All posts by Kalen

record-your-sermons-for-free

How to record your sermons on the cheap, without expensive equipment or sound technician

Many church planters and missionaries call and email the Ambassador team, asking us how best to record their sermons on the cheap. Many of these small churches don’t have the capital to purchase expensive equipment, or a have a sound technician in their congregation. But, recording a sermon is not difficult. Below, we’re going to discuss several ways to record a crisp, clean sermon, using low-budget methods and free software. Once you read several of these methods, I’m positive you’ll be able to employ one at your church.

Laptop Recording

Recording via  a laptop is probably the easiest method, as most recordings will have a degree of feedback and mic hiss. First, you’ll need to download Audacity. Audacity is a free audio editing software. This is the program you’ll use to record your audio on. Recording with your laptop will require you to plug an audio feed into your laptop’s microphone port (Apple headphone ports double as mic ports). I use this method at my own church. Many churches are outfitted with a sound booth or sound system. This is where the audio feed must come from. This will eradicate echoes and give you the cleanest audio.

Steps for recording:

Open Audacity on your laptop. Plug in audio feed cable. Press record in Audacity.

That’s it! Audacity will record until you hit stop. You’ll then be able to edit the audio, remove feedback and you can even add intro/outro music. You can then share your audio through any sermon sharing program or iTunes channel you wish. We recommend Ambassador, of course.

Here’s a video of removing noise from a sermon via Audacity.

Mobile Recording

One thing you’re almost guaranteed to have on you at all times is a cell phone. Most cell phones these days have fantastic microphones on them. You’re able to use your cellphone to record your sermons two ways, either raw or mic’ed up. Mobile phone recording can be used most successfully in small churches, where a microphone and sound system is not in use. The issue with most mobile microphones is that they’re set to pick up every little noise, so coughing, crying babies and echoes constantly plague these recordings when the phone is set right on the ambo. It also looks rather cheesy if you start pacing the stage with your phone to your mouth. The best way to record from your phone is to employ a lavalier microphone, and jack it into your phone’s headphone port for direct voice recording. A lavalier mic clips on to your lapel or collar and allows you to keep the phone in your pocket. If you’re using the Ambassador App to record, you can share to your email list and social media right from your phone when you’re done recording. If you’re not, you’ll have to email the MP3 file from your phone to your computer and upload it from there.

If you wish to use a digital recorder, the process is essentially the same.  Use a lavalier mic and keep the recorder in your pocket. Do not press record until you’re about to speak. Leaving it on for 10 minutes before you go on will just cause you a headache later as you’ll have to go in and delete the dead recording time. Be careful when purchasing a lavalier microphone for your iPhone as it does not take the same plugin as most headphone ports and requires an  iPhone-compatible 3.5 mm TRRS plug. A converter will be needed to make such a generic microphone work via the iPhone headphone port accept sound.

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Millenials want a custom church experience

Young Adults want a Tailored and Personalized Church Experience

When looking out upon a sea of faces, you can see the individual souls behind each pair of eyes; the ones with bright eyes and smiles, the one’s with closed eyes and moving lips, the ones with sullen expressions and crossed arms. Each one has endured another week full of experiences that has delivered him or her to your church for another Sunday. Perhaps it was a week of strength, or a week of fragility. Maybe it was all they could do to drag themselves to your service with a hangover.

When you give your sermon, who do you speak to? Who do you encourage? Do you cast a wide net and aim for the middle ground of religious knowledge or preach narrowly, speaking of ideals only Bible scholars understand? If we’re being honest, I think we’d all preach to the middle of religious knowledge, and attempt to make our message fit every man and woman. That’s the safe delivery, isn’t it? That’s the most effective reach for our hour or two on the stage, right? Talk to the middle, nothing too high brow, nothing too elementary school with a message for all. This is a livelihood after all. If someone wants to gain more, they can join us for Bible study or youth group.

As I look out over the gathered congregation, I see less and less young people. Those I know to be devout Christians disappear from services until they consider marriage or have children. They are not going to other churches, nor looking for answers in other religions. They are simply checking out. So, I looked for the hole in the Church’s marketing. Where was this gap that the young adults were falling through?

