December 27, 2006

MailFrontier is nearly perfect again

Last week we finally had time to focus on our spam problem. With some assistance from our friendly SonicWall tech support person, we installed a software update and tweaked our configuration. Turns out that at some point we white-listed everything from, no doubt to address a false positive situation, but that was a bad idea - too much spam is spoofed to come from your own domain. With the new software and the tweaks, we're back to nearly perfect, and just in time for the long Christmas-New Year's break when many of our staff take vacation. Almost no spam is getting through to our users' inboxes. Wee hoo!

SonicWall, I owe you an apology. When properly configured, SonicWall Mail Security is every bit as good as the spam filter built-in to Outlook 2003.

December 23, 2006

Guy Kawasaki talks about evangelism - the Christian kind

In case you missed it, I found it very interesting to see Guy Kawasaki reveal a bit of his personal faith in this recent blog post. In the post he includes this link to presentations at a church leadership conference in Hawaii this Fall. I'm glad to know Guy is interested in the original meaning of evangelism and not just his borrowed use of the term.

December 08, 2006

WEC Update

Now that Web Empowered Church (WEC) has been underway for a couple of years, Mark Stephenson has come to the belief that it won’t reach its full potential without Church Management System (ChMS) functionality, or at least deep integration with an existing ChMS. I totally agree with that assessment. So Mark and I thought it would be a great time to get together with Rubin Perry to discuss how ChMS fits with WEC’s vision and strategy. Like my meetings with Fellowship Technologies and Shelby Systems, our conversation was detailed, candid, and thought-provoking. While I’m not free to disclose everything we discussed, I can say that WEC has deep pockets, a passion for helping local churches use the Internet effectively, and a long-term view.

I’ve noted previously that combining content management (CoMS) functionality with ChMS and Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) functionality in a single, integrated system would be ideal. Most forward-thinking church IT leaders I know agree with this. WEC is looking for churches and church IT leaders who will partner with them to build just such a system based on the LAMP stack and TYPO3. As I mentioned, another possibility would be to do a deep integration of a market-leading ChMS with TYPO3. We’re in the process of discerning whether it makes sense for Church of the Resurrection to be one of those partners.

WEC is fully committed to open source software. By that they mean basing the software on the LAMP stack, licensing the software they develop using the GPL, and employing open source development methodologies. The advantages of this include risk reduction, ease of integration, competitive diversity, and distributed innovation. Already WEC is being adopted by churches around the world that have the technical ability to make use of complex technology. Such churches appreciate the fact that open source means WEC doesn’t have the licensing cost barrier associated with commercial software.

For churches that lack technical skills, however, adoption is challenging. TYPO3 is more than powerful enough for even the largest churches, but it is quite complex, it is difficult to learn, and it suffers from poor usability in some areas. Accordingly, addressing these issues represent top priorities for WEC.

1. WEC is actively working with the TYPO3 Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) team to improve usability.
2. WEC is developing TYPO3 training videos.
3. WEC is working on improved processes for providing tech support.

So that's a summary of how WEC fits into our ChMS analysis. I'm praying for clarity.

Ben Hill UMC

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of visiting Ben Hill United Methodist Church, just a few miles from the airport in south Atlanta. The Foundation for Evangelism’s technology leader, Rubin Perry, is a member of that storied church and one of its hardest-working unpaid servants. After 100 years of ministry, Ben Hill is still learning, growing, dreaming, taking risks, and serving. It has purchased the former headquarters site of Delta Airlines, a large acreage with a number of corporate-style buildings that have been sitting vacant for 20+ years. The site, adjacent to the Greenbriar Mall in Atlanta, has huge potential but carries many challenges. With Rubin helping to manage the project, the church is in the process of remodeling and renovating the first building, which will be used as a worship center when completed. The Holy Spirit is moving at Ben Hill and for that I say, “yeah God!”

The Spam Wars – What Does Microsoft know that SonicWALL doesn’t know?

The New York Times confirms that spam is getting worse, due primarily to two factors: 1) spammers are using farms of spambots running on insecure computers, which are abundant in homes with cable modems, making it ineffective to identify spam by originating IP address. Distributed security threats are always more difficult to block than localized threats. 2) A new type of spam with the message in an image that’s changed slightly each time it’s sent, making it impossible to recognize spam by a checksum on the contents.

I mentioned that the effectiveness of our spam filter, SonicWALL Email Security (formerly MailFrontier), is declining. On the other hand, it seems that Outlook 2003’s junk filter is keeping up. Since I began my experiment the week of Thanksgiving, I'm seeing 94-99% daily effectiveness from Outlook 2003 alone (with MailFrontier disabled on my mailbox). Yesterday it was 100% effective. Other staff we put on Outlook 2003 for our test have given similar reports.

What does Microsoft know that SonicWALL doesn't know? Why would we pay SonicWALL thousands of dollars per year for filtering that is LESS effective than the filter built-in to Outlook? Jerry, my SonicWALL reseller, has tried to get their attention. I also e-mailed one of their product managers nearly two weeks ago, with no reply at all so far. Jerry says we should hear something on Monday. Grrr.

Flurry of posts

Look out for a flurry of posts from me. It's amazing how much writing you can do in an airport and on a plane with no Internet. ;-)

Speaking of the airport, this is what greeted me when I tried to check the price to get WiFi today in Atlanta ...

Note: Because you are using an outdated browser, you may only view the raw textual content of this site. In order to view, use, and enjoy this site to the fullest at the maximum security level, please refer to our Browser Upgrade page to view a list of browsers that support web standards.

Let me see if I have this right, Sprint. I’m using an OUTDATED browser (IE 7) that should be UPGRADED to something that supports WEB STANDARDS (such as IE 6)??? You guys have had months to fix this page. Doesn’t anyone at Sprint use Sprint’s WiFi in airports? Haven’t at least some of them upgraded to IE 7? Even if they were asleep, it’s difficult to understand how they could have missed this. (Yes, Sprint is our friendly, neighborhood, telecom company located only two miles from Church of the Resurrection.)

December 06, 2006

Which ring makes the most sense?

Here's how I see the Church Management System (ChMS) marketplace. We're confronting the question of which ring of the market makes the most sense for us.

As you move in toward the center, the functionality is a closer and closer match to our requirements, but fewer and fewer organizations will be running it. On the outer rings, more organizations are innovating and influencing the feature set. On the inner rings, fewer organizations are innovating, but the features are more likely to be directly applicable to us.

December 04, 2006

Atlanta, here I come

This week I'm going to Atlanta to meet with Tony Dye as well as Mark Stephenson and Rubin Perry. Tony has graciously agreed to show me around Perimeter Church, introduce me to his A-team (A is for "awesome"), and talk about Church Management Systems (ChMS). Mark is joining in on the fun. Separately, Mark and I are going to meet with Rubin at Ben Hill United Methodist Church to talk about WEC's fledgling ChMS project.

This is my second trip exploring ChMS options, following my trips in October to Fellowship Technologies and Shelby. I should know by the end of next week whether my budget request to replace Shelby V5 has been approved for 2007.

Point, click, make a product to sell to the world

My friend Jay points us to Amazon's grand new scheme. Now let's see, how do we point, click, and plant a new church? Or, better yet, point, click, and lead people into a deeper relationship with Jesus? Hmmm ...

December 02, 2006

Birthplace of the web

Wired posted some pictures of the new particle accelerator under construction at CERN. At the end is this picture of CERN's "Internet Exchange Point," birthplace of the web. I'm feeling all weepy!

