becoming-sysyphus

Constant Improvements

“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” – Camus

We have awesome users at Ambassador, many of which send us suggestions and improvements they desperately need. We recently received an email from one of our most prolific beta account users with a laundry list of items, whom we will keep anonymous. We’d like to share with you the recent fixes that occurred over this past weekend and want you to come away knowing we’re listening and appreciate any and all feedback. Our product is constantly morphing into what you, our users, want and need it to be for your ministries.

Here is the email below:

Greetings.  As I mentioned last week I would send you a list of my observations.  Among this list the first two are serious problems.  The rest are more or less important, some are simply FYI’s or suggestions.  However, I will say that I would like to hear from you concerning the first two since they directly compromise the reason why this app is so beneficial. I hope you find this helpful. 

 I also want to see this app succeed.  It is truly phenomenal and I have received at least one email a week telling me of how important the program has been to people.  For all my suggestions I do not want overshadow the fact that I love this app.  The Spirit is using your work to spread the Gospel.

He goes on to list nineteen issues, some major some minor, that he was having trouble with. We’d like to address the fixes we’ve made based off of one pastor’s email.

Resolving Issues & Adding Features

1. Sermon overwrite issue

This was a bug in our system that affected all sermons prior to May 1st, where our sermon id generator was crunching out previous numbers, overwriting archived sermons with sermons recorded by other users. Please check your old sermons to determine if they have fallen victim to a sermon overwrite. It has since been rectified.

 

2. Time Stamp Error

The sermon time stamp would never save on the correct date. The problem was that the current time was always stamped on the uploaded recording from the app, but we used Time.now instead of the much more reliable Time.zone.now function. The fix has been implemented.

 

3. App Time Stamp Issue

The sermon list dates every sermon at April 17th, 2014. This should be resolved in the next release. The issue was that we had commented the code section that properly sets this value on the screen when we were commenting out the inline stats code. The date value was actually coming from the UI component defaults we had set.

 

4. “Who Has Listened” Count is off

Fixed. There was a bug in the query that would show the members ONLY if they had listened AND downloaded.

 

5. Secondary admin email for secretary

If it’s simply a matter of receiving weekly digest emails, this is no problem. In fact, we’ve added an Account BCC setting in your accounts page to allow you specify a comma-separated list of emails that will get a carbon copy of all account emails. Simply add extra recipients to that list.

 

6. Member List Export Function

Done, you can now export most member data on the members page in either XLS (Excel) or CSV format.

 

7. Automated Signup “Welcome” Email

You can now specify a subject/body for your welcome emails and they will be sent to the member whenever a member record is created (either manually added or newly subscribed)

 

8. “Notes” Section Formatting for Bullets & Outlines

Giving you the ability to add some formatting options to description and transcript is a great idea, which is why we added Markdown support to those fields to allow you to give them a little style. You’ll have to familiarize yourself a bit with Markdown, but its a pretty easy way to format things online: https://github.com/adam-p/markdown-here/wiki/Markdown-Cheatsheet

 

9. Default Group List

If a group is marked default, then the checkbox is checked on the subscribe page. This should solve the problem of people subscribing, but not selecting a list, and give you some more options for getting people into groups you *wish* they would subscribe to. This is done.

 

10. Control Your “greatest hits”

We’ve added a flag on the sermon edit screen to allow you to identify it as a greatest hit. Any item marked as a greatest hit will appear at the top with a secondary ordering of the original algorithm score.

 

11. When did my members subscribe?

We’ve added the date they subscribed (or were manually added), plus a relative time to quickly tell you how long they’ve been there.

 

12. Pick One App and Desktop Member Display

Added the number of members to the header of the members screen. Incidentally, also added the recording count to the recording list screen as well.

 

You might be thinking, “that’s only twelve.” You’re right. We’re still working on tweaking several features before releasing them and tracking down more. Building Ambassador is a constantly evolving process, one in which we’d like you to be involved in as a user. We hope, if you find yourself struggling with an app or interface issue, that you feel comfortable enough to email us with your issues or suggestions. We do read every email and add them to our list of growing features.

Barry has been secretly working on two big new features that will be dropping in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for more!