The hole is customization. Church is a business. If you don’t have revenue coming in, you go broke and close down. If your CEO isn’t working out, you fire him. The only thing that separates us from a consumer business is our end goal. So, how do big businesses successfully market to 18 – 30 year olds. Nike iD, Scion Cars, Apple iPods all leverage the ability to customize their product. Every innovative product that comes out now has a feature that allows the consumer to customize the color, feature-sets or inscriptions. These marketers have learned that in order to sell to the younger generation, you have to allow them to make a personal connection with the product and add their own bit of flair. If you look at your church today, what single young people do you see at service? The ones in the church band, the choir, youth group. It’s the young adults that have found a place in the church to make their mark or make a personal connection that return week after week.

I attend church, not because I connect with every message, but because I know my pastor. I know him personally as a great man and as a friend. We smoke cigars together (It’s astounding how many pastors smoke cigars. I love it.) But my religious experience at my church has been “customized”. I am able to speak to him about my own personal problems and make religion my own because I have an authority that I can connect with and seek personal, specific advice from. I was able to personally connect and identify with the church. Yes, his sermons hit the middle every Sunday, but I know if I have a specific problem, he’s my guy.

Meeting my pastor had a huge effect on my willingness to attend service every Sunday. I know he’ll remember seeing my face. I know if I’m struggling and missing service he’ll hold me accountable. As a pastor, connect with your young adults for a one-on-one sit down, or just speak with them over coffee in the gathering space. There are two reasons for this. One, it automatically makes the member more comfortable with you and allows a personal bond to start growing. Secondly, many churches have visitor greeters who are too advanced in years or their relationship with Christ to effectively make a solid relationship. As a pastor, you are truly the best one suited to reading a new person and meeting them at the level they need to be addressed at.

What happens when customers have a great experience? They become repeat customers and better yet, tell their friends all about it. I know we’re all busy. But it doesn’t have to be a long sit down. It doesn’t even have to be an en masse attack on meeting everyone. Just begin to do it. Like that young man or woman you see every week and haven’t met yet.

You won’t be able to tailor every message for them, but if you can give them a custom, personal experience and begin to develop that personal bond, you can retain your young adult members. Getting them in the door? That’s a whole other story.

- with love, The Ambassador

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4 Reason You should be Sharing your Sermons on Social Media

Creating Engagement
Social media is just for that, being social. When you share your sermon audio over social media, it allows your congregation to share and discuss your sermon with each other and their friends. You know everyone can be at different places in their spiritual journey and an open discussion allows for the sharing of interpretations and ideas. This discussion allows your message to spread across social media, as well as gives you great insight into how your delivery methods alter your audience’s reception of it.

The Youth
Let’s face it. Everyone lives online these days, especially the you. Social media sites are the digital gathering places for young christians. For Jesus to stay relative in their lives, they need to hear your message in an engaging way, not just as a lecture on Sunday. Your constant presence on social media and sharing of your message allows you the opportunity to enter into discourse with them and guide them spiritually, either personally or in a group. Your voice is needed in the places where vice is a mouse click away.

Visitor Discovery
The first thing someone looking for a new church is going to do is ask their friend where they go. The second? Online research. We trust search for everything, from where to eat, to where we should invest. Your social media page serves as a review site, a social proofing network and an appetizer of your messages. If these visitors are able to find not only your touching messages, but also a thriving community of followers, they’ll know this is the place for them and Christ leads your church.

For Yourself
With the constant changes in technology and online ministry, one thing that never changes is Christ and His love. Your voice is needed in the void. But don’t just think of it as another task. Keeping abreast with social media will allow you more evangelism opportunities and keep you young. Social media is where the latest tech trends and social happenings are discussed and shared. Living within the social media sphere is vital to the future success of an online ministry in this digital world.