November 28, 2006

MailFrontier is struggling

We have been happy users of spam blocking software MailFrontier since 2004. MailFrontier was purchased by SonicWALL in February. When we first heard about the purchase, we weren't concerned because we respect SonicWALL and are happy users of their 2040 firewall with web content filtering.

Over the last few months, our satisfaction with MailFrontier (now called SonicWALL Email Security) is declining. We don't know if the issues have anything to do with SonicWALL taking over. We only know that spam blocking effectiveness is going down while total volume of inbound spam is increasing. Last week we saw a huge spike in inbound spam (Tony noticed this too) that coincided with most of our staff being out of the office for the Thanksgiving holiday. When they returned to their Outlook yesterday, they found large amounts of spam that got through the filter. With one voice they rose up in open revolt and stormed our IT office with pitchforks and torches.

Ahh the life of an IT Director. Now we either have to make MailFrontier work or start scrambling for other solutions. SonicWALL are you listening?

November 22, 2006

Mark's questions for staff evaluations

I will be conduction staff evaluations in January/February. This year I'm going to use Mark's questions.

November 21, 2006

Visual communication

At Church of the Resurrection we're working to get better at visual communication. Visual communication is much more effective than communication with words alone. The problem is, most of us (me included) spent the majority of our education years learning how to communicate with words. And most of us (me included) have spent the majority of our careers communicating with words -- memos, e-mails, talking with co-workers, speaking in front of groups, etc. We need to learn a new skill: visual communication.

Kathy Sierra is one of my favorite visual communicators. Her recent post on creating graphics illustrates why. Kathy, thanks for helping us with this. (Notice that even this post on visual communication has no visuals. See? I need to learn it too.)

Perry Noble provokes his fellow pastors

Most, if not all, pastors I know have thought the same things Perry shares in his post today. They agree with Perry. Acting on those ideas is what they find difficult. (Everyone in my family is a pastor except me, so I have a lot of opportunity to know what's on their minds.) Thanks, Perry.

November 13, 2006

Shelby is stable! Hallelujah!

In case the suspense has been killing you, yes the awful problems we had with SQL Server and our Shelby database are finally over. We're new now running Shelby 5.6.2009 on SQL Server 2005. It's rock stable and noticeably faster (though still not fast enough by a long shot). Praise the Lord!

Of course, we have had a number of issues with 5.6.2000 and 5.6.2009, which is hardly surprising given Shelby's track record, but all of that seems trivial compared to the database pain that has been relieved. Can I get an amen?

November 09, 2006

How NOT to move to a new database server

We bought a new server (a shiny Dell 2950 with Windows 2003 x64 and SQL Server 2005) back in May with the idea of moving Shelby and our other SQL databases to it in a planned, smooth way in June or July. We needed to free up a server for our new Rez West office so we figured it was a great opportunity to upgrade the server hardware and maybe speed up Shelby a good bit.

Due to a number of delays in the Rez West office completion, we had plenty of time to play with the new server. As June melted into July, we systematically moved our non-Shelby databases to the new server and started configuring it for Shelby.

When we updated to Shelby 5.6 in early August, massive performance problems followed. After some investigation, we came to the conclusion that 5.6 placed enough additional resource demands on the server that the old guy, a Dell 2500, wasn't getting the job done any more.

Before we could plan a cut over, the real adventure began. The old server crashed on a Wednesday morning, a time of the week when Shelby is typically under its heaviest load. In response, I divided our IT staff into two teams: one team would work on repairing the old server, while the second team would work on moving to the new server. We would go with whichever team finished first. In the course of that, we discovered that Shelby 5.6 still wasn't compatible with SQL Server 2005, despite the fact that we had been told that the May 2006 update would be compatible. So we finished restoring the old server (the crash had been caused by Windows registry corruption) and after a 6-hour outage we had no choice but to stay there - as painfully slow as it was.

By early October, we were faced with a dilemma. We had to move off of the old server to free it up for Rez West (not to mention the fact that it was so slow it was nearly unusable), but we still didn't have a SQL 2005-compatible version from Shelby and we already had databases running on SQL 2005 - there was no going back. That's when we got the idea to use the free version of VMware to create a virtual server for Shelby that would be configured with SQL 2000 and run on the new 2950 server. Our thought was to run this configuration temporarily until Shelby's October update, which was promised to be SQL 2005-compatible. Seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. Little did we know.

We have been on that configuration for the last five weeks, suffering from massive instability the entire time, including another server crash causing a 12-hour unplanned outage two weeks ago. The source of our grief was SQL 2000, not Shelby, but the user experience was that Shelby would randomly get disconnected from its database and start throwing errors. Shelby error handling is an awful mess of infinite loops, so the user's only recourse was to bring up Task Manager, shut down the client, and restart it. We spent hours on the phone with Microsoft tech support. They had us apply all kinds of updates and patches, including an unreleased hotfix. We also tried a number of changes to our VMware configuration, some of which actually made the problem worse. Each time we and our user community hoped that stability would finally be achieved, only to be bitterly disappointed. Not only was this frustrating for our users, but it was embarrassing for us. Though they were characteristically gracious, the users must have been thinking, "Does our IT Dept. know what it's doing?"

Our goal for this time was simply to hang on until we could install the SQL 2005-compatible version of Shelby, which was released last week. Every day the database was flaky and users were inconvenienced. Then we had something go bad last week in Bank Reconciliation, preventing our Finance folks from reconciling October. Shelby tech support concluded there was a damaged software component, which would be reinstalled by updating to the latest software version. So we scheduled the update for Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, the Shelby update procedure didn't work. We fought that all day Monday and finally got all desktops updated.

The last step was to install new backup software because the version of Veritas we were running doesn't support Windows 2003 Server x64. To address that, we installed a trial version of ARCserv yesterday.

We finally had all the pieces in place to cut over to SQL Server 2005, running directly on our 2950. Then today the Bank Rec thing started crashing SQL 2000 every time we ran it. Since it was crashing and has been completely unstable for five weeks, we figured we would go ahead and cut over with yet another unplanned outage.

So there you have a tale of how NOT to move to a new database server. By the way, so far it seems stable and faster by 50-60%. Now we're praying it's really over.

SQL Server woes

Our Shelby system is down right now because of ongoing woes with SQL Server. When you are responsible for IT in a very large church that uses Shelby for every aspect of church operations, "Shelby down" is not a happy thing. This is an unplanned outage made necessary by the fact that every time we ran a bank reconcilliation this afternoon, it blew up SQL Server 2000 (errors in the log and the need to manually restart SQL Server every time).

In response, we're moving our database to a new server running SQL Server 2005. This is something we've been working on for months. The final step before moving to 2005 was to install Shelby 5.6.2000, which we did earlier this week. (Since we're down, we're installing the 5.6.2009 brand new patch right now.)

We're now 105 minutes into an unplanned 30 minute outage. Remind me again why I have made a 22 year career in IT???

November 01, 2006

ChMS budget, timeline, and short list

I spent 75 minutes on the phone with Tony yesterday, which is great for me because I'm always smarter after I've talked with Tony than I was before. Perimeter is just ahead of us in the ChMS selection process. He has a deadline of this month to make a final decision. For us, our only looming deadline is to put in our budget request for 2007 this week. I met with our executive management on Monday. Based on that meeting, it seems very likely that our budget request for ChMS will be approved. If so, 2007 will be the year we make a change, but we still have a couple of months to decide what to do.

