Grace & Gigabytes Blog

Perspectives on leadership, learning, and technology for a time of rapid change

Updated: Sep 30

This is the first post of a new series on using Design Thinking to build virtual church community. Click here for our second post, which details how to start the Design Thinking process!

“Worship attendance is fine, but it doesn’t feel like a community anymore.”

It’s a quote I continue to hear from church leaders navigating our new normal. Perhaps you’ve said something similar at one time or another. Sure, members are tuning in to watch live-streamed or recorded worship. Maybe your finances are even secure thanks to members stepping up their generosity in recent months.


But still, something’s missing. We miss that sense of community our church enjoyed prior to March 2020. We lament that it’s just not the same, we acknowledge that an entirely virtual church is often a poor substitute for the face to face community that brings so many of us to church in the first place.


It’s hard to build a digital church community in “normal” circumstances, let alone during a pandemic where many of our families are juggling working demanding jobs from home while homeschooling their kids. But as church leaders, we are nevertheless called to build community, even when such a task seems unachievable.



While tactics for building a digital church community will vary from one congregation to another, community building in these uncertain times begins with a clear awareness of the challenges and opportunities involved with building up our now-distributed communities.


With an understanding of why it’s so difficult to build this digital community and why it’s so important to do so, we can begin to find the small acts of community building that will bring us together in profound and powerful ways.


The challenges are often self-evident. Our communities are busier than they’ve ever been. Parents are trying to teach and motivate their students, who are often reluctant to learn virtually (four in ten students didn’t complete any virtual homework last spring).


They’re also burnt-out in digital connection. Zoom fatigue is very real. Google searches for the query “Zoom fatigue” increased 1,000% between April and May 2020. Some have even suggested that online calls lead to unhealthily low levels of respiration - we don’t breathe as we should while online. This observation, described as “Zoom Apnea,” may explain why distributed, virtual work is so exhausting. Those who are working from home have little energy for additional digital engagement after the workday ends, and hardly any appetite for more video calls. And of course, an election is taking place. 55% of Americans are currently “worn out” by political posts on social media, while 70% find online politics discussions “exhausting." So many of our assumptions on digital church community intersect with social media, yet social media has its own set of problems.


But just as there are many challenges, there are even greater opportunities. If we find a way to create a sense of virtual community within our church, we can provide a moment of Sabbath rest, where we can all pause together, breathe together, pray together. If we find a way to connect our flock during this time of social distancing, our church can provide a concrete taste of grace and forgiveness, often lacking in social media environments. Perhaps most importantly, if we find a way to create a digital community in these divided times, we can inspire hope in the promise that God is greater than any pandemic, that Christ is our salvation, and that these challenging times will end.


So how do we realize these opportunities? How do we build a digital community that promotes a sense of rest, connection, and hope? We begin with the acknowledgment that community building is highly contextual. What works for one congregation will not work for the church across the street. We also start with the tacknowledgmenthat not all digital community is synchronous. In an environment of Zoom fatigue, we need not log on together to find meaningful connection.


From this starting line, we must apply the design thinking process to craft meaningful community moments that resonate within our context.


What is design thinking? According to Interaction-Design.org,


"Design Thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding. At the same time, Design Thinking provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It is a way of thinking and working as well as a collection of hands-on methods."

Design thinking can build community in these challenging times because it facilitates the identification of alternative strategies and solutions. As a process, it moves us well-beyond the proverbial box, revealing the best ideas for our ministry context.


In upcoming blog posts, we'll explore design thinking and what it means for the church. We'll dive into each specific step in the design thining process (from empathizing to testing and everywhere in between), and offer suggestions for using digital tools to support collaborative brainstorming. Many, if not all church leaders, have lamented the breakdown of community during the COVID-19 pandemic. It's time to start rebuilding. Let the designing begin!


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@ryanpanzer is the author of Grace and Gigabytes.




In today's talent development circles, everyone wants "microlearning," but it seems that so few actually know what "microlearning" means!


As companies cut training hours and professional development budgets amidst a lengthening economic recession, more cash-strapped people leaders will demand more microlearning to meet employee skill development needs.


