Technology in ministry seems to incite a similar reaction to the Apple/ PC debate. For some it’s manna from heaven, for others its digital procrastination and they would happily go back to the purple stencils if it meant not having to deal with another networked printer, and Twitter really is as ridiculous as it sounds.
Personally I sit somewhere in the middle. I love technology but I don’t really get into blogging or chat or even gratuitous texting (c u L8R have a Gr8 day). For me technology is more about function than connection and I prefer meeting face to face than online.
It would be a good article to talk about connecting online and how to use it well but for this one I thought I would stick to my strengths, my top 5 bits of technology that help me function in ministry.
If at the end of the article you feel I am bordering on Luddite with my selection then email me with your Top Technology and I will add it to the article. Keep the reply to 100 words. firstname.lastname@example.org
My Top 5 Obvious Digital Technologies
These are the top 5 that we just take for granted. We wouldn’t know how to function without them but they are such a standard issue part of our life they hardly rate a mention.
+ Internet access
+ Mobile phone
My Top 5 Not-So-Obvious Digital Technologies
These are the ones that are standard issue for many but I thought I should mention them just in case.
+ Data Projector
+ Decent Portable speakers (not 10 buck jobs from Dick Smith)
If you are speaking to youth or children then using different media to communicate is fantastic and being able to take that media with you is even better. I used to literally carry my 54cm CRT TV into my scripture classes because it was easier than finding the school’s clapped out old thing on the trolley.
Pretty much every church has a data projector but they strap it to the roof, which is great for morning church but not necessarily very helpful for Kid’s Club on Thursday afternoon which meets in the hall. A laptop, data projector and a small but decent pair of speakers give you a huge amount of flexibility in how and where you teach.
Just a final note: running a video off your laptop with poxy sound to a group of 20 is a waste of a good resource because it doesn’t have the presence to engage the audience. More than 10 people and you need something bigger.
If you have ever tried to do a brochure for camp in Microsoft Word then you will understand the frustration of trying to get everything to stay in the right place. I use Word to write a talk but I will always use Publisher to write a bible study or do a brochure. It’s a cheap program, easy to learn and will produce great looking content. Combined with Photoshop (see below) you can do some great stuff.
Hint: don’t create a good looking brochure and then butcher it by running it through the photocopier. Photocopiers do not handle grey very well- so pictures look a bit average. Print directly to the photocopier (which works like a printer) or use a printer.
Used well it can provide a great visual connection to what is being said. It is still the easiest way to put up songs but you can also use it to include pictures in your talks or when you are promoting different events. My only hint with PowerPoint is keep it simple. You don’t need to use every transition effect and every font and every swish and swirl in every presentation.
My Top 5 Digital Technologies
Now we have the standard issue stuff out of the way, let me offer the top 5 technologies that help my ministry.
1) Dual Monitors
If you spend a lot of time at your computer preparing then dual monitors are AWESOME. Think about how often you are moving or minimizing documents so you can get to another, or you try and put two side by side but that are so small that you fog up the screen trying to read them. I know it doesn’t sound that significant but you will be surprised how efficient and easy it can make things. You can buy a 22” monitor for about $250 and combined with good software and a good mouse you can minimize, maximize, swap screens, and swap document orders - all without touching your keyboard or moving your mouse. Laptops have dual screen built in but you will need a graphics card if you have a desktop, you can get one for about $60 and it will do the job fine.
Young people prefer SMS over email so it’s a great way to remind them about things coming up. Clickatell is an SMS service that allows you to send group text messages. The online version took a little bit to set up but once I imported my address book it was fantastic. The things I like:
+ send 50 text messages at once with very little effort (some mobile phones have this feature);
+ create distribution lists so you don’t need to go through the whole process of selecting people every time;
+ you can customise the message (Hi Andrew…);
+ they can reply to your phone or computer;
+ IT’S REALLY CHEAP- about 7c a text.
3) Photoshop/ Paintshop Pro
Like it or not the way we present things makes a difference. It creates interest, it says what we are doing is significant and it helps people engage with the content. I am using an older version of Photoshop but I recently decided to test Paintshop Pro – mostly because it is cheap in comparison and for the average punter is more than enough. It allows you to cut out photos, manipulate images, change shapes and colours and create really cool titles and text. Great for websites, brochures and PowerPoint. It will take a couple of hours to really get the hang of, but all in all it’s pretty easy to use.
4) Group Website
OK this is a shameless plug for FERVR but websites are a really easy way to stay connected with youth beyond youth group. They spend about 30hrs a week online so channeling some of that time into encouraging each other is great. It has good Christian content, creates an online home for your group and a safe place to connect with you and each other. Personally I am not too keen on building and maintaining a website but FERVR is free and looks great.
5) Google Calendar (also check Google Docs)
One of the frustrations of working in a church is trying to make sure that the youth group camp doesn’t clash with the evangelistic Sunday or making sure your leaders have the latest schedule. Google Calendar gives you a simple, free online place where you can set up different calendars for different groups and control who sees what. Emails with dates and pieces of paper with schedules get lost but this at least provides one common place where people can go to get the latest information. You can also send out auto reminders which are totally devoid of personality but good if you just want to remind them about a meeting.