Technology guide

VERSION 1.2 — JUNE 11, 2020

Introduction

It may seem obvious, but the more ways your church can be “found,” the more likely it is that people who are looking for a church — a Christian Science church or a church more generally — will end up walking through your doors.

This guide was written by the Christian Science Washington State Outreach Committee to help your church or society make the most of technology. To create beacons that signal to your community that everyone is welcome — and those who come will find what they need in the way of healing solutions and tools to improve their daily lives.

We’ve tried to write this guide so it appeals to all levels of technical know-how — whether you’re a “digital native” or don’t know a URL from an ISP.

We hope this guide helps you make your church more visible to the honest seekers for truth in your part of the world. We’re always happy to answer your questions and to hear your suggestions for making this guide even more useful to churches across Washington.

Building and Maintaining Your Website

See our guide to building and maintaining your website here.

Free Tools to Help People Find You

Programs like Google Maps and Apple Maps can provide visitors with basic information about your church and Reading Room. They will provide hours of operation in addition to your location, if you register your listing with the mapping service.

Typically, there is a link to ‘claim this business’ in the search results screen. Click the link, and follow the instructions to confirm your ownership of the business at that address.

In addition, Google Business will supply information to you about the number of searches, and information about the searchers. Links for signing up for this free service will accompany the instructions to register ownership. You’ll also find extensive information about Google’s other advertising and contact management services.

Reaching People Through Social Media

See our social media guide here.

Making the Most of Your Phone

There’s nothing that says “we’re not interested” like a phone that isn’t answered — either on the spot by a person or by a voice mail system that’s frequently checked (and the calls returned).

There are several options for setting up a useful and effective phone system. Whatever you choose, it will only be useful if your phone number can easily be found by those who might want to call you. (So make sure it’s highly visible on your website and in other places.)

Landline — Landlines are available in two flavors: From the “phone company,” or from an Internet service provider (such as Comcast/Xfinity).

Phone companies like CenturyLink offer a reliable service that comes into your church or Reading Room via a telephone wire — pretty much the same kind that was used 50 years ago. Such phone service usually comes with Caller ID, Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, etc. The company may also offer a digital landline (also known as VoIP) if you also buy their Internet service.

Phone service over the Internet generally sounds just as good, and often comes with many more features. This may include the ability to answer calls from multiple offsite devices or forward to a pre-programmed list of phone numbers until someone answers.

Cell phone — Mobile phones are generally more expensive than landlines, but if someone who already has one is willing to field calls, this could be an economical option.

Specialized service — If your church or Reading Room is already connected to the Internet, a service like Ooma can provide phone service with a wide array of sophisticated options. With Ooma, you’ll need to buy a phone for $70; service is then $19.95 per month. (For now, you can get a free restocked IP phone when you sign up for Ooma Office.)

Voice mail — Voice mail comes with most phone service, whether cellular or landline. It’s important that it be checked often and calls returned within a day or so.

Answering machine — If you already have an answering machine or would find it easier to use than voice mail, the same check-it-regularly advice applies. High-quality cordless phones with digital answering machines, such as the AT&T EL52103 DECT 6.0, cost around $35.

Business call forwarding — There are several services that will enable you to obtain a virtual local phone number, which you can then forward to any other phone number. This is ideal when you might want calls to go to the cell phone of your Reading Room librarian, but you don’t want to publicize his or her actual phone number. You can set up separate numbers for your church and Reading Room, or have just one number — knowing it will be answered in real time when callers are looking for information. Avoxi has a “Basic” plan for $12.49/month that should meet the needs of most churches. They also offer a $25 credit for signing up.

Using Email Effectively

Email has been described as the “Grand Central Station” of online communications. It’s essential that every church not only have an email address, but one that’s easily found online.

You have three basic choices when it comes to getting an email address:

Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) — Every ISP we’re familiar with offers email. It’s easy to set up as part of the process of getting your account up and running. And it’s included in your monthly bill.

It isn’t your best option, however. If you ever want to change ISPs — or your ISP changes its name to something else — you’ll end up having to change your email address. That can be a complicated process, and one that may have you missing inbound emails.

A technology company — Google offers Gmail. Yahoo promotes Yahoo mail. Microsoft hopes you will use Outlook.com. Apple sings the praises of iCloud email.

All are free, and all come with unique advantages. We recommend using one of these (or a similar service) over an ISP email account. This article from HubSpot explains the advantages of each of nine email services (including all the ones we mentioned above).

Google and Yahoo look over every email to learn what they can about how to sell you things. Apple and Microsoft do less of that, if that’s a concern of yours.

Your own domain — This is the most secure and personalized approach to email. There are hundreds of companies that will host your domain and act as your email server. NameCheap offers 1 email box for $11.88 per year. Messages can be downloaded into an email client on your computer and/or viewed online or via mobile device. NameCheap and many other companies will also obtain a domain for you and host your website, if you have one. (Or you can transfer an existing domain name.) WSOC used NameCheap for several years and found it reliable, affordable and easy to use.

Here are reviews of other hosting companies from CNET, PC Magazine, TechRadar and Hosting Facts.

Broadcasting Services Online or By Phone

Several guides are posted at ChristianScience.com.

Tom’s Guide offers their perspective on the Best Zoom alternatives for video conferencing

How You Can Get Started With Advertising

Steps to take to begin advertising on social media like Instagram, Facebook and Google

If your church or Reading Room already have profiles on Facebook and Instagram — and you want to advertise your Reading Room, services or lectures on those platforms — you can use your business account to create ads there.

If you want to advertise on the other major platforms like the Google Search engine and Microsoft Advertising (formerly Bing), you will need to establish a business account with them and follow their processes.