But these people leaders won't really know what they are asking for.


What is microlearning? Is it merely shorter learning? Is it the same learning in less time? Or is it the same amount of learning that's stretched out into smaller increments across a long period of time? Why has it become so popular? Does microlearning even work?


These are among the many microlearning demystification questions that Karl M. Kapp and Robyn A. Defelice set out to answer in their 2019 book, "Micorlearning Short And Sweet." Succinct and approachable, Kapp and Defelice's work is a useful survey of the microlearning landscape, one that connects this trendy buzzword to theory and research.


While their recommendations and prescriptions are ocasionally vague ("it depends" appears to be a favorite response of theirs), their work lifts microlearning from a platitude to practice, from jargon to meaningful job support.


"Microlearning Short And Sweet" rescues this rising instructional design practice from the gutter of ambiguous corporate-speak, making the book an important read for instructional designers, talent developers, and HR leaders of any organization.


Kapp and Defelice begin by tracing the origins of microlearning. While educational researchers have explored the principles of microlearning under various names for decades, the concept has only recently gained popularity within talent development circles.

Google Trends: Microlearning's 4x search volume growth since 2013

Accordingly, the book is a high-level survey of the microlearning landscape: when it's best used, how it's best designed, and even where it's least effective. The book is strongest in its warnings against microlearning mismanagement: using it as a "panacea" to the learning needs of a resource-constrained organization, or using it as a shortcut to skills development. Microlearning might be small, but it's no silver bullet. Throughout the text, Kapp and Defelice remind the reader that the time to master a skill remains constant, whether you teach that content in an eight-hour workshop (meso-learning) or 48 ten-minute simulations (micro-learning).


As an instructional designer, I was most intrigued by the book's suggestions on using microlearning to "augment" educational experiences. By strategically spacing interactive content, the instructional designer can eliminate forgetting, increase buy-in, and facilitate practice. While I took much away from this short book, my most immediate insight is to build post-workshop microlearning campaigns that combine quizzes, videos, and other pieces of digital content to reengage the learner's attention and memory after the learning event concludes. I look forward to soon deploying microlearning as a means of mitigating the "forgetting curve."


Other instructional designers may find intriguing the ideas of using microlearning to enhance buy-in around a change. In effect, microlearning can be used as a tool for change management, provided the content is high-quality, persuasive, and collaboratively produced. As we continue to navigate the pandemic with all its disruption and volatility, organizations will be forced to make major changes to their operations, mission, and vision. Microlearning can motivate learners to rally behind such changes, by communicating the need for change and by enabling team members to develop new competencies.


At times, "Microlearning Short and Sweet" wanders through unnecessary contextual detail, for example, expositions into theories of Cognitivism and Behaviorism. This tends to be the case with many well-intentioned business books. It's simply more ironic and noticeable when such contextualizing ladens a book on truncated learning techniques! And at times, the reader is left to wonder when the authors will move from the theoretical to the practical. If the book suffers from any deficiencies, it is a lack of concrete recommendations on how to immediately put microlearning to use in one's organizations. Still, the authors provide valuable tools and templates that any instructional designers and educators of any skill-level can use. The templates keep the book at a sufficient level of applicability, providing just enough urgency and transferability to retain the reader's attention.


"Microlearning Short and Sweet" is an important contribution to the field of talent development, one that invites further study, conversation, and debate as more business leaders are drawn to this increasingly popular concept.


This is the latest in an ongoing series on digital marketing for church leaders - be sure to check out the companion post on advertising with Google!


"You can't manage what you can't measure."

-Peter Drucker


If you're a church leader, you've likely grown accustomed to measuring some key numbers in your church. You likely know (approximately) how many attended a worship service, or more recently how many watched an online worship service. You might know how much money you have in your budget, and how much you received in tithes and offerings last Sunday. It's likely that somewhere in your career you were trained to think about the"butts and bucks" numbers as the key performance indicators for your congregation (for more on how to move past "butts and bucks," check out Katie Langston's blog on Faith+Lead).


