Serving the online church

I’ve signed up for so many accounts to manage my business relations with companies lately that I wonder what services a church — say, program-sized or larger — might offer online. I’m not suggesting that this suite of services already exists, or that everyone would find it desirable, but the such online services might expand utility to members (perhaps) with little or no added cost in staffing or facilities.

This list is far from exhaustive; just a few possibilities that occur to me over the course of about a half hour, in no particular order.

  • make financial pledges and special gifts
  • set up auto pay from credit card or checking account
  • download charitable donation letter
  • call for donations for affiliated charities
  • change address
  • take online trainings
  • register for space-limited events
  • download coloring pages for children
  • manage prayer circles
  • sign up (and get reminders) for church volunteer roles
  • get emergency alerts from authorities
  • offer feedback for quality improvement
  • apply for (and resign) membership
  • share alerts for road closures or public transportation re-routings
  • provide workflows to access public services
  • prepare and record special ceremonies (weddings, funerals)

Coding for …?

In my experience, attempts to introduce technology lessons for lawyers means an opportunity for clergy, too. Small-firm lawyers and clergy very often have this much in common: a need for technology, perhaps more than is currently thought, and few opportunities to learn about it, even though they have a deep educational background. I mentioned this resource for typography, later generalized. (Bookmark that second link; you can thank me later.)

So I intend to follow Coding for Lawyers the same way. Using Markdown (lesson2) for sermons — I do — is something I’d recommend for those who just need to “get it on paper” with a minimum of fuss.

Thanks to @internetrebecca (Rebecca Williams) for the citation.

Universalist National Memorial Church debuts new website

So, I made it to church Sunday, was greeted and then asked: how you seen the new church website. I had seen a preview, but not the release.

Seeing as I was the lead on the last revision a decade ago, I knew it was overdue for a refresh. And a new breeze is blowing…

I’m glad to point to Universalist National Memorial Church’s site at

Getting ready for GA: my one special purchase

I was thinking about past General Assemblies, and what has changed over the years. The timing in the week, the relative number of workshops and the use of technology come to mind. And as an extension of the technology piece, how much can be accomplished on a smart phone that formerly relied on the message boards and roving reporters.

Insofar as I can, I plan to blog and tweet from GA, if signal-inhibiting walls at the Dunk Center don’t have other plans. That’s one problem with convention centers; another is a lack of electrical power to surreptitiously siphon. Phones run down. So I’m bringing my own electricity.

If you don’t have a back-up battery, consider getting one. They’ve gotten lighter and cheaper than when first introduced. I got this 5v, 1000 mA battery on Amazon for about $8.

I gave the other to my friend, Victoria Weinstein, a.k.a. Peacebang
I gave the other to my friend, Victoria Weinstein, a.k.a. Peacebang.

You see how it fits in my hand, and it weighs a bit less than a roll of pennies. I wish it were a bit more powerful — I used it to recharge my phone last night but only went from about 20% to 85% — but the size in right and it has a flashlight built in. (I’ll try recharging it again later with wifi turned off and without playing with the flashlight to get a full charge on the phone.)

Later: I charged my phone from 19% to 87% while turned off and it exhausted the battery. So I assume that’s as good as it gets. I have a Moto X.

Now, which churches have dead sites?

The flip side of churches with an unreported web presence is those church sites, as congregations report to the Unitarian Universalist Association for, that no longer exist. But that’s not the same as saying they don’t have one.

Seven congregational websites have thrown a 404 or other error on three occasions in recent days, and have never worked. In two cases, it was as simple as the servers don’t support secure HTTPS, but use HTTP. One letter difference. I found Facebook pages for others. That leaves two congregations unaccounted for.


Website on recond,Congregation,City,State,Use this one
“http://uufellowship. UUFellowship.html”,UU Fellowship of Porterville Inc.,Porterville,CA, pages /Unitarian-Universalist-Fellowship-of-Porterville/ 162339087121352,UU Fellowship of Macomb ,Macomb,IL,,UU Church ,Brockton,MA,
“ 567683”,UU Congregation at First Church in Roxbury,Roxbury,MA,,St Paul’s Universalist Church,Little Falls,NY,,North Fork UU Fellowship,Jamesport,NY, pages /North-Fork-Unitarian-Universalist-Fellowship-NFUUF /89653344099,New River UU Fellowship,Beckley,WV,

If not a website, then what?