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drip-campaigns-in-your-ministry

The Benefits of Drip Campaigns in Church Ministry

An email drip campaign falls somewhere between friendly phone reminders and Chinese water drip torture. A drip campaign is a preset index of emails that roll out on a timed schedule to its recipients. How can your church employ one? Quite easily. As colleges and high schools turn to online education, your church can follow suit. Providing an enormous amount of information to your congregation through a small investment of your time that can be recycled again and again.

A Benefit to the Group

Online classes, Bible Study course work, pre-marriage lectures and visitor on-boarding can all benefit from these automated email lists. Subscribers would receive emails every week, or multiple times a week, with your audio lesson and attached materials. This would grant them the opportunity to study at their own pace and leisure, without constraining them to schedules or having to find a time when all group members could meet.

A Benefit to the Church

Imagine meeting a new member in your gathering space on Sunday. You greet them, whip out your phone and ask if you can send them some information on your church, and plug their name and email into the Ambassador’s App [or any email app ;) ]. They leave, and over the next week receive three emails from you. On Monday, it is a short thank you from yourself. On Wednesday, they receive your most popular sermon audio page and on Saturday, you invite them back to Sunday service. The thing is, you never wrote those emails. They fired automatically from your Ambassador account. Now, visitor Bill thinks you’re the most conscientious pastor in the world and becomes a member the next month.

A Benefit to You

You are busy. Here at Ambassador, we always try to remove friction and hurdles between you and doing the Lord’s work. Drip campaigns allow you to perform a task once and leverage it to apply to all. Record your eight lectures on the Book of John and create a bible study class people can join every month. They receive the instruction, while you never have to repeat yourself. Sermon drip campaigns allow you to meet the needs of your congregation without tying up your time in redundancies.

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why-to-record-your-sermon

3 Reasons to Create your Digital Sermon Archive

You don’t need this list. You know exactly why you should be creating a digital sermon archive. This post is meant to give you that little nudge you need to jump in whole-heartedly. We need your voice. Don’t be afraid.

Preserve the Spirit’s Influence

Christ speaks through all of us, but especially pastor’s. You won’t know who your words blossom in or whose spirit you’ve stoked. There are some many ways words strike us to the core and by not recording your sermons, those who you’ve just begun to bring toward Christ won’t have that powerful message to reconnect with. Let your message resonate with those who aren’t even present by allowing your words to live beyond the church parking lot.

Allow Yourself to be Shared

Social engagement is what being human is all about. We want to connect with others: over movies, bands, recipes and sports. We are always looking for ways to connect with others through sharing. Recording your sermons give them a digital life and allows them to be easily shared over the web and through email. Your older congregation can connect with them as well as your younger audience, as they’re capable of being shared over all mediums.

Create a Legacy

Many Pastor’s resonate with this point the most. Although most chide themselves for being egotistical, it’s not. We all wish to live on after our time through our works. Gilgamesh had his walls. C. S. Lewis had his books. Why can you not have your sermons? The human condition has not changed. After 2000 years, the Bible is still as prevalent today as it ever was. CD’s and cassettes collect dust in closets, take up physical space and require special devices to play. Digital files can be easily transported and stored cheaply online or on file storage devices. Give your sermons everlasting life by creating a digital archive.

You know what you need to do. We’re always here to help you accomplish your goal. Whether it’s simply recording your sermons for your own collection or recording to share with your congregation as an online ministry tool. Sermon recording doesn’t have to be expensive, time-consuming or take up resources.

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daily-devotional-tips

The Benefit of Recording & Sharing Daily Devotionals

As a pastor, your congregation looks to you not only for leadership, but inspiration. Seeing you and receiving guidance one day a week for a mere hour is simply not enough to influence the totality of their decision making and lead them on the path of straight and narrow. The constant bombardment of temptation from social media, peer pressure and advertisements. True, many of their decisions will come from who they surround themselves with, but having your calm voice to hear every morning or evening before going to work or out with friends can give them the strength they need to follow Christ when it really matters.

Recorded daily devotionals are prayerful, scholarly reflections on scripture passages or pieces of church doctrine that sheds light on meaning and church reasoning. Daily devotionals have a very niche audience and don’t appeal to an entire congregation. However, those that elect to receive and listen to daily devotionals are passionate about growing closer to Christ and gaining a greater understanding of their religion. These more intimate encounters between you and your members can be the spiritual nutrients many seek, yet do not find at Sunday service and will allow you to engage in the deeper theological discourse rarely found amongst a congregation. You might even pick up listeners from other ministries seeking such insight and not finding it at their own churches.

