COVID-19
  • Hybrid worship strategies for multi-generational churches

    By Raymund Ferrer As worship becomes increasingly more virtual, it’s important that a church can offer a hybrid experience that continues to connect church members — whether they’re down the street or across the world.  Many churches are grappling with this change — online vs traditional in-person experiences. As church attendance continues to decline, leaders are wondering if they’ve lost their momentum, or if they’re remaining relevant with younger generations of church go-ers. When in fact,  maybe the answer is that online and hybrid models of ministry actually allow churches to reach and engage with more people. It’s a matter of flipping the narrative, and having a better understanding of what ‘community’ means to your congregation.  In fact, Crossroads Church recently conducted research on Gen Zs and their perceptions of online church, and the findings were fascinating. Data shows that our Gen Z population is still highly engaged with the concept of God and faith, but their needs are different. It might seem like their needs are disappearing, when in actuality they’re evolving. They still want to be part of a community, but their version of it is very different from the traditional church model. And they’re not just looking for access to videos and sermons — they want to be a part of the online community churches provide.  So, whether it’s live streaming worship services, connecting with the congregation through social media, or sharing church updates through your website or church app, your church can find ways to bring a personal touch to your communications that will help people from all generations feel engaged. Here are some strategies that have been effective for some of the customers we work with at Pushpay:  1. Train church members on new technology and make new offerings clear  When new online offerings are made available, it’s important to ensure that all church members have the opportunity to learn how to access them to maximize engagement and a feeling of community. Offering a kickoff meeting to go over the basics of any technology the church will be using is a great first start. Don’t assume every member understands the technology you might be implementing!  2. Make virtual interactions conversational Whether it’s the pastor mentioning online viewers by name during a live stream service, or giving virtual attendees a platform to share their stories during an online or hybrid event, finding ways to bring church members into the conversation is critical. When churches provide online tools and services, it’s easy for communication to become one-sided, so directly addressing online participants, adding a comment function for live stream events, or providing the pastor’s email address for feedback can make church members feel heard and valued.  3. Re-evaluate technology regularly Pushpay’s recent State of Church Technology report indicates that 93 percent of churches believe that technology plays a critical role in helping them achieve their mission. Yet, 43 percent of churches say they only re-evaluate their technology stack ‘when the needs arise.’  Proactive planning is critical. Set a timeline for when you’ll re-evaluate the hybrid options you’re providing your church members. This not only allows church leaders to see if new, more effective technology has become available, it also provides time to review feedback from church members and identify what initiatives are popular, and which aren’t making a positive impact.  4. Create experiences for online-only members  With advances in technology, your congregation might now include families who have moved away from your church but still engage online or people who have never attended your church but feel connected from far away. To foster this connection, it’s important to cater to your members who are engaging virtually. This can be done by giving your online community a name or hosting online-only events especially for them.  5. Be responsive and available online  Ensure you have a team in place to manage online correspondence – including your email accounts, website contact form, and social media pages. Providing prompt, thoughtful responses builds trust in your online platforms and helps grow the impact of your church.  Having a well-thought-out and effective online presence and virtual offerings is a key way to grow your church and form deeper relationships with church members. As a growing number of churchgoers engage in a hybrid worship model, providing services like social media communications, an easy-to-use church app, and live stream worship options are increasingly valuable to members.  Raymund Ferrer is Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Pushpay.  Views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and organization represented.

