Does the name Irwin Helford mean anything to you? If you’re involved with the running of a local church I guarantee you’d recognise his face. He’s what you could describe as an evangelist, spreading his message far and wide across Great Britain. He’d be standing in a dark blue suit with a reassuring smile on his face and be pointing to an inkjet printer, a packet of biros or a paper shredder. His message is simple, “There’s something that will make your life easier... so why not buy it from Viking Direct”.
Nowadays local churches seem to be bombarded with a similar notion – hundreds of Irwin Helfords, all offering the next bit of kit which will ‘make your ministry easier’. So with that in mind let me try and unpack some of the possibilities and share some of the pitfalls without this becoming yet another glossy brochure of tempting ideas that actually solve nothing.
The tradition of the church newsletter
I grew up in an Anglican church (brought up by a family of mice in the religious equivalent to Jungle Book). As a little boy, I distinctly remember the vicar loading his carefully typed Sunday newsletter onto the drum of a Gestetner copier, and then frantically turning the handle to reproduce hundreds of very faint and very blurred carbon imitations. A quarter of a century later I’m sure there are plenty of church leaders who spend an even longer time designing, photocopying, collating, folding and stapling newsletters for their church.
A few ideas to maximise the results:
1. Try and use computer software which is understood by everyone. Quark, the industry standard in desktop publishing, may make your newsletter look fantastic, but poor old Mrs Qwertytips (the church administrator) is not interested in kerning and bevelling, she’s only interested in being able to add last minute news about Mr Lumpypants’ gallstone operation on a Friday afternoon. I personally would stick with Microsoft Word for church newsletters. Most people own a copy and understand how to use it. [See Web links box]
2. Look at every cost in the making of your church newsletter. If, for example, your minister is doing the collating and stapling manually then calculate whether it’s worth upgrading to a photocopier which can collate and staple automatically. You may find that the man hours saved could pay for the difference.
3. Full colour newsletters are within your reach. Consider designing a suitable colour background for your church newsletter using some generic images, contact details, map etc., and then overprint your church news each week. Costs for professional colour printing reduce with quantity, so for example if you had 10,000 full colour A4 background sheets printed you could hand out a hundred full colour weekly newsletters for two years at a cost of around £5 a week. [See Web links box]
4. Email your newsletter. It’s worth pointing out a couple of trends that may influence your decision with regards to emailing newsletters. At present half of the emails received in the UK are spam (the junk mail of cyberspace), and with Microsoft Hotmail, who receive around 2 billion emails a day, it’s closer to 80%. The reason I point this out is that many email users are becoming increasingly proficient in deleting or ignoring any message that doesn’t require an immediate personal response. Ask yourself these questions: Is the printed church newsletter being read? Can an email version be made with little effort? Is a church newsletter the best use of church wide email communications? A simpler approach could be to target those who would like a newsletter via email (the housebound or those who cannot attend Sunday meetings) and send it as a Microsoft Word attachment. A free Word reader is available online for those who need it. [See Web links box]
Under perpetual construction – the Church website
Has your church got a website? Sorry, let me rephrase the question; does your church have a website which is helping or hindering its growth? I did an experiment recently to find out how quickly and easily a simple web site could be set up. I sat down at the computer and started the stopwatch.
Freewebs [See Web links box] got me off to a flying start – attractive modern templates (some with FlashMedia) and an easy interface that enabled me to upload pictures and input text. I quickly added six pages onto the site while the Freewebs system took care of the navigation and made it all look professional. I then found stock-xchng [See Web links box] and added some professional images. Easy so far. Next I wanted a memorable web address (this is important, churches with addresses like http://cheapwackyweb.net/cheapskate_ user/stcatherineschurchluton will attract little interest). I used OneandOne [See Web links box] who charge £1.99 a year for a .co.uk address which you can direct to wherever you like – I pointed mine to my Freewebs pages.
All done. A simple web site that looked great and had a memorable address. Total time from start to finish, 2 hours! Total cost, £2 a year! There’s no excuse for a church having no web site, or even worse, a site which states “Under construction… come back soon”.
There’s too much more to say about designing a good site, so I’ll give you two last bits of advice:
- Make sure that the maintenance requirements for your site match your available resources.
- Use the best people in your church to do the job (ideally someone with a flair for design, and someone with a basic grasp of making web sites).
There are other applications of the internet that could also be of benefit to you. Our church uses an online diary for our leadership team and office staff [See Web links box]. It centralises information regarding meetings and events onto one site that can be accessed and changed by those with a simple password. No longer will your church leader get phone calls on a Saturday evening enquiring as to who will be serving coffee at tomorrow’s meeting. Anyone with access to the internet can find out it’s Mrs Spoon’s turn.