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feature

The journey from FileThrust to The Ambassador App

from-filethrust-to-ambassador

Let’s take it back to 2013. Two years seems so far away when I think about it in terms of our journey to arrive at the Ambassador App. Early 2013 I began discussions with a workmate about getting into some trouble on a blogger application that would allow for files to be shared via a sidebar widget and accept payments. This was before GumRoad exploded onto the scene. From our walks around the block at our local design shop, FileThrust was born over lunch breaks and after-work get togethers. It didn’t take long before my co-worker, barry, and I were elbows deep in scope creep, looking into several features we thought were being done poorly by other services. As we continued down a DropBox-esque plugin, Google Drive finally launched and GumRoad erupted during the same month, effectively crushing our tiny, unpolished sidebar widget.

With several months of web hosting left to our account and half the work on a file sharing database sitting on a server, we killed FileThrust and began to brainstorm a pivot. Barry had several other web ventures out at the time that he had worked on with another designer and I was just entering the growth hacker/bootstrapping community, so we looked for a niche that was removed from Barry’s current web companies and a market we were both familiar with.

The Birth of Ambassador

They say startups are born out of problems that need solving and Ambassador was no exception. As Barry was the sound booth man for his local church, he was spending five hours every Sunday recording, editing and sharing his pastor’s Sunday sermon. Somewhere between splicing in fife music and cutting out coughing fits, he struck upon the idea of a simple sermon sharing for small churches and church-planters. After about a month of stagnant lunches, we were both happy to finally have a direction to work in. The next day we began researching companies and writing up a wish list for the application. With our own version of what we wanted the app to accomplish, Barry sat down with his pastor to discuss online ministry pain points and areas of friction. His pastor, a fantastic orator and church leader, suggested several great ideas that we added to our MVP feature list. We implemented a rough version of the sermon sharing and analytics web app after several months and immediately sold our respective pastors on the product.

Barry ran his church’s Ambassador account and I ran my churches. With our pastor’s input we grew the app from basic functionality to church visitor on-boarding, new member reporting, social media sharing and we began to enhance our native mobile app for at-the-pulpit sharing. During this time, we made instructional YouTube videos, reached out to interested pastors via a beta list signup on our website and guest-posted on any church tech blog that would take us.

This month we exited beta, implementing an automated sign-up process to handle on-boarding and adopting Kissmetrics free month, no credit card required signup. Ambassador has officially launched! There are still some rough edges, but if you launch a product you love you’ve waited too long to launch. We’re continuously pursuing and building tools that will help pastors grow their online ministries. If your own pastor is looking for an online ministry tool, consider Ambassador.

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Sermon Analytics: Track your sermon shares and listens

Picture this, you buy a Ferrari, take it for a spin and park it in your garage. You never drive it again, you just let it sit there. Sounds ridiculous right?

The average pastor will devote 10 – 20 hours a week on their sermons and then park them on their website. It is shared with no one, except perhaps the ten members who use the iTunes RSS (seriously… iTunes?). Sharing it is not encouraged, there is no method to encourage sharing and if it was shared, you’d never know. Does anyone even listen to your podcast? People may subscribe, but do they open it?

Enter Ambassador. Ambassador is a sermon analytics app that lives online and tracks listens, shares and duration of play. Ambassador is not the cumbersome, time-consuming podcast software you’re used to. We’re the sermon sharing app you’ve been waiting for. Quit putting your sermons online and letting them collect dust. Get them out into the world as a resource for your community. Track whose sharing with whom. Now, we’re all busy and we all forget sometimes. That’s why we’ve included a reminder feature. Reminders email your subscribers when there is a sermon available, then again days later if the sermon remains unopened.

Why is this important? Just like blog posts and youtube videos, you have an audience that is coming to hear your message every Sunday. And, just like those online communities, your listeners are at different stages of understanding. Ambassador allows you to understand your audience, their likes and dislikes. Is sermon turning someone off? Is a certain subject popular? Why did a specific sermon garner thousands of listens, when your other fifty were only in the hundreds? Ambassador gives you insights into your congregation that you’ve never had before.

For more info, visit AmbassadorApp.com

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go-among-the-people

Providing sermons on your website is not enough!

