Helping the church understand the digital revolution

originally written for BP News

Being born in 1980, I've had the pleasant experience of being one of the oldest members of the rising generation. I am a true digital native, but had just enough years of life without the Internet to remember what life was like before it.

Of course, I also was teaching my elementary school teachers how to put the discs in CD-ROM trays, back when they first came out. I've hoped that my life and skills would be able to be used to help spread the Gospel through technology and help disciple the church in the new digital generation.

A while back I received a package in the mail -- a signed copy of "Viral" by author Leonard Sweet. In "Viral," Leonard Sweet manages to accurately describe, analyze and embrace the shift in our culture. Where as I simply know it as reality, Sweet manages to articulate the cultural and spiritual changes happening in America due to the digital revolution. Using the acronym of TGIF (standing for Twitter, Google, iPhone and Facebook), Sweet manages to summarize so many things I've wanted to say to the church, but never quite knew how. All this in right around 200 pages.

In 2010, B&H Publishing Group released "NetCasters," by Craig von Buseck. Von Buseck is ministries director of CBN.com, home of the Christian Broadcasting Network. In his book, von Buseck shares stories of people who are effectively and passionately using the Internet to spread the Gospel. From podcasting to creating movements like the Internet Evangelism Day, there are stories ripe for sharing about how people are using digital tools every day to share the Good News.

At a tech conference a few years back, I met Gabe Taviano. Gabe was experimenting with a group centered at DigitalDisciples.net -- a way for people to organize for study and discipleship both online and in real life through digital means. And for this group it wasn't only about education and bible study -- it was about true relationship and accountability. It was about embracing the connections that suddenly were possible due to the advent of digital tools.

In Sweet's "Viral," it becomes increasingly evident that the tools we use -- the medium we use -- shapes us just as much as the media does. Sweet talks about how culturally we have moved from thinking as a larger family unit in society to thinking as a smaller, individual unit. But that now, with our ever-connected lives, a new societal unit is forming: our network.

How intense is it that by being disconnected from those around us we are even more connected to those further from us?

Books like "Viral" and "NetCasters" are vital resources for the church. It's not that we "need" to embrace technology for the spreading of the Gospel -- it's that my generation simply doesn't understand a message that doesn't involve interaction through technology. For us, it's no longer a sit and listen, tune in and watch. We are in relationship with everything; we create, interact, and destroy things on a daily basis. And we are desperate to find Good News in all that we do.

The books are available to explain. The tools are there to be used. The message is ready to be shared.

Windows 8 could change desktop world

originally written for BP News

 

In the past few years, technology companies have moved to making big events out of product and feature announcements. Apple, Facebook, and Google all host major events -- often streamed online -- announcing new cool things. And most of the time, the never-before-seen products are "available today!" As such, it makes looking into the future of the technology and consumer electronics fields a bit of guesswork. If you have your finger on the pulse of what's going on you can make some educated guesses, but there is seldom an opportunity to look ahead and see what's really coming down the pike.

But 2012 is shaping up to be a bit different, as the major story of the year is already known: Microsoft will be releasing Windows 8. According to online stat tracking site Hitslink.com, in December 2011, 84.85 percent of all web traffic in the world came from a Windows Operating System (followed by 5.85 percent for Mac OSX and 4 percent for iOS#). No matter your preferred tech company of choice, when Microsoft introduces a new version of its operating system, we tech folk simply have to take note and see what the future holds for us in regards to what the common technology consumer will be using.

Microsoft is still holding many of the fine details about Windows 8 fairly secret, telling the story of the new features in a very controlled fashion. Last year Microsoft released a free developer preview of Windows 8, giving anyone who wanted one a chance to play with the new operating system. There is also a developer blog from Microsoft that has been trickling out information over time. So, is Windows 8 best for your church computers? Your home computers? Should you upgrade? Having gotten to play with the OS for a few months now, here are a few things you need to know about Windows 8 as you get ready for it:

1) Windows 8 is intentionally designed to be speedy and snappy. When I installed it on my five-year-old budget computer, I saw an amazing performance increase. What used to be a turn-on-the-computer-and-go-do-chores boot-up situation became a competition between Windows booting up and the monitor warming up. Literally, it would be at the sign-on screen before my monitor was ready to display it. You aren't going to have any problems running Windows 8.

2) If you want to experience the way the you will be interacting with Windows 8, give a Windows Phone or the XBOX 360 a trial run. Both are already using what Microsoft is calling the "Metