A Cyberpilgrim's List of Web 2.0 Tools for Ministry

Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

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.

HootSuite

HootSuite (http://hootsuite.com/)  is a social media management tool. Although it was developed with businesses in mind, it certainly can be adapted to fit the needs of churches as well. If you are one of the pioneers in social media in your church and you are finding it just a little bit daunting to keep track of the Tweets, posts, blogs, shared photos and YouTube videos associated with your parish or congregation, HootSuite can help. I noticed that many prolific social media contributors were inserting links to a URL shortener with “ow.ly” in it, or the post itself came from @HootSuite. Curious, I investigated and spent last summer playing around with HootSuite, just getting used to the features. I have to say, it seems to be a great tool for ministry. In a single window, a free HootSuite account allows you to display up to five social network accounts (Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, etc.). In addition, you can have twenty tabs (a tab sorts your streams by content), and each tab can have up to ten streams (a stream can be a mention or a direct message, for example)  for content as it is updated. Hey, I just wrote this and I’m already confused, so let me make this simple. Instead of logging in and out of your various social networks, they are all organized in your HootSuite account  in one window, sorted by tabs. The beauty is that you can create one post and tell it to go to all or some of your social networks!  For example, I created tabs for my personal Facebook account, my parish Facebook account, my personal Twitter account and a Facebook group for technology in ministry that I belong to. I can send out one post to all of those sites at once. I can also click through my tabs to read the latest content for all those social networks as it arrives without the bother of having to sign in and out of those different accounts.

HootSuite is powerful and a bit complex, so give yourself time to learn the features and take advantage of its extensive help and tutorial menus. Some of the useful features I discovered include the ability to block or follow others,  features for teams working in a HootSuite account, ow.ly, the built-in  HootSuite URL shortener, and the Hootlet application, which allows you to post a link to any web site you happen to be visiting directly to your HootSuite network. The Hootlet applet can simply be dragged to your browser bookmark toolbar for easy access as you browse the web. HootSuite itself will save you time in your social networking ministry, and the Hootlet will amplify that savings!

I would be interested in hearing what you think about HootSuite and how you think it compares to other social networking management tools. Leave a comment if you wish to share!

Finding and Following on Twitter

The power of Twitter is two-fold:  the people and the information.  First, you can find and connect with others who share your interests, developing appropriate online relationships with peers.  By contributing and “listening,”  you can become part of a professional or ministry network.  Second, through your newsfeed or by searching for specific #hashtags, you can stay on top of news and trends in any particular interest or industry.  This is especially true for niche interests, like Catholic ministry or catechesis! 

So the best way for beginners to leverage their Twitter account is in their list of who they are “following.”  The most recent tweets of people you follow will show up in your news feed.  The more people you follow, and the better their content, the more useful Twitter will be for you.  How do you find such folks? (more…)

Twitter Chats

Most of us have heard of Twitter, the social networking site where users post updates (called tweets) in 140 characters or less.  Professionals love to use Twitter for networking, celebrities for self-promotion, and ministers for evangelizing!  With the use of a shortened url, a tweet becomes a launching pad to send people to an image, a website or a blog post… there really is no limit.  A Twitter chat can build up your ministry by encouraging community among members, helping you identify areas to focus on teaching, or even promoting special events.

But what IS a twitter chat?  This is simply a way to have a conversation online, on a specific topic, gathering many varied folks together over a similar time period (generally a specific hour or over the course of one day).  These chats can be regularly reoccuring ones, or once and done (for a special event).  Tweets are linked, as usual, by the #hashtag, but because people are online at the same time, it encourages more interaction.  The sponsor or leader of the chat generally starts things off with a specific question or set of questions to which people respond.  As the tweets start flowing, the conversation begins with users asking or commenting on each other’s tweets.  A good place to learn is to follow the Tuesday night chat for the Church Social Media – learn more here.

Warning:  twitter chats do not flow as regular face to face conversation does!  If you’re logged into Twitter and following the #hashtag your newsfeed, a number of tweets will pop up – some replying to each other, others asking or commenting to the group.  It takes a little practice to follow along… but once you get the hang of it, you’ll have a lot of fun.

Besides being fun, what good could a twitter chat be for your ministry?  Imagine inviting parents online once a week to ask a faith-sharing question:  “who is Jesus to your children? #catholicparent.”  It’s another avenue to begin talking with each other… and as a bonus, it could help you see what they really understand, or not.

Or perhaps following up an RCIA session with a conversation about the topic of the week:  “how do you experience Jesus as another human? as God?  #stceciliaRCIA.”  This gives your participants a chance to reflect on the Church teaching within their daily prayer… and may surface additional insights or questions.

Or church leaders could survey general parishioners after a specific event, such as an Advent Taize prayer service:  “which Taize song means a lot to you?  #sun5pm.”

The goal, of course, is using a twitter chat as another method of networking, all to build up the face to face ministry that happens at Mass and Church.  If you haven’t tried it yet, where do you see it being successful?  If you have, what’s your favorite way to follow chats?

Audioboo

Audioboo is a podcasting tool you can use with your smartphone or iPad. Currently, iPhone, iPad, Android and Nokia support Audioboo. If you have ever wished you could record and share a student’s voice, a message, a lesson, an interview or even your own thoughts and reflections, you will find that those dreams can come true with Audioboo!

The Audioboo web site is the place to start.

Click here to go to Audioboo

 http://audioboo.fm/

Audioboo couldn’t be simpler. First, download the app to your phone. Make a recording. You can also associate a digital image on your phone with the recording. You have sharing options at that point, but one way to access this music file is to email the audioboo to yourself. When you link to the boo from your email on your home computer, you will be taken to the file on the Audioboo web site on your browser. From there, you have several options. You can Tweet the link, Like it on Facebook, email the link or embed the boo on your website. You can even import the file as a podcast into your iTunes account. Once in iTunes, you can copy the mp3 to your computer and, since it is your original work, you can then attach it and share it with others.

Audioboo is a great way to use smart phones in education. Drawing on the creativity and energy of your students, have them design a short podcast that shares their knowldge on a given topic. Students can also use their built-in smart phone cameras to take photos to go with each boo podcast. Once the whole class has created their boos, upload them to your class web site for visiting parents or other students to hear.

Here’s an example from Catholic Elements, a podcasting ministry, that demonstrates how effective even a short podcast can be.

Our faith is full of the sounds of bells calling the faithful, sung and spoken prayers, and lovely sacred music. The spoken witness of a believer is one of the most powerful tools of evangelization. Perhaps you have a gifted speaker in your parish and want to create podcasts for parishioners to hear them teaching. Recently, two of our choir soloists sang Panis Angelicus at Mass. My iPhone captured the moment with the help of Audioboo! I was able to share the music on our parish Facebook page and email the link to the soloists, who were delighted. Have a listen:

Take the time to learn Audioboo, and the possiblities for using this podcasting tool in your catechetical ministry will quickly become evident! How have you tried Audioboo? Leave a comment so we can hear about it.

Evernote

Tool: Evernote

Ever have issues organizing your research for projects or presentations? It can be a monumental task to compile quotes from web pages, videos, images, and documents and organize them. Often we find ourselves bouncing from folder to folder where we have saved our information, or we use a lot of paper and ink printing out full pages for tiny snippets of text. Evernote is an online tool that lets you save all these different media forms in one location and access and share them from several platforms and devices. Here’s the best part: it’s free! You can purchase a Premium package for $5 a month or $45 a year for additional storage, options, and security. Check out this video for a quick introduction:

 

So what are the ministry applications? If you have a presentation to make, Evernote provides not only the means for you to arrange your notes and media clips, but if you clip something from a web page, the address is also included so you can reference your research. This is a very important aspect as we should model solid ethical practices in our work.

How about the Religious Education classroom? Check out how this school’s students use Evernote:

 

Here are a couple of applications for Youth Ministry:

Mission Trips Often parishes will ask mission trip participants to report on what the experience was like. Evernote provides you a central location to load and save pictures, video, information about the location and notes about what was learned and experienced by multiple contributors from multiple devices. Once the group returns, they can get together and produce a presentation based on all the information they collected during their project. If you’re hesitant to use social networking as a way to give parents and other parishioners real-time updates on the mission trip, Evernote provides a great way to collect memories for teens to record and show when they get home.

Group Projects One way to make learning more engaging is to add elements of collaboration and discovery. If students can work together to research a topic for a presentation, such as a particular saint, they are more apt to show interest in the subject and retain the information as opposed to being lectured to. Evernote can be utilized by a small group to collect and organize its research that can later be turned into a presentation using something like PowerPoint or Prezi.

Organizing thoughts, information, and media can sometimes be challenging. Evernote provides a great way to keep everything in one spot yet accessible from anywhere.

GoToMeeting

Tool: GoToMeeting

How many of us in ministry have had trouble scheduling meetings because of conflicting calendars, had to miss meetings because of personal conflicts, or had meetings cancelled because of bad weather? Of course, the answer is all of us, so what can we do about it? One solution is GoToMeeting. GoToMeeting is a web conferencing tool that allows you to host an online meeting with up to 25 people. The company also has an additional product called GoToWebinar that allows you create your own webinar for up to 1,000 people. The convenient aspect to this setup is you can attend a meeting or webinar not only from your computer but also from a tablet or smartphone.

