications, Inc. (LPi), who are well known for their production and distribution of church bulletins. Over the last few years, LPi has developed web tools specifically for parishes including website templates and online giving. WeGather is their answer to social networking that meets the needs and concerns of a church community.

Liturgical Publications, Inc.

Here are the main features:

  • Provides a safe, secure environment – A church administrator approves all membership requests so only authorized people have access to the site. Secondary administrators can be given access to maintain particular groups and ministries.
  • Centralizes email lists for easy updating and distributing information.
  • Organizes ministries and committees by “groups.” Only members of each group can see information specifically for them but can be shared publicly (any authorized site member) if desired.
  • Provides a centralized calendar of events. Information shown on the calendar can either be group specific or shared publicly.
  • Allows members to easily post and share documents, photos, and videos specific to each group or publicly.
  • Provides members the ability to create their profiles and control which information is available to fellow parishioners.

Again, the core system of WeGather is free but does offer some optional “modules” available on a monthly subscription basis:

  • Online giving via WeShare, LPi’s online giving and event registration program. WeShare can easily be integrated with WeGather.
  • Service Opportunities-promote your volunteer needs where members can easily sign up for volunteer opportunities of interest
  • Additional Storage for documents and media

So, why use WeGather over other online tools?

  • A clean, professional look that is easy to navigate for the casual computer user.
  • A web based tool specifically designed for churches.
  • The privacy of each parish and its members is strictly maintained. No information is sold or given to third parties of any kind.
  • LPi working to build additional modules to plug into WeGather.

WeGather is a very powerful –and absolutely free –communication tool for any church and its members. If you are part of a parish that is looking to organize all of its online ministry outreach and communication in one place, check out WeGather and feel free to leave a comment on how it works for your church.