Here's our short list:

MSCRM 3.0 plus add-ons from Microsoft CRM partners
Fellowship One
Shelby Arena
Build-our-own open source system in partnership with WEC

Interestingly, two of my finalists overlap with Tony's three finalists.

Tony's third finalist is Blackbaud. I'm intrigued by that and enjoyed the chance earlier this year to discuss it in detail with Shelley Hildebrand of Tony's staff at Perimeter. Unfortunately, the cost of Blackbaud is up there near what it would cost to build our own, so that's not a feasible option for us.

Also like Tony, I know there's a chance our short list will get longer before it gets shorter. Did I mention this decision is risky and complicated?

October 31, 2006

Network World article on church IT

Jason mentioned that Network World featured him extensively in an article on church IT. Jason also gave the reporter my name and I was quoted too (on pages 2 and 4). This is the first time I've been quoted in a national trade publication. Thankfully, I have Brian to keep me humble!

October 29, 2006

Thanks Frank, Alfred, Steve, Joe, and Mark

I had the privilege of spending the day Friday with Alfred Johnson, Steve Pruitt, and their teams at Shelby Systems. Frank Canady also joined us for lunch. We had deep discussions about the Church Management System (ChMS) market, and specifically the soon-to-be-released Arena ChMS.

I first met Alfred at the IT Roundtable. He arranged the day and introduced me to the senior management team of Shelby. Alfred, you are a gentleman and a great host. The warmth of your hospitality made my time there special.

Shelby has been around a long time and has been a leader in the ChMS market for many years. During my time there, I gained a lot of insight into Shelby's history, how they see the marketplace, and their product plans going forward. Some of those things I was asked to keep to myself, but many of them are open and I will be commenting on them in the coming days.

We had a frank discussion about our concerns as a Shelby customer, and everyone was gracious enough to really listen and take my concerns seriously. At the same time, I was surprised to learn that my impressions of Shelby's customer base and target market were incorrect in several respects. Like the Fellowship Tech team before them, they also indulged me an extensive discussion of strategic considerations without insisting on jumping right to a product demo. There will be plenty of time for that.

The Shelby senior management team is seasoned and humble. They have a good understanding of what the marketplace is asking of them. Regardless of whether we become an Arena customer, I'm glad to say I have new friends in Memphis who care about the local church as much as I do.

I will continue to post about my trip and my impressions as we make budget plans for 2007 over the next few weeks.

October 25, 2006

Thanks Jeff, Jeff, Curtis, Curtis, and Scott

No, it's not an obscure law firm. I'm referring to Jeff Hook and his team at Fellowship Technologies.

Today I flew to Dallas for a tour and discussions to help me decide whether Fellowship One will be our next church management system. Jeff, Jeff, Curtis, Curtis, and Scott were awesome hosts and I enjoyed my time with them very much. The team is impressive (even those whose names aren't Jeff or Curtis!) and their passion for the local church came through loud and clear. I particularly appreciated the openness of our conversation. Church management system selection can be complex (it certainly is in our case) and the issues often can't be articulated in bullet points or sound bites. So they indulged me by taking the time to fully air the issues and explore them from multiple angles. It definitely sharpened my thinking. I love serious, deep conversations with smart people.

Thanks again Jeff, Jeff, Curtis, Curtis, and Scott!

October 15, 2006

Rez West office

Chuck posted back in August regarding the launch of our first satellite campus, Resurrection West (affectionately known as "Rez West"). The staff of Rez West includes a campus pastor, campus associate pastor, operations director, children's director, music people, etc. - 7 or 8 people altogether. They have been officing in a temporary space on the central campus since June.

Meanwhile, our Facilities folks found some space for lease near the junior high school where Rez West worships. For the last couple of months they have been working on tenant finish to turn it into usable office space plus a large general purpose meeting room and a garage for the A/V equipment trailer. Last week, while the tenant finish was nearing completion, it was our turn to come in and start assembling the technology: phone system, voice mail, Internet connection, firewall, network switch, file and print server, printers, and computers.

Everything but the printers and computers are being installed into one cabinet. Here's Ian terminating the voice station wires into the patch panel (the guy on the right is our new desktop support guy, Jeremy, who doesn't even start until November 13 but came out to help):

Me with Ian and Jeremy:

Me testing the jacks by plugging in my laptop. (Meter? We don't need no stinking meter!)

October 13, 2006

Thanks for coming

A big "thank you" to everyone who came to Church of the Resurrection for Leadership Institute and/or any of the other conferences we had going on last week. My friend Jim posted his final thoughts here.

October 12, 2006

Leadership Institute blog posts

A number of attendees at this year's Leadership Institute blogged about their experiences. Here are all the posts I've found so far:

Jim Walton

Jay Vorhees

Jonathon Norman

Steven Fife

Gavin Richardson

Jason Woolever

Susan Cox Johnson

Joel Betow

Gordon Pruitt

Paul Kethley

Josh Tinley


September 30, 2006

ChMS: Buy it, build it, or integrate it?

If you have spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve the Church Management System (ChMS) function in your church, you probably have reservations about buying one of the existing ChMS products (“buy it”) but at the same time realize you can’t afford to build your own system (“build it”). I want a third alternative: “integrate it.”

With the right technical and non-technical factors in place, it should be possible for your team to integrate technology from multiple commercial and open source providers, along with in-house developed modules, to achieve the range and degree of automation that makes sense for your unique ministry.

In my last post, I listed three technical factors that would need to be in place in order for an open ChMS marketplace to come into existence:

1. A common schema for data exchange. (The best technology for this right now is XML. See ebXML for an example.)

2. An architecture for generating and handling data change events (such as a Web Services API).

3. An architecture for single sign-on.

This list comes out of our experience integrating multiple web applications that weren’t designed to work together. Perhaps there are one or two additional technical requirements I haven’t thought of yet. This brings me to the second part of my question ...

What non-technical (business) factors would need to be in place to foster development of an open ChMS marketplace?

I'd like to suggest we work toward the following:

1. Backing of a few influential churches and/or para-church organizations plus one or more open source or commercial ChMS vendors.

2. A funded standards organization.

3. A Kingdom-minded spirit of unity and cooperation across denominational and geographical boundaries as well as among both non-profit and for-profit organizations.

I’ve said before that we have differing styles, mission fields, and theological points of view, but we have one Lord and we proclaim one gospel. We're all on the same team. Could we begin to move together in a direction that honors God and helps the Church pursue the Great Commission?

I look forward to your comments.

September 26, 2006

Example of how a Standard and an Open Marketplace changed one industry...

I'm on the part-time IT staff at COR, and I get to talk to Clif directly. I agree with his perspectives on ChMS. We've argued out lots of these points over lunches and Skype chats.

I'm also a worship musician. And I was there in 1983 when the music industry figured out something critical: that a common standard could help *everybody*. Even though the manufacturers were scared and skeptical at first, when they finally dived in THE WORLD CHANGED.

In the 70s and 80s, keyboard players (like me; hey it was 1983!) spent thousands of dollars on instruments: music synthesizers with names like Moog and Yamaha. Learning to play them was cumbersome, and each was a completely independent experience.