In my post yesterday, I said that there are 36 Unitarian Universalist Association-member congregations that reported no website.

  1. But some do have one, including a couple of blogs, but it isn’t noted at (for whatever reason)
  2. And others use a Facebook like a church site, which I count as long as it’s reasonably up to date and has details that a visitor would want to see.
  3. I looked for Google+ and other like paces, but didn’t find any. Facebook has a lock on this.
  4. One church uses a Google Sites site primarily as a data store for its newsletters.

That leaves 17 churches on this list that have no website or like. (NA means I couldn’t find a site.) Interestingly, the median size is still 11. Next time: dead sites.

Church ID,Name,City,State,UU Members,URL
9012,The Unitarian Church of South Australia Inc.,NORWOOD,SA,111,
8912,Brussels UU Fellowship ,Brussels,,20,
2036,UU Fellowship of Mountain Home AR,Mountain Home,AR,12,
2022,UU Fellowship of Yuma,Yuma,AZ,20,
2535,UU Congregation of Whittier,Whittier,CA,11,na
2911,UU Congregation of Cocoa,Cocoa,FL,10,
3211,The Federated Church,Avon,IL,11,na
3215,UU Fellowship Eastern Illinois,Charleston,IL,6,
3223,All Souls Free Religious Fellowship,Chicago,IL,14,
3517,Circle UU Fellowship,Indianapolis,IN,10,
4531,First Universalist Church of Hardwick Preservation Trust,Hardwick,MA,12,na
4833,Congregational Parish in Norton (Unitarian),Norton,MA,13,na
4835,First Universalist Church of Assinippi,Norwell,MA,8,na
4911,First Universalist Church,Orange,MA,15,na
5113,First Church of Templeton,Templeton,MA,10,
3924,All Souls Universalist Church,Belgrade,ME,10,na
3833,First Congregational Society (Unitarian) of Eastport,Eastport,ME,6,
3911,First Universalist Society,Hiram,ME,4,na
4018,The UU Church of Sangerville & Dover Foxcroft,Sangerville,ME,26,
4013,First Universalist Church of South Paris,South Paris,ME,30,na
4022,First Universalist Church ,West Paris,ME,24,
5236,Ann Arbor Unitarian Fellowship,Ann Arbor,MI,10,na
5514,Unitarian Fellowship of Grand Rapids,Grand Rapids,MN,22,na
5735,Kearney UU Fellowship,Kearney,NE,10,
5811,South Parish Unitarian Church,Charlestown,NH,26,na
5911,Newfields Community Church,Newfields,NH,1,
6129,Hornell Alfred UU Society,Hornell,NY,13,
6524,First Universalist Society,Salisbury Center,NY,14,na
7022,UU Fellowship ,Warren,OH,7,na
7214,First Universalist Church,Kingsley,PA,68,
7435,First Universalist Church of Burrillville,Harrisville,RI,6,na
7512,Church of the Mediator,Providence,RI,11,
8012,First Universalist Society ,Northfield,VT,6,
8026,Universalist Society of West Burke,West Burke,VT,7,
8413,UU Fellowship,Marshfield,WI,8,na
8416,Unitarian Fellowship of Milwaukee,Milwaukee,WI,9,na


Churches without websites: the (small) problem

Unitarian Universalists were early adopters of websites, and even in the late 90s I remember more than 300 or 400 congregations hosting their own site. These earliest available archive is from 1996, with 234 sites and more coming on line all the time.

I also recall — and thinking it wrong then — that someone-in-the-know opined that it was unlikely that many more churches would bother with one. That must have been around 1998 or 1999. (I wish I had written these predictions down. It was, of course, pre-blog.)

Today, only 36 of the 1045 member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association report no website. Most of these are very small (median membership = 11) and are overwhelmingly in New England.

The largest one listed (111 members) is The Unitarian Church of South Australia, but it does have a site, apparently for years.

But that’s not to say these other congregations don’t have a web presence, and that their choice isn’t the best one. But that — and a table! — is for next time.

Serious conference tech

My day job (Sunlight Foundation) colleague, Jeremy Carbaugh, has written a thrilling blog post about the technology Sunlight uses to run our annual big event/unconference, TransparencyCamp, a.k.a. TCamp. Along with masterful planning and execution, engaged group process and careful attention to design, TCamp is a sight to behold.

I’m quite proud of it, and wanted to point out Jeremy’s notes in case you feel inspired. Can’t code? What better way to learn something than to find a project that needs doing? (I’ll point out other new how-we-did-it writings if and as they appear.)

