Why To Implement Design for Accessibility

web-accessibility.jpgHave you ever wondered who benefits from creating an accessible design? One that meets the needs of people who have impairments like the vision impaired. When I think of people in this situation I usually envision someone who is blind and can't think of many blind people. This can give way to the feeling that there aren't that many people with impairments and on the basis of this it's easy to make designing an accessible site a low priority.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are up to 60 million Americans with disabilities that are trying to use a computer to learn and interact on the web. If you do that math that's roughly 20% of the U.S. population. Yet, awareness of this issue seems to be fairly low and many designers are building sites and web applications that aren't usable to this 20%.

Are you still having trouble envisioning who this 20% is? Let's look at one large group. Consider everyone with color blindness. In the U.S. about 7% of men are color blind. In Australia the number is 8% of men. These men, not only have trouble picking out matching clothes but, have trouble reading parts of the screen where different colors point out different things. Take for example a set of links in a blog post. Color them a different color from the rest of the text and remove the underlining (a commonly used technique). Someone without any vision issues can see them fine. Someone with color blindness is likely to miss the link denoted by a different coloring. And there you have an inaccessible design.

So, next time you create a new design or update an existing design consider making it an accessible design. There are a lot more people out there with accessibility issues that you might think.

Give Your Input To The Next Geeks and God Conference

geeks-god-conference-logo.jpgWe just closed the door on the first Geeks and God conference and the planning has already started for the next conference. We are riding the wave of excitement and energy into planning the future of Geeks and God. The first planning meeting is this coming Friday!

I am looking for your help to make the next conference even more of a success than the first. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or suggestions regarding the next Geeks and God conference please comment on them here before Friday.

Geeks and God Conference Follow-up Thoughts

Geeks and God Conference Drupal Day Crowd

The Geeks and God Web 2.0 Conference was a success! We weren't sure what to expect at the first conference. The outcome was better than we could have expected and we have to thank everyone who was involved.

For those of you who are interested, photos of the conference are up on the Geeks and God flickr group

The information packed 3 day long conference was held at Michigan Theological Seminary, which I learned has one of the largest theological libraries in the United States. During the first 2 days of the conference we covered the theory of the web which ranged from blogs and podcasts to content management systems and community websites. The third day was 100% drupal. The conference was billed as having the attendees leaving the conference with a drupal site ready to go. For many, that's just what they got. But, a group of us decided to dive into some more advanced learning that ranged from understanding CCK and Views to jQuery and module development.

Bob and I learned a lot putting on the conference. Some of the notable things were how great it was to spend time with other Christian geeks working for the mission, the types of questions people have, and all the different expertise the people at the conference have to share with others.

The fun doesn't stop here. We have already decided to do another conference and the first steps to planning it have already started. So, keep a look out for the next Geeks and God Conference.

Do Gimmicks Bring Pre-Christians Through The Door?

jefferson-hills-satan-hates.jpgGimmicks are a often used in marketing to help products stand out. Think of the different colors on a tooth brush. They aren't designed to be a functional part of the toothbrush. They are there to help the tooth brush stand out among the competition. Tooth brushes with cartoon characters are meant to reach out to kids. It's a gimmick that hooks people into a product that has nothing to do with the product. Just like marketers, the church uses gimmicks in an effort to bring more people through the door. But, are gimmicks really effective?

What Is Effectiveness?

Before we can ask if something is effective we need to ask ourselves what it is for a church to be effective. In my mind this is a fairly simple idea. The mission of the church is to go and makes disciples. To make a disciple isn't just building up the membership of a local congregation but, bringing non-Christians and pre-Christians the message of God. An effective church preaches Gods message to the unchurched.

An Example Gimmick

There are a lot of gimmicks to looks at. Gas cards, free breakfasts, and bill boards are some of the ones I've read about recently. Recently I became aware of an odd ball of sorts. It's SatanHates.com which is a website tied to a Billboard campaign (the image at the top is one of the billboards).

SatanHates is a gimmick of the truest form. There is no added value because it's not serving anyones needs like a free meal or gas cards do.

Those Pesky Assumptions

I find this not only interesting as a gimmick but, also, for the assumptions they made. For example, they made the assumption that people in the area don't think of Satan as mythology (as in bogus). According to Barna 59% of Americans reject the existence of Satan. Or, they aren't concerned with coming off as dealing with mythology.