Recording daily devotionals will stoke your own spiritual fire, as it will force you to reference, research and revisit old material and learn new material. It allows you to practice your presentation style and new material on a smaller audience with less pressure. But above all, it is a way to foster a deeper spiritual connection with members.

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Monstrous ways to share your church 2014

3 quick and easy, overlooked ways to share your ministry online in 2014

The internet has made growing a ministry appear easy. In reality, the noise of everything online makes growing a ministry very daunting. Where do you begin? Facebook? Twitter? Blogs? There are a million and one ways to share your ministry with others, not all of them are effective though. We’ve isolated three ways to share you ministry online that are generally overlooked or not even thought about that have a high return on investment.

 

Link to your sermon in your email signature

Email signatures go mostly ignored. You might read someone’s the first time, ask yourself why they’re embedding so many social media icons, and forget it. By the third email, you don’t even look down there. But what about when you receive that first email or that chain of emails? You go snooping. Who is this? What’s their title? Sharing a link to your ambassador sermon can be an amazingly effective way to let your ministry trickle out across email conversations, cc’s and forwards. If you are emailing a large group of members, local church leaders or an international organization, just think of the impact one email can make with that sermon link included beneath your name and title. Your ministry can begin to touch people you’ve never met and will never meet. It almost makes you want to be more vocal in the next group discussion, doesn’t it?

 

Become a Guest Blogger

*If you’re a terrible writer, skip this

Many church blogs out there are run by people just like us; simple, hard-working individuals trying to improve ministries and spread the Good News. The people behind each article are kind-hearted Christians that write everyday and are constantly looking for great content for their website. Having a guest blogger step in allows them to save their article for another day and let them take a little break or get ahead on their writing. Whether you know it or not, you have something to share and teach others. Pick your favorite blog, reach out to your favorite author from that site, and ask if they accept guest bloggers. Write up several articles you feel fit their audience and ask your new friend if any would work. Have your author title link to your own blog or church website. Now, thousands of people will see your name and ministry and might just click the link to your website. You’ve essentially just reached thousands of individuals for several hours of work. :) Wasn’t that fun. Do it again! Become a regular guest blogger!

 

Start an iTunes Podcast

What is this 2007? No. Podcasting is making a comeback! Most churches will stop their online sharing after their audio is on their website and their video hits YouTube. Leveraging iTunes can be a huge boon to your ministry, as it can handle audio and video, allowing members to subscribe and auto-download your content. Beginning an iTunes channel is a lot like managing a bird feeder. Most of your traffic is going to be your own congregation, your birds. But then someone stumbles upon your channel by accident and immediately connects with it. You’ve got yourself a squirrel, a visitor you did not anticipate or tailor your sermon for, but they like it just the same. Pretty soon you have more squirrels showing up to get at your Sunday bird seed and they’re telling their friends. iTunes can be very hit or miss but it is a widely used channel with great support. Best part? It’s free!

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stripe-for-churches-recurring-donations

Quickly implement online donation collection with Stripe for churches

Stripe is a simple payment gateway plugin that can be customized to fit any cart process. Built for developers, Stripe is hands down the easiest payment processing system to deal with when it comes to accepting online and recurring church donations. Stripe’s friendly payment rules and extra forgiving features are a boon to any system. When many payment gateways charge for implementation, Stripe only competes in the payment processing charges, coming in at 2.9% + $.30 a successful charge and lowers its rates when you have higher tithe and donation processing. Online transactions are placed in your designated account every 7 days and there are no monthly fees for setup if you have a computer developer who can install Stripe. It even comes with customizable online donation forms.

Stripe’s forgiving features include; free transaction refunding, no setup fees, no monthly account fee and no fee for storing credit cards and sensitive information. Since Stripe is a Secure API, it automatically holds your account details and member card information on its own encrypted server. Meaning you merely need to setup an SSL for the website you wish to run the online donation and tithing form on and Stripe will handle all compliance issues.