Praise him on the PowerPoint
In the last couple of years there have been several new software contenders in the market for projecting song lyrics. If you’re considering this option here’s a couple a things to think about:
1. Is it needed? Do you have someone to operate and maintain it? Running the software is easy enough but you’ll have to find someone, or a team of people, willing to run it every Sunday throughout all your times of worship – that takes commitment, so make sure you’ve got it before you invest in the hardware and software.
2. Do you have the correct hardware? Unlike PowerPoint which is designed to run a fixed order presentation onto one screen, most of the new software is designed with flexibility in mind (so you can jump back from verse 2 to verse 1 for example). You’ll need a computer with an extra video card so that you can send one signal to the projector and still be able to see the preview screen on the computer monitor.
3. What software? You can use Microsoft PowerPoint, but it is definitely cumbersome at doing this kind of task. Some of the other better contenders are: Song Show Plus, Worship Him and Easy Sunday (my personal favourite). They’re all designed to do the same job and free demonstration versions are available [See Web links box].
Irwin Helford syndrome
Every church will have its very own Irwin. He points out new technology and declares ‘this is the answer… this will see our church grow’. The truth is yes, technology can help to streamline certain church activities, but be aware that it is rarely the answer to church growth. Can Irwin and technology genuinely help your church or are you merely adding another Gestetner copier and giving someone the task of turning the handle?
Installing Sound and Vision
Does your church seem stuck in the ‘techno-dark ages’ or does your sound desk reassemble the bridge of the U.S.S Enterprise? Here’s a bit of advice to maximise your potential.
Think of the whole process like this: Musician – Instrument – Microphone – Cable – Multicore – Mixing desk – PA Operator – Outboard processing – Multicore – Amplifier – Cable – Speakers – Room acoustics – Listener
In any church situation this chain has some good links and some bad links. Good links will improve the sound a little, while a bad link will degrade the sound immeasurably more. When you attend a secular concert, let’s say for example Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall, the links in the process are just about as good as they can be. In a local church setting it’s easy to see that every link will be second rate in comparison. So where to invest is an important issue (and yes, you probably could hire Eric for a Sunday morning, but that’s probably not the best use of the annual budget!)
Where to invest:
People – Consider training courses for the PA team and get professional consultants where possible to give advice about major expenditure.
Room Acoustics – No matter how good the sound system, the acoustics of the room have a large influence. Can you add drapes, carpets, drum screens or baffles to help improve the acoustics?
Microphones – The phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ is never more true than when it comes to microphones; don’t be tempted by cheap imitations!
Speakers – Don’t worry too much about power ratings, the quality of the sound is far more important.
Amplifiers – again, pay for quality of sound first, power second.
Cabling / Multicore – get cables made by someone who knows what they’re doing – they’ll last far longer.
Mixing Desk – Don’t buy a digital desk (you’ll confuse inexperienced PA team members). Don’t be tempted by hundreds of faders when you only need ten. More expensive desks are better made and will generally last longer, so buying a well known make second hand is something worth considering.
More and more churches and now using video projection in their meetings. A few things to remember:
The projector: For an average size church building a projector of around 2000 lumens (the measurement of how bright it is!) should be adequate, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the size of the screen and ambient light levels will have a major effect too. There are plenty of companies that hire out projectors for corporate use, so why not try one out before you purchase.
Copyright issues: Most churches have signed up to a CCL music clearance licence that allows them to use songs and lyrics during their times of worship. It’s worth mentioning though that if you wish to show videos (even short clips), play CDs, or record parts of your meeting you’ll probably need to apply for additional licences. [See Web links box]
Future proof: When you install any system in your church try and consider long term options. It’s much more cost efficient to lay extra cables with your initial installation than to try and add them later. Think about video, SVGA, Ethernet, audio, telephone and power requirements – what do you need now and what will be needed in the next five years? [See Web links box]
Useful web links...
Cheap Microsoft CDs and Licences for churches and charities: www.entec.co.uk or www.civica.co.uk
Free Microsoft Word reader (allows you to read and print Word documents): http://office.Microsoft.com/downloads /2000/wd97vwr32.aspx
A free and legal equivalent to Microsoft Office (reads and writes Word and PowerPoint files) www.openoffice.org
Reliable and cheap full colour printing (postcards, leaflets, letterheads, etc): www.rcs.plc.uk
A simple site which helps get you create, design and manage your very own: www.freewebs.com
Great stock photographs which can be legally used for free (personally or commercially): www.sxc.hu
Very reasonably priced web domains: www.oneandone.co.uk
Free online diary for church events etc: www.calendars.net
CCLI licenses – information leaflet (table on page 4 is the most useful) www.ccli.com/Promo/ABC/ABC.pdf
Further information about church PA and video www.chuchav.co.uk
Song lyric presentation software: www.worship-him.com, http://easyworship.co.uk, www.songshowplus.com and finally…
The Irwin Helford fan club site: www.folkdirect.com/irwin