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) http://appianway.blogspot.com/ ;-)

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.