Solid Tips for Creating A Healthy Online Presence

Solid Tips for Creating A Healthy Online Presence

twitter bird

By Amy Ezell

Director, Center for Communication

A few weeks ago, the Rev. Todd Vick of Lakeside UMC sent me a “tweet” that had recently gotten a lot of engagement. It was shared by a layperson who I do not know and it read:

“If you are looking for a church home, along with the usual things to weigh, I would add one more: see if the pastor is on Twitter. If he or she is, observe how they conduct themselves there. Hard to believe we’re at this place, but here we are. I can’t urge you to do this strongly enough.”

Part of my work is spent coaching church leaders on using social media to build a solid brand. Whether it is a church brand or a personal brand, it is very important that each of these speaks intentionally as to who they are for their online audience.

Since the mandatory shift to online ministry and branding because of COVID-19, church leaders are getting many mixed messages that make it even more difficult to create a positive brand. Some examples are: “Be authentic but avoid discussions that could be construed as political.” “Be relatable but make sure not to come across as too eager to connect.” “Be encouraging but be careful not to follow groups or like posts that could be seen as questionable.” “Be creative but don’t be awkward.” The list could go on and on…

To make it as clear as possible, I have broken it down as three easy tips for church leaders to consider when building a positive brand which contributes to a larger online audience:

1. Identify how people feel when they see your name on social media. Could there be any anger or confusion from posts that you’ve shared? Could there be resentment from topics that you frequently like to discuss? Do you cause eyes to roll because you share things that are interpreted as you are in need of attention? Do people feel encouraged by your words? Are people proud to share and like and thank you for what you have posted?

2. Mirror your in-person persona on social media. Developing an online persona is something to avoid. It is very easy to hide behind a keyboard and type things, like posts and make comments that would never be said face-to-face and eye-to-eye.

3. Be kind. Would you want to be around yourself based upon the things that you post, share and like on social media?

Whether we like it or not, people are watching what church leaders are saying. This is a great opportunity for growth, or failure, depending on how you want to be seen online. It’s not easy, it takes work, but it creates an amazing new opportunity for meaningful evangelism.

Are You Having Fun Yet?A few words of wisdom for communication leaders

Are You Having Fun Yet?
A few words of wisdom for communication leaders

By Amy Ezell

Director, Center for Communication

Take a second to ask yourself: When was the last time that you did something FUN through your online ministry? Something that actually makes you have the most contagious smile and energy and, of course, engages exponentially with your audience?

Here are a few ideas for adding some fun to your online ministry:

Do something out of your comfort zone and film yourself doing it. Bake something for your family to surprise them out of love, but be prepared to laugh at yourself if needed. Go fishing/kayaking for the first time. Volunteer for a local pet shelter on a dog wash day. Take a nature walk to someplace you’ve never been before and share the beauty of God through new eyes.

Plan a “game show” with your staff / lay leaders. You may do this via Zoom and record it and then share it on Facebook. You may also upload the video to YouTube and share on your website. It’s super easy. Some ideas include: “Get to know the new pastor” or “Crazy purchases made during the pandemic” (this could possibly lead to creating a stockpile of unused items that could be donated to those who need it). You could also host a “Big Dreams Mission Work: if money, time, and health were not barriers, where would you go and what would you want to do?”

Plan a backyard photo share. Ask members to share photos of animals, plants, garden goodies, yard art, sunsets, sunrises, food on the BBQ grill, a seating area, a tree, critters, etc. from their backyards. This is a great conversation engagement and opens the door to discuss some of God’s beautiful creations. Remind them not to share pictures of other people unless they have their consent. Who knows? Maybe this could be the beginning of a small group ministry that meets in the backyards of neighbors?

Host a virtual food drive. There are so many hungry kids out there. Why not host a virtual food drive where you let people contribute ONLINE for different levels of food packages for young ones? For example, ask for $5 to cover a big jar of peanut butter. Ask for $10 to cover three boxes of cereal. Ask for $15 to cover a toiletry kit (toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, shampoo, shower gel). GET CREATIVE, but encourage online giving so that you can purchase all of the items at once from a local grocery store and then donate to your local food pantry. Anytime that we assist the hungry, a smile usually finds itself on our faces.

Encourage an online choir performance. Invite each choir member to hop on a Zoom call from their homes and sing away! Your audience will love this. Maybe consider having a kid sing on Zoom in the same format. Go acapella, play a guitar or piano, whatever. This is something that can be recorded and then shared in a worship video or even in person when you get to this time.

