December 31, 2005

Should a young person consider going into IT?

Today I had an IM exchange with a friend whose son is in college. We were talking about his major and his interests. When the conversation ended I said, "I should blog this!" So here it is ...

Clif says:
Your son knows a lot about computers. After an ugly couple of years the IT labor market is coming back strong. So it would be a good option for him if he's interested.

My friend says:
That is interesting... he has asked me what I thought of the market in IT and I have hedged. Do you think the improved conditions have any staying power?

Clif says:
In short: yes. Here's my high-level view ...

1. The market overheated with Dot Com and Y2K. There was a labor shortage. Compensation rose in response, attracting career-changers and causing a boom in the IT training industry and the IT consulting industry. (1998-2000)

2. The bubble burst. The NASDAQ collapsed. The macro economy went into recession. 9/11 happened. (2000-2001)

3. Business people were tired from the boom 90s. The IT innovation curve flattened. Businesses took the opportunity to consolidate and reap the productivity gains of the previous investment cycle. (2002-2004)

4. There were lots of initial experiments in off shore outsourcing. Some successful. Some not. (2002-2004)

5. The entire labor market adjusted to a new lower demand level combined with a new source of cheap supply overseas. The career-changer folks lost their jobs, many leaving the industry and not returning. The IT training industry collapsed. The IT consulting industry collapsed. Many people lost jobs and consulting assignments with inflated compensation and eventually found new jobs at more reasonable compensation. (2002-2004)

6. Now the economy is growing robustly (GDP growth in the range of 3% to 4.5%). The labor market has adjusted to the overseas supply. Business managers have determined what they can and can't outsource off shore. IT training is back to a more normal level, with no new career-changers. IT consulting has returned, but at a much reduced level. (2003-2005)

7. We're seeing a dramatic increase in the IT innovation curve that will continue for the next three years, at least. This innovation curve is driven by: RSS, AJAX, web services, multi-core processors, Windows Vista, Office 12, and wireless. (2005-?)

So ... in summary, IT is a good field again. Not overheated, but not depressed. Healthy sources of innovation that will drive growth in demand, coupled with stabilized labor supply. [See also my previous post on the economy, IT innovation, and the IT labor market.]

My friend says:
I am less exposed than you are to much of this but I agree with what you are saying. The question in my mind is which jobs are the most secure. (most difficult to commoditize and outsource)

Clif says:
Well, that question (at least for now) has been answered.

The very high-tech stuff is still done here: chip design, compiler design, etc. But there are very few folks who do that work.

Work in large organizations that is highly repetitive and relatively low value is done off shore: call centers, big software development sweat shops, etc.

The biggest demand for people here is in the middle: project managers, people who understand technology and can apply it, system architects, etc. Also, nearly all small-to-medium businesses use local labor because it's too difficult to establish off-shore relationships, find good people, and manage them. Only the largest companies can really do that. (And they're finding that the cost advantages are more modest than they expected in the beginning.)

Bottom line: off-shore is now a permanent part of the labor market. But it doesn't threaten anything that your son would really want to do with his life.

December 23, 2005

Doesn't like Christianity

Dave Winer: "I don't like Christmas, maybe that has something to do with not particularly liking Christians. Let me explain. It's not the people I don't like, it's the Christianity of the people. "

Something for all of us to chew on during our Christmas break.

December 22, 2005

Policies

Dave Ferguson: "policy is what happens when we can’t get people to do what we want them to do or when people are not championing a clear cause. Policy occurs when the ethos of a church culture is weak and the cause is not compelling."

Wow. Maybe there's a good reason I don't like to think or speak in terms of "policies"?

Road Runner e-mail

Did I mention how cranky I am with Road Runner right now? It gets worse.

Our master e-mail list has around 9,000 subscribers. All of a sudden, the number of subscribers dropped significantly yesterday. Upon investigation, 1,400 of our 1,700 Road Runner subscribers are bounced.

Road Runner tech support is clueless - we might as well be talking to a wall. Our IP addresses aren't getting blocked. We aren't on any blacklists that we can determine. We are having a temporary problem with our DNS service that messed up our SPF record, but that doesn't explain the issue. Is it related to the issue we had last week? Who knows?

Our e-mail service is Intellicontact. They are nice and helpful, but they haven't been able to figure it out either. The problem is, they send huge numbers of e-mails for thousands of clients, so figuring out why one ISP is bouncing the e-mails from one client is a needle-in-a-haystack problem for them. According to Intellicontact, they are on the Road Runner whitelist. If so, it isn't helping us. Their web interface shows the number of times bounced for each subscriber, but it doesn't show the last date/time bounced or the bounce reason - both of these pieces of information are critical to figuring out why Road Runner is bouncing us. So Intellicontact is investigating.

But in the meantime, we can't send e-mail to 1,400 people - 16% of our entire list. Christmas Eve is 36 hours away and we can't communicate with 16% of the congregation. I've spent a full day on this and I don't feel any closer to resolution. Road Runner, your spam Nazis are making it impossible for us to communicate with 16% of our congregation. Would it get your attention if they started switching to other providers?

December 20, 2005

Check out the Google zeitgeist for 2005

Here are the most popular searches this year on Google. ("Zeitgeist" means "spirit of the times".)

Tactical IT execution and strategic IT leadership

While you're on Tony Dye's blog, also check out his post on Choices for the CMS we want and the comments that follow. This post sparked a lengthy conversation between myself and Brian Slezak, my fellow Appian Way blogger who works with me in the IT Department at Resurrection. Particularly, we discussed the comment by Carl Wilhelm. I guessed that Carl's comment was referencing Barna's new book Revolution that I posted about previously. (I haven't read it yet because our bookstore hasn't been able to get a copy - apparently there have been some delays in printing and distribution - but I know enough about the subject matter of the book to surmise that Carl was referring to it.)

Our conversation was around the differences between tactical IT execution and strategic IT leadership. This is a subject that deserves a long post of its own, or perhaps several posts. In very brief summary, we have found smooth sailing when we're responding effectively to an IT need identified by a ministry leader. These are generally situations where there's an opportunity to improve efficiency (and thereby reduce costs) by automating an existing process that has gotten to a large enough scale that automation is appropriate. On the other hand, when we begin to think bigger, more strategically, about social and technical trends and how that may impact ministry in the future, then we are sailing on much more difficult and choppy waters. The risks are much higher because our role as servants of the other ministries of the church puts us in a great position to respond to their needs, but a bad position to lead technical change.

Speaking only for myself, I have been an IT executive for a number of years. As such I have been accustomed to being on the executive team in the secular, for-profit world and sitting in all of the executive meetings where strategy is being discussed and the technical implications of each strategic option are thoroughly explored. At Resurrection, I'm not on the executive team. My boss is, but he's the CFO and is not a technical person. So I'm not able to influence church strategy from a technical standpoint. I know from talking with a number of my peers at very large churches that this is the case in most of their churches as well. Few churches have an IT expert on their executive team, unless the senior pastor happens to be a person who thinks strategically about IT and drives it.

This becomes very important when you start considering questions like those raised by Carl Wilhelm. Even though I have the background and skills to determine technology strategy and to make a plan that directly responds to Carl's questions, I'm not in a position to influence the decision-makers to make it happen. Is it just a simple as me learning how to "lead up"?

Tony Dye's class on syndication and blogging

A few weeks ago Tony Dye posted the PowerPoint he used in a "lunch & learn" session on syndication and blogging. Thanks Tony for this great resource. I know I need to offer similar training to our staff at Resurrection.

December 19, 2005

December 18, 2005

Ariel Sharon Yassir Arafat goof

This just goes to prove that no matter how sophisticated the technology, when the content goes bad it can go really really bad. Ariel Sharon had a small stroke today. Our CBS news affiliate in Nashville reported it but something is strangely wrong.....enough so that seeing it might give cause for Ariel have to return to the hospital..., lets hope he doesnt watch the Nasvhille local News.

Texting in ministry

Effective Web Ministry Notes comments on an article in the Orlando Sentinel regarding how college coaches are sending text messages to recruits' phones as a tool in their recruiting efforts. We need to figure out how to use texting in our student ministry strategy.