In 1982 (still pretty much before PC's) my 3-man company became an original member of the old IMA, right along side giants like Yamaha and Sequential. The objective was to develop Dave Smith's idea for a Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), which was/is merely a language that all manufacturers could use to translate Black & White key presses into music notes for the sound generator of a synthesizer. If there was a *standard* language for this (the unlikely reasoning went), then instruments could communicate, new grass-roots development from outside would introduce hybrid vigor, and everyone would benefit. But, it was a hard sell: most companies had lots of money tied up in their own systems, and saw things through Old-World colored glasses, hoping for customers to stay "locked in" to the company after learning one instrument's subtleties.

AND THEN: "In a rare example of insight and cooperation, U.S. and overseas companies began working together..." (see Mix Mag's interview with Dave Smith) - - and the 2 companies that spent huge $$ to technically design and implement MIDI gave the technology away to everyone and told *them* how to implement it. (read about the birth of MIDI)

So, in January 1983, at the Anaheim NAMM Trade Show, one guy carried one synth to another synth company's booth, one tiny little MIDI cable linked 2 totally different instruments, and The World Changed. We all quickly discovered digital control, computer mixing, new soundscapes, and a slew of eager new companies hatching new strategies to exploit the newly expanding market. Practically every bit of the worship music I listen to (and create) every day depends on MIDI - a standard that everyone bought into when no one was sure anyone would.

Guess what? Yamaha, and Korg, and the Big Boys are still around, leading their industries, and happy that MIDI came along. The MIDI specification, now nearly 25 years old, transformed the creation of contemporary music. Every church I know of uses it every week, and you've benefitted from it a hundred thousand times. You probably even have .mid files on your PC.

The lesson (of course): working to develop or promote standard schemas will help *your company*, *your church*, and *God's Kingdom*.

More about MIDI at these links:
* Wikipedia - -
* - -

Towards an open ChMS marketplace

See previous posts in this series:
The ChMS conversation we started (but know we’ll never finish)
Choosing a ChMS – the risk calculation

Also earlier posts on related subjects:
Integrating CRM and the Web
Open source Church Management System (ChMS)

No customer lock-in
So what could ChMS vendors do to help me with my conundrum and reduce the risk that I’ll make a bad choice? First, let me suggest a non-technical answer: they need to reject the tempting strategy of achieving and maintaining customer lock-in. They need to go out of their way to make it easy for me to change in the future if I so desire. In other words, they need to set aside their interests and focus on the interests of the Kingdom (and in so doing, they’ll find that their interests are served as well). Instead of competing primarily on a feature list, they need to compete on ease of integration, openness, and customer services. If the vendor can achieve lock-in, they don’t have to be great at these things because they’ll have acceptable rates of customer retention regardless, at least in the short term. On the other hand, if the ChMS vendor rejects the lock-in strategy, my risk as the buyer goes down because I know the vendor will have to continue to earn my business long after the initial sale and implementation.

Second (and this is much more difficult), ChMS suppliers need to find their way towards an open ChMS marketplace. By “open” I mean one in which innovation can originate from many places and come together to meet the needs of a particular church at a particular time. For example, wouldn’t it be great if Granger could run Saddleback’s small groups system with Fellowship’s check-in and WEC’s content management? Wouldn’t it be awesome if Perimeter could run Shelby with Resurrection’s missions opportunity registration system? Wouldn’t it be excellent if Resurrection could run iModules’ online community tools with Perimeter’s Elder system and a web store like OS Commerce? I’m envisioning a marketplace in which there could be multiple for-profit companies contributing technology and services alongside churches, para-church organizations, and open source communities giving away software that automates their process innovations. Wouldn’t that be a major advancement for the Kingdom?

What is stopping us from doing this right now? Well that’s easy enough to answer. The systems I mentioned were built at different times on different platforms by for-profit and non-profit organizations without ever considering the possibility of interoperability. So that’s a big technical barrier. Also, the ChMS vendors don’t see an economic incentive to cooperate with their competitors, which is a big non-technical barrier. Could we overcome these barriers going forward?

To overcome the technical barriers, it seems to me we would need three things:
1. A common schema for data exchange. (The best technology for this right now is XML.)
2. An architecture for generating and handling data change events (such as a Web Services API).
3. An architecture for single sign-on.

Tony posted a comment in which he used the term “platform” to describe what we need. He also quoted me in the ChMS Google group, which attracted a number of comments exactly along the lines I’m thinking.

More in the next post ...

September 25, 2006

Worship attendance

At the Roundtable we had an extensive discussion of approaches to automate worship attendance. Today Kevin McCord weighs in on the same subject. He thinks printing out a nametag will be enough incentive to get many/most worship attendees to stop at a kiosk and check in.

September 22, 2006

Choosing a ChMS – the risk calculation

As I alluded in the previous post, a huge consideration for me in choosing our next Church Management Systems (ChMS) is minimizing the risk of making a bad choice. The question of ChMS is the most strategically complex and the riskiest decision I’ve faced since becoming IT Director at Church of the Resurrection three years ago. Why do I say that? What makes this decision especially risky?

The risk is high mainly because Church Management Systems automate core processes. In business or church, whenever you automate core processes you set in motion a complex interplay between your operations and your technology. You adapt the automation system as best you can to fit your processes and you inevitably adapt some of your processes to fit the automation system. You train your staff on the system and over time they develop some deep expertise in its quirks. You purchase and integrate other technology with the system. Before long, the thought of changing the system becomes nearly unthinkable. Companies that build and sell systems that automate core processes understand this very well. Once they get a customer fully on board with the system, they know it will be very difficult for the customer to go another direction. The customer is “locked in” and they're happy (that is, the vendor is happy).

Going forward from the initial implementation, a ChMS is likely to become a two-edged sword. While your operations become more efficient, operational innovation can be held back if the automation technology can’t keep pace. Curtis Harris of Fellowship Tech asked at the Roundtable if it wasn’t possible to have a set of best practices that the system would automate, benefiting all churches that use it. I don’t believe that’s 100% the case (although we all can and should be learning from each other). The best senior pastors are the innovators. They zig when everyone else is zagging. So there’s bound to be some mismatches between what any particular system does and my particular church’s unique way of doing ministry. I strongly suspect that will be the case for other churches too.

Right now Resurrection is too dependent on Shelby. If Shelby doesn’t keep pace with new technology and new ministry models, there’s not a lot we can do because we’re “locked in.” If we go out and find a new system that “stinks the least” and change to that system, we might be better off than we are now, but fundamentally it’s the same strategy. Our risk of Shelby not performing simply changes to a risk of the new vendor not performing. And ultimately, I don’t believe it will be possible for Shelby or any vendor to perfectly, exactly meet our needs.

So what could ChMS vendors do to help me with this conundrum and reduce the risk that I’ll make a bad choice? I’ll share some thoughts on that in my next post.

September 21, 2006

The ChMS conversation we started (but know we’ll never finish)

After a long day of sharing at the IT Roundtable about everything from WiFi to training and volunteers, we took a break around 4:30 pm and began a lot of conversations in groups of 2 to 5 people. The reps from Shelby, ACS, and Fellowship Tech joined in those conversations. That went on for a couple of hours until the long-awaited Church Management System (ChMS) discussion began. We were just warming up when the pizza arrived courtesy of Shelby and suddenly food seemed more important than ChMS (imagine that!). After pizza we toured the facility and had more conversation in small groups. I think I was one of the last to leave at 10:00 pm. So we started the conversation (or more accurately we continued the conversation that has already begun in the blogosphere and on Tony’s Google group), but we didn’t finish it. Reflecting on that, I realized we will never finish it. So here is another installment in the conversation …

To open the discussion I put up the question: “What do we need the system to do?” This is the usual starting place because we typically think system selection is mostly a matter of determining which system’s features have the best match with our needs. Everyone around the table, with the notable exception of Terry Chapman, agreed with my assertion that no available system perfectly meets our needs today. (Terry is the CIO at Fellowship Church, so Fellowship One is a hand-in-glove fit for them.) John Dolan then rephrased my question as: “Which system stinks the least?” And Tony Dye focused in on the “we” in my original question. “Who is ‘we’?” he asked.