They, also, made the assumption that Satan would be a hook for a certain demographic to get them interested enough to go to a website that leads them to a church location.

Do These Work?

I'd be really surprised if this brought in anyone who is unchurched. It may bring Christians not affiliated with a Church in the door or bring in some Christians who move from another church but, I don't see this gimmick working for the unchurched.

First, it's based on the idea that something about Satan would catch someones eye enough that they would check out a website. And, that the same person who was interested enough to check out a website is, also, interested enough in the topic to check out a church. This is a really high barrier to entry to get someone unchurched through the door.

Second, who is the target demographic? I can't imagine one. If the demographic for a marketing campaign isn't fairly obvious the campaign needs to be rethought.

Third, it doesn't go out and serve others or teach the message. It seems to be based on the idea that we need to let people know where we are so they can come to us. Reading through the teachings of the new testament and the way they operated in early church times this idea seems to be in opposition to that. It the church is to play the follow the leader (Jesus) game this doesn't seem to do that.

So, here is my question for you... am I wrong? Have you seen gimmicks like this work?

A Lost Art: Creating Passionate Christians

stay-passionate.jpgDo you know many passionate Christians? I'm not talking about the Christians who are obsessed Christian stuff. I'm talking about those who are obsessed with the mission of the church and helping others. Personally, I can't say I know nearly enough. But, this isn't the worst part. Do you know many churches or church leaders who are building passionate Christians? I don't. Before you want to baste me and cook me over an open flame let me try to explain.

Passion Is Shared

According to research by George Barna and others "most 'church growth' is simply the recycling of church-goers from one congregation to another." This means that we aren't creating very many new Christians.

Passionate people share their passion. When the video game World of Warcraft hit the streets people who were passionate about it spread the word. They were excited and simply by their excitement others wanted to check it out. Do you see this same kind of trend with Christians?

False Passion

Much of this turnover of Christians from one church to another comes from Christians looking for different styles of worship. When they find a church style they connect with they attend regularly. They might engage in some bible studies and become regular church attenders. This doesn't make someone a passionate Christian.

When you think of someone who is passionate about something what do you picture? I picture someone playing a video game and being surprised when the sun comes up because the lost track of time and forgot to sleep. I picture someone who picked up a book and finished it without stopping. I picture tailgater's out hours before a football game starts in the freezing cold having a great time. Does weekly church attendance sound like someone engrossed in Christianity and the mission of the church?

Not Dead Yet

Despite the lack of passion for Christianity the church (as in all Gods people) isn't dead. There are parts of the world outside of western culture, where I live, that have a lot of passionate Christians. In western culture the potential is still ripe and there are millions and millions of Christians who are on the verge of being passionate. All hope is not lost.

Explore The Problem And Find A Solution

This topic is going to join the mix of other topics I blog about here. It's important and part of the future of the church. My approach is going to be fairly straight forward and reflect my engineering background. We need to first understand what's going on; then, based on what we find we either alter the current system to work better or scrap it and start from scratch.

Thoughts? Reactions? Ideas?

Should We Measure The Churches Effectiveness?

flot-small.pngThis is a question that can and has gone a lot of different ways. It's not a matter of what we should measure but a matter of should we try to measure the effectiveness of the church at all. For some it's all about numbers. They want to measure their churches growth rates so they can compare it to other churches. The alternative to this view says we can't compare one church to another because God calls different groups in different ways. In an effort to skirt comparisons churches may try not to have what they do measured.

But, we all measure the world around us. A pastor tries to keep his finger on the pulse of the church. This is a measurement. Leaders over a bible study many try to see where to take the group next. This is a measurement. Let's look at a few reasons measuring the effectiveness of the church is a good thing.

Danger! Danger!

The first thing to address is a large inherent danger in measuring. For some reason we love to misuse the information that's collected. Measurements can tell us a lot. They can tell us how the church is doing compared to its goal. They can point out weaknesses in what the church doing. They are a tool that God has given us for ministry. But, we often love to take the results and compare them to other churches and ministries. We take the data and analysis and use it in destructive ways rather than constructive ways.

This doesn't mean we avoid measurements. It means we need to do it in a controlled environment and it gives us an opportunity to teach about the good and healthy ways to use the information we learn.

God Gave Us Analysts

God gave some people the ability to analyze and measure situations. These are people who love to do this and have some deep seeded talent for it. These are people and gifts God has given us to use in ministry.

