Risky Faith

Posted on June 2, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

A Post By Chuck Frost

Take RisksI love to go see live music, there is nothing like the energy of hearing music being played in real time.  It isn’t studio polished or in perfect time.  Mistakes are made, but they add authenticity and color to the performance even if you don’t notice them – especially if you don’t notice them.

My preference is improvisational live music. I love not knowing what is coming next and whether or not exciting new sounds will be created on the spot.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. What I love most is the energy behind the risk-taking that is inherent to improvisational music.  Playing before a paying audience, those musicians take a huge risk and there is no guarantee the audience will appreciate or get what they are doing.  But the reward is high if they nail it.

Life is pretty colorless when you don’t take risks.

In one of Pope Francis’ recent morning homilies, he urged us to be risk-takers. Commenting on the stories of those who took a risk to get to Jesus, he noted that the men who made a hole in the roof to lower their paralytic friend to Jesus took a risk, the Canaanite woman whose daughter was possessed took a risk, the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment took a risk…the disciples who dropped everything for Jesus took a risk.

Improvisational musicians don’t just get on stage and play random notes without some foundation and preparation, however, and these Biblical examples didn’t put faith in Jesus and what he could do for them without some idea of who Jesus was and what he was about.

Pope Francis has consistently called us to the risk of going out into the peripheries, but it would be foolish to do that without preparing our souls.  But soul-nourishing only to stay in the well-rehearsed, choreographed safe zone will produce a colorless and lifeless Christianity. The Holy Father called it a view from the balcony.  And if that’s the only view we have, then we are missing out on the abundant life Jesus promised us.

Can They Find Your Church Website Online?

Posted on May 31, 2017 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Some tips to make it easier to search for your church online

Find Your Church OnlinePeople rely on the Internet to search for and find information about their community. For your church, this can be the perfect opportunity to connect with and make a good impression on new members.

Typically, an Internet user searches for something online and looks at the first ten websites suggested. This is only one page of website suggestions offered. If your church website is not showing up in the first page or not at all, your potential parishioners or visitors may never even know you exist online. So how do you make sure they find you?

There are two practices you can try, SEO and SERP, to get started. Let’s break down each of these terms and review some tips and tricks you can try on your website to make it easier to find your church website online.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. A search engine is the place where you type in what you want to find online. The most common search engines include Google, Yahoo, Bing, and AOL. Optimization is the act of making something as effective as possible.

Simply put, SEO is the process of making your website as effective as possible so search engines find your website and list it in the results, making it more likely new members in your community will find your church website.

What is SERP?

SERP stands for Search Engine Result Page. It is a list of suggested websites. The websites are collected based on your keyword. Your keyword is the word or words you typed in to your search engine.

How do search engines get their results?

Google Yahoo Bing logosSearch engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, and AOL have all written a mathematical equation that looks at the following things in your website:

  • What words are in your website?
  • How often is your website updated?
  • What kind of images are on your website?
  • How fast does your website load?
  • How easy to read is your website?
  • How often is your website visited?
  • Are there other websites that link to your website?

Then it looks at the history of the person searching: where that person has been online, and where he or she is located in the world.

From there, the search engine compares your website to every other website that might relate the keyword that someone searched for. Then, it ranks those sites in order of relevance. Remember, it is very unlikely that someone will click past the first page, so it is important that your church is ranked within the top ten.

How do you make your website easier to find?

Make sure your church name, address, city, and state are all on the home page. Put your church name at the top of the website. This will make it the most important bit of text, and also be part of the title in the list of results. Then put your address with city and state in text on your website. Search engines look for this specifically, so where you put it is up to you. A good practice is to place it at the bottom of the page, in the footer. That way it shows up on every page of your website. Keep in mind, having your church name and address as an image does not help—search engines do not analyze PDFs or images for content.

Use keywords that people search for online in your text.

Don’t forget, a keyword is the word or words someone typed into a search engine to find something on the Internet. In order to pick out keywords that you think will help your site be found by search engines, first look at your church. What is your church about? What message do you want someone visiting your church website to take away? What words might you use to look for a church website if you were new to a community?