Curious to explore the GoToMeeting experience? They allow you to have a 30 day free trial. After that, there is a fee to host meetings or webinars, but the cost can be offset by savings in utilities and supplies you might normally need to pay for to prepare for a face to face meeting. Meeting participants attend for free and do not have to join anything. Once you schedule a meeting, an email is sent out to participants with a link to join the meeting at its designated day and time. All they have to do is click the link, enter the provided code and their email address for verification, and voila! They are ready to go. Watch this video to see GoToMeeting in action.

Some of the main features that GoToMeeting provides are as follows:

  • a video option to see people’s faces
  • on screen texting to attendees
  • the ability to show the screen of the presenter to all participants
  • the ability to switch presenters during the meeting
  • sharing of keyboard and mouse control with other attendees
  • the capability for recording the meeting or webinar for other people to view later

So how can web conferencing help in ministry? First and foremost with committee meetings. As previously stated, we all have had issues scheduling a meeting or had to miss one due to a last minute conflict or had bad weather cancel a meeting. As long as you have a laptop and Internet access, these hurdles can be overcome. A few months ago, for example, my wife’s car was in the shop and she needed a ride to the doctor’s office for a check-up. I had a meeting scheduled for 15 minutes before her appointment. I was able to drop her off and sit in the parking lot and attend the meeting on my smartphone.

Ever have a Religious Ed. class canceled for bad weather? Schedule a meeting and send an invite out to your teens. They can learn in the safety of their own home. Take it one step further and plan a class through GoToMeeting. Invite parents to attend as well if you wish. It’s one night they don’t have to drive their teen to class and you might be amazed how much you save in supplies, such as paper and printing.

Do you have a program suffering from poor attendance? Try creating a webinar. People can attend it live online, and you can record it so others who can’t make the presentation can view it later. It’s a great way to run an “Ask the Pastor” series because you can control which submitted questions are seen by participants and also have options for polls and surveys.

As someone who has been doing ministry in various forums for over 20 years, I understand that as ministers we generally prefer to meet face-to-face for the sake of community building. The reality is that is not always possible and at times not even desired. GoToMeeting gives you a great tool to solve these issues.

Check out how the Archdiocese of Milwaukee is utilizing GoToWebinar

Jing – Screen Capture Tool from TechSmith

Jing is a free, versatile and simple screen capture tool that “lives” on your desktop – ready to capture anything on your screen, from images to video clips.  That makes it a great tool for sharing snapshots of web pages, marking up those images, creating scrapbooks, and more.   Jing, which you can find here,  allows you to do many things – including creating up to a 5-minute video which can be saved to the free Screencast account that you set up when you first use Jing – or to your computer’s hard drive.  You can view a brief “overview video” on the Jing page, which talks about some of the features.

When you download and first open Jing, it will create a yellow-circle “sun” desktop widget that your can move wherever you want to on your desktop. It remains visible above your browser for instant accessibility.  You can access the ability to create a screen or video capture at any time by simply mousing over the yellow circle and choosing one of the smaller circle on the lower left to activate the cross-hairs that define your capture.  Here is one of the better tutorials on how to use some of Jing’s  basic features .

Note that he mentions you can  also edit images and videos further by using another TechSmith product,  SnagIt (not free.)

How can Jing help in a catechetical setting?  Parish leaders, teachers and catechists can use it to create short videos to show parents how to register online for a program,  or to show  how to navigate a particular website.  It can be used to create a scrapbook of  resources that can be posted on a web page or document that can be emailed.  Teachers and students can use it to share their work – because it makes screen-shots simple and editable.   Take a look at TechSmith’s testimonial page for educators for even more ideas.

I personally use Jing regularly to capture and instantly crop images, especially those that don’t readily respond to a right-click “save image as” command.   I sometimes mark them up or edit them as well through the tool.  It’s simple and it’s always at the top of my computer screen.  If you have comments or ideas for how to use this great free tool, please comment below.

Wallwisher (now called Padlet)

Tool: Wallwisher, now called Padlet

Padlet, formerly called Wallwisher, is a simple online notice board creator for collaboration through the use of online stickies. Imagine an online bulletin board that allows anyone with access to post a sticky, or move stickies around. It can be used for brainstorming, agenda setting, story mapping, or simply the sharing of ideas and information. Moving the stickies allows for prioritizing or sorting the posts.

Of course there are customization options available, like privacy and moderation settings.

One example of a Wallwisher Notice Board:

Here is a quick tutorial to help you get started.

If you believe that you can now create a notice board that you and others can use to post “stickies” – click the “Like” button.  Once you create a video or engage your students in creating an “Online Notice Board”, come back and tell us about it.  We’d love to hear from you.