With any of these methods, there are common parameters to set: Budget, duration and target audience.

  • Budget: How much you budget determines the length of time and frequency of your ads appearing.
  • Duration: You can set an ad to run for a few days before an event.
  • Target audience: Most platforms offer ways to precisely target the type of people you want to see your ads.

You can advertise around the world if you wish, or target your local audience by state and city. These links can help you get started:

Fundraising Platforms

Most churches don’t do online fundraising. But if you have a special project for which you want to collect donations, it might be a good way to go. WSOC has experienced limited success in this area, but we haven’t done much to promote the fact that we accept tax-deductible donations from individuals.

PayPal — PayPal offers discounted transaction rates for 501(c)(3) charities for most products, and consistently low rates for all other nonprofits. No extra fees for setup, statements, withdrawals or cancellation. One simple button lets you accept credit cards, debit cards, and PayPal. The button can be used on your website or in emails. Plus, donors can easily select to give automatically on a monthly basis. Fees: 2.2% + $0.30 per transaction and no monthly fee for charities.

Snowball — Formerly @Pay, Snowball offers mobile fundraising tools to small and large nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and schools and universities. Snowball offers online donation tools that go beyond PayPal’s capabilities. Plus, they understand that donor abandonment is a concern for organizations and create solutions to make the giving process quick and simple for donors. Fees: 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction, with no monthly fee.

Snowball worked well enough for WSOC, but we decided to switch to GoFundMe Charity because of its more robust capabilities and lower processing fees.

GoFundMe Charity — GFM Charity draws on GoFundMe’s long experience as a crowdfunding platform. Their Free plan comes with zero platform fees, processing fees of 1.9% + 30¢ per transaction, and optional donor tipping to cover the processing costs. As their website puts it, “We want to help you raise more money for your cause, and we understand that every dollar counts. Our free fundraising platform allows you to keep even more of the money you raise so you can focus on your mission without worrying about financial barriers.”

Technology for Use Within the Church

The Washington State Broadcast Committee conducts almost all of its meetings online (and has for several years). Here are the components of the system we use to stay in touch and get our business accomplished:

Dropbox — We’ve found that Dropbox is the easiest-to-use online storage service (see next article). It integrates into your computer’s file organization system. Once you’ve set up whatever folders would be useful, you just drag and drop whatever files you want to archive or share with the team. Dropbox gives each user 2 GB of free storage space. (There are ways to obtain additional free storage. There are also paid Dropbox plans.) Competing services may be a bit less user-friendly but offer more free storage. It’s up to you which service best meets your needs and operating style.

Zoom — If you hadn’t heard of Zoom previously, you certainly had by April 2020. Everyone seems to be using it, and for good reason. It’s easy to set up meetings, it works reliably, and the basic version is free. The main downside to the free version is that you’re limited to 40-minute group meetings. Paid versions offer many more features, including the option to record your sessions and additional levels of security. Skype (from Microsoft) and Google Meet are free alternatives. Paid options include Webex from Cisco, GoToMeeting, and Zoho Meeting. Microsoft will be rolling out a free-for-now service called Teams later in 2020.

WordPressWordPress powers 36 percent of all websites on the Internet. This means it has a long history of successfully meeting the needs of a wide variety of individuals and organizations. It also means there’s a huge assortment of “themes” (pre-programmed templates), as well as all manner of additional features you can purchase for an affordable price to add to your website. WordPress comes in two flavors: WordPress.com will host your website for free. This is how christiansciencewa.org got started. Eventually, we graduated to the other option — a site that is professionally hosted on a dedicated server, with WordPress serving as the platform on which the website is built. Both options work in much the same way, but the hosted version offers much more in the way of features and functionality.

Other potential choices are mentioned in our section on Building and Maintaining Your Website.

Other technology: In the past, we have used FreeConferenceCall.com, which offers just what it says. It worked well, but we decided to graduate to video. We also used Basecamp, an online platform for sharing information, assigning and tracking tasks, storing documents, and more. We found that we don’t need all the features, and Dropbox works fine for archiving documents. But if you want a more sophisticated project-management tool, Basecamp will likely serve you well.

Online Storage

Every church should consider its needs when it comes to information sharing and information protection. How will committee members receive records of committee proceedings? How are legal records to be maintained? If your church has internet service with online storage, a simple link in an email can be used to allow the recipient to view the document online or download it and print it themselves. Many receipts and other proofs of transactions/execution are initiated online, and can be kept in online storage.

To fully leverage the advantages of technology for handling administrative tasks (think Clerk and Treasurer duties, and committee chairs), online storage is a step above email attachments. By using online storage as the primary location for business documents, sharing is made easier. If certain software is used, committees can collaborate in a digital environment, saving time and energy, and increasing focus. Fewer emails are needed, no attachments are required, so assuring the correct version of a document is in play is simplified.

Digital archiving is another class of online storage. These services continually monitor your computer and keep a real-time copy or backup of certain fileson your computer hard drive. If your computer hard drive fails, you are protected from data loss. To avoid the ongoing cost of online archiving, use local devices like blu-ray disks or external hard drives.

Online services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive (Microsoft), and iCloud (Apple) are all a form of cloud storage. While most include a small amount of storage at no charge (5GB), more space and features are available for a fee. Users are billed for a maximum amount of data, such as 10GB, 100GB, or 1TB or more. To store more than that amount requires purchasing a higher tier in the pricing plan. Some plans include additional features as the capacity increases, such as a greater number of users and additional collaboration methods.

As with any document management system (hard copies in files, or electronic), annual purging can keep needed storage space to a minimum.

Passwords and Security

This section is coming soon.