December 17, 2005

Narnia, Middle Earth, Good, and Evil

Im sitting here trying to think about how to put into words what I am feeling. I just saw the Chronicles of Narnia and Ive been watching the weeks news and these two things have seemed to collide for me. You may wonder what the failure to renew the Patriot Act and Narnia have in common....Im going to try and connect the dots.

Just a few minutes into Narnia I realized something profound, well I thought it profound you might thing it obvious. I realized that both Tolkein and Lewis lived through the Nazi bombardment of Great Brittan, and quickly thereafter I realized that both of their books were about the profound battle between Good and Evil. It is of course the greatest sin of our society to believe in such a thing, that there actually are good guys (That wear the white hats) and bad guys (That wear the black hats) and yet there is something profound in our collective conscience that drives millions of dollars in movie sales when anyone dares to make a movie that revives this "old" way of thinking. I think its because, deep down, despite the attempts of the philosiphers of pluralism and the modern media's attempt to make all ideas equally acceptable, we all know the truth. There is Good, and there is Evil and we know it when we see it.

There are good ideas....Like the idea that sacrifice and love of neighbor are what hold societies together, and bad ideas....dare I say evil.... like the idea that murdering people in the name of God is ever justified (Regardless of whether it is Osama or Paul Hill). I think its time for us a Christians to re assert this grand Idea, that the Creator of the universe has given us some rules, some of them dont seem very modern....we would rather God not care about our sexual morality for example, but see thats the point of Narnia and Middle Earth....There is a "deeper magic", a guiding truth that is biger than all of us, and we are not in control.

But we moderns dont like to think that some ideas and, in fact, some people are evil (or at least controled by it). We like to say things like "one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter" We judge not based on some transcendent notion of the Good, but on the basis of sincerity of belief. Our primary virtue is to be tolerence, by which we mean being friendly to any way of thinking that does not posit that there is such a thing as Good and Evil. And so now your asking what does this have to do with the Patriot Act well, here goes.

This week the Senate decided not to renew the Patriot Act, this "contraversial" bill was overwhelmingly passed in the days and weeks after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. But we modern Americans have short memories, we forget that there are good forces in the world today....Democracy being one, and Evil forces in the world today...Islamic Extreemism being one, and that these two grand ideas for they are both grand, are in fundamental conflict. The failure to renew the patriot act, and our growing softness when it comes to fighting evil around the world remind me that the most dangerous idea in the world might just be the idea that there is no such thing as Good and Evil. Its what Nevil Chamberlin thought, its what the French leadership thought in the 1930's, its what the German people thought during the rise of the Third Reich, and unfortunately more and more its what we think.

What scares me most about the breakdown in our society, and its intolerance of any thinking that posits a true Good and a certain Evil, is that every society that has gone such a rout in its Intellectual life, has ultimately succumed to some great Evil.

So thats what Im thinking....Technology bringing Narnia and Middle Earth to life on the big screen....thats technology in ministry: Here is to hoping it can revive our beliefe in the Good Guys and the Deeper Magic.

December 16, 2005

Road Runner is causing me pain

One of our senior ministry leaders is replying to e-mails from a hundred or so people who e-mailed her. Many of these people are on Road Runner e-mail addresses. (Road Runner is the Internet service from Time Warner Cable.) She started getting bounce-backs from Road Runner that look like this:

The e-mail system was unable to deliver the message, but did not report a specific reason. Check the address and try again. If it still fails, contact your system administrator. exchange01.church.cor.org #4.0.0 smtp;452 Too many recipients received this hour. Please see our rate limit policy at http://security.rr.com/spam.htm#ratelimit


So I clicked the link and read about Road Runner's rate limit policy. Turns out that we didn't have forward DNS for our mail server, exchange01.church.cor.org, which caused us to fall under the category of "Systems With Incorrectly Configured DNS Entries". Accordingly, we are limited to sending e-mails to 10 Road Runner customers per hour. Since we have literally thousands of people in our congregation with Road Runner addresses, this is a problem.

Needless to say, we corrected the DNS issue right away, but how long will it be before Road Runner's system checks again and realizes we fixed it?

Later in the same Road Runner page about their rate limit policy we read:

The SenderBase Reputation Score that Road Runner uses as part of its inbound email rate limiting decision cannot be looked up on the SenderBase site as a direct query.

Woo hoo. So Road Runner is going to base its rate limitation partly on the SenderBase Reputation Score, but there's no obvious way for me to find out our score. Road Runner, this is not serving your customers well. How are we supposed to explain to our congregants that we can't get e-mail through to them due to a policy of their ISP that's so complicated, even us IT guys can't figure it out or do anything about it?

December 10, 2005

Skipping Christmas Part II

Clif Pointed to Perry Nobles post so I just wanted to make some comments about his comments.

First this is a silly controversy at some level. God will not ask us about our decisions to open on one particular Sunday before allowing entrance into the eternal Kingdom, and so as such who really cares. What it points to, however, are deeper issues of ecclesiology that have, in my mind, done damage to the way we think about church in general.

Perry's points were:

1. there is not a biblical mandate to open church on Christmas day when it’s on a Sunday.
2. We are worshiping on the 23rd and 24th and that’s enough.
3. People have a life outside the church

Ok here goes, first the idea that we need a biblical mandate to do those things that the church has deemed important to do for 2000 years is ridiculous. There is no biblical mandate to baptize infants but we have been doing it for 2,000 years (I hear my Baptists brethren wailing and that’s the point) There is no biblical mandate to have church on Sunday at all, yet it is the consensus day of worship for 2,000 years, There are hundreds of things that we do as Christians that are not biblically mandated. This is of course where some strains of Protestantism have become so iconoclastic that they have forgotten the importance of church tradition. I would think you would be hard pressed to find a Catholic Church that has ever failed to celebrate mass on any Sunday Especially Christmas Day.

2. Ok Pope John Paul regularly performed mass at midnight on Christmas Eve then got up the next morning and had Christmas Day services....Give me a break we can never worship God enough.

3. And to the point that people have a life outside the Church ah, this is the biggest flaw I see in Perry's reasoning. What is the Chief End of Man...? To Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever, by buying in to the idea of a separation between the sacred and the secular we are intimating that there are more important things....like family...than the worship of the Savior on the day we celebrate his birth. This is one of our two High Holy Days, can you imagine any other faith failing to show up at a place of worship on its most important day.

Bottom line is the 23rd is not Christmas Day; the 24th is not Christmas Day. The CHRIST MASS is to be celebrated on the 25th of December. It’s just the way it is, no biblical mandate, rather the mandate of our ancestors, our forefathers in the faith who would come back and slap us silly for even considering such a thing.

Basically I think the choice to close is mostly about Mega Church arrogance and historical ignorance. Back to the Catholics, one of the things I admire about them is that they would have a priest celebrate the Christmas Mass whether or not a single person showed up because the mass is about more than entertaining the masses.

December 07, 2005

No church on Christmas?

Seems as if this whole "no church on Christmas" thing is generating a lot of discussion. Even national popular press stories are appearing, such as this on one MSNBC.

Chuck Russell, my fellow Appian Way blogger, linked one of his seminary professors, Ben Witherington, who really blasted churches for closing. Ben's post drew a lot of comments.

Another perspective is from Perry Noble who explains why he decided not to have services on Christmas. Perry also takes the opportunity to poke fun at the controversy.

And then there's Rich Tucker who linked a very old story about Resurrection explaining that we've bucked the trend by being traditional in some ways, yet we're still successful. By the way Resurrection is having worship on Christmas Day, and so is my wife's church, Living Water. So hey, if your church is closed, you're always welcome here. ;-)

December 05, 2005

Talking Head Video is Boring

The folks over at the Nielsen Norman Group are doing eye tracking testing on talking head videos and there verdict is that people find them boring. You can watch a clip of a typical session here Here is what N/N had to say.
"It's... interesting to notice how much attention was diverted elsewhere in the image, including the road sign behind the interviewee. There's even a brief glance at an object over his shoulder that looks like a trash can. Most interesting of all is the tremendous attention spent outside the video itself on things such as alternative headlines and video controls. The eyetracking data clearly show that a talking head is boring, even for 24 seconds. On the Web, 24 seconds is a long time -- too long for users to keep their attention on something monotonous."