God Gave Us A Mission

God gave us a specific mission and gives local churches individual missions that still roll up to Gods greater mission. We are to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." This is a mission written in a measurable way. To create relevant metrics we take this mission and tie it into our local context giving us something to measure that can tell us details about our local church.

God Gave Us A Use For The Measurements

Church leaders can't see everything going on in the church. They can't have their pulse on everything. Measurements let them take a look at things in a way that's removed from their biases and preferences. This gives church leadership the ability to see some things they wouldn't otherwise see. It can help them confirm or refute what they may already be thinking. This helps them plan the churches path forward in living out their mission.

Hopefully you can see that measuring the effectiveness of the church is a good thing as long as we resist the temptation to misuse what is learned. Next up, let's look at how to measure the churches effectiveness.

The Meat And Potatoes

meat-potatoes.jpgOur society has become a meat and potatoes culture in many ways. In our entertainment we may like fluff but, in our religions, spirituality, thinking, and social action we like the deep stuff. The meat and potatoes rather than the garnish. When it comes to your church or ministry, do people see your meat and potatoes? Let's look at the different it can make.

Are There Any Meat And Potatoes?

This is the first question we have to ask and it's a good one that can lead us to evaluate ourselves. All to often there isn't enough meat and potatoes. There isn't something worth sharing with others. For example, much of the youth ministry in America is based on having fun. It's about dessert rather than the meat and potatoes.

Why The Meat And Potatoes Is Easier To Market

Marketing a dessert is different than marketing meat and potatoes. If you market fun you market just the fun things you do. Now, marketing fun times is not a bad thing. I expect that if you met Jesus out in the world, like when he was doing his ministry here, you would have found he and his disciples were having a blast. The difference comes if you have meat and potatoes.

For example, kids in youth ministry want to have fun. At the same time they are dealing with drugs, sex, children, abortion, money issues, and peer pressure surrounding all of them. They live in a hostile world with tough life issues.

These same kids are hurting inside from a lack of relationships. According to studies 1 out of 4 of them has no real friends. The ones who have friends have less real friends than people had a generation ago. Over half of kids struggle with abandonment issues of some sort. For some it's physical abandonment because a parent has chosen to not be part of their life. For others it's emotional abandonment because their parents are physically there but emotionally checked out of their lives.

If a youth ministry tries to market itself as a fun place it has to contend with drugs, sex, and parties as an alternative. It's a dessert among desserts. If a youth ministry builds real relationships where they can deal with real life issues it can practically market itself. People will want to be there.

This applies to any ministry. If a church is a teaching church, which is something many people are seeking, than advertise the teaching. If a church helps people explore spirituality, something else many people are seeking, share that. If people know that and it is helping people they will tell others and invite others.

The Meat And Potatoes Every Church Has

Jesus, his message, and what he has does and continues to do for us is a meat and potato that every Christian church has. People are looking for it. People yearn for it. It is a felt of the people around us every day.

Does your church show it's meat and potatoes? Does it have meat and potatoes beyond the message of Jesus? If you think it does have you tested or measured these?

2 Ways To Share Your Ministry

i-love-to-share-small.jpgAfter sharing 3 ways not to advertise or promote a ministry I wanted to talk about some ways to share ministries with others. After all, who am I to just go out and say what not to do without giving any suggestions what to do. Leaving it there would do little good. Let's dig into a couple different practical things we can do to share. To start we dive into what, quite possibly, will make the biggest difference in the way we present ourselves to the world.

Passionate People Share The Best

A simple and time proven strategy in marketing is that word of mouth advertising works the best. This advertising can go one of two ways. Either someone loves you and tells everyone how great you are or they hate you and tell everyone how terrible you are.

Do people love your ministry? Are there passionate people in your church? I'm not talking about the people who are just passionate about God. There are always a some of those in a church. I'm talking about regular Joe's. Build up passionate people that pass on the passion.

This may seem like a huge task. In any case, how to do this is a much larger task than this blog post is capable of containing. But, it is possible for any God supported church or ministry and should be expected.

Make It Easy To Share

Is it easy for people to share their passion for your church or ministry with others? Is it easy for them to share it in their everyday life? I've attended a number of churches over the past few years and been involved with a number ministries. I have yet to be apart of a church that made it easy to share.