Why doesn’t everyone use Stripe? There is a degree of computer development to setting up and managing a Stripe account. This includes installing an SSL on your current URL, which typically cost $100 a year. Your developer will also need to be able to format the online donation form to handle one-time donations and recurring tithes and funnel the money to the correct bank account?

We realize not every church has a developer and this is over most everyone in the office’s head. Therefore, we built RecurringDonations.com. It removes all the issues we just listed, allowing you to link to a secure, online donation form from your church’s website. Our form allows your members to select recurring tithe or just a one-time donation. You’ll be able to oversee and manage the form and the revenue stream, directing it to the bank account of your choice, refunding donations and better understand your church’s income from donations.

Your members also have their own login to their credit card details and recurring donations on a sub-profile of your church’s account, allowing them to increase or stop their donations at any time. This service is humbly priced and allows you to fluidly manage your funds and online donations.

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Recurring Donations on Church Kiosk

Accept Online Donations in-house through Donation Kiosks

The mezzanine of every church performs a variety of essential  functions for the congregation. From mid-service child playpen to after-service social hour, the gathering space is a place where friends gather to engage with friends and family over church. Few members enter and leave your church without first passing through this space. With such foot traffic, the employment of a donation or offering kiosk can be a huge boon to your church ministry.

What is a Donation Kiosk?

A donation kiosk is usually an iPad or tablet device secured to a lectern-esque stand for employ in a specific task. In our case, donating. To maximize the effectiveness of a donation kiosk, the tablet is set to a specific webpage/webform in which the user is intended to fill out. This stand is generally accompanied by an informative and attention-grabbing sign that will direct the user on how they are to interact with the kiosk.

The Benefit of Donation Kiosks

Members are forgetful when it comes to physically bringing in their tithe. Many modern families aren’t hauling around checkbooks or 10% of their paycheck in cash and between kids, vacation and holidays, handing over part of their paycheck gets lost in the mix. Ease the friction of remembering physical tithes, volunteer money counting and data miskeying by giving your members the ability to setup their own recurring monthly tithe over a secure network when it’s top of mind. Online tithing also allows you and your church finance manager to better estimate the weekly collection and plan spending accordingly.

Kiosks can perform a variety of functions when not employed in collecting tithes. The flexibility of the tablet and lectern means you can set it up to achieve whatever webform goal you wish. Have a new roof fund? Set the tablet to accept one-time donations or monthly donations through a service such as RecurringDonations.com, or allow members to signup to receive Ambassador sermons via email or SMS messages.

The tablet kiosk stands themselves are secure and lightweight, meaning you can take them on the road, to youth events and church events. Secure tablet enclosures prevent theft. You can see some here at Displays2Go (Not Affiliated) that can suite any gathering space or device. The flexibility of donation kiosks is a boon to any ministry, and as tablets become more and more affordable, the employ of such a device is within reach for every ministry.

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Stop making tithing a weekly struggle

Why automating recurring church donations gives everyone peace of mind

Imagine getting the kids out the door and corralling them into a church pew, only to realize you forgot your Sunday donation, again. Vacations, holidays and human error have caused you to miss  your monthly donation. Now, you’re thinking about next month and how stretched you’re going to be giving twice in one month. Adding further to your discomfort, you get the dreaded “falling behind” letter in the mailbox on Monday. When your pastor brings up a collection for the new roof fund the following Sunday, you’re in no way inclined to help out.  Missing a donation one month has soured your mood to donating, leaving you feeling drained of money and charity.

This is the story of thousands of church members every week, sitting in the pew, stressed about finances and missed donations when they should be rapt in your sermon’s message. Unfortunately, forgetfulness is not something that can be cured and this forgetfulness can effect your church’s monthly revenue stream and cause your church to miss payments on bills and commitments.  Enter, RecurringDonations.com.

Automating your congregations tithing is an easy fix for this issue that haunts all churches. Recurring Donations is essentially Stripe for Churches.  Recurring church donations and tithes are automatically drafted from your congregation’s bank accounts and deposited in your designated church bank account. The best part? You control the accounts, meaning your member will be able to call you and change their donation plan and amount any time, and you’ll be able to forecast your revenue stream for the month. Online tithing automation gives your congregation peace of mind as well as you and your financial manager. Remove the focus on money from your Sunday morning service and the burden from your congregation’s shoulders.

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Sermon Recording iPhone App