Leadership
  • Making the most of email efforts

    By RaeAnn Slaybaugh Like many church professionals, Danielle Zapchenk, Director of Communications at West Ridge Community Church in Elgin, Ill., once used a third-party email marketing tool — Mailchimp — in her role. By switching to a church-specific, holistic church management software platform, she and her team can now streamline the church’s email communications from start to finish.  Best of all, Zapchenk can monitor engagement with those messages and use these insights to mobilize better ministry.  For Danielle Zapchenk, email is a way of life. As an important part of the communications strategy at West Ridge Community Church in Elgin, Ill., email is enlisted to inform the congregation about many events and updates.  But not all email delivery systems are created equal — something Zapchenk learned firsthand as the church transitioned from Mailchimp to the email functionalities within Churchteams, a church management software platform designed to streamline all of West Ridge’s communications efforts — not just email, but also texting, workflow automation and more. There’s good reason to embrace email, in particular: Zapchenk says it allows her to convey a larger vision and give more detail than a text reminder provides. It also lets the congregation follow along with each message series at West Ridge, as well as keep abreast of key events and even receive financial updates. Unlike Mailchimp, Churchteams offers database information, images and events all in one space when creating email communications. All graphics can be uploaded into Churchteams — gifs, videos, images, headings, stickers, and so on — so they are always right at the user’s fingertips.  Designed to be intuitive and easy to use, Churchteams’ email editor functionality uses a drag-and-drop approach to message design, which is far simpler than building code. The platform also includes readymade email templates. Finally, Zapchenk appreciates the ability to preview every email (on both mobile and desktop platforms) to ensure a great user experience. To this end, she creates unique email templates for different ministries and teams to ensure a consistent look to the church’s messaging, even while reaching different groups of people.  “I couldn’t be happier with the way the email editor functions,” she says. “And once email templates are set up, it truly becomes plug-and-play — no need to reinvent the wheel every time you set up an email.”  5 essential tasks The communications team at West Ridge maximizes email functionalities in several ministry-critical ways. 1. Email tracking / history  By tracking open rates, deliverability and other metrics of engagement, Zapchenk can determine the days and times when the congregation is most responsive.   “We can spend a lot of time putting the work into an email or a financial review, but if nobody sees it, it has no value,” she points out. “That’s a huge problem.” 2. Prescheduling emails  The ability to build multiple templates for different ministries lets Zapchenk preschedule various emails, giving her and her team the opportunity to work on the one thing they’re most passionate about: ministry.  The team takes advantage of this functionality for events like Men’s Breakfasts and Women’s Bible Studies.  “This allows us to keep our content consistent, and we don’t let communication fall through the cracks,” she explains. “For our main church emails, we can create our content and push it out at the best time to suit our church attendees.” 3. Automated emails for volunteer reminders  Zapchenk and her team have recently begun to schedule automated emails to volunteers — an especially helpful function for the children’s ministry.  “With so many people who help in this ministry, this is yet another touchpoint to remind our busy volunteers of their commitment that weekend,” she points out. “Everyone needs a reminder from time to time, and it’s a time-saver for our church staff as well.” 4. Building targeted lists of recipients Within the past year, West Ridge has started taking advantage of the “lists” function in Churchteams, which ensures communications are intentional and relevant to the recipients, as it allows each person to subscribe to what interests them. “For example, if you’re a young mom who keeps getting invited to the men’s breakfasts, it makes our church look unintentional,” Zapchenk explains.   For this reason, she and her team consistently use Churchteams to build out targeted lists for the general congregation, women’s ministry, men’s ministry, students, missions, and kids.  In addition to lists, additional flexibility is available through the use of groups and report filters. These functionalities offer even more granularity by enabling Zapchenk and her team to target emails by any group or member demographic. 5. Maximizing workflows to create a follow-up communication schedule For maximum efficiency and effectiveness, the West Ridge communications team has recently started incorporating more workflows into its Churchteams database. It allows them to create a follow-up communication schedule by automating a series of tasks — surrounding pre- and post-Christmas and Easter devotionals, for example — or for reaching different groups of people at the same time, but with different content or tone.  As the leader of the women’s ministry, Zapchenk says this functionality is crucial as she attempts to reach as many women as possible and keep them up to date. “Any time a new lady pops into the database, she’s added into our women’s email list weekly,” she explains. “No need to comb through the database anymore and wonder, Did we get everybody?”  “And there are so many other ways I’m looking to incorporate this more for upcoming events and first-time families,” she adds. Zapchenk is proof that church executives are learning how to get a lot more out of their email efforts by mobilizing a church-specific, holistic software platform which enables them to focus less on tasks and more on people.  Instead of linking to a third-party app, Zapchenk — and others like her at the helm of church communications programs — have all their “people data” in one place. This helps them understand email recipients’ behavior and develop truly effective campaigns.

Risk Management
  • IS “COMPLIANCE” A SCARY WORD?