Sure, these churches did some things that promoted sharing. When Easter and Christmas comes around they have 3x5 cards to share with others letting them know about the church and Christmas. Some have classes and seasons to focus on sharing. But, these focus on ministries need and desire to share rather than making it easy for people to share in everyday life.

Technology has made this easier to do than ever. If you have a church blog or website consider using something like Share This to allow people who visit it to share it with others. An easy way for people to share what they care about is with what they wear and what they label. Consider using something like Cafepress and starting with t-shirts and stickers. A third thing that works is rave cards (small pocket sized cards). If you are looking to get some of those designed and printed check out Mustardseed Media.

Have you tried these? If so, how have they faired?

These are just a couple things to get the ball rolling here. Look for more to come.

3 Ways Not To Advertise Your Ministry

i-love-to-share-small.jpgEveryone in ministry is looking for ways to spread the word about their ministry. Most of these churches and ministries have something great about them that brings something good to the world. But, when it comes to sharing what they have with the world around them what they share often looks and feels ugly. That great thing is somehow being presented in a way that makes people turn away in disgust. Let's take a look at a few ways this happens.

Ask Passionless People To Advertise

Asking people without passion to advertise your ministry is going to seem like work to them. To that passionless person you are asking them to share, with others, something they don't care about.

These are not the people you want sharing your ministry with the world. How can a passionless person share the passion? How will that person see that church or ministry after they have been shown it from someone without the passion?

Call It Advertising Or Promotion To The Public

Do viral marketing campaigns call what they do advertising or promotion to the public? Behind closed doors or with core members of your organization these names make sense. When we move to the general public these terms have a mental association with sales. Organizations advertise and promote themselves. People share these organizations with others. This is an important distinction to make.

Leave Out The Meat and Potatoes

Why is your ministry worth the effort? Since the movie Field of Dreams came out with the mantra "If you build it they will come" churches and ministries have been doing just that. They build a ministry and look for people to show up. When it comes to advertising their ministry they talk about how great their church is or what a talented leader their pastor is. But, is that what people are looking for?

The question people are asking is, where is the meat and potatoes? Where is that thing people are looking for and how is that being held up.

Next Step

This may seem like a bit of a critique on ministries and it is. I've seen this in physical advertising and technological promotion. The problem with the way we typically do things is that it doesn't hold to the biblical model set before us and it doesn't work in relation to people and religion.

So, what does work? That will be in my next post. Do you see any other areas where churches fail in their advertising and promotion?

The Free Expectation

free-hugs.jpgHave you noticed how many people want and expect something for free. To some extent I can understand this in the church. If you can get one thing for free you can use that few extra dollars you saved to do something else great for the kingdom. But, is anything really free? If so, where should we have that expectation?

Recently I've run into the free or as cheap as you can get expectation when it comes to technology. Let me try to illustrate what I mean with a couple examples. Recently I was talking to someone about buying a new laptop. His expectation was that you should be able to get the power of a MacBook Pro at a $500 price. That anything more expensive than that is ridiculous because there are $500 laptops on the market. Is this a realistic expectation?

Another example is someone in ministry marketing. It's the idea that we can market a ministry via free stuff on the Internet effectively to it's target audience.

In both of these cases is the expectation realistic? In the case of the laptop, the $500 laptop in no way compares to the more expensive models like the MacBook Pro or it's comparable PCs in performance and capability. It's a matter of you get what you pay for and for $500 you get a machine that can't do many things my friend wants to do. In the case of the ministry marketing, the target audience isn't the same group that uses and looks for all those free things on the Internet.

Where Does This Expectation Come From?

This expectation with technology is all around us. Classically, we have had TV over the air waves that was free, right? Not exactly. While it feels free, having our time taken up with commercials takes time and it sells. It is costing us just not money out of our pockets right at that moment.

Then there is the Internet. Look at all the free services. But, are they really free. Millions of people use Yahoo and Google for their email. It's a "free" service, right? Both of these companies make a lot of money on the advertising in their email. Is that really free? Or, just a way to generate revenue from us that isn't directly paying them for the email?

What about open sourced software? Isn't that free? Most of the time I'd say it isn't. Take for example drupal, the popular content management platform. There are a number of developers working for the major music labels who develop on drupal. If you buy music from those labels you are indirectly paying for drupal development. Is it really free? Or, just a revenue model that you don't see you money going to it?

Why Does This Matter?

I think it's good to occasionally remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch, except from your mom. Or, maybe the occasional free hug.