Technology tips for churches on a budget
By Lindsay Peyton - En Español
The pandemic is proving that online communication can indeed be a platform for sharing the gospel. More and more congregations are livestreaming their services and developing social media. Churches that were online before the pandemic have stepped up their virtual presence. Rev. David Johnson, Associate Pastor at Trinity UMC in Beaumont, said that a number of resources, Apps and software are available to help clergy. He also shares ways to try technology without breaking the bank.
Pastor Johnson pays particular attention to technological trends. He often reads, researches and even signs up for trials of new software. He has also learned what is most effective from experience – using project management tools like Basecamp.
Software can aid clergy in numerous ways, Johnson explained. There are sermon preparation programs including Evernote, Logos Bible Software and Sermonary designed to maximize time getting ready for Sundays.
In addition, there are apps on the market that can help pastors manage their finances – like Mint or Expensify. And there are even others that can help clergy improve their health, from monitoring their sleep cycles to managing their workouts. Johnson, for instance, is an avid user of Nike Run Club and Map My Run.
Apps can also help busy clergy with forgetfulness, Johnson said with a laugh. 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.”
Pastor Johnson shares the following tips to help pastors benefit from technology, while keeping an eye on costs:
Take advantage of free programs. For example, Johnson is a fan of G Suite, including Google calendar, docs, sheets and slides. Basically, Google provides its own version of Excel, PowerPoint and Word for free. For $6 a month, there is even Google Workplace, which specifically creates a space and method for organizing business, similar to Basecamp or Asana. Johnson often uses Google docs to modifying tasks in real time during virtual or phone meetings – so everyone involved can see and track changes. Google makes it easy for team members to create and assign tasks to each other.
Johnson said 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 making sure a meeting happens,” he said. “I really like G Suite. It’s an easy way to do project management.”
There are also a number of free apps worth exploring, Johnson said. For example, he particularly enjoys the Centering Prayer app available through Contemplative Outreach.
Software at a discount? Sign me up. Services like TechSoup offer discounted software, including Microsoft Office, QuickBooks and Adobe, as well as refurbished computers, affordable hotspots to nonprofits. TechSoup also offers services to help navigate technology.
Get creative with social media. Social media is not a bulletin board, Johnson explained. “You can engage with people on social media to build their spiritual lives,” he said. “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 Bible study on Instagram or even trying a gospel music competition. Small churches can collaborate to create a large audience and host a speaker or event on Facebook Live together.
Johnson compares social media to Paul’s use of the technology of the time – the Roman road system. “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, and even negative forces lurking online, Johnson said there are also 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. “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, Johnson said. Often software or apps will offer a simpler, free version to explore without the hassle, he added.
Also, Johnson advises to 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 number of resources for clergy. There are free tools ranging from how to create a success 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, each social media platform has a different objective, Johnson explained. Facebook was built to develop connections and tell stories, while TikTok has a more humorous bent and Instagram is about 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’s certainly been a lesson during the pandemic. Churches have been able to continue their giving programs through online platforms.
Tithe.ly offers a free mobile giving app – or can create custom church gaps. Johnson said that Trinity currently uses Shelby for its giving program. There are several options out there. “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 – or not – and if you have advice to share with other congregations.
Please share your experiences by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.