      Here’s how to avoid some common payroll mistakes Church Executive: Why is it important for a church to understand the differences between an employee and a contractor — and what are those differences?   Sarah Barham: It’s important to understand the differences because of the employer’s tax responsibility and reporting requirements. The church will withhold taxes and pay on behalf of an “employee,” but not for a contract worker. As the employer, the church will have expectations for and authority over an employee, and employees are subject to a set work schedule that the church has established. Employees paid any amount of wages receive a W-2 from the church. An individual who sets his or her own schedule, typically offers their services outside of the church, and provides their own supplies for the work performed at the church, falls under the “contractor” category. Contractors who receive more than $600 in a calendar year receive a 1099 from the church. But the distinction between employee and contractor isn’t always clear. Things get confusing when, for instance, someone works in the church nursery or fills in as a musician. Technically, they’re using the church’s instruments or coming at a certain time for the church service, which could make them employees. On the other hand, these individuals might also offer their services outside of the church, which means they’d be contractors.  It’s a very fine line, and sometimes the best practice is simply to seek out expert advice to ensure you’re classifying workers correctly.   CE: With regards to state and federal compliance, why does it matter if a minister is licensed/ordained or not?  Barham: Licensing and ordination fall under the church’s responsibility — a church can license or ordain whom it chooses. The reason a church needs to identify if a minister is licensed/ordained (or not) is because the minister can claim a housing allowance which provides tax relief benefits. If a minister elects to designate a portion of his salary as a housing allowance, the church is then restricted from being able to withhold the employer portion of Social Security and Medicare. At WatersEdge, we often see ministerial payrolls being processed in which the church is paying both the housing allowance and taxes, which is not in compliance with IRS regulations. So, when we process a church’s payroll, we ask for the minister’s certification. If he claims a housing allowance, we designate him as licensed/ordained and therefore exempt from FICA withholding. But a minister also has the option of being designated as a “secular minister,” where he doesn’t claim a housing allowance. Today, most ministers buy their own houses or live off site.  There are other considerations surrounding housing, too. You might be able to claim decorations, utility bills and so on, but it depends on what the church pays for. CE: What are some examples of overcomplicated deductions?  Barham: There’s a popular deduction that is often referred to as a “social security offset.” If a minister meets the requirements for self-employed status, he will be responsible for paying self-employment taxes. Churches will often deduct that self-employment tax from the payroll and keep those funds for the minister until taxes are due. Then, the church will reimburse the minister just in time for paying those self-employment taxes by the quarterly due date. This can considerably complicate a church’s payroll and the accounting of those deductions and payments.  Another common deduction we see is for cell phones, or that a minister wants tithes paid out of his payroll. They want to give 10 percent to a particular ministry and 10 percent to another, and so on. These types of deductions make church accounting difficult, especially when trying to orchestrate all of this in-house. CE: Why is it important to verify whether or not a salary package for a new church employee includes benefits? Barham: It provides clarity for the church and for the minster. If a salary package includes salary, housing, tax offsets, reimbursements for personal expenses, and benefits, then that can reduce a minister’s take-home pay. Let’s say, for example, a church finance committee sets a salary package of $150,000 but doesn’t specify what it includes. (This happens more often than you might think.) Is the $150,000 for wages only, with housing and benefits added on top? Or does the $150,000 include those benefits? If so, the breakdown might look something like this: $80,000 in wages, $50,000 in housing, and $20,000 in benefits. The problem is compounded when this ambiguous figure is reported to payroll (either internally or to outsourced services). Is the new minister’s compensation $150,000 plus these benefits, or does that amount include them? We’ve seen multiple churches fail to make this distinction and realize at the end of the year that they’ve paid out much more than they budgeted for. Ideally, paperwork and documentation are provided for each employee, but often it isn’t laid out in a concise way relative to what the expectation was. Clarity on wages, benefits, reimbursements and deductions can become overwhelming and convoluted. CE: Why is it so crucial for churches to make state and federal tax payments on time?  Barham: I’ll start by quoting Romans 13:7 — “Pay everyone what you owe him: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.” Fines are an obvious repercussion, but states that collect taxes can also attempt to close a church for violations.  For us at WatersEdge, there’s a stewardship consideration, too. Paying avoidable fines and penalties simply isn’t good stewardship. When a church misses a deadline and pays late, fines are added, and those fines are a non-budgeted expense. The church is then forced to dip into other funds to pay those penalties, as opposed to using those dollars for outreach or other ministry activities. CE: It sounds like payroll mistakes are pretty common. At what point should a church leader consider outsourcing payroll to a third Read More >