It’s going on right now, learn more TCamp itself at the main page — or better, though the #tcamp14 Twitter hashtag.

Unitarian Universalists: we can make, at least, a hearty Twitter presence at General Assembly, right?

Singing in church with recorded music

I keep running into sites — Unitarian Universalist but mostly not — with MP3s or other files with hymn tunes ready to use as accompaniment for churches without an instrumentalist. Presumably ones that could be described with one or more of the following adjectives: small, poor, remote, fragile or disorganized. A church for which this is better than nothing.

These sound files follow CDs which did the same thing, and even special electronic players — but these belonged to the 1990s and 2000s and were quite expensive. And a free option is better than none. Or is it?

So now we have a resource, and probably a need. But what we don’t have are directions of how to use them. Am I supposed to cue them up on my phone, with a huddled few singing to a tinny MIDI? If not, then what? And what about the tempo. Or the number of verses.

Does anyone use these successfully? And if so, how?

This is a sincere appeal for ideas or resources.


One CRM to rule them all

I don’t agree with Unitarian Universalist blogger and minister Tom Schade on his call for a common UUA-wide CRM (customer relationship management) tool on practical grounds.

In short, I think it isn’t any real kind of reorganization, but rather he conflates a tool with a creative and productive culture, and so would disappoint those hoping for a meaningful solution to our lack of evangelization. Such a CRM would necessarily disappoint some people who might want to use it, and it’s implementation will take vast resources of time and money that would likely be used more productively in local activity.

That’s the short version of my objection. I worried that I have written for too long and too much. I may add another post if it is needed.

The suggestion that technology is itself an organizational change misunderstands the relationship between technology and its user. The old saying “use the right tool for the job” implies you know what the job is, and I think Unitarian Universalists have too little practical experience with evangelism to make adequate use of this or any tool. A vision comes before planning, which comes before provisioning. (And, besides, if one’s going to claim that this was the most important changing polity-tool in a hundred years, other more radical but simple technologies, like the mimeograph or telephone would make a better case.)

I’m concerned that there will be fond interest, born out of desperation, and that the investment of thought, labor and money that might be better used building skills or developing an evangelism strategy will be frittered away in an experiment which would bear nothing like its promises in a few years’ time. (Programatically, the UUA seems a shadow of itself ten or twenty years ago.) The promises will then changed to fit the new reality, but the bills will keep coming at the old rate. And the feeling that the UUA is in a death spiral increases.

I’m glad to see some commentators at Tom’s blog mention privacy. Securing the amount of data his idea suggests takes professional help, and such a CRM will certainly be white-labeled. No complaint there, if you trust the expertise of your suppliers. But we are talking about literally thousands of data users and suppliers… Pretty easy to make an error in permissions or judgment. And more than that: consider privileged information, say between pastor and parishioner, or among staff. Or on a pledge committee. Would you want everything on a common, cloud-based, UUA-managed CRM. I wouldn’t; I bet  many others wouldn’t either, which invites a database fragmentation within a congregation. That limits its utility. And that’s not even considering that personal privacy concerns of people who never signed up for a religious community that collects such a large volume of data centrally.

And how many UUA-member congregations have to not participate — after all, guessing by the UUA ChurchMgmtSoftware mailing list  traffic, many already have their own CRM and others way simply be suspicious of the quality of service — before its utility as an association-wide tool is compromized? But say your congregation has opted it: what do you get?  The creation of CRM suggests use cases which conditions what kind of information is gathered, by whom, and how often and to what detail. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution, which means that a common CRM is going to fit much better for some congregations than others. And I suspect the use-case in mind will be large congregations rather than small ones. Meaning that the small congregations, the ones least likely to adopt their own CRM, would be the ones least well served by a common UUA CRM.  Once you’re in, you’re locked in, and that changes the power relationship between congregations and the UUA.  Central databases are meant to be used for coordinated efforts. What’s to keep a development officer for the Friends of the UUA (or what-have-you) from running reports on your big donors for central development purposes? Is that really wrong? But is that really what a congregation agrees to?

And I haven’t gotten to the polity considerations, service quality, ongoing cost (including staff time in Boston and at home) or real or perceived overreach.

So we have a good, well-intentioned thought that needs the clear eye of review. Plainly, though, there are so many other programmatic and policy changes that would do more good with fewer resources that I think there’s little to debate.