Skipping Christmas

Seems as though Willow Creeks decision to skip christmas this year has caused some uproar. I tend to agree with the critics...Closing Church on Christmas day is a bit like Closing Fenway or Wrigley on Opening Day. My church is going this route as well and I was a little supprised. I do think reducing the amount of activity is smart, but totally shutting down does seem to be capitulating to the culture. Anyway here is what one of my professors had to say about it.

December 04, 2005

Church marketing report

Kevin D. Hendricks of Church Marketing Sucks points us to a new report on the results of a survey on church marketing of over 500 church leaders across the country. This short report is worth a read.

Kevin says, "It's not Barna material by any means, but it is some interesting stuff."

Church Management System principles

Tony Dye of Perimeter Church just completed a great series of blog posts about what a good Church Management System (CMS) should do and how it should work. This is great reading for any of you who are considering installing a CMS or changing your existing CMS.

I wonder if any of the CMS companies out there are sophisticated enough to be paying attention to this discussion in the blog world. Some of Tony's comments seemed aimed directly at the vendors of popular systems. Are they listening?

December 02, 2005

Retail

Six months ago the closest thing to retail at Church of the Resurrection was selling CDs and videos of sermons. Today we have a bookstore (that sells our own CDs, videos, etc. as well as other typical Christian bookstore stuff), a ticketing system for selling reserved seat tickets to events in our main sanctuary, and now a coffee shop. Whew! I've never managed technology in a retail operation before, so it's been a learning experience.

For the bookstore we're using Booklog software and have been happy with it. For ticketing we're using Wintix and Webtix from Center Stage Software. It is functional but unimpressive (ask me for more info, if you're interested). For the coffee shop we're in the process of installing Restaurant Manager. Should have it running by the middle of next week.

In the process of installing all of these retail systems, we have discovered a great Internet vendor called POS Micro that sells all of the required specialty hardware such as cash drawers, barcode readers, keyboards, receipt printers, etc. They have stuff in stock, can ship overnight, can take orders until 8:00 pm Eastern time, and are inexpensive. Highly recommended.

November 29, 2005

Muddled Middle or Extreme Center

My friend Clif has been sending me updates on the post below because, quite frankly, I think he knows I disagree with some of the points made in the underlying article. First let me say that in general I agree with Jones and Hamilton on the notion of the Extreme Center. The question is the center of what.

As a Methodist I am certainly not a fundamentalist, and yet I adhere to the supremacy of scripture. As a Methodist I tend to be less dogmatic on certain areas of doctrine like the issues around the end times or other such things, but as Methodists we are confessional in that we believe that Jesus actually was God Incarnate, He was punished for our sins, and He was resurrected. On those issues there can be no real debate. (They are forever ensuring as doctrinal standards in our restrictive rules and cannot be changed.) In other words United Methodists...To the extent that they adhere to their own constitution and stated beliefs, are firmly orthodox.

So my question is the middle means what? I'm not big on saying we are in the middle, I tend to refer to it as the Muddled Middle and think of it as the place where churches go to die. What Jones and Hamilton articulate is not the muddled middle but the extreme center. The word extreme is important here. It is recapturing and rearticulating our Wesleyan core with confidence that we know what is in fact true about God. Namely that He has the heart of a Father and that grace is at the center of His relationship to and with us, and that this grace can transform us. That's appealing to me.

Several things drew my attention in the article. First among them Roberts said,

"But they also want a pastor who didn't ordain himself. Or who changed his first name to Bishop. Or who makes up the church's theological standards to fit her own tastes, needs or desires."

I almost fell out of my chair laughing at this one. After all we are a denomination founded by a renegade Anglican who was kicked out of just about every church he ever preached in, and who violated church law by ordaining missionary bishops (Coke then Coke ordained Asbury) to oversee the Methodist movement in America. And why was Wesley persona non grata in so many churches in England? Because they felt he was "making up the church's theological standards to fit his own tastes, needs, or desires."

Second, the Via Media is not the golden mean of Aristotle Roberts seems to suggest, in fact it refers to a radical middle way between Catholic and Protestant theologies, namely the understanding of grace. The unique focus of Wesley is the idea that grace is both the un-earned favor (Protestant) AND the power to overcome personal sin (Catholic) ... Some would call that quite radical.

Then he said:

"They want a church that didn't rise up out of a vacuum, but that has instead grown up in a creative way from the deep and nourishing roots of history and tradition. They want organization, and order, and transparency that can be trusted. "

Well this is interesting, given that the Methodist movement started as a rebellion of sorts against the established doldrums of the Anglican Church. John Wesley's famous "The World Is My Parish" quote refers to his defiance of the Church of England's insistance that he not preach outside of his parish ... and especially not to the people in the streets. John threatened the organization, order, and transparency of the established church.

So I agree lets persue the Extreme Center, not the Muddled Middle ... Centered on Christ and his mission in the world. After all it is his Body.

So recapping ... Extreme Center-Sign Me Up Muddled Middle-spit it out!

November 23, 2005

Yep, we really ARE in the middle

Adam Roberts from Shepherd of the Hills UMC in Douglasville, Georgia describes how Methodists really are in the theological middle. In the post he quotes Adam Hamilton, our senior pastor. Scott Jones, the Methodist bishop in Kansas agrees, and refers to this position as "The Extreme Center."

November 21, 2005

United Methodist News Service article on podcasting

The United Methodist News Service just released a nice article about churches doing podcasting. It features a number of quotes from Peter Metz, Resurrection's Director of Communications.

November 16, 2005

Nerd test

Jason took the nerd test. I thought I was a nerd, but I must bow to Jason who scored a whopping 96!

I am nerdier than 90% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

November 05, 2005

Revolution

Barna's new book, Revolution, is getting a lot of buzz, including a prominent mention yesterday in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal. (Thanks, Jeff, for alterting me to this.)

My mom first told me about the book earlier this week, and offered to pay for a copy. Woo hoo! So I guess this will be on my reading list soon.

Word of the podcast is spreading

Jeff is listening to our sermon podcasts and is telling his friends. Jeff, we're happy you're listening and even happier you think it's cool enough to tell your friends.

November 01, 2005

Typo3 makes #1 on Google with "Content Management"

The creator of the Typo3 CMS posted on this discovery yesterday in the typo3.dev newsgroup at news.netfielders.de.

Searching Google.com for "content management" you will find, at least today, Typo3 is the top result above PostNuke and Vignette.

I also noted this on the Web Empowered Church Developer Forum. To read how WEC is utilizing Typo3 in their ministry to the world, check out webempoweredchurch.com.

Web Developer position open

At Resurrection we've had a position open for a web developer since August. As a hiring manager in the IT field, this is the first time in more than four years that I've had difficulty filling an IT job. See my previous post about how the world has changed. Now Scoble posts this morning that every company he knows is hiring like crazy. The IT labor market has changed for sure.

I just now realized that I've been remiss in not posting our job opening here. Are you a skilled web developer who is a passionate follower of Christ and would consider a ministry position at Resurrection? Do you know someone like that?

Here's the job posting:

Blend your passion for following Christ with your technical talents at one of the top mainline Protestant churches in the United States.

Outstanding opportunity for an early-career IT professional to gain experience in all aspects of IT in this multi-functional position. Work in the energetic IT department of a large and fast-growing church in Kansas City, reporting to the Director of IT. Develop both .NET web applications connecting to existing SQL Server databases and simple web applications that integrate with the TYPO3 open source web content management system. Develop new web page templates for TYPO3, support line-of-business applications including TYPO3, Shelby church management system, and the mass outbound e-mail system. Work directly with end users.

Candidate should have two years current web development experience using the Microsoft platform (Visual Studio, Internet Explorer, IIS, ASP, SQL Server, .NET). The position will require technical proficiency in HTML, CSS, XML, and SQL. Should be familiar with TCP/IP, HTTP protocols, object-oriented and structured programming, Windows 2000/2003 user administration, and SQL Server Enterprise Manager.

Familiarity with the open source platform (Linux, Apache, PHP, MySQL) and graphical web design skills are a plus.