Pastor-Friendly A/V
  • All-in on A/V

    The right system is essential to engagement. Here’s how to get it (in plain-English). Church Executive: How can a church leader know that the A/V system is falling short of its engagement potential?  David McCauley: Reaching 60-percent-more-active engagement is something I talk about often. Yes, this is a hard metric to measure; but I feel that most leaders can get a pretty good sense of connection when looking around an audience.  As a leader / teacher, when teaching classes or speaking at events, I track engagement in a couple of ways: Eye contact: This simple but informative [observation] is a key to what people are really paying attention to. If they’re only looking at their phones, or at other things going on in the space, there’s a good chance they aren’t connected.  Audience response: Some cultures are quiet; others are more responsive. Either way, response is always something that we look at, especially during worship. If people aren’t singing, they’re not connected. It’s a huge clue that some adjustments are needed in your space.  I developed a process that starts with a questionnaire for church leadership based on this exact topic. I ask them to rate the importance of parts of a project, from architecture to technology. A matrix we’ve designed helps our design team effectively understand and guide leaders on the journey of engagement. The end result is connecting and communicating effectively with the congregation. If that’s through architecture, great. If it’s through technology, that’s great, too.  CE: As we look at your website, driving maximum engagement is clearly at the heart of what you do. Can you expand a little on each of the statements listed there, below? Audio: “We design audio systems that ensure your message is delivered with clarity and power.”  McCauley: Spoken into existence: this is how the world was created, and it’s also the best way to communicate with most people.  When our team thinks about engagement, we think about the whole package — from room acoustics to electronics — and the effect these elements have on people. We find a balance; a space in which souls are activated in worship but worshippers’ ears are also reachable in the softest moments when you’re sending a life-changing message.  Then, if you need a system with bass so loud that it knocks the devil out of the church, we can help with that, too.     Video: “We design the technology you need to visually communicate your stories.” McCauley: Video is so important. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what are 24-plus pictures per second worth? It’s a huge part of next-level engagement.  Lighting: “We design an immersive atmosphere that keeps your audience engaged with your message.” McCauley: Eyes are the window to the soul; you can guide people with intensity, help change a mood with color, and intensify engagement.  People were designed for light. A picture of our Creator is light.  Acoustics: “We design a balanced environment that will ensure your message is delivered clearly.” McCauley: Acoustics are often overlooked but are one of the most powerful ways to connect and engage. Most people don’t understand the importance of acoustics or how it affects people and the dynamics of the room.  With our dynamic acoustic systems, it can be a pretty direct and quiet space, or I can press a button and it sounds like a cathedral. It’s art and science; experience and engagement can intertwine.  Done wrong, acoustics are distracting. Done well, they make all the difference in terms of connection.       CE: Stewardship-focused church executives might assume that a truly engaging A/V system comes with a high price tag and requires “all the bells and whistles.” What’s the reality?  McCauley: Everything has a cost; the goal is to put the budget where it does the most towards reaching church leaders’ goals, and then phase in other wants and needs later. We need to set the roadmap and expectations before we can hit any target.   CE: What effects has COVID had on how engaging church A/V systems are created now?  McCauley: There was a lot more attention on reaching outside the walls of the church. Now, it’s focused on how to get people engaged in person again. What creates that special moment of connection with other people, that shared experience?  I believe the world will never think the same as before. COVID has impacted how we view the worship experience. I even find myself thinking ‘Hey, I can just watch it at the house while I’m cooking.’  But doing so means you miss the component of engagement and connection that comes with worshiping together, in person, and how that experience deeply impacts us.  — Reporting by Emma Green

