A Cyberpilgrim's List of Web 2.0 Tools for Ministry

Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Creating Text Conversations

Here’s a quick and fun tool for getting attention in a classroom:  a SMS Generator.  It’s a website that allows you to create text conversations, and then save it for future reference with a link or by embedding it in a website.

sms-generator

This type of graphic could be a great way to introduce a topic.  For example, if your lesson features the classic parable about the Prodigal Son, you could work up a chat like this one:

prodigal-brothers

Present it to the group, either by projecting onto a screen if you have web access (wall screen or even a mobile device) or by printing a copy and hanging it up.  Without mentioning the actual Scripture, ask the students to read the chat and figure out what they can about it.  After hearing their ideas, ask someone them to read the story that inspired the chat:  Luke 15:11-32.  Revisit the discussion to see how the students’ perception of the chat – as well as the parable- changed.

The SMS Generator can also be a way for students to unpack the Scripture.   Pair up the students and give them each a character from the parable; for instance, Dad/ Older Son, Dad/Younger Son, Older Son/Servant, etc.  Ask each pair to create a chat between their two characters, based on the text they just read.  If you have internet access in the classroom, they can create and save the chat online and send you the link. If you don’t have internet access in the classroom, have the students use your example as the model to write out their chat, and you can enter them online later, or you can assign this as homework.

You can post these on the church Facebook page, a class blog, send the links home in a parent email, or even save a jpg to use in the church bulletin or print out for a class bulletin board.  Be sure you know what any acronyms mean before sharing a chat, though.  Try this list to decipher any that come up.  (Fair warning that some of the explanations are not suitable for children or church situations, so please use it only for your own personal development!)

sms-acronym

Whether you use the SMS Generator to create chats based on Bible characters, saints, or even the Pope and your Pastor (!), and especially given the popularity of texting among kids as young as 10, this exercise will be a great way to grab their attention on almost any topic, just by changing the “characters” involved!

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What’s Smore?

No!  We’re not scouts making s’mores – Graham crackers with melted marshmallows and chocolate over an open fire.  We could be educators, ministers, catechists or any minister creating interesting and exciting electronic flyers that grab and catch others attention.

smore-1

How?  Check out a great web tool called SMORE.

See how easy it is to use by viewing the Smore Video.  Scroll down to the middle of the page and click on the “A Cupcake Story Video.”

smore-2

How could you use this tool in your ministry?

Having a Family Dinner, check this out:

smore-3

Announcing a Night of Worship, here is a creative invite:

smore-4

If you just want to see what others are doing, come to the website and scan through the variety of creations.  Here’s one about the Follet Digital Reader:

smore-5

Jeff Herb has said the following about the tool – Smore will let you quickly, easily, and efficiently create flyers using an incredibly simple drag and drop and WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) editor.  The site gives you some pre-defined templates to work from (which are totally customizable, just a starting point). 

More importantly – your flyers will look great on any device.  Also, if you want to print your flyer and distribute the old fashioned way – that option is also available to you.

Would love to hear from you how you are using this wonderful tool.  Come back to share the link of your wonderful creation. If you found this post to be of interest to you, click the “Like” button.

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.

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…)