Now make a list of those words and type them into your search engine. See what the results are. Does your church fit into that list? Narrow your list down to two or three keywords. When you have decided what keywords you think are good for your church, use them in page titles or throughout the text on your website.

Find Your Church Online 2You can also check to make sure your chosen keywords are ones people actually use when they search online. There are websites that will let you test a keyword. For example, SERPs Keyword rank checker. On this website, you can type in any keyword and it will show the top ranked websites and an average number of times that keyword is used by searchers in search engines every month.

Use images to engage readers.

Search engines look for images. Images are more appealing and engaging to the reader on your website. This means people will spend a longer time on that page, which translates into the search engine ranking your website better than other websites that don’t have images. Note that if your website visitors land on your website and then click off right away, the search engine views the website as less trustworthy, which will cause your website to slowly move down the list.

Plus, visitors want images. When someone visits a webpage, they are more likely to continue reading and scroll to the bottom of the page if there is an image visible at all times. A good idea is to place your images every two to three paragraphs to keep a reader’s interest. The image needs to relate to the content on your page. When you load it into to your website, make sure to add a title and description. The title needs to have a keyword, and it needs to be honest. If your image title does not match the image and content, you will hurt your SEO.

Claim your online listings.

Search engines also look to see if your website links to other websites and if other websites link to your website. One easy and trusted source of links to your website are through things like Google My Places, Yahoo Local Listings, Bing Places, and YELP. You’ve seen these listings if you have searched for a business. They usually appear with an image, map, and often a description of that business with links to its website.

Your church may never have claimed these, but they probably already exist. Test it out in different search engines and see what shows up. If there isn’t a listing you can create one, and if there is, you need to make sure your church controls what is on there. If you don’t claim it, someone else can.

Half Empty or Half Full?

Posted on May 18, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

By Steve Botsford

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5).

Running on EmptyThe idea of a glass being half empty or half full is a common proverbial phrase that is used to illustrate that a situation can be viewed as generally positive or negative. It can also be interpreted as a state of mind, or perception of one’s worldview. Either way, it’s an assessment of a moment in time.

In the Jackson Browne song “Running on Empty,” Browne describes a (hopefully) transitional season of life. He uses the metaphor of a gas tank to describe his place in life. In our own lives, we are constantly refilling and recharging. Be it gasoline, cell phone or laptop batteries, or grabbing a snack or meal, we need to replenish our source of energy.

The thing is, all these sources are temporary and must be constantly replenished. Life’s journey and meaning is found in the source of all things–Jesus Christ.

Jesus reminds us that we are connected, and when we are connected not only are we nourished but we “bear much fruit.” Connected and nourished, two essentials for the long run and for everyday stewards.

No longer are we half empty OR half full!

Steve Botsford is the Director of Religious Education at St. Ann Catholic Church in Marietta, GA. He holds an MBA from the University of Phoenix and a Master of Religious Education from Loyola University, New Orleans.

Hard to be Humble

Posted on May 9, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

By Main Thing contributor Chuck Frost

Hard to be HumbleOne of the more humorous songs of my childhood was Mac Davis’ “Oh Lord It’s Hard To Be Humble”:

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.

I can’t wait to look in the mirror, cause I get better looking each day.

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, but I’m doing the best that I can.

We often misunderstand humility. We think humility is about understating or even downgrading our own gifts and abilities.

When I was younger, one of my pastors told me that he believed true humility was an honest assessment of what gifts you have and the willingness to step forward to use them when needed. It is also the restraint we show by not stepping forward when others among us are more gifted in a particular area.

Based on her study of the early desert monks, Roberta Bondi puts it this way: “Cultivating humility also means that we will begin to stop measuring ourselves continually against others…. Having humility will mean that we will have no particular desire to do better than others, and we will not care if someone else does better than we.” (To Love As God Loves, 1987)

Thinking of humility this way, we see that it connects to envy, pride, and even patience – and it’s quite a challenging virtue as Mr. Davis wryly sung.

But it’s okay not to be the best at something.

It’s okay if someone is more “successful” than we are or whose gifts get a bigger audience.

