February 20, 2007

Kathy Sierra on user happiness

Kathy has an excellent post today on what happens when the "policies and procedures tail" wags the "user happiness dog." I continually remind my IT team here at Resurrection that our job is to serve users, not the other way around. My team has a lot of ideas about how to increase our efficiency, which I think is great so long as it doesn't make things more diffcult for those we serve. Do you advocate for users in your organization?

February 15, 2007

Skypecast - Cooler than I Thought

I came across the Skypecasts beta directory on Sunday, I don't even remember how. I have been aware of Skypecast for quite a while now through Jason Powell's blog, and had always thought of it as an alternative to hold on-line meetings. I was blown away to find a directory of open discussions taking place about all sort of subjects!

I clicked on a "Join this Skypecast" link for one of the entries, and found myself listening in on a Arabic speaking discussion as though I was standing in a public square in Saudi Arabia and just walked up to a group of people, listening to the conversation. This is wild!

I began thinking, the potential of this is huge. This is not just free conference calling, this is a globally accessible public forum. If you want to hold a discussion on any subject all you need is to download Skype, advertise the discussion in whatever manner you chose, and host and moderate it. The barrier to holding a discussion is broadband Internet access, a computer, a headset with microphone, and the knowledge to get Skype installed and a Skypecast created. This is exactly the flat world that Thomas L. Friedman discusses in The World is Flat. I found people hosting their own sociological and political discussions, some of them with very controversial subjects, with people from all over the world participating.

Think about that for a moment. If you were to mash the technical ability of Skypecasts up with the right social networking service, you could bring a great deal of the worlds population closer together than ever before. Say you're a student and you are writing a paper on antibiotic resistance. You've got a few questions that you're not able to answer through the Internet resources, so you set up a Skypecast for next Wednesday evening and publish this event through a social network service, asking for help from any experts on the subject. On Wednesday you get to talk with a couple other people writing similar papers and you all share resources, and in the middle of that you get a leading expert join in that has seen your advertisement for the discussion and now multiple people benefit.

The potential uses for churches and small groups really excites me. Imagine a globally diverse small group that anyone can be a part of, or just listen in on. A pastor can host a discussion on applying the scripture to your life, and interact with real people with real questions in a moderated format. I think these sorts of technologies will ultimately re-define the roles of evangelism and caring in the physical church to include the global community. The phrase, 'your neighbor,' will not mean what it used to mean.

I haven't posted here much, so to reiterate why this interests me so much, I am very driven to get churches on-line. By that, I mean encouraging churches to utilize web ministry and enabling them to use technology for ministry and evangelism. Why? Because I strongly believe that on-line evangelism will be highly important in reaching future Christians, and that God has many great things in store for technologies such as Skypecast and social network services.

February 12, 2007

United Methodists Reaching Postmodernists

A disappointing thought crossed my mind as I drove home early Saturday morning from a late night out. (The late night BTW was much less harmless than it sounds. My wife and I attended a high school musical in support of a friend, and we stayed up late conversing about different subjects.)

What if, on the whole, the United Methodist church can not reach postmodernists? I mean simply can not do it. What if the things that make a worship United Methodist are exactly those things the postmodernist revolts from?

I began thinking about the church reaching the postmodernist, and recalled conversations that I've either witnessed or been a part of. They all go something like this:

UM Pastor: "You say that the service doesn't speak to you, but give me an example of how would you change it?"

Postmodernist: "There needs to be more music. It needs to be cool, not boring. Hip! It needs to be more emotional and less institutional."

UM Pastor: "But those are not specific examples of what you would change about the service today. I understand what you said, but I don't understand how you want us to do that."

The conversation usually goes down hill from there, with the postmodernist trying desperately to explain what hip and cool means and how they could be so very moved if it were done better. Both parties walk away having no idea what the other meant.

I've heard at least one pastor explain this as, "They aren't able to explain what they want." That baffles me, as I'm pretty sure I just saw human beings who speak the same language converse about what they want. This ends up sounding like the modernist saying they are open and willing to improve the worship experience, as long as they don't have to change anything about it at all. Why can't you just be happy with the way it is now?