These are just a few ideas that can add some fun to your ministry. If you are struggling with technology, please reach out to the Center for Communication and we will be glad to help.

Just get out there and have some fun, all in the blessed name of Jesus!

Mental Health MattersHear From Clergy and Laity on How They Are Staying Healthy During COVID-19

Mental Health Matters
Hear From Clergy and Laity on How They Are Staying Healthy During COVID-19

By Amy Ezell

Director of the Center for Communication

Each day I wake up to an email inbox full of suggestions for “surviving” the pandemic. I receive webinar invites, book suggestions, blog posts and lists that address different aspects of COVID-19 mental health survival. 

Through all of the change and unknown, I have been able to settle into my own routine that does involve working from home and remaining quarantined most of the time. Like most people, each day is different. Some days are really good and some days are a real struggle.

I asked some local church pastors and conference staff friends to share some of the practices that are helping them stay centered during the pandemic:

 

“When I remember and acknowledge all the things that I am thankful for, things seem a little less daunting.  It seems so simple, but the breadth of gratitude is never-ending.” 

-Rev. Zeke Allen, Cavenaugh UMC, Ft. Smith

 

“…Dinner has become a sacred time for our family. Saying one of the toddler dinner blessings, which includes raising hands, wiggling fingers, clapping and ‘God is great. God is good. Let us thank God for this food. Aaaaaamen!’”

-Rev. Jeanne Williams, FUMC Bella Vista

 

“Lifting weights is a big way that I calm myself. Spending more time with my family by going on walks, playing board games and riding bikes… I am learning more and more about my little family.”

-Palmer Lee, ARUMC Technology Manager

 

“The addition of a new spiritual practice of ‘fixed prayer’ or the ‘liturgy of hours’ has helped most in restoring ritual and rhythm in my life. Using a pattern of simple prayers and scripture readings four times a day – in the morning, noon, evening and again at bedtime – has helped me gain a new sense of balance.”

-Rev. David Fleming, Grand Avenue UMC, Hot Springs

 

“I have increased prayer time and reading. I am also making time for being on the porch, cooking, working in our yard and playing board games.”

-Bishop Gary Mueller

 

“Art therapy is very relaxing and helps me deal with stress as well as overcome anxieties.  Whenever I paint, I feel a sense of freedom to go anywhere at any time creating peace and happiness.”

-Rev. Deborah Bell, Theressa Hoover Memorial UMC, Little Rock

 

“Time with family has been a source of joy and support… Regular exercise is (also) crucial for me. Exercising outdoors is one of the greatest disciplines in my life for maintaining balance and happiness… Maintaining conversations and times of prayer with clergy colleagues leave me feeling supported and encouraged.”

-Rev. Dane Womack, FUMC Paragould

 

“Nothing calms me more than water. Hearing a water feature bubbling while I float at the pool is like heaven! I am painting, watching shows on BBC that take me to another time and place, cooking local meats and vegetables from farmer’s markets and of course spending time with the pup.”

-Mona Williams, ARUMC Chief Benefits Officer

 

For me, the things that keep me centered are listening to podcasts that help me to learn something new or make me laugh, getting outside every day, patio gardening, turning off the TV, and sleeping when my body says that it is tired. 

My hope is that you have already adopted practices that are keeping you centered and healthy.  If you are looking for new ideas, I suggest trying something listed above and especially tuning in to the “Mental Health Matters” webinar next Tuesday, June 23 at 10 a.m. This webinar is being hosted by the Rev. Dawn Spragg and the Rev. Gary Teeter, both Licenced Therapists and Arkansas clergy. You may find the information about the webinar here. The link to join is here.

More Than NumbersPart 2: The Center for Administrative Services

More Than Numbers
Part 2: The Center for Administrative Services

By Amy Ezell

Director, Center for Communication

When you think of budgets, audits, computer crashes and taxes, do any happy or joyful thoughts come to mind? They definitely do not for me.

But have you stepped foot in the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church Center for Administrative Services? Simply stated, this Center holds some of the most warm, genuine, loyal and smart folks you’ll ever meet, and they make reporting, budgeting, benefits and technology troubleshooting a pleasure.

I asked each of the people in this Center to share their favorite part of their ministry, and every single one of them shared that they love helping people. No one said they love numbers, or preparing reports or anything like that. They all LOVE our United Methodist people and strive to do what it takes behind the scenes to make things easier for those on the “front lines.”

