Women with smartphone and laptop.

Three online tools to assist your ministry

The following text has been adapted from an acceptance speech delivered by Ashley Thompson for the 2016 Ramon Williams Australasian Religious Press Association Scholarship award.

When I was five I wanted to be a writer. More specifically I wanted to be Anne Shirley, Jo March, Betsy Ray and later, Rory Gilmore.

As the daughter of two teachers, I was encouraged, nurtured and told I could be anything I wanted to be. Little did I know, the career I would have did not yet exist.

Upon entering the communications program at the University of Queensland I quickly learned that my “charming” and “cute” ambitions were not original, that I was not a special Gen Y unicorn—more destined than my peers—and that the media landscape was evolving so quickly my skills would depreciate like that of a new car leaving the lot.

So I worked, interned, volunteered and diversified my skills. More than write, I sought to use, understand and keep up with the all-consuming digital trends.

I entered a new world, one full of acronyms and insider language not dissimilar to that of the church: PPC, SEO, SEM, CMS, EDM.

While feeling out of my depth I began to notice that some of the mission organisations I worked with and church activities I attended, knew even less than I did. Some didn’t even have a website or understand why they needed one.

Beyond that, they were scared. Scared of change, and I didn’t know why. No, not everyone was destined to be a mega church but everyone could succeed in the online space. Everyone could have a voice. I suspected the source of their fear was actually a lack of understanding.

A new purpose emerged: I wanted to help educate people.

Why? Because technical knowledge has the power to debunk technological myths of the digital age and empower Christians to share the good news.

People still wanted to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, we just needed to change and diversify our channels of delivery.

The Internet wasn’t something to be afraid of, it was a wonderful, powerful tool for ministry. And it was easier than it looked. Because technology that performs well is intuitive.

So today my title is not “writer” or “journalist” but “digital media manager” or “digital strategist”. These titles may sound completely different, or like I’ve sold out on my childhood dream, but they are intrinsically the same. In each, I facilitate faith content for audiences.

New data from Australian digital marketing agency, Reload Media reveals that the average person checks their phone 150 times a day. That is 150 micro moments of connecting to content. Digital isn’t “new” anymore; it’s a solidified, reality of everyday life.

Content, fellow members of the Australasian Religious Press, is not our problem. Content we have. Good news of how God is impacting our communities in Australia and New Zealand will never run dry.

We need each other, we need this conference, to share and grow together as we hone our skills to cut through the dark noise of this world with stories of hope and light.

Isaiah 41:10 reads, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

So at 26, there is not much I am qualified to speak on but a quick Google search on Gen Y traits says technology is one.

If you’re looking for practical online tools to assist your ministry, here are three I can’t go past:

1Google Grants

PPC, one of the acronyms I mentioned earlier, stands for pay-per-click advertising. This is an Internet advertising model that is used to direct traffic towards your website, where you only pay the publisher (Google for example) when an ad is clicked.

Google Grants is a donation program that distributes free PPC advertising to select non-profit organisations. Participating organisations can receive up to $10 000 a month to spend within the Google AdWords search engine marketing platform.

To be eligible you must hold a current valid charity status. Google “Google Grants” or visit connectingup.org for more information.

2Canva

Not all non-profits have the budget to hire to a communications team. If you do not have a graphic designer or simply need an easy, fail-proof way of creating beautiful designs for web or print, Canva.com offers free access to a wide assortment of design tools and is far more user-friendly than Adobe InDesign … but mostly importantly, it’s free!

Premium options are also available for paying customer at only $1 apiece.

Forty per cent of Fortune 500 companies and 200 000 organisations use Canva in some capacity—as does my employer the Uniting Church Queensland Synod. In addition, over 2000 video tutorials and 10 000 blog posts have been made about Canva. It is available online and in the Android and iOS app stores.

3Square Space

If your mission activity or organisation has a poorly designed (or non-existent) website, Squarespace.com offers an affordable all-in-one solution for creating clean, beautiful and mobile-friendly websites. It is, in my opinion, the easiest content management system for beginners.

However, if your organisation has a reasonably sized marketing budget and requires more complex features such as ecommerce, I recommend the Salient and Divi WordPress themes. These themes are among the top selling creative themes of all time and are used daily by international digital marketing agencies.

Google Grants, Canva, Square Space. The Internet is alive with platforms and tools waiting to assist us in our mission to share the gospel.

I am excited about the future of the church and ARPA. It may not exist how we knew it or know it today but it will be better because God has promised that he works for the good of those who love him and that his plans are to prosper, not to harm.

If I receive anything from this 2016 ARPA Conference experience, may it be that I may give as much I have been given to over the last three years from my Uniting Church communications directors: Mardi Lumsden, Penny Mulvey, Bindy Taylor, Maggie Johns, the ARPA executive committee and Mr Ramon Williams.

Ashley Thompson

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