Exactly. Depending on who “we” are, a given system might meet our needs. But unless we built it ourselves, as Fellowship Church did, we’re probably stuck forever with the question, “Which system stinks the least?” (And by the way, Terry said he doesn’t recommend building your own ChMS.) So we start with the assumption that, at a high level, the first issue is “build it or buy it?” And most of us get to “buy it” pretty quickly, perhaps without even consciously considering “build it,” because that option is simply not feasible for most of us.

I then wondered out loud whether “What do we need the system to do?” is the right question with which to begin. I would like to ask what I think is a pre-requisite question. In fact, my question challenges the assumption that our top-level options are build it or buy it. My question challenges the assumption that we have to choose a commercial or open source system and run with it. My question is, “What kind of structure do we need in the ChMS market?” Or, “What kind of business model would optimize the relationships among churches and ChMS suppliers?” Or, “Why should I have to choose whether to run Shelby, ACS, or Fellowship exclusive of the others?” Either/or choices might be our only choices today, but can we imagine a marketplace in which both/and is a possibility? That would radically alter the risk calculation and make my job as IT Director much easier. What technical and non-technical principles would need to be in place for such a world to come into existence?

Ruminate on that a bit while I compose my next post. And feel free to comment. ;-)

IT Roundtable at Granger

What an awesome experience it was to be at Granger Community Church with a bunch of other “church nerds” talking about church IT! My only complaint is that our time together was too short. It was great to meet so many of you in person after reading your blogs, and great to renew acquaintances with old friends.

A big “thank you” to Jason for organizing the event and hosting us. Granger is a place where God is doing remarkable things. It was inspiring just being in their facility and interacting with their people.

We definitely need to do it again some time.

September 13, 2006

To block or not to block?

We're blocking both MySpace and Facebook at our firewall. Our youth pastor and his boss decided to do this because the school districts are doing it. Their argument is: Why should we be less restrictive than the schools? I'm conflicted about it.

Do you have web content filtration in your network? If so, do you block social networking sites? What are the pluses and minues?

By the way, Scoble says MySpace is for kids; Facebook is for adults. Makes sense.

September 11, 2006

Comparing a podcast to "teleportation" in Acts 8

This morning Mark Batterson posted about how after leading the Ethiopian Eunuch to Christ, Philip "teleported" to Azotus (actually the text says "the eunuch did not see him again ... Philip, however, appeared at Azotus ..."). Mark compared this to his ability to "teleport" all over the world via podcast. Those of us who are church IT nerds and not pastors really need people like Mark Batterson to put what we do in theological terms. Thanks, Mark. Hopefully I'll remember this the next time someone asks me about church podcasting.

August 27, 2006

Tony Morgan asks a great question

Check out Tony Morgan's post today "Lifting people up or loading people down?" Tony, it's not only volunteers we need to be concerned about. Sometimes it's staff.

This issue of work/rest balance in life is resonating with me, particularly in light of the talks by Andy Stanley and Wayne Cordeiro (thanks Tony for the synopsis) at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. I attended the Summit with my whole team, several of whom said Andy and Wayne were talking to me. I needed to slow down, they said. So the next week I took a day off and moved my daughter into her dorm for her freshman year at Park University. That was important, but I have some more resting to do.

It's been a difficult summer:
  • We lost a staff person in IT - the 3rd one we've lost this year (and it really hurt)
  • We had the usual vacations
  • I had the most unfortunate experience of passing a kidney stone
  • We hosted the Willow Creek conference
  • We've had emergency outages in our phone service and our database server (which hosts Shelby and Track It)
  • We've had a number of major infrastructure projects going on including new firewall, new web content filtration system, new anti-virus software, new phone company, new online bookstore, new online box office, updated web site navigation, and the biggest of all, our new location - Resurrection West
  • And all of this is on top of our routine workload of tech support, computer upgrades, new staff coming in, and on and on
We simply haven't been able to keep up.

So Tony, I'm with you. As one of the burdened, I'm wondering if sometimes we're adding to the burdens of our congregants, volunteers, and staff. If they've had a summer anything like mine, they're ready for some rest. Yet others are ready to take the next step if only we will challenge them. We need wisdom to know when to push and when to relax.

August 21, 2006

Volunteering at Promise Keepers

This weekend I had the honor of serving as a volunteer Evangelism Supervisor for the Promise Keepers conference in Kansas City. Around 300 men responded to the altar call on Friday night, more than 100 of which were accepting Christ for the first time. I've done this before. It's an amazing experience every time.

I was too busy with my duties Friday night to take pictures, but here are a few shots of serving lunch to approximately 7,000 men on Saturday.

Promise Keepers has been serving lunch at the conference for years. They have it down to a science. A refigerated semi-truck rolled in, a forklift unloaded pallets of boxes, volunteers stacked them just a certain way, and finally the volunteers opened the boxes.

Each box has eleven lunches. They're all the same so people won't take time looking for their preference.

And here they come! (By the way, I saw Jim Walton in this line. I hope you had a great experience, Jim.)

August 20, 2006


Resurrection West Blasted off today. And I do mean blasted. More than 700 people were in attendance at the LAUNCH of what is essentially a new church. Thats gotta be some kind of record. I think of today as the Wedding, now comes the marriage....

The venue is a Junior High School about 10 miles from the central (original) campus. We use a high definition feed from the central campus (ask cliff if you want to understand all the technology...I just think its cool). Above Left Adam interviews some folks who restore classic cars, and over on the right pastor Molly Simpson gives announcements in front of the HD screen.

August 11, 2006

Leadership Summit

This is the first time we've hosted the Willow Creek Leadership Summit at Church of the Resurrection. Ian helped me setup a laptop to connect to the Windows Media video stream for use as a backup to the main video feed that comes in over satellite. Turns out, we needed it in the very first session on Thursday morning due to storms in both Chicago and Kansas City. Good thing it worked!

Here's the rigged-up rear-screen projector:

This is the laptop showing the video stream full-screen:

Conference attendees in the sanctuary:

People in the Narthex:

My wife, Laura, and daughter, Beth:

July 27, 2006

A new Arena?

Jason and Tony, thanks for letting us know about Arena. We're very interested.

July 23, 2006

Reflections on the TYPO3 Conference

I previously posted about the TYPO3 Conference, but wanted to expand on it a bit. Thinking back on the event re-affirms my excitement to be a part of the Web Empowered Church ministry. This was the second conference, and the second opportunity I had to meet Kasper Skårhøj, the creator of the TYPO3 CMF. Kasper is a character, and a great individual with a strong passion for quality and perfection.

This year, Kasper was in good spirit from becoming a new dad just a few months earlier, but was also excited to renew his connection with WEC. In the past, Kasper expressed how he struggled with the motivation to continue maintaining TYPO3, as it was not a perfect fit for his desires as it was earlier in time. At this years conference, he expressed how deeply connected he now felt to the WEC ministry, and how he wished to contribute more than was able. When he released TYPO3 in the open source world his vision was brining it to the church world, enabling them to perform ministry on the web with ease and ability. It seems WEC has been formed to help push the ball over that goal line. His motivation was renewed with TYPO3 being brought to the church like he initially envisioned.