If you are a disciplined software engineer, have the personality to work with non-technical end users, are committed to personal spiritual growth, and desire to serve God in a ministry position, this could be your calling. Please email your resume to
kcesi@email.com, then call Cork Kurlbaum at 913-685-8383.

October 24, 2005

Gutenburg Goes to Church

In a new post called "Gutenburg goes to church," Internet evangelist Scott Reese imagines the early resistance Gutenburg might have encountered when he wanted to use his new printing press to print Bibles. Those of us who develop, refine, and deploy new technology are faced every day with the kinds of issues Gutenburg must have faced as well.

October 23, 2005

Church Management System comparison

In this month's issue, Christian Computing Magazine compares 40 Church Management Systems in a familiar product evaluation matrix format. Full contact info on all 40 vendors is provided at the end of the article. If you're looking to buy a CMS or to replace your existing CMS, having a list of 40 vendors with contact info all in one place will speed your search significantly.

October 22, 2005

Resurrection Podcast is Live

Resurrection's Weekly Sermon podcast is now live. Here's the link to our feed: http://www.cor.org/index.php?id=2485

Read on to learn how we built the podcast and publicized it to the world.

We decided to base our podcast feed on the RSS 2.0 capability that is built in to the ttnews plugin in TYPO3. First, we had to get ttnews working properly and generating the RSS feed. Then we had to modify ttnews to make it add enclosure tags to the feed for the MP3 files. While we were at it, we decided to add the iTunes-specific tags as well.

Next, we had to think about the user experience. We know that podcasting is a new technology that is only understood well by techies and other early adopters. When we release this capability to the 7,000+ weekly visitors to our website, how will the non-techies react to it? Will they be confused? Intimidated?

Podcasting technology is relatively immature and lacks a large installed base of podcatchers. iTunes is the only major media player that can act as a podcatcher. Also, Apple is the leader in integrating the website, music store, client software, and portable player device. Accordingly, we wanted to take advantage of Apple's market leadership, but without endorsing iTunes or implying that other podcatchers wouldn't work just as well.

So we did register the podcast with the iTunes Music Store. This is really a pain in the rear. First, you can't do this on the iTunes website. You have to go to the Music Store inside the iTunes application. Within the iTunes application click "Podcasts" and then "Submit a podcast." Then, you need an Apple ID. Then you need to sign up for the music store, which requires full contact information and a credit card as though you are going to download songs, even if you never intend to do that. (This whole time we're thinking, "we just want to register our podcast with your stupid directory!")

We're a bit confused about the podcast metadata you supply when you register with iTunes. Once registered, there doesn't seem to be any way to edit your registration. Yet, Apple does seem to pick up changes to the channel information in our feed. So perhaps it doesn't really matter what information (such as genre, author, etc.) you give when you sign up? Perhaps the only thing that really matters is the channel information? Also, be aware that Apple is caching the channel information. We don't know how frequently they poll the RSS feed for new information, but there doesn't seem to be a way to ping it to let it know your feed has changed (Feedburner is great about this).

Finally, we had to figure out how we were going to explain this whole podcasting thing to non-techie site visitors. We've done a bunch of work on this and posted some pages on the site. We don't know yet whether it is going to be adequate or whether further changes will be necessary. You can see our subscription page here and our FAQ page here. We borrowed the "Subscribe with iTunes" button from Brian Bailey. Thanks Brian! We hope you don't mind.

Update
The final test was asking my wife to subscribe. Watching her try and fail at this was a humbling experience for me. I had to tweak all the text on the subscription page before I got something that made sense to her. Once I wrote some text that she could understand, she downloaded iTunes. Then she had trouble installing it. When she finally got it installed, clicking the "Subscribe with iTunes" button didn't work. So I suggested a reboot (thinking there might be something not registered correctly from the installation). Still no luck. She finally gave up on that and tried subscribing manually. This was a disaster too. This whole time I'm thinking, "I sure hope this podcasting thing doesn't generate an avalanche of support calls! Ugh!"

Bottom line: it seems that podcasting is great for early adopters, but has a ways to go before it will work well for the masses. Feel free to comment if you think differently.

October 21, 2005

Evangelist for two churches at the same time?

Brian Bailey of Fellowship Church explains why they require their staff people to be members of the church. I totally understand the rationale behind this, but of course, I have my own unique perspective on it, which I shared in a comment to Brian's post.

Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard

Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users has a great new post where she illustrates how great product design makes it easy for the user to do the right thing and difficult for them to do the wrong thing.

Simple principle, but difficult to always practice. For example, we know we have some usability issues on the Resurrection web site. We need to make some improvements to make it really great for users, but we can't do it all immediately. Is the first step admitting you have a problem?

October 17, 2005

Yahoo! RSS Research

Quoting Richard McManus:

"During the Web 2.0 Conference Yahoo! released a research report on the takeup of RSS. The resulting white paper was entitled RSS - Crossing into the Mainstream, which is a good indication of both the findings of the research and what Yahoo! is attempting to achieve in their use of RSS. The main points in the research were:

* Only 12% of the Internet population has heard the term RSS
* Only 4% of the population knowingly uses RSS
* 27% of the internet population uses RSS but doesn’t know that it's called RSS."

So we have a ways to go before RSS is truly mainstream. No real surprise there, but it's good to know where we are in the adoption curve.

More good local press

In his October 13 editorial, Steve Rose, the publisher of a local newspaper, gives Resurrection's Senior Pastor, Adam Hamilton, a very positive review.

Quoting from the piece: "Having seen Hamilton live and after hearing samples of his prior services, I can only say he is one of the most dynamic and inspiring speakers I have ever heard. His words are captivating, and his messages are very powerful."

That's awesome. Thanks Steve!

In an e-mail to the congregation, Adam had this to say in response: "First, I am grateful for the kind words of Steve Rose. He and his family are community leaders who have helped shape Johnson County in many wonderful ways. I was humbled and honored by his comments. I did want to offer two corrections to the column. The first has to do with the title; I am grateful to be the founding pastor of this congregation, and I thank God every day for the privilege of being your Senior Pastor, however I do not believe this is my church; this church belongs to God. If I had not been assigned to start this church, I am confident God would have called someone else; and if something were to happen to me, I am confident God would have someone in mind to take my place.

The second correction I would make would be to this paragraph, "The idea is to be inclusive and inoffensive. There's usually no talk about controversial subjects such as abortion and homosexuality." I think I know what Steve meant; I think he was contrasting us with some churches who seem to preach on these issues, particularly homosexuality, incessantly. As you know, we do talk about difficult issues, including abortion, homosexuality, stem cells, the war, racism, and other critical issues of our time. Though these are not our primary focus -- our primary focus is on helping people become deeply committed Christians -- our faith does touch on all of these issues. On some we take a clear stand; on other issues my aim is to help you to hear and understand those Christians on either side of the issue, and then to encourage you to think about these issues from a Biblical, pastoral and theological perspective. After attempting to model how we might listen to the claims of those with whom we disagree, I tell you how I see the issue. My book, Confronting the Controversies, is an example of how we've done this at Church of the Resurrection. I believe the Gospel will give offense at times -- it will be a stumbling block. I used a quote in Tom Leathers' funeral that captures one dimension of preaching -- "to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." I think that describes how I see part of the task of preaching at the Church of the Resurrection.

I am grateful to Steve Rose for his positive words about our church and for his leadership in our community."

October 16, 2005

Why blogging scares a lot of bosses

In a recent post, Microsoft's Robert Scoble helps us understand not only the benefits of blogging but also why this brave new world scares a lot of bosses.

Quoting from the post (referring to the this post, this post, and this post by various Microsoft bloggers) :

"This conversation is probably scaring so many people at other companies away from blogging. Is your company ready for this kind of conversation between an anonymous blogger and executives (and guys seven levels down like me?)

Most aren't.

Me? This is cool, but it's not where the big corporate payoff in blogging is (and there is a payoff for having a Mini-Microsoft -- he's getting read and causing conversations both internally and externally that are very healthy).

No, the big payoff is because now we can have a conversation with customers without having any intermediaries (and, thanks to Google you can find us!). I see evidence internally every day about just how big a deal this is."