God has not called any of us to be the best or successful as those concepts are often defined by the world. God has called us to discover and use what he has given us. And no matter how small our gifts may seem in the eyes of the world or even our own eyes, we are asked to humbly step forward and offer them to the Lord.

Chuck Frost is Pastoral Associate at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke, Virginia.

Sending a Message

Posted on May 4, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

By Steve Botsford

Send a MessageOne of the most important things we do is send messages. Emails. Texts. Facebook messages. And if we call someone and they don’t answer, we leave them a message.

We prepare little elevator speeches and messages hoping to pique someone’s interest enough to follow up with us for more information. And sometimes we may only have a minute or 140 characters to convey the best possible message.

Effective messaging is an art, and most messages we create are for our own interest and benefit.

As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace,” (1 Pt 4:10).

Effective stewardship means managing resources that are for the common good – the good of others. We have received a glorious gift that can benefit all people, the gift of faith. Today’s readings remind us of the eternal message, that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). This message is the foundation of our faith.

Now it’s easy to become sidetracked by programs, procedures and problem-solving. In our abundance of information and communication we can get lost in our own messages. Today, Paul and John help us focus on what the true message really is. To know the Father we must first know Jesus.

In the midst of preparing messages for our daily business, let’s not forget the Main Thing– we are disciples of Christ. All of our activities must lead others to know the One who is the Way to eternal life, which begins here on earth.

We are Jesus’ hands and feet, face and spokesperson. Our actions are Jesus’ actions. After all, whoever has seen us has seen the Father (John 14: 6b, 9c).

Jesus, help me to be ready to use our messages to communicate the good news found only in you.

Steve Botsford is a husband, father, catechist, educational consultant, blogger, and game designer.

Dinner With Strangers

Posted on April 25, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

This post was written by Main Thing contributor Chuck Frost.

My wife and I had a late work day last week, so I decided to swing by a drive-thru and grab a sandwich for dinner. In front of me was a car with roughly 20 bumper stickers on the back. Some of the stickers didn’t make sense to me, but most of them were related to video games that I am familiar with.

The young man in the car was a little unkempt and I imagined he probably spent a good amount of time behind the computer with headphones on. Admittedly my mind went to gamer stereotypes, which are mostly untrue, but still embedded in pop culture. (more…)

You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have

Posted on April 20, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

Post By Steve Botsford

Personal CommunionIt’s true with just about everything. Money. Love. Education. Personal Communion.

Wait…personal communion?

During this Easter Season, we have an opportunity to dig deeper into the meaning of faith. We begin with the reflection on The Road to Emmaus. In a recent post, I mentioned the term “companion” and it’s Latin meaning, “with bread.” Jesus is our companion. He is always with us as the Bread of Life.

One of the highlights of my adult life was my confirmation into the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil in 1992. As I reflect on all those who came into the Church Saturday night, I recall my life during that time. It was my adult decision to enter into the fullness of faith as a Catholic. My entry to God’s family happened several years earlier when I was baptized and that decision was confirmed that night.

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The Truth Will Set You Free

Posted on April 5, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

Post by Steve Botsford

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” John 8:31-32

The Truth Will Set You FreeIn today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells the Jews who believe in him a simple formula for success. It is so simple, however, that it can almost seem impossible to completely understand. How is a good steward to interpret this statement?

Literally

The word “if” could almost be taken as a threat, for “if” one does not remain in his word one will not be set free.

The word “remain” could mean that one could be set free unless they do not “remain” in his word.

The word “word” could mean the scriptures as we sometimes refer to scripture or the bible, yet, the “word” might refer to Jesus himself, as we understand Jesus as the “word” of God.

“Truly” could mean that one might possibly could be a disciple but not “truly.”

And so on. Imaginably, we could be overthinking it!

In Context

Ironically, the Jews listened but didn’t hear. They listened to Jesus literally and missed the point entirely! Jesus wasn’t talking about literal slavery or earthen fathers. He was talking about doing the RIGHT THING! He was saying to follow him as the way, the truth and the life, and they would be free from the slavery of sin.