At the same time, those of us performing WEC tasks have become much more knowledgeable in TYPO3, not leaning so heavily on the TYPO3 community to make progress, and we are giving back to the community more. The WEC ministry is now in full swing, more capable than ever, and more supported than I ever imagined by Kaspers personal commitment who believes it a God match.

So coming back to my reflections, I am excited to be a part of WEC for all of these reasons. God brought me to Church of the Resurrection five years ago for some purpose, and although I don't feel worthy, I believe it was to do my part to bring WEC & TYPO3 to churches. It is exciting to be a team mate with these individuals, and partner with those supporting WEC. I'm looking forward to what the future will bring and where God will lead us.

July 17, 2006

Blackbaud's open API

In a post last week, Tony Dye quoted Blackbaud's CTO regarding their open API. I hope other ChMS vendors are reading Tony's blog and took note of that post.

I'm done with Pluck

I'm done with Pluck.

Last summer when I began blogging and reading blogs on a regular basis, I surveyed the available RSS readers and ended up liking and using Pluck. I liked Pluck because it integrates with IE and it allows me to mark posts as read so at any time I can come back and see easily the unread posts.

Unfortnately, Pluck has been neglected. It hasn't been updated since last November and now certain bugs are really starting to bug me. Recently I realized that Pluck was missing new posts in some of my favorite blogs. It also frequently has errors reading feeds, which show up as messages I have to mark as read.

I tried Bloglines, which is cool, but it won't import my OPML and I don't have the patience to re-subscribe to all of my feeds in Bloglines.

I'm playing around with Vista beta 2 and Office 2007 beta 2. Vista comes with IE 7 with its built-in RSS reader. So that's my new reader, at least for now. Goodbye Pluck, I'm sorry to leave but you let me down.

July 02, 2006

United Methodist Worship, North Carolina Style

This past Sunday morning the Web Empowered Church team attended two churches to give our guest, Kasper, a taste of different worship services here in North Carolina, US. First we attended the Long's Chapel UMC worship service. This was a modern church building which extended off an original stone building. The sanctuary felt new, with pews on an angled floor, and a beautiful wooden roof having a look of yellow pine. The roof was flat, and angled upward from the corners of the room up to a square center, which raised up to let light in through small windows at the top. It reminded my wife and I of a Catholic sanctuary we visited last year while we were in Wisconsin. Both created a beautiful vertical space that gave a very personal feel to the room, and left you with a sense of awe.

The service was contemporary, with songs that were thoroughly approved by my wife, and we had the pleasure of witnessing a baptism. Everything had a touch of Southern style to it, which is hard to describe here in words other than "a comfort of home." This was the weekend before Independence Day, so the theme was patriotic, along with the sermon. The pastor spoke about church and politics, Chucks favorite topics I might add, and mentioned Jesus' response to paying taxes, "Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and give to God what is Gods." The message, as it should be - simple, hold God above all things in your heart.

The second service we attended was at the Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska, through the South Eastern Jurisdiction. The auditorium was an open gathering hall, originally constructed with a tin roof and sawdust floor. The building we were in now was more modern than that, but still considered strange, with a very high wood roof and this large white structure coming out of the middle, descending down into the center from the ceiling. The only way to describe this thing was it looked it like it could sprout legs and walk off like a some version of the mechanical beast from the movie, Wild, Wild West. The sides of the building were very open, with fans hanging down to cool the inside temperature.

Other than the distraction of analysing the strange structure, I thought the service had a well seasoned choir, and the speaker of the week was William Willimon. He did use some "churchy" words in the sermon, and lightly dusted the sermon with dry humor about the disagreements between liberal and conservative churches regarding whether the Christian church needed a full body resurrection to believe in Christ. It was delivered in good taste, with no names mentioned.

It was wonderful to be able to experience not one but two Sunday services, both of which my wife attended and survived to my surprise, and something I'll be able to remember quite a while.

June 30, 2006

Conference - TYPO3

I've been here in North Carolina at The Foundation for Evangelism at Lake Junaluska over this week, learning more of the TYPO3 CMF. This in relation to the Web Empowered Church ministry. It has been the second opportunity I've had to meet and be inspired by Kasper Skårhøj, the creator of TYPO3, and although we drove quite deep into the technical, what stood out the most was Kasper's expression of his original mission with TYPO3. He always saw TYPO3 as a tool for ministry, which is now being realized with Web Empowered Church.

I try to step outside of myself and realize how truly unique it is for Christianity and technology to come together in such a way. The room is filled with twenty people who have come to have Kasper impart knowledge about TYPO3, but all have come to imagine new ways that expand the Lord's Kingdom through Internet Ministry utilizing TYPO3. We have people representing Web Empowered Church, freelance consultants, church staff, and ISPs. In short, Christian technology geeks, a categorization I happily place myself in. :p

I began as a WEC developer in January 2006, coming on board for multiple reasons. The short list being empowering the local church with tools for ministry, the fact that WEC is a global ministry with the ability to affect people on that scale, and most importantly because I felt God calling me to do this, which tells me all I need to know about WEC. Also, as Kasper expresses in his corner of the web, what better way to honor God than using the ability he gave me?

I rather enjoyed visiting The Foundation For Evangelism and experiencing their culture here at Lake Junaluska. It is the first time I've visited this part of the South, and I have to say you can hear all you can of southern hospitality, but until you experience it - you won't get it, trust me. The Foundation staff were extraordinary.

Although I came away with a deeper technical knowledge that will empower my ability in this ministry, I also came away with an experience being another notch on the pole of my spiritual growth. As some in the community would say, +1.

June 27, 2006

Podcasting sermons

Dan Bryant, a Disciple pastor in Eugene, Oregon, recently e-mailed a question about the Living Water site. Rather than answer him individually, I am posting the answer here. Dan writes:
I am exploring podcasting and found yours. Nicely done! Can you tell me a little about your experience with it, how much effort it takes, how useful it is, software you use, etc.?

Dan, start with my post explaining the simple technology behind how we publish the Living Water podcast on the web. Next, take a look at the post where I talk about the process of getting listed in the iTunes Music Store podcast directory.

Now, all of the above assumes you can create MP3 files of your sermons. At Living Water I do that by recording the service live off the house mixer, through a DBX 166 compressor, and then to a Tascam CD recorder. After the service, I use FreeRip to rip the sermon track to WAV. Then I use my 5 year-old copy of Cool Edit 2000 to trim it, adjust levels, and save it out as an MP3. Finally, I use MP3tag to fill in the metadata for the MP3 file. Yes, that is quite a few steps. None of the steps are particularly difficult, but it's a lot of fiddling around.

Looking for a simpler way? Try Sermons Online. I haven't used it, but my fellow Appian Way blogger, Chuck Russell, highly recommends it.

As to whether it is useful, we are excited that we have many people across the country and around the world downloading our sermon podcast. In fact, our weekly podcast downloads exceed our average worship attendance. A statistic like that will really make you take notice.

Thanks for the question, Brian. And happy podcasting!

Meeting Kasper in North Carolina

Brian and I are in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina (in the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina) for a meeting of Web Empowered Church developers. Tonight I got to meet Kasper Skarhoj, the original brain behind TYPO3. I wished for a camera so I could show you Brian, Pania (Brian's wife), me, Mark Stephenson, Kasper, Mark's son, and Jeff Segars at dinner tonight. It was a historic moment.

Brian and I will have more to say about the conference over the next couple of days.

June 08, 2006

Open source Church Management System (ChMS)

Shelley Hildebrand of Perimeter Church recently posted to the Church Management System (ChMS) Google group to ask whether there is interest among churches in building an open source church management system. Then she e-mailed me and asked if I would post a reply. This is a huge question that I have been pondering for most of three years. I can't possibly give a full explanation of our current thinking in a single post, but here at least is a strategic summary.

>>First, many readers of this blog and the Google discussion group already know about Web Empowered Church (WEC), but for those who don't ...

WEC is an initiative of the Methodist Foundation for Evangelism. The director of WEC is Mark Stephenson, Director of Cyber Ministry for Ginghamsburg Church, a large and well-known Methodist church outside Dayton, Ohio. WEC is building church-specific web applications on top of an enterprise-class, open source content management system called TYPO3.

TYPO3 is very powerful and so not surprisingly it's quite complex as well. Consequently it has a fairly steep learning curve, even for experienced web developers. To help new churches get over this complexity barrier, WEC provides a pre-configured TYPO3 package called the "WEC Starter Package," with all of the WEC-built ministry extensions pre-loaded. WEC has some pre-built TYPO3 templates to accelerate site design for smaller churches that don't want to do a custom design. Also, WEC has established a web hosting firm in the greater Philadelphia area called Vine Hosting. Their equipment is located in a world-class data center in Newark, New Jersey. Through the Starter Package, the pre-built templates, and the hosting, WEC is working diligently over time to ease the difficulty of building and running a church web site in TYPO3.

WEC has been operating less than two years and has already gotten some serious worldwide traction. See the cool Google mashup map of churches around the world using WEC and a list of example sites.

I am the IT Director at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas (Kansas City area). We were the first church to catch Mark's vision for WEC and become part of it. We rebuilt our sites in TYPO3 starting in July 2004 and went live five months later. Earlier this year, we forged an even deeper connection with WEC when our most senior IT guy, Brian Slezak, transitioned into a new role as a software developer with WEC. He is still on our staff and still has a desk in our department, but he now works full-time on building ministry extensions for WEC.

Bottom line: WEC has all the earmarks of a God thing. It's a God-sized dream being lived out in a Kingdom-like way. It's amazing what God has already done and very exciting to see what God will continue to do in the future through WEC.

>>Okay, so what does all of this have to do with the question of an open source church management system? I realize that open source isn't for everyone. At Resurrection we are a Microsoft shop everywhere except our web sites. I'm not a Microsoft basher at all. We use a lot of their stuff and are particularly appreciative of their steep non-profit discounts. Also, I can see a place for commercial providers of church management systems such as Shelby, ACS, and Fellowship Tech. I know some people with these companies are readers of this blog and our Google discussion group. I don't speak for Resurrection, but I know that the church values its suppliers and seeks to bless those who provide us with everything we need to do ministry.

Having said that, I do believe that God is honored and the Kingdom is advanced when churches across geographical and denominational boundaries come together in the common cause of disciple making. We have differing styles, mission fields, and theological points of view, but we have one Lord and we proclaim one gospel. We're all on the same team. Take a good look at that WEC map and you'll see an amazing example of how this vision of cooperation is actually working in the world right now. Thinking strategically about this, I conclude that the open source model of software development and distribution is ideally suited to fostering technological cooperation among churches around the world. Let me quickly add that I acknowledge the technical challenges of open source, including the lack of support for "normal people" mentioned by Jeff Berg. Despite that, the benefits of open source in this situation are truly compelling. If Perimeter Church builds something on a common platform that Church of the Resurrection can pick up and use, I think we really have something special going on that glorifies God and represents awesome stewardship.

So, answering Shelley's question directly: Yes, I think open source makes total sense for the church. And yes, we are interested in working with other churches to develop an open source church management system. WEC is also very interested in this and hopes to be a catalyst and focal point for making this happen. The blogosphere is a great way to circulate this idea, gather support, and find like minded churches to get involved. I'm trying to listen to God to hear if He really is behind this. If so, within the next six months I hope to see a consensus emerge around a group of churches that will contribute resources and technology to a WEC-sponsored effort to build a ChMS on the open source/TYPO3 platform.

Is anyone else out there as excited as I am about this?

June 06, 2006

Culture of Change

I made the following comment to Tony McCollum's post about Saddleback adding services and changing service times in response to the release of The Passion of the Christ. I figured since I commented there, I should share it here too.

I was with a group of mega-church pastors (actually executive pastors) at Saddleback the week they changed all their service times. Our meeting was February 26-28, 2004. The film had opened in theaters the day before on Ash Wednesday.

As I recall (and of course it's been more than two years, so my recollection could be a bit foggy), Rick and his executive team decided only earlier that week to change service times. The movie was getting such a huge buzz, they were concerned about being overwhelmed the first weekend after the opening. So they scrambled to arrange for additional parking a few blocks away and got some shuttle buses. They opened up a new entrance onto the campus to allow for increased traffic flow. They identified the impact on everyone from Sunday School teachers, to ushers, to parking greeters and got the word out. It was an amazingly entreprenurial effort like you would see from a startup company trying to release its first product.

I'm an IT guy and I was in a breakout session with IT guys from the other mega-churches. Rick came into our session and told us that they couldn't do church the way they do it without information technology. You see, since they hadn't even announced the change to the congregation the prior weekend, the best way they had to get the word out was via e-mail.

The next week I heard from Eric Busby, Saddleback's CIO, that they had blowout attendance that weekend. Instead of a great opportunity, the surge of people would have been a disaster if they hadn't seen the wave coming and quickly adjusted to catch it. And catch it they did. People came to know Christ that weekend because of their extreme effort and willingness to change instantaneously.

Now that's a lesson in dynamic, purpose-driven, change-embracing leadership. I will remember it always.

Blogs I read

Stuart Cowen of Casting My Net asked for my list of church IT blogs that I subscribe to and read. Since I created the list for Stuart, I figured, hey, I should share it with the world. It's the next best thing to an Appian Way blogroll!

... and (of course) ;-)

June 03, 2006

Does the medium affect the message?

I encourage you to read this post by Shane Hipps in which he argues that electronic media isn't message-neutral. He contrasts how the text medium favors communication through systematic, linear reason, whereas the image medium favors communication through stories and experience.

Personally, I favor the use of multi-art, multimedia presentation. This approach uses emotion and reason, experience and information, story and logic to increase the liklihood of connecting in some way with each person and their different ways of learning. And yes, I agree that the medium affects the message. A multimedia approach means the communicator needs to think even more than ever about what they're saying and the most effective way to say it. I think that's a good thing.

May 29, 2006

Congrats Jason!

The Church Report has named Jason Gant, our new youth pastor, as one of the top 20 youth ministers in the nation. Jason is awesome. All the pieces were in place before Jason came and now the ministry is exploding under his leadership. Youth pastors are my heroes because they tell kids about Jesus.

While we're on the subject of youth ministry ... props to Leo Johns, our jack-of-all-trades web guy, who helped put together our new youth ministry web site. Check it out.

May 25, 2006


Hey, I just now interrupted my work to post a link to an article I just now read about interruptions. How's that for self-referential?