I remember listening to our pastor from Texas on cassette, on car rides, when I was five. Pastors have been recording their sermons for over two decades. From cassette, to CD, to podcast, the format is irrelevant. What is relevant, is how you reach your audience. It is easier than ever to reach your audience, but few pastors do. Your congregation wants you in their lives. They friend you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter and donate their money to keep a roof over your head. Posting a sermon to your website is not good enough. Your congregation deserves more from you and you deserve more for your hard work. Posting a sermon can be frustrating and take time and if you’re not changing lives with it, where’s the value?

Posting a sermon to the sidebar of your website is like buying a Ferrari and never taking it out of the garage.

SHARE! You need to be sharing your sermons. Develop email lists of those who want to get them in their inbox. Use social media to get your message in front of the youth. This will not only foster growth, but allow them to easily share your message. You’ve put your life into spreading the good news. Don’t let your talent waste away on your webpage. We’re slowly becoming a society that needs to be interrupted. We’ve been trained that great, shareable content will be delivered to us via our friends or the news. Be that friend. Share your sermons.

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payment-gateways

3 payment gateways for accepting digital donations

Donations are the lifeblood of the church, but we all forget every now and then. Payment plans can be setup through contracts, but what about guest donations? What about on-site charity donations that go to a separate account. Not everyone has their checkbook on them at all times and sometimes on-the-spot decisions can vanish once someone leaves thechurch. Digital payment gateways can solve your paper money issues.

Stripe

stripe

If you’re looking for a highly customizable payment system, Stripe is just right for you. You’ll need to be quite code-savvy, but Stripe is the most customizable payment gateway out there. You write it yourself, plug it into most application and all CMS setups. Plus, it’s price is competitive. 2.9% + 30 cents per successful charge. No setup fees, no monthly fees, no card storage fees, no hidden costs: you only get charged when you earn money. Be warned, their is no hand-holding, you have to write the code, the styles and the usage. This is a payment gateway for web developers, butone of the best.

 

Authorize.net

authorize

You’ve probably heard of Authorize.net. It’s a widely popular payment gateway andhas hundreds of reseller companies. Authorize provides exactly what you’d expect; a merchant service to accept online payments. It is nothing fancy and has a high setup cost ($99), but it has a large customer service network and is very easy to implement if you are not web-savvy. Simply copy/paste in one of their “Buy Now” or “Purchase” buttons.

 

Square

square

The mobile device system is a payment gateway contained in an application with a dongle for your smart phone or tablet. The dongle allows you to swipe a card in person or accept cash and enter it in. If you’re hosting a large event, ushers with Square may be more reliable than your standard baskets. This mobile merchant is simple and easy to implement. Plug and go after your initial setup. The price is competitive at 2.75% or $275/mo. A lot of companies are now coming out with copycat systems, so check with your bank to see if they offer a similar service.

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stake-your-claim

Four places to claim your Church’s location

There are a host of location based apps and websites where you can gain great presence and raise your search placement. These vibrant communities are always growing and making yourself known can only help to further your online ministry.

Google Local (Formerly Google Places)

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You’ve probably already done this, but it bears repeating since it is instrumental in checking off completion of your Google+ Business page. If you haven’t claimed your address on Google Local, formerly Google Places, then do so. It will help bring your church out of anonymity when people search for it, providing them with directions and a street view, instead of forcing them to search out your address on your website.

FourSquare

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Foursquare is almost the original social media gamification app. It is no instrumental to your growth, however your church probably is already listed in their database. Users of foursquare “check-in” at certain addresses, competing to have the most check-ins and become the locations “mayor”. This is popular among a lot of Twitter users and can help you capture a younger audiences attention.

Yelp

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You’ve probably used their service without realizing it, or you use it frequently because you know how helpful it can be. Yelp is a nation-wide review website. People leave reviews of restaurants, businesses and yes, even churches. Encourage members to leave recommendations. Positive reviews can lead to new member attendance.

Findery

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Findery is rather new and is built around telling stories about places. Nation-wide, it’s laid out like Google Maps and allows people to leave notes across the nation for others to add to, creating a digital scrapbook. Being fairly new, it has little traffic and it is yet to be seen if this startup can gain traction with users. However, jumping on it now may lead to newer members later, when you’re the only church who is on the new platform.

 

 

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