I'm confident these lessons from Microsoft's bloging in the business world should apply to us in the church world too. Authenticity is absolutely critical for us to be effective, particularly with the post-moderns. Every day Microsoft is more and more transparent. As Scoble points out, it probably scares many people, but customers love it. Microsoft is showing us how transparency is worth the risks; and they play by some rules that help manage those risks. Can we in the church adopt a few basic rules and open up too?

High School seniors talk about how they use the web

Jeffrey McManus posts a summary here of a session at the Web 2.0 conference a couple of weeks ago led by a research analyst who put a half dozen 17- and 18-year-olds on stage to answer questions about how they use the web. Interesting information even though this is a very small sample of teenagers. These people were in 3rd grade when the web started to become widely available. They have grown up with the web and use it in very sophisticated ways.

Even though I'm the father of two teenagers, I need some help to figure out a smart strategy for the student ministry web site. Who out there is involved in or knows of a youth ministry that is truly using the web in a way that recognizes this and rewards teens with a web experience that matches their level of sophistication?

October 14, 2005

Resurrection West

The Kansas City Star published an article today (subscription required) covering Church of the Resurrection's announcement that we'll be adding a second location in western Johnson County next spring. We're now at the early stages of figuring out how we'll link the locations with data, systems, phone/voicemail, mail, etc. Stay tuned, it's going to be exciting!

October 13, 2005

The world changed while I wasn't looking

Some data points:

1. The macro economy is booming again as evidenced by the fact that the Fed is increasingly concerned about inflation. Of course, we have the near-term effects of oil prices and the Gulf hurricanes. But this concern is deeper and wider than that.

2. We created a new position in August at Resurrection for a mid-level web developer. We've gotten very few resumes and no good fits. 18 months ago, we got many strong candidates and made a good hire within 6 weeks of creating a position.

3. A headhunter called me today looking for a Perl and XML programmer. First time I've received a phone call from a headhunter since before 9/11.

4. The Internet is growing faster now than it was at the peak of the dot-com bubble in 2000.

5. Any of you been in IT long enough to remember the term "push" that was so in vogue in the dot-com era? I used PointCast myself. "Push" technology didn't really work - partly because too many people were on dial-up connections that weren't always on - so it faded. But e-mail did work and it became the push that actually caught on. Now we have a reversal. Mass outbound e-mail is so difficult, it's become nearly unusable. In its place we finally have push that really works the way the original "push" people envisioned: RSS.

6. Memeorandum is now the best place for technology news. It's fresher than any other site and the right stuff is at the top of the page. Why? Not in spite of there not being a traditional journalist or editor making the decisions, but because there isn't one. Now here's the really cool part: memorandum is just a piece of software running on a server. It scans the Internet and purely algorithmically determines the top news of the moment and then it presents that news both as a web page for human consumption and as an RSS feed for computer consumption. It illustrates perfectly how a Web 2.0 application can grab information from the Internet, process it and add value, and then output the results in a way that another piece of software can use it as an input.

7. Podcasting has gone from being invented to being everywhere in one year. We're testing our sermon podcast feed at Resurrection right now. The video iPod, announced only yesterday, immediately spawned a deal between Apple and Disney that is getting a chilly response from some ABC affiliates.

8. Brian Bailey has as much influence in my new world as MSNBC - they're peers in my RSS reader (which is Pluck, by the way).

So how are these data points related?

The macro economy has heated up. The IT labor market, at least in Kansas City, is (suddenly?) tight. We have a major change happening in technology (this time driven by RSS). And the Internet is booming. Does it seem like 1995 all over again? It does to me. Only this time, it's perhaps even bigger because, as data points 6, 7, and 8 show, the media world is in the process of being turned upside down.

Reflecting on the above data points, it seems clear to me we're in the early stages of a technology change as significant as the emergence of the web into the mainstream (1994 or 1995) and before that the Macintosh-led graphical user interface and mouse (1984). I'm not suggesting this change is driving the macro economy or even the IT labor market, but it does seem at least noteworthy that all these things are happening at the same time.

The world changed while I wasn't looking. But I'm looking now ...

TYPO3 is hard

Pastor Jeff Mikels blogs this week about the difficulty in trying to install/configure TYPO3 and the Web-Empowered Church (WEC) extensions. Read the comments and you'll see a response from Mark Stephenson.

In my opinion, TYPO3/WEC isn't to the point that it's easily adoptable by small or even medium-sized churches, unless they're unusally blessed with a gifted volunteer web developer. Early adopters will be high-tech churches of any size or very large churches like ours that have IT people on staff.

Having said that, WEC's goal (which we fully share and support) is definitely to make this usable by any church, anywhere. The technical barriers to achieving that goal are significant, but we're all working together to overcome them. I believe that those barriers will be overcome in time, with God's help. In the meantime, I would encourage any large or high-tech church to consider building/rebuilding their site in TYPO3 and to take advantage of the tools and expertise offered by WEC. The more of these early adopters we get involved in WEC, the faster we will be able to make the system work for the other churches.

I'm not speaking for Web-Empowered Church. I'm speaking from the point-of-view of the IT Director of a large church that is fully committed to WEC and its goals. God is doing something big here, and it's very exciting to be a part of it.

WEC Around the World

Mark Stephenson of Web Empowered Church (WEC) posted the following on the WEC forum last night. I thought many of our readers would want to see this ...

------------------

Team,

I'd like to share a praise. Just in the first 10 days of October, people from the following countries visited the WEC website:

European Union, Great Britain, Switzerland, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, South Korea, Bulgaria, Austria, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Argentina, France, Guatemala, China, India, Indonesia, Italy, Russian Federation

I have exchanged e-mails with churches in Denmark, Great Britain, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Japan who are all planning to use WEC.

Thanks for your Awesome work!! God is blessing! This is huge!

Blessed to be a servant of Christ,
Mark

October 11, 2005

More on Flash Video

I mentioned earlier that we're investigating moving from Windows Media Video to Flash Video for our streaming sermons. Brian Bailey of Fellowship Church gives a lot more details today on how they did this. Thanks Brian!

October 10, 2005

Free Downloads of Big Wig Web Developer Conference

A friend of mine emailed me this link recently.  This is a web developer conference that can be downloaded for free.  Its line up is a Who’s Who of web designers and usability experts.  You would pay thousands to go and sit at the feet of these folks (I know from experience)…..Download now wile there is still time!!!

Jakob Nielsen on the Office 12 UI design

Jakob Nielsen, the guru of application and web usability for a generation, is weighing in on Microsoft’s new office 12 user interface paradigm. He seems to indicate that the new paradigm, one he calls "what you get is what you see," will be transformative. I am wondering out loud if this will be one of those Dvorak keyboard moments. I tend to agree that the new paradigm is a better one, but wonder if a generation of folks trained on the old Microsoft standard will have difficulty adapting to the new model no matter how superior it is. I guess this is where I officially become old, and start talking about the new fangled things these kids are using ...

October 09, 2005

Working too much?

How many of us who serve in ministry as a vocation can relate to this article from Business Week?

Here's a quote: "More than 31 percent of college-educated male workers are regularly logging 50 or more hours a week at work, up from 22 percent in 1980. Forty percent of American adults get less than seven hours of sleep on weekdays, reports the National Sleep Foundation, up from 31 percent in 2001. About 60 percent of us are sometimes or often rushed at mealtime, and one-third wolf down lunch at our desks, according to a survey by the American Dietetic Assn. To avoid wasting time, we're talking on our cell phones while rushing to work, answering e-mails during conference calls, waking up at 4 a.m. to call Europe, and generally multitasking our brains out."

Sound familiar? I'm a bit ashamed to admit it, but that's me.

Office 12 supports PDF

Office 12 will generate PDF files natively. Nice.

Scoble breaks a rule

I see that Microsoft's Scoble is switching his domain name to http://www.robertscoble.com/. Obviously, that's a better domain name, but isn't it dangerous to change your address when you're one of the most popular blogs in the known universe? He's aware of this risk, of course, and wonders aloud what will happen to his search ranks, RSS subscriptions, etc.

I’m really curious about how this will turn out. Is Scoble at the level where he can do stuff like this? Are people are so interested in reading his thoughts that they’ll find him wherever he is and update their RSS subscriptions? (I know I will.) Is it possible to get to such a point of popularity that you can break a major marketing rule and still be successful?