The Center for Administrative Services has three primary functions:
Financial administration for the Conference which includes budget preparation, ensuring proper spending and annual audits
Clergy and retiree benefits
Property management, including leased office space and sale of closed churches

The roles of this Center revolve mostly around money, but the building and maintaining personal relationships can not be overlooked. One of the most important pieces to know about this Center is that every team member (except for one) has served the Arkansas Conference for at least eight years. Some have served for more than 25 years! As you read more about the valued individuals that make up this Center, you will recognize that their ministry focuses on trustworthy relationships.

Todd Burris, the director of the Center for Administrative Services, has been serving the Conference for 25 years this month. Seeing the collective work of churches and knowing that there is a United Methodist presence in communities across the state are things he lists as the best part of his ministry work.

Something that is not a primary function, but is extremely important, is the support Burris and his team do to help churches and clergy find a clear pathway on reporting taxes. This is something made very difficult by the fact that clergy, as dual-status employees, are considered self-employed by the Social Security Administration while the IRS considers them employees of the local church.

Todd is the supervisor of the Center for Administrative staff and considers most of their work done behind the scenes. “We ensure that the vision set forth by the Annual Conference in how to fund its mission priorities is carried out,” he stated.

Megan Rugg came to the Center in June 2018 and has been a true blessing to anyone she works with. She is the Assistant Director and her background as an auditor in public accounting allows her to not just manage payroll, reporting and reconciling accounts, but also serve as a mentor for local churches on tax reporting, accounting best practices and financial reviews.

Melissa Sanders holds several positions as the Financial Controller, Conference Statistician and Annual Conference Registrar. She has served the ARUMC for 28 years. Melissa has held various roles throughout her tenure, but currently processes and distributes tithes and donations to the prospective Conference ministries. She also manages event and Annual Conference registrations, prepares statistical reporting, and works with local churches every day on various projects.

Mona Williams has served as the Conference Benefits Officer at the Conference for almost 19 years. She oversees all employee benefits for both clergy and laity, active and retired. Ask any local church or employee, Mona is a person that people know they can trust. She treats her position as a ministry of love to help churches provide financial peace to our clergy and laity so that they may stay focused on making and sending disciples for Jesus Christ. Mona has spearheaded employee benefit programs that allow for clergy and laity to be the best they can be, both mentally and physically.

Wendy Brunson-Daniels serves as the Assistant Conference Benefits Officer and has been with the ARUMC for almost 18 years. In this role, Wendy works directly with clergy and laity on pension benefits and also generates the monthly billing for tithes, apportionments and personal pension payments. When asked what the best part of her ministry area is, she replied, “I get to help take away stress and worry from clergy about retirement benefits so that they may spend more time making disciples who make disciples for Jesus Christ.”

Palmer Lee is the IT Manager and has served the Conference for eight years. Palmer manages all desktop support for the Conference and District offices. He catalogs all computer equipment for all staff, including those working remotely across the state. Palmer has supervised the ReCharge initiative and maintains all communication systems to make sure they are working properly. You will always find Palmer at Conference events, managing all technology for the production team. His favorite part of ministry is working directly with minority churches and equipping them with tech training and assistance.

The Center for Administrative Services is available to provide support to all Arkansas United Methodist churches and clergy. Please call 501-324-8000 for any inquiries.

20,000 Miles and CountingPart 1: The Center for Communication

20,000 Miles and Counting
Part 1: The Center for Communication

By Amy Ezell

Director, Center for Communication

Over the last 21 months, I have had the great pleasure of traveling around the state to visit with people from our Arkansas United Methodist churches. I have learned much from church leaders and church members. I have also had the opportunity to listen to and learn from many who are not part of any church.

When I introduce myself to lay people for the first time, I usually must also explain what the Conference is and then also explain what I do for the Conference. I was shocked at first that so many lay people did not understand the purpose of the Conference Centers and that we even exist.

While planning for the new year, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to share the incredible discipleship support that the Centers offer to each and every Arkansas United Methodist.

I am beginning this series with a spotlight on the Arkansas Conference Center for Communication.

The Rev. Dr. Michelle Morris, shared a devotional with the Center for Communication team a few weeks ago about the importance of communication in the Bible. Beginning in Genesis 1:3, “God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.” God used communication by speaking throughout the entire first chapter of Genesis.

The Center for Communication is made up of six professionals with varied roles. Our team works directly to support the Bishop, the Center for Administrative Services, the Center for Multiplying Disciples, the Center for Connectional Ministry and its Ministry Coordinators, the District Superintendents and Administrators, the Arkansas Conference Communication Commission, the Board of Ordained Ministry, the clergy for all local churches, and lay leaders for all local churches.

