Planter, it’s probably not a stretch to guess that you felt called to plant a church to join in God’s mission of redemption by reaching people with the Gospel and not to show off your tech skills. If you’re anything like me, in fact, your church planting tech plan probably sounds something like this: Keep building the ship as you’re sailing!
At the same time, though, we know that communicating the Good News of Jesus effectively in our culture today requires being able to utilize technology and design. While some plants are blessed with abundant resource from the outset (e.g., finances, technology, staff), many of the rest of us are faced with constraints of budget and expertise.
As a church planter myself, I can relate to these challenges. Over the years, I have gained a baseline level of proficiency with church tech (which is sort of like youth pastors having to learn to drive the church van and play a couple of chords on the guitar, as I did many years ago) but I share the following ideas, tips and insights from a non-technical perspective.
Build a Team
It might feel counterintuitive to begin with people rather than equipment when writing about tech, but I believe you will find several benefits from taking this approach.
First, you will be surprised at what volunteers can provide. When you ask for help in developing your plant’s audio, visual or web ministries, you are opening the doors for people to contribute meaningfully to the mission who might otherwise not imagine themselves doing so. For example, you might discover someone who DJ’s on the side and can provide insight and expertise into PA’s, speakers and how music can affect the flow of a gathering. Your plant might have a freelance photographer who can donate free headshots of your staff for your church’s website or document a local outreach. Or, you might find people within your community who are willing to donate equipment. One generous family in our plant donated a 42” flat screen television they were no longer using after upgrading their set: We use it to project lyrics and slides during our Sunday worship gatherings. One simple on-ramp for tech participation is asking people to help set up and tear down on a weekly basis.
You might also consider reaching out to other churches in your local area, both established churches and newer plants, to find out what kind of tech setup they use. Ask them how their tech usage has evolved. When I reached out to another congregation in the area with questions, they were happy to share their tech story because it related directly to the ways in which God enabled their plant to grow. I gained a few practical insights about computer hardware and software for visual presentations, and got a glimpse into how our plant’s needs might evolve in the future.
Finally, planters are notoriously prone to burnout. I have often found that trying to take on too much of the tech burden can drain planters and distract their focus from why they felt called to this unique ministry in the first place. Building a tech team will not only free you from this burden, but it will also enable you to invest more directly in ministry to the people on that team.
Tell Your Story Visually
Instagram surpassed Twitter (in terms of popularity and usage) back in 2015. This confirms that we live in a visual culture. Plants must learn to tell their story—and the Gospel story—visually.
Even on a limited budget, it is within reach for many plants to purchase either a simple projector/screen (or blank wall) setup or to use a flat screen television (mounted to rolling monitor stand, if you need to set up/tear down weekly). 48” televisions can be purchased for under $350, or even under $300, if you’re able to catch the right sale. You can also check your local big box retailer’s clearance or open-box selection for even lower prices.
Our group of 50 on Sundays has been able to view a 42” screen without issue. Just make sure, whatever the size of your screen, to set text on each slide to a large enough size. In terms of visual presentations, you’ll often find that “less is more”—fewer words per slide and more images will reinforce your message more effectively than attempting to display the entire transcript of what you’re saying. The in-house designer for TED offers these helpful insights in crafting effective slides.
If you use slides during your sermon (and don’t want to have to say, “Please advance the slide” 10 times per sermon), you could invest in this Kensington wireless presenter so that you can advance the slides as you preach. It is available for under $40, but you can find even less expensive ones.
Presentation programs like Proclaim, ProPresenter and MediaShout are powerful and robust, but your plant might not be able to afford the financial cost or time spent learning how to use them. Applications like Keynote for Mac and, yes, the old warhorse PowerPoint for Windows can be rolled out effectively for worship settings.
Here are a couple of quick tips for using PowerPoint, as our plant does: First, set your presentations to widescreen (16:9 dimensions). Second, set your computer monitor’s appearance to “extended desktop” — this will allow you to view/edit your presentation on the computer you’re using, but continue to project the desired image onto the screen.
You might also find new uses for other apps you already have. For example, if you’re in the Apple ecosystem, you can utilize the Remote app on your iPhone to control iTunes on your Macbook (just make sure both your iPhone and Macbook are on the same wireless network). This way, if you don’t have a dedicated soundboard operator, you can control music during entrance/exit, communion, prayer, etc. from the front.
Again, even without a dedicated stage designer on your team, you can utilize many free or low-cost resources to add visual impact to your worship gatherings. Even simple lighting can provide creative, artistic stage design. These copper string lights are available for less than $10, and can be used in a variety of ways—on stage, in your foyer, to highlight signage or even in a bowl to decorate a table during your fellowship hour. These simple multicolored floodlights are also less than $20, and can help set your worship environment.
One local San Diego church built a beautiful stage backdrop using free reclaimed pallets (and a little elbow grease) along with simple colored lights. You can find many ideas, inspiration and tips at Church Stage Design Ideas.
Even if you don’t have a graphic designer on your team, your plant still has access to many high-quality, free resources. Websites like Open Network, CreationSwap and RiseUp Resources consistently provide a wide range of high quality free resources, including sermon series and social media graphics, videos and design templates. Each week on churchplants.com we feature the best free resources for planters, including design resources, eBooks and student ministry resources.
You don’t have to be a social media “guru” or “maven” for your church to use Twitter, Facebook or Instagram effectively. These free apps can be powerful tools in reaching people and building up your community. You can find a free eBook here, along with a helpful article about harnessing the power of social media in planting, over at churchplants.com.
If you utilize email newsletters, MailChimp offers free services (for up to 2,000 subscribers) and a simple drag-and-drop interface, along with a variety of templates to choose from.
What church plants might lack in terms of financial or staffing resources, we make up for in adaptability and creativity. May this sampling of tech and design resources strengthen your plant’s mission to honor God and reach the lost. Keep building that ship and keep on sailing!