Are any of you out there actually getting real work done? If so, please tell me how you do it. ;-)

May 24, 2006

Adobe Announces Non Profit Pricing

Since Macromedia was acquired by Adobe last year, people in the non profit world have been worried that Adobe's perceived hostilities toward non profits would eliminate the generous discount programs available for programs like Dreamweaver, Flash, etc.

Instead, it seems that in some part Macromedia's non profit commitment has won the day. Macromedia has had a long commitment to the educational and non profit space and my dealings with people at their headquarters have always been very positive.

I began to hear that the Adobe folks were listening to their position on non profits shortly after the merger was announced. Well the time is here. Adobe has announced significantly larger discounts on its product line including the ability to purchase standards such as the Creative suite for $400 (list around 900).

While the discounts aren't as deep as the Macromedia discounts, they are significant. One of the people close to the conversation is Sean McAtee at he works closely with the Adobe Non Profit Representative. I don't believe the prices have been posted yet but you can email him at

You can also read the Adobe Non-Profit program specifics here(PDF)

There was some discussion of this issue here as well

May 23, 2006

How people get recommendations about your church

Check out this post by Beta Church in which they quote an article from Fast Company about how people use the web to get opinions on products and services they're considering for purchase. No doubt people are going to the web for opinions on churches too. Large churches particularly need to be aware of what is being said about them online so they can become part of the conversation.

May 22, 2006

A downside to Feedburner

Dave Winer said some thought-provoking things yesterday about the potential negative consequences of using Feedburner to generate RSS feeds for your blog or podcast. Hmmm ... I'm using Feedburner heavily now, including on this blog (see the orange XML button there on the right?).

Along the same line of thought, I insist on registering all domains with a registrar of my choice, rather than allowing a hosting service to do it for me. If you don't control your domain registration, you don't control the domain. Do you really want to be dependent on a service provider that you're leaving in order to successfully move your site to a new provider? Me neither.

One caveat: doing this occasionally causes hassles when the hosting company needs to change IP addresses of their DNS servers since the provider's network operations people generally assume that they control the registration and DNS for all their clients. Any time they want to make this kind of change, they'll need to coordinate it with you to avoid a site outage.

May 14, 2006

NPR Story on The Da Vinci Code

I just now discovered that Jeff Kirby, one of our pastors, was featured in this NPR story on how Christians are responding to The Da Vinci Code. Cool!

May 04, 2006

Personal Content Networks

Richard McManus has an interesting post today about Superglu, a service that creates a site out of feeds from multiple sites such as blogs,, and Flickr. Called a "content aggregator," Superglu is a cool example of the kinds of things Web 2.o enables.

May 02, 2006

Worry about the big things AND the small things

Brian Bailey: "One of the biggest challenges of web development is balancing the big things and the small things. My goal is to get the main thing right while still being obsessive about the details."

That philosophy applies to most things we do in the church, not just web sites and applications.

Students view e-mail as outdated?

Ben Gray of Blog Ministry: "Realize that they [students] view email as outdated and almost useless. They only use it to communicate with authority figures. They use Myspace and IM to communicate with friends."

April 27, 2006

Eric Busby at Tech Ed

Check out Jason Powell's recent post about Eric Busby of Saddleback speaking at Microsoft's Tech Ed. I commented and shared one of my own Eric Busby stories.

April 24, 2006

Racial Issues

I was inspired to post by Jeff's post on racial profiling at God Don't Make Junk, that I picked up through the Wesley Daily.

Without a doubt, some places still need a lot of growing up to do. I've experienced enough racial profiling second hand, myself being a very white Caucasian, bordering on translucent with red hair. One experience was very similar to what Jeff wrote about, except it was with a Caucasian-Mexican friend of mine who looks quite Mexican. That was the only time I've felt threatened being pulled over by the police - hands on gun holsters, looking nervously at my friend in the back seat. (I-44 highway in Missouri.) I have a game I play here in Kansas City KS/MO, and I-70 into Saint Louis, it's guessing the race of the person who's been pulled over by not one, but two police cars. I'm rarely wrong, because it's always an African-American or Latino who's been pulled over.

Much less threatening, yet still annoying is my Indonesian wife who gets carded for using her credit card 95% of the time she uses it. And when I say carded, I mean carefully studying the card, looking at her face, then looking over the card again carefully. Caucasians, how often do you get carded for using a credit/debit card? It only happens to me once or twice a year.

It's very sad. Equality is not a balance of power segregated by race lines, but all of God's children seeing each other as such without color and race. The biggest beef I have with racial anything is that no one seems to focus on this, rather they are focus on segregated balance. I don't feel that helps stop or slow racisim, and feel it's a reason we've only made it this far yet. Individuals seem to want recognition as upstanding citizens of their race, rather than human beings or children of one Father. I think this is due to a couple prominent factors.

People confuse culture with race.
Race is genetic, culture is experiential. I am an Austrian-Hungarian, Croatian-Bohemian, German-French-Irish individual … and I think I missed one or two in all seriousness. The fact I'm Caucasian with hazel eyes and red hair in no way binds me to the culture I've experienced - period. Hold onto your culture, lose the racism.

People are naturally more comfortable with those whom they have more in common with, whether by race or culture.
Pull up some multi-racial situations in your mind. How often do you see all races equally dispersed, sitting amongst each other? More likely than not, you'll see groups segregated by race or culture. Why, because they're all racist? No, because people drift toward others whom they have more in common with, more likely by culture. I think this bends us naturally toward segregation.

You know what we all have in common though? Humanity. Can we focus on this instead?

April 11, 2006

Winning Gen-X for Christ - Part II

Through my thinking I came up with three steps to making a Gen-X / postmodern friendly church, and want to share them because I feel they are important and dependent on one another.

Create The Right Environment
Create an atmosphere that promotes learning. Imagine in your mind a casual environment where people are coming to relax, learn and follow. That environment should not be formal. Don't make it feel like a rigid environment where they have to be on their best behavior. Salvation is not forefront in their lives, so do not charge at them with that goal. Appeal to how Christianity is relevant in their lives today, and to the fullness of life it can produce. Create a learning environment where they are eager to think about religious subjects and deepening their faith through growth of knowledge. The environment should not be constructed with the ease of leading in mind, but with the ease of following.

Open The Doors
The church should be flexible and open to people showing up, sitting down, and getting to know others. You can't have an environment where people have their own seats they always sit in, or things that can only be done, used, or put away one precise way. You also can't make visitors feel like you are so very thankful they are here because the church just couldn't go on with out them, and would they please consider coming back next week, please, please, please. ;) Be personable with them. This interaction is very much like a blind date between the church and the first time visitor. Treat this situation with the same respect.

Reach Out Gently
As pastor Laura Guy put it, "it's much like feeding a wary deer from your hand." You have to be delicate, and make them comfortable enough to approach you. No fast movements. You can't charge over, open their mouth, force feed them, and make sure they chew it up appropriately. Don't reach out trying to win some for Christ being the first and foremost thought. Beware the salesperson filter! Danger Wil Robinson, Danger! Don't try to sell Christ to them. Instead, let them know there is a place that is open, has friendly people, and is inviting to perusal of the spiritual inventory. Appeal to the challenges they face with Christianity. The bible is a book of old stories written by uneducated people claiming this dude Jesus was born miraculously, died and saved us somehow, and then came back to life. In the words of a postmodern, "Whatever!?"