October 06, 2005

Anyone else notice problems accessing websites yesterday?

Here's why (apparently). For a while, I couldn't get to Google, MSN, or Yahoo. But I could still get to Resurrection and many other less-trafficed sites.

October 04, 2005

Microsoft really believes that "markets are conversations"

Scoble points us to Macintosh fan Giles Turnbull talking about how far ahead Microsoft is in opening up to customers via employee blogs.

What would it mean for local churches to open up via blogs in the same way Microsoft has? Would the people we're seeking to reach and serve appreciate us opening up in the same way? I expect so. Post-moderns, in particular, put a high premium on authenticity. When we make mistakes, I'd like to see us learn how to be honest about it in our blogs. Microsoft has shown us how.

October 03, 2005

Flash Video

We've had it on our list for months to look into Flash Video (FLV) as a better cross-platform alternative to Windows Media Video (WMV). Ginghamsburg is doing it with success. Now I see that Fellowship Church is going that way too. I'm eager to find some time soon to see if we can develop a new weekly process that would allow us to make this change.

Leadership Institute wrap-up

Adam Hamilton, Resurrection's Senior Pastor, was awesome again Saturday morning in his plenary session at Leadership Institute 2005. Then I had a chance to present on "Proven Principles of Church Technology Management". I hope some of you at the workshop will become regular readers of this blog. Welcome!

Workshop recaps, photos, downloads, and more have been posted to the IT section of our Resurrection website. We're still uploading stuff so if you don't see what you're looking for, come back.

Jon and Brian provided awesome support for the conference, and also for me, their leader. Thanks guys!

Oh yeah, and Friday's blogger did post again and again. He (mostly) liked it! Thanks, Brent.

September 30, 2005

Leadership Institue 2005

We've had an exciting couple of days here at Church of the Resurrection.

Yesterday, I had the chance to present on Web Empowered Church with Mark Stephenson of Ginghamsburg Church and The Appian Way's own Chuck Russell. We had a great time with the people who attended this 4-hour intensive workshop. I know many of them felt like their heads (and other body parts) exploded part way through because of the workshop's length and intensity, but everyone stayed to the end, for which I was greatful.

In the morning plenary session today, we heard from Rev. Adam Hamilton, our senior pastor. The band was great. The worship technology/media people hit a grand slam. And Adam was as awesome as ever. This afternoon, Chuck and Mark reprised their presentations from yesterday, with many positive responses. All of it reminded me of why it's so great to be part of Resurrection.

Tonight, Adam had me in tears when he talked about having a Magnificent Obsession with Jesus and then related it to the love he has for his daughter who just last month went off to Kansas State as a freshman. The time is coming for me next year - my daughter is a senior in high school now, so it was very close to home.

And when I got back to the computer, Technorati led me to this blogger's account of his time at Leadership Institute yesterday. Will he post again?

September 28, 2005

Godcasting to Postmoderns

Bringing it all together here. Frank Johnson references my blog post regarding Godcasting on Strategic Digital Outreach, providing his view on how to use this technology. Through his references we also find Mark Batterson who writes about taking your preaching off-road, and just recently Blogging Church posted a new podcast interview where Terry Storch interviewed Mark on his success with podcasting.

Whether you may be ready or not, Godcasting has started some in depth conversations on a new way to bring people to Christ.

Clif and I have occasional conversations on reaching postmoderns, and we, like Mark, see Godcasting as another conduit to bringing people to Christ. As I read and listened to the blog posts I referenced above, I have the strong feeling that this is not only a way to reach everyone, but can be the primary way to reach postmoderns.

Postmoderns church shop with Google, not the local phone book. They want to experience the church before having to walk into the doors, and those church websites that do it most effectively will be the ones winning that walk in. (See my post
Personal Thoughts Of A Confessed Postmodern). They want to have theological conversations without feeling the closterphobic pressure of being preached to. They want you to tap the core conflicts they have in their life right now. Best of all, I'd wager they're willing to listen. Perhaps while they're working out, or driving to work, or doing whatever A.D.H.D. activities they tend toward. ;) I think if you can converse with them, they will not be opposed to steping through the doors on Sunday.

Are church websites important?

Here are a couple of recent posts by Sam of "remixable" that help us understand and articulate the importance of church websites in reaching people today and having credibility.

First, he asks whether a church is invisible if it doesn't have a website. He then goes on to talk about local search, which is a subject that's very much on my mind.

Second, he speculates about how the web could be used to enhance Sunday morning sermons. We're thinking about that a lot and are in the early stages of building a TYPO3 extension that would make the sermon simply be a milestone in the middle of a longer theological conversation that starts the week before and continues indefinitely afterward.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Steve Heyduck of banditsnomore points us to an insightful take on the prevailing theology of teenagers. Christian Smith and Melinda Lunddquist Denton are calling it, "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism". That's a mouthful, but it says a lot.

Teenagers are among the prime populations we're seeking to serve through the web, so we better know what they think.

September 27, 2005

David Gillaspey likes us, cool!

David Gillaspey of Great Church Websites likes the picture and testimonial on the home page of our Resurrection website, as well as Senior Pastor Adam Hamilton’s weekly e-note to the congregation.

In the same article he also mentioned the Transformation Journal at Ginghamsburg church. Open source software developed at Ginghamsburg for this is now available from Web-Empowered Church.

Good one, Tony

Tony Morgan posts today about leadership. I'm printing this one and putting it up in my cubicle.

More on writing great copy

Rob Williams of Effective Web Ministry Notes points us to Ann Wylie’s tipsheets on writing great copy. Good stuff.

September 26, 2005

Seeker-focused copy

Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users posts here about making the culture of a large company more customer-focused. I thought a lot of her comments were helpful in thinking about how to write web page copy for seekers. Here are a few ideas I found particularly interesting ...

Language matters. Frame everything in terms of the user's experience.

In meetings, phrase everything in terms of the user's personal experience rather than the product. Keep asking, no matter what, "So, how does this help the user kick ass?" and "How does this help the user do what he really wants to do?" Don't focus on what the user will think about the product, focus everyone around you on what the user will think about himself as a result of interacting with it. Study
George Lakoff for tips on using language to shift perceptions.

Capture user stories.

Keep a notebook or
hipster PDA with you always and whenever another employee, blogger, (or user) tells you something good or bad about a real user's experience, write it down. Build up a collection, and make sure these stories are spread. Be the user's advocate in your group and keep putting real users in front of employees (especially managers). Imagine that you are the designated representative (like the public defender) of specific users, and represent them. Speak for them.

Look for first-person language from users about their own experience. Challenge others to solicit first-person, user-as-subject language.

Do everything you can to get user feedback phrased in first-person terms. Rather than feedback that talks about what the user thinks should be in the product, try to solicit feedback that gets the user talking about himself. Users tend to want to tell you what you should add/subtract from the product, but what you need is feedback where the user tells you about himself in relation to the product, even if it's negative.

Useful: "I tried to use the XYZ feature, and I couldn't figure out how to make it work."
Not useful: "The XYZ feature doesn't work properly."

Useful: "I was able to make a really cool image as a result of your app."
Not useful: "The app does a great job of image processing."

Set it up as a challenge for yourself and others you work with to figure out ways to generate first-person feedback where users talk about themselves. Make it a game or a contest to see who can get the user to use the "I" word the most often. What kind of questions could you ask that would lead to the user talking about himself rather than YOU or your PRODUCT?

September 24, 2005

First chance to hear more about Web-Empowered Church

I promised Mark Stephenson would make an exciting announcement about Web-Empowered Church at at Church of the Resurrection's annual Leadership Institute, which is Thursday through Sunday: Sept. 29 through Oct. 1. Well, I just previewed Mark's announcement in the post below!

It's not too late to plan to come to Kansas City for Leadership Institute. This is your first chance to hear directly from Mark and see the Web-Empowered Church technology demonstrated. I'll be presenting along with Chuck Russell from United Methodist Communications (UMCOM), another of our Appian Way bloggers, and Mark. This is a great learning opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new wave of innovation and cooperation to create more effective church web sites.

Web-Empowered Church Pre-release

Mark Stephenson, Director of Cyberministry at Ginghamsburg Church, and also the director of Web-Empowered Church, announced yesterday the availability of the "Pre-Release" of the Web-Empowered Church software and documentation, based on the TYPO3 open source content management system.