Mission & Travel
  • Planning ahead for safe ministry travel

    As we move into the spring and summer months, many houses of worship will be taking service and mission trips. These experiences offer unique opportunities to share faith, make a difference and strengthen the church community. With careful planning, travelers can mitigate risk and keep the focus on their ministry during these trips. Following is a conversation with Eric Spacek, assistant vice president — Risk Control at Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I.1, who outlines several key steps you, your members and staff can take to stay safe and healthy. What’s the best way to get started with planning? The first step is to research and share information on public health and security issues in your destination. Of course, we all know right now the most prominent public health issue continues to be COVID-19, and conditions can evolve quickly as different strains emerge. Additionally, every state in the United States — not to mention every country — has different requirements in place for mask-wearing, social distancing, vaccination status, etc. To better understand risks and regulations, start with the COVID-19 travel recommendations from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For security-focused information — such as identifying areas of unrest — the U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council is a valuable, up-to-date resource for international travel. What is typically required in terms of immunizations for travel? Do you have any other tips related to health or medical considerations while traveling? Each country is different, so it’s important for travelers to think ahead and verify all needed immunizations using resources like CDC’s travel website. Travelers will need to see their doctor at least six weeks in advance, as some vaccines require that amount of time to reach their full amount of protection. Right now, we also recommend paying close attention to COVID-19 requirements both to enter other countries (which can include quarantining) and re-enter the U.S. Another area of interest for travelers is prescription medication, which should be kept in its original packaging to avoid problems in customs. They should bring a sufficient supply to last throughout the trip as well as a paper copy of the prescription, in case it needs to be refilled while away from home. What steps can travelers take to protect their passports and other important documents? We recommend assembling an emergency identification kit, which should include a photocopy of the data page in their passport, an extra photo of themselves and the addresses and telephone numbers of the U.S. embassies in the countries they are planning to visit. This information should stay in the traveler’s possession, but it’s better to store it separately from their passport. Ideally, these pages should be laminated as well to protect them from damage. In the unfortunate event that a passport is lost or stolen, having this information readily accessible can help the traveler obtain a new physical copy. Some travelers choose to take additional steps, such as storing a laminated copy of this information in every piece of their luggage, providing a copy to one of their travel companions and leaving a copy with a family member at home. For easy online access, they also may scan their passport and store a copy in a secure location on the cloud or their email account. What should travelers know from an insurance standpoint? What’s covered during travel? We recommend purchasing travel insurance to cover all the eventualities that can arise, such as: Trip delays or cancellations — Conditions can change quickly, especially with COVID-19 as a factor. Canceling a trip could result in losing the money spent on plane tickets and other reservations, but travel insurance would cover these costs. Lost or stolen passports — Securing a new passport requires time and resources. Travel insurance covers the costs of extending a trip and replacing the passport. Lost or stolen property — Travel insurance covers the cost of replacing or recovering the traveler’s belongings. Illness or injury — If the traveler’s personal insurance does not cover all health care expenses, travel insurance can help. Liability — Some, but not all, insurance products contain liability coverage. Check with your insurer to determine if your organization is adequately covered for liability, particularly if travelers will be driving a vehicle. What do travelers need to know about driving in other countries? It’s a good idea to explore all options for transportation while traveling, including public or privately arranged transportation. However, these options are not always safe and/or available, so travelers may need to rent and operate a vehicle during their trip. The first thing to know is that some countries require visitors to have an International Driving Permit — check with the International Drivers Association for the list. This permit is translated into the nine official languages of the United Nations, including English, and is an important tool for drivers in an emergency situation. Potential drivers also should research traffic laws and road conditions in their planned destinations to answer a few key questions. Will the roads be difficult to navigate due to being narrow or unpaved? Will drivers need to drive on the opposite side of the road while traveling? (For the latter, if it’s the first time they have done so, it may help to practice in an empty parking lot prior to the trip.) How do the rules of the road compare to the U.S.? Signage — Drivers should know what the basic colors and symbols mean. Restrictions — Different locations may regulate who can drive where and when, especially in areas with significant congestion. Driving culture — Attitudes and expectations around driving. As an example, travelers who drive below the speed limit are seen as a safety hazard in some places, while in others it’s the opposite. While operating a vehicle in another state or country, travelers are implicitly accepting responsibility for anything that occurs while they are driving. Ignorance of the law will not be a legitimate defense. We recommend houses of worship contact their insurer to Read More >

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