Caleb Hennington is the Digital Content Editor and has been with the ARUMC for 20 months.

He manages the multi-award-winning Arkansas United Methodist: Living Our Faith online magazine that is published each month. This includes writing and gathering stories, photography, layout design, publication marketing, engagement analytics and advertising clientele. Caleb manages the outgoing email prayer requests, obituaries, press releases to secular media, and event engagement marketing (sign up for a Conference-sponsored event and you will see how cool this is). He reports on all of the major events, including Annual Conference and General Conference. He plays a very important role in supporting social media, videography content and overall communication strategy.

Day Davis is the Social Media Specialist and has also been with the ARUMC for 20 months.

Day manages all of the social media platforms for the ARUMC that includes the main ARUMC Facebook page, ARUMC News Facebook page, ARUMC Instagram, ARUMC Twitter, ARUMC YouTube and 200K Reasons Instagram. She manages the weekly email newsletter that is distributed to approximately 6,700 individuals and also provides onsite training to local churches on developing an effective newsletter through email. Day manages all of the communication project “traffic” such as printing, media buys, and event promotion planning. She is also our lead in-house graphic designer. In 2018, she developed the ARUMC Social Media Principles that have been utilized and promoted on a national platform by COSROW.

Jacob Turner is the ARUMC Communication Liaison and Website Developer.

In 2018, Jacob built the award-winning ARUMC website. He manages the hosting services for local churches and provides training for local churches in website maintenance and web marketing. Jacob serves as our local church liaison and has worked with more than 40 Arkansas churches over the last six months to build effective communication strategies. These “communication audits” are conducted onsite and include the church staff to identify any opportunities for improvement in communication and marketing practices. Ask anyone who has been through a communication audit for their church and they will tell you how valuable this is for building and streamlining their internal and external communications.

The Rev. Dr. Michelle Morris is the CouRSe Coordinator. She is an Elder in Full Connection, has authored numerous publications, served in an adviser/professor role for numerous universities and has served as a Circuit Elder, Pastor and Associate Pastor. Michelle is appointed to the Center for Multiplying Disciples but is on loan to the Center for Communication due to the transition of the online learning system project ownership.

Michelle announced the launch of CouRSe (Congregation Resourcing System) at the 2019 Arkansas Annual Conference thanks to a valuable partnership with the United Methodist Foundation. This discipleship tool has been able to serve more than 500 people in 2019 with a variety of courses to enhance and equip local churches. Michelle manages the catalog of courses offered and works with local churches to determine needs for education. She coordinates each course including research, video and content, based upon preset goals and manages the analytics of CouRSe to better the program in its entirety.

Christina Choh is the Videographer for the ARUMC. Joining the Conference as an intern during the summer of 2019, Christina is experienced in full video production and graphic design project management.

Christina has served as the lead videographer for more than 30 video projects in 2019, including many offsite shoots that involved overcoming weather, sound and lighting barriers. She has also provided design work for various Conference-sponsored events throughout the year.

Saying that I am blessed to work with these aforementioned communication pros is an understatement. They inspire me every day by their passionate work ethic and dedication for doing things right.

As the Director of the ARUMC Center for Communication, I work directly with the Bishop on overall messaging for the Conference and strategic campaigns that enhance the Conference trajectory. I have the honor of serving on the ARUMC Cabinet that includes Bishop Mueller, all of the District Superintendents, Center Directors and Lay Leader, Karon Mann.

I am the Chief Media Officer for the Conference. I work directly with local and national media for our Bishop, districts and local churches, as needed. I work with the Bishop on the ARUMC Crisis Communication Team and provide media training/coaching and crisis communication training to leaders across the Arkansas connection. I recently served as a media spokesperson for the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.

As the Center Director, I manage our team of communication professionals. I coach on streamlined strategy and integration of all platforms to promote the Conference trajectory. I am most proud that we have been able to stay laser-focused with the Bishop’s and Conference messaging and also incorporate training for local churches as an added priority.

I hope you have enjoyed learning about the ARUMC Center for Communication. I also hope you understand that we are here to support the local church – no matter the size – improve its communication strategies to make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped and sent to transform lives, communities and the world!

This article is the first of a four-part series that will highlight the Center for Administrative Services, the Center for Communication, the Center for Connectional Ministries and the Center for Multiplying Disciples.