This release includes software and documentation for:
1. WEC Common Configuration
2. Six Templa Voila Templates (+ variations)
3. Devotional Journal Extension
4. Flash Player Extension
5. Flash Presentation Extension
6. Prayer Connector Extension

Also, the WEC User site is now the place to be with its greatly expanded user information and a CHC Forum with user topics.

How blogging can benefit your church

Seth Godin gives us a way to articulate the value of blogging. His key idea is that when people read a blog, they are giving the blogger their attention. And, when it comes to marketing and communications, attention is very valuable.

Thanks to BetaChurch for linking and commenting on this.

September 22, 2005

Church marketing sucks, even for the pros

Does it help to know that even professionals can struggle when trying to market the church? Church Marketing Sucks tells us the story of Angus Kinnaird, a marketing pro who worked on the "Jesus: All About Life" campaign in Austrailia.

Have you ever worked really hard on a church-related marketing campaign without the level of success you desired and expected? I definitely have and I'd think most people who have worked in church marketing have as well. Thanks to Church Marketing Sucks, I feel a little better ... I guess.

September 19, 2005

What Google Is Doing Part II

Ok so the google guys are brilliant we all know that. Here is something that definitely could impact the future of church video streaming. They seem to be offering free video stream hosting in return for allowing their ad words to run on your site im sure. The great thing is, however, that they are applying google’s search technology so that a person can search for a topic or even a word in a video for and get video results. Basically they are doing for video what their image search did for images. It would be cool to see some churches upload some video and see how it works. I typed in sermon in the search results and got a few results. The video search is still in the beta stage but will eventually even allow you to charge for viewing. Here is the URL check it out: http://video.google.com/

Editor's note: see also our previous post on this.

September 14, 2005

What Google is doing


What Google is doing with RSS

As happens frequently with me I stumbled into something that google was doing today. They have ramped up the use of RSS and now allow individuals to totally configure their own custom portal to the internet world. I love what they have done. It allows the easy addition of standard news feeds like cnn.com and the New York Times, its also quite easy to add an rss feed such as the United Methodist News Service feed and the Appian way feed. You can drag and drop the interface to look exactly like you want it, etc. Its time to take a look and start thinking about how we can promote the use of this kind of portal along with a church blog.

Server or service?

Yesterday ZDNet quoted Bill Gates as saying, "As we bring AD and Passport together, Hotmail and Exchange together, and MSN Spaces and SharePoint together, we give you the richness but also the choice of having it as a server or a service."

This tidbit offers some intriguing insight into Microsoft’s product plans. The availability of functions like these as either servers or services will change the in-house vs. outsource calculation in significant ways.

September 13, 2005

Office 12

There has been a lot of trade press coverage today on the unveiling of the new look for Office 12 at Microsoft's Professional Developer's Conference. The best information I've seen is this blog on PC World by Harry McCracken. Office 12 is due out in the second half of 2006.

Those of us involved in church IT will need to start considering how the availability of Office 12 will affect next year's budget and technology planning.

To me, the biggest issue is the total cost of upgrading. This total cost is more than just the cost of the license fees and any necessary consulting to achieve a network-wide upgrade, but will also include the training costs. Given that the user interface will be completely new, there will be significant training costs as well as the intangible cost of loss of productivity while users learn the new interface.

On the other hand, the arguments in favor of upgrading are obvious. This will be the first major improvement in Office in more than eight years. It seems probable that most or all of the innovations we see in this new version will ultimately be embraced by users and become the "new normal". If I'm right on this, it isn't really a question of whether, but only a question of when. The only thing that could change this would be a universal rejection of the new user interface. In that case, will we all move to Open Office? Who knows?

Will those of us who are decision-makers in church IT be early adopters, or will we wait to embrace this new version? At Resurrection we're still running Office 2000. We had tentative plans to move to Office 2003 this year, but that plan didn't survive the budgeting process. I can't imagine that we will adopt Office 12 next year since there's no way we can properly plan for it a year in advance of its release. Since we're still on Office 2000, however, we don't have the luxury of waiting indefinitely. With all of this in mind, I'd predict that 2007 will be the year for us.

Learning from Channel 9

Perhaps you saw Robert Scoble’s interview of Bill Gates on Microsoft's Channel 9. I found the interview interesting, which isn’t surprising as I suspect I’d be interested in practically any interview of Bill Gates. But what struck me the most is the way Scoble and the team at Channel 9 are innovating the use of inexpensive video technology and blogging to get their message out in an anti-slick, human way.

What they’re doing on Channel 9 shows that all you need is a consumer digital camcorder and a streaming video server. The interview isn’t edited at all, just trimmed at the beginning and the end. They’ve succeeded in making Microsoft human and Bill Gates human (look closely and you'll notice, he isn't wearing socks!). Making the big, bad Microsoft human is an impressive feat.

So I’ve been thinking about how to apply this innovation in the church. In order to attract people who otherwise wouldn’t come into the church, it seems to me that we should be working to export outside the four walls of the church something of the experience that happens inside the four walls. Many of our churches are doing that now with video streams and podcasts of sermons or other portions of weekend worship.

But what if we had a video “reporter” like Scoble who would go around and capture some of the experience of our other programming? For example, we could send a reporter into our children’s area on Sunday morning to capture a sense of the excitement, get testimonials from parents and kids, show the production quality of the large group time, etc. And then produce it for web streaming with minimal editing and no titles, effects, etc. That kind of anti-slick communication could go a long way to make huge churches like Resurrection seem small, accessible, and human. And it could make small churches seem innovative, high-tech, and exciting.

Is anyone out there doing this now? If so, I haven’t seen it.

We are in the right business

In an article released today the Barna research group tells us that over the last five years there has been a significant increase (Double Digit Growth) in the use of Websites among mainline protestant churches. The story includes information on the use of email newsletters, electronic funds transfer, and much more. Take some time and read this one....It tells us were in the right business.

Chuck

September 08, 2005

Web Empowered Church at Leadership Institute

It's hard to believe that Church of the Resurrection's annual Leadership Institute is only three weeks away. This year we're blessed to have Mark Stephenson of Ginghamsburg Church and Chuck Russell of United Methodist Communications (UMCOM) presenting a 4-hour workshop on web ministry. Mark is the director of the Web Empowered Church, a new initiative of the Methodist Foundation for Evangelism. Both are well known seminar presenters on how churches can make effective use of the web in ministry.

Also, Mark will be making an exciting announcement about Web Empowered Church at the conference. More on this later.

If you could possibly make time in your schedule to come to Kansas City for this event, September 29 through October 1, I know you'll be blessed. If you're interested to hear more about how the Web Empowered Church can help you, not to mention the opportunity to spend time with some of the country's most knowledgeable practitioners of web ministry, Leadership Institute 2005 is for you. See Resurrection's web site for full details. See you there!

September 01, 2005

Personal Thoughts Of A Confessed Postmodern

I had heard of the term postmodern, but ignored it's meaning up until a couple weeks ago, the act of which I was informed to be categorically postmodern. :/

It seems that the majority of medium to large successful churches are starting the full swing into finding the answers to post-modern thinking. I find more and more people in the discussion of how to reach them, and how they communicate -- the wascally postmodewn.

I am now a confessed postmodern. I am indeed a postmodern, but not so much as my wife. :) She, being a couple years younger than I, exhibits more postmodern traits and I would consider her a tough case. This past Sunday, we attended a different church. After the service, we walked out of the church and she commented, "Scratch that one off the list. Adding it to my black book." (Yes, she knows instantly whether something meets approval.) I had to dig deeper. Over time I've learned that she goes to church to worship God, not be preached to. She worships by singing in the contemporary band, and by singing and praising the Lord every day.

As we walked to the car and drove away, I asked her what a sermon needed for her to enjoy it. I'll spare the details, but after many minutes of "extraction", it came down to being entertained. Humor, relating the scripture to occurrences in her life, the use of visuals over written text, etc. If you can find a way to entertain her and at the same time embed the message into "the show" - you've got her. I intend to take her to an emergent worship service and see what she thinks, but I am guessing she'll enjoy it. More on that after it happens.