To me it comes down to this: The answer that modernists are looking for is which portions of the service today need be changed to reach postmodernists, without changing or losing the structure of the worship? What the postmodernist is trying to answer politely - everything. That being said, I'm sure there is a middle ground. I believe that churches that are successful in reaching postmodernists are those finding ways to say yes rather than no, and still hold in their hearts the significance of denominational traditions. Those that tie the significance of a worship service too tightly to the rigid procedural tradition may have a really tough time reaching postmodernists.

Where does your church apply the significance of worship? The process, or the expression? Are they doing church, or being the church?

February 11, 2007

Mac vs. PC

"As a Mac user, I wish Microsoft would run an Apple-like ad about the process by which Mac users get service for broken hardware. It would be really hard for Apple to respond, because their system for dealing with broken hardware is itself horribly broken. They need serious incentives to fix this." - Dave Winer

Just last week my team at Resurrection and I were joking about exactly this idea. (We support both PCs and Macs.) The Apple commercials are terribly funny, no doubt. But Apple would have you believe that their stuff never breaks. In our parody commercial, Mac would be broken and a poor, hapless user would be striken by the question, "How do I fix this thing?" PC would answer, "I don't know." Then the user would ask, "Who DOES know?" Followed by nothing but dead silence.

When PC is broken, we call our friendly Dell service person, who comes out a day or two later and fixes it. It's painless and nearly effortless. When Mac is broken, we are faced with a small number of bad options, all of which will cost us a lot more time and brain damage than calling Dell. Surely Dave Winer and us aren't the only ones who have faced this issue. Does Apple care?

February 09, 2007

Visual communication

I've posted before about the importance of visual communication in our world. Unfortunately, I've spent my whole life honing my ability to communicate with words. That skill will be nearly obsolete by the end of my life. Seth Godin points us to an example of how ordinary people can use video technology to communicate. Wouldn't it be cool to use this video to teach church staff about web technology? Would it be even cooler for all of us to learn how to communicate this way?

February 05, 2007

From Vision to Reality

This past week in our bi-annual all staff meeting Adam, our senior pastor, said something that coalesced a reoccurring thought I'd had for a while. He mentioned a list of large projects our church had either completed, or moved from the idea stage to a living process. Then he suggested that to do this repeatedly and continually succeed you have to go through a strategic planning stage. That's a simple statement right? So now - everybody go do that and succeed much more often .... If only it were that easy.

I'm sure that statement is in a thousand books and repeated by even more people, but the reason I'm blogging about it today is that it seems to be one of those statements where the absorption and understanding of it are worlds apart from the action and ability to perform it. Why is that? Is it simply a factor of the human condition, or is a skill that can be learned and honed? I would lean toward the latter.

Pastor Andrzej from
Katowice, Poland

The idea that strategic planning is a critical ingredient of any vision to reality project is at first too simple to be so profound. One of the questions I have been asked on multiple occasions, after people learn I work at Church of the Resurrection, is "Why is Resurrection so successful?" The last time I was asked this it was from pastor Andrzej while I was visiting him in Katowice, Poland. Pastor Andrzej has been a United Methodist pastor for more than 25 years and is currently positioned in a thriving church with a congregation more than 100 strong. To put this in perspective, the United Methodist presence in all of Poland is less than 4,500 people.
Pastor Andrzej, spoken in my poor English as "ahhn-jay," is a person who comes off very calm, with waters just underneath the surface that are roaring to bring God's Word to the non religious.

Up until now, my answer to the above question has been these things, in short: One is leading with prayer. Another is effective leadership, and the last is an uncommon hive of people who possess a drive from within to do things with excellence. These are still accurate, but what I may now add to those is effective strategic planning.

I think if there were a great suggestion for pastors striving for success in ministry, it would be to educate yourself in strategic planning. When Adam spoke about this at our all staff meeting, Andrzej came back to my memory. He and I had discussed the importance of prayer, and asking for God's guidance. No one should underestimate this, but God rarely lifts those of us up who are sitting back waiting for Him to take the wheel and drive.

It made me wonder what programs or resources we have set up for our local pastors, as well as our International pastors. I couldn't find much searching through Google, though it may have been the keywords I was using. My co-worker Chuck, who you can see in this post's picture, recommended this book by Kennon L. Callahan.

Would anyone else who has read this recommend it? Does anyone know of other resources out there that focus on strategic planning in the church?