Doing church online requires a new approach to measurement. What matters in the virtually distributed church is the effectiveness with which your church's digital presence (ie, its website and social media) connects with your community. We can measure this level of connection with free digital tools, the most insightful of which is Google Analytics.


Google Analytics is an application that automatically collects data on website traffic, instantly organizing that data into reports and dashboards. Fully customizable and completely free to use, Analytics is a must-use tool for determining whether digital efforts are achieving the intended results.


When you start using Google Analytics, you'll be able to measure how many visited your website, what they did there, whether they stayed and engaged or quickly "bounced," if they viewed multiple pages or just one, and if they eventually returned. This data helps church leaders to determine when, where, and how communities are coming together on the church website. All of this data, of course, is aggregated and anonymized to protect user privacy. In this post, we'll look at some of the first steps you'll want to take as a church leader during COVID.


To get started, you'll need to sign up for Google Analytics with a Gmail account. Once you've signed up for your website, find and add the Analytics "Tracking Code" to your church website. The code snippet is what sends website data to Google Analytics, enabling you to view important reports on site visits and user activity.


Installing the "Tracking Code" tends to be the most confusing implementation step for new Analytics users, so don't be alarmed if takes you a moment to complete the implementation.


Simply copy the code from Analytics and paste the tracking code beneath the <head> tag of your website.


What's a <head> tag, you might ask? It's the "header" of your website, appended to all pages on your domain. If you can find the HTML for your website, all you'll need to do is paste the code near the top. Google Analytics will do the rest.


Once the tracking code is added to your website, you'll start to see site data in Google Analytics, which will look something like this:



With the code properly installed and site data showing up in your Analytics accounts, it's time to start measuring. While Analytics offers millions of datapoints and segmentations for you to analyze, a beginner Analytics users should focus on users, session duration, and pages/session.


"Users" measures the number of unique visitors to your church website as determined by the date range in the upper-right corner of the Analytics UI. A key question for a church during COVID is the number of users relative to the size of your congregation. If your website is effectively connecting to your community, the number of users in a 30-day window should be similar to your unique monthly attendees. If a church saw an attendance of 350 on a typical pre-COVID Sunday, it should strive for 350 monthly website users.


"Session duration"is the average time spent on your webpages during a single visit to your site. If I visit your homepage for 60 seconds and then leave your website, my session duration is 60 seconds. If I visit five different pages on your website for 10 seconds each, my session duration is also 60 seconds. Since all churches and all websites are different, there isn't a benchmark "session duration" that we ought to strive for. Rather, session duration is a metric of directionality. A key question for today's church leader is whether session duration is trending upward or downward. When church communities find relevant, spiritually-edifying content on a site, session duration increases. As you build out your site and add new types of content like blogs and video pages, see if session duration increases.


"Pages/Session"is the average number of pages a site visitor views per each unique visit to your site. If I visit your site but remain on your homepage, my Pages/Session is 1. If I visit your site and view your Worship page, your blog, and your Contact page, my Pages/Session is 3. Pages/Session is a helpful metric in evaluating whether your website is efficiently funneling traffic to key pages within your site. As a church, you'll likely have a page for worship times/streaming, a blog/videos page, a giving page, and many other pages that are vital to your ministry. Your site should make it easy for a user to switch between pages. A key question for today's church leader is how to maintain a Pages/Session average of 1.5 or more, indicating that the average user connects to more than one resource during their session.


Google Analytics can be overwhelming to those without backgrounds in tech or marketing. If you're feeling like there's too much data and it's hard to know where to get started, take a step back and review some of Google's self-paced learning materials.


Then, identify two or three key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will commit to tracking over the course of four weeks. At the end of four weeks, consider what these numbers might tell you about the quality of your website.


What changes might you make based on this data? That's fundamentally what using Google Analytics is about - not numbers, not graphs, but deriving insight from data. With enough practice and sufficient patience, every church leader can use Google Analytics to strengthen their connections with the community, particularly in an era of disruption.

@ryanpanzer

Leadership developer for digital culture. Author of "Grace and Gigabytes," now available wherever books are sold.

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