I suggest that turning the sermon into entertainment isn't desecrating the service in the eyes of a postmodern. I can hear the modern statement now, "A sermon is not entertainment." But, if you entertain them, they will listen. If you preach to them, they will most likely squirm in their chairs and pews with ADHD tendencies. In the future, I imagine moderns reeling with what post-moderns will do to their sacred traditions. "You've totally ruined it! That is not worship!" you'll hear them say, if you haven't already. So I wonder if most moderns can even reach post-moderns, or will they be stopped short by their own worldview, powerless from making the changes necessary to reach postmoderns?

August 30, 2005

Godcasting, New York Times

Tania Ralli of the New York Times writes on the podcasting of church sermons, otherwise known as Godcasting.

"Podcasting for us has been a resurrection of radio," Father Vonhögen said. "It's the connection to a new generation."

August 28, 2005

More on the Google AdWords Experiment

In a comment to this post, Frank Johnson wonders how we’re going to measure the effectiveness of our Google AdWords campaign. So Frank, here’s your answer …

Yes, Church of the Resurrection is a large church with over 14,000 members including adults and children. And you're quite right that this makes it difficult to measure ad campaign effectiveness.

But I'm in a quite unique position. While I'm the IT Director at Resurrection, I'm also the volunteer tech guy for my wife's brand new church plant, Living Water Christian Church. Like your friend Scott's church, it too is small enough that we can find out easily what's working and what isn't. This turns out to be a great advantage from a technical perspective because I can prototype things on a very small scale at Living Water, before moving them up to beta in the big church, and then finally rolling them out in the big church. So that is our plan in this case.

For this experiment, I’m working with Chuck Russell who is also a contributor to this blog. He has experience running Google AdWords campaigns at the national, denominational level for the United Methodist Church.

We’re presently wrestling with two questions: 1) What is the objective of the campaign? 2) How will we measure the results? Now clearly these questions relate strongly to each other and to the design of the campaign.

For example, if we define success as someone hearing about us first through AdWords and subsequently attending worship, that creates some significant measurement obstacles because the Communications folks at Resurrection are reluctant to put “How did you hear about us?” on the worship sign-in sheet. (Jokingly, our Communication Director has wondered out loud about some kind of coupon strategy, a marketer’s standard technique in a situation like this, but that’s good only for a laugh.) Another difficulty with worship attendance as an objective is that it is often difficult to separate multiple influences on why someone came to worship for the first time. Someone may well have heard about us first through AdWords, but then heard about us in a number of other places before deciding to attend. By then, they’ve forgotten that AdWords was the first exposure.

So we’re considering other objectives, with other measurement methods, which will give us a way to determine effectiveness with greater confidence. For example, what if the objective is to get people to subscribe to something such as an e-mail newsletter or a podcast or a blog? Or, maybe the objective is to get them to download a PDF or watch a sermon online. Perhaps the objective will be to get them to send us a prayer request. The key here is to get people to take an action online that we can directly measure. It must be something beyond simply clicking on the AdWord itself because we’ll never know if that click was relevant or effective. We’re also planning on having a separate landing page on our website for each AdWord so we’ll be able to measure any relative differences among the AdWords.

As you can see, right now we have more questions than answers. My previous post was just to let you know we were working on this and would have results to report by sometime in November.

August 25, 2005

Resurrection gets some good local press

A positive, mostly accurate story about Church of the Resurrection appeared today in a local newspaper. It's great to get a full-length article that says nice things about the church, rather than reporting the latest scandal or controversy. I recommend the article if you would like to get a good overview of the church.

August 24, 2005

Google AdWords experiment

Frank Johnson posts today about how Pathway Church is using Google AdWords. Chuck Russell and I are preparing an experiment with AdWords at Resurrection in which we are designing a way to measure the campaign's effectiveness -- not just the number of click-throughs, but the actual number of people who take the desired action (come to worship, subscribe to a podcast, etc.) after clicking. We'll post again in a couple of months when we have concrete results to report.

Podcasting, step-by-step

Here's a simple and free way to podcast, using our Living Water podcast as the example. (Also see this earlier post when we were first learning how to do this.) If you're new to the idea of podcasting, it's simply a way to allow people to subscribe so they automatically get your new MP3 files after you upload them, without having to visit your site every time to see if a new file has been posted.

This recipe assumes you already have the audio in MP3 format. (If not ... well, that's an entirely different post.)

1. Get a free blog on Blogger (or MSN Spaces, or any similar service).

2. Create a blog post for each sermon, so that your blog looks like this: http://lwccpodcast.blogspot.com/. Note that the title of each post is linked to the MP3 file on your server.

3. Get a free account on Feedburner.

4. Run the Blogger feed (http://lwccpodcast.blogspot.com/atom.xml) through Feedburner. When you're setting up the feed in Feedburner, enable the "SmartCast" option. This will tell Feedburner to modify the Blogger feed by inserting XML enclosure tags around the MP3 links. You'll end up with a podcast feed that looks like this: http://feeds.feedburner.com/LWCC_Podcast. Podcatchers such as iPodder and iTunes will be able to subscribe to this feed.

5. Put the podcast link on your website. I do it by linking to the blog from the church web site, and then providing the XML feed link on the blog page. This is what it looks like on the Living Water site.

Presto! A simple procedure for creating a podcast using free tools.

August 20, 2005

Richard McManus

If you're not reading Richard McManus' blog, "Read/Write Web", you should be. In a recent post, he gives more illustrations of how web sites are becoming platforms upon which other developers can build applications.

August 11, 2005

Connecting with students and young adults

I'm constantly thinking about how to reach people below the age of 35 (or thereabouts) who are outside the church. PC World published this story on a new study by comScore Networks on "Behaviors of the Blogosphere".

Some significant findings:

  • visitors to blogs tend to be younger than the average Internet user
  • visitors to blogs tend to be more active online, visiting almost twice as many Web pages as the average Internet user
  • 30 percent of all U.S. Internet users visited blog sites in the first quarter of 2005

For us, this is further evidence that blogging must be a significant part of our under 35 strategy.

August 10, 2005

All Things Considered on church podcasting

This audio story on the August 1 broadcast of All Things Considered talks about churches podcasting the weekly sermon. Living Water Christian Church for which I'm the volunteer Technical Director has been podcasting sermons for a couple of months now. The story gave me the idea that we should try to get some PR in our local community out of the fact that we're podcasting. This is a brand new, tiny little church that's surprisingly high-tech. I'll let you know if we get any local news outlets to cover it.

August 08, 2005

Hanging out online

Gardner Campbell is a college professor who blogs on technology and education. In a recent post on "A digital skill set for educators", he comments:

"I think my older students were just over the line of the divide between those who go to the Internet to find or do something and those who go to the Net to meet their friends and do the equivalent of watch TV or listen to music together." (Thanks to Richard McManus for linking this.)

As the parent of a 17 year-old daughter, this makes sense to me. When she's home, my daughter "hangs out online" all the time. She multi-tasks. She has multiple AIM windows open, listens to her Zen, and sometimes is also on the phone. The TV is probably on too (Disney Channel, ABC Family, TV Land, etc.) for background noise and an occasional chuckle. My experience as a parent resonates with Gardner's comment.

This shift in how the Internet is used has great significance for our strategies for youth ministry and young adult ministry. People in their teens and twenties are hanging out online all the time. We're working on ideas at Church of the Resurrection for how to hang out online with them and join in the theological conversation we know they're having. For this audience, only a small part of their Internet activity is about obtaining facts (what time is the movie showing?) and accomplishing tasks (buy a ticket). It's predominantly about friends and shared experience.

August 03, 2005

VOIP, Limited

Beware, as you may get what you pay for. A short learning experience with "free after rebate" VOIP ATA devices, specifically the Linksys PAP2 unit, showed me that options are limited. These units are locked to a specific provider and cannot be changed. If you would like to switch services, you are the proud owner of a new paperweight. Many people are still trying to find ways of unlocking these units of course, but to date there is no solution.

If you would like to be able to configure your ATA and switch providers, find a Linksys PAP2-NA model, or just buy a Sipura SPA-2002, which is reportedly the core the PAP2 is using.