The Good News

We can also interpret today’s gospel within the context of the Good News. When we read The Appearance on the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35, we see Jesus as a companion on our faith Journey. The Latin meaning for companion is derived from two words: com meaning “with” and panis meaning “bread.”

With bread. As we recall in the Bread of Life Discourse, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” John 6:35.

As we continue our faith journey this Lent, perhaps we should consider our companion for the journey. We are never alone as long as we are receiving, and walking with, the Bread of Life.

Lord, in my effort to become a better disciple, a mature steward, and your hands and feet, let me remain in you today trusting that to be with you is to become truly free from the slavery of sin.

Steve Botsford is a husband, father, catechist, educational consultant, blogger,  and game designer.

Spotlight Makeover: Refreshing St. Bernard Parish’s Website

Posted on March 31, 2017 by - Catholic Tech Talk

St. BernardsThere are a few things to consider when refreshing your parish website including knowing what your audience needs, wants, and expects, and making sure the look is consistent with your parish communications. After that, all you need to update your parish website is a brighter, more modern design and a little reorganization.

When Christine, the webmaster at St. Bernard Parish in Wauwatosa, WI, asked LPi for help this is exactly what we did to refresh her church website.

Choose a new look

If you are using a website service with templates, choose a template that has the colors you use in your church communications or offers the choice to use those colors. In this case, we chose a template that would show off the beautiful brand identity already created.

Add a headline

The headline on your website is the first thing a visitor will read. We recommend the headline stay between 5 and 7 words. For St. Bernard Parish, we selected the tagline they already use with their logo and on their church communications.

Simplify the home page

Working closely with St. Bernard’s parishioners, Christine had specific content she had identified that was needed and wanted on the home page. The next step was to simplify how it was presented by placing the most important information first and reorganizing the related content together. This is important not only for readability on a full desktop, but also for a mobile-friendly environment because the content will display vertically from left to right.

Reorganize the menu

A menu should have no more than seven items visible when the page loads. One way to think of these menu items is as categories. So, all other Web pages must be moved under these categories. For St. Bernard, we adjusted the menu options to be one word that communicates simple categories for easy assessment, readability, and organization of all the content within the website.St Bernards Image 2

Adjust the layout on other pages

When you change a template, it is important to review all existing pages to make sure they are displaying correctly in the new template. Through the assessment of the St. Bernard website, we identified several pages where we could combine the content into one page. Then we established guidelines for which header style to use on every page. Lastly, we rearranged pages to match the menu bar and included images and videos.

Sin and Compromise

Posted on March 17, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

Post by Chuck Frost

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Sin and CompromiseWe’ve heard of the drug dealer cliché, “The first hit is free.” You have to take the first hit to begin the slow decline toward full blown addiction, and if vulnerability is detected the dealer may gladly get us started free of charge. Not too many people think that one little indulgence will end up that way.

We go through life making small moral compromises here and there. Maybe it’s something that seems too insignificant to get all worked up about. Things that we think don’t rise to the level of serious sin.  Things we may joke about or shrug off.

And though I think it’s possible to become scrupulous to an unhealthy degree, it is important that we take account of those small compromises for they can be the devil’s delight.

The DevilThere is a great episode from the nineties television show Northern Exposure called “The Robe”. Shelly, the wife of a local bar owner, despises her husband’s old bathrobe. It looks hideous on him, but he adores it.

So the devil comes to her as an engaging traveling salesman and tempts her to burn the robe while her husband is away. She almost does it, but then turns back at the last minute.  When the devil angrily scolds her for not following through, Shelly replies: “Why did you go after me? I’m nobody.” So he says:

“You’re my bread and butter, Shelly. Look, say I get some corporate raider to suck up some company, turn 3,000 employees out on the street. Where’s the victory there? But if I can get somebody like you, pure of heart, to let her bumper stray over that white line just a little bit…You know that expression, ‘God is in the details’? Well, it’s a little bit like that for me.”

Is it really a big deal if I eat from that tree?  I mean, it’s just a piece of fruit

Chuck Frost is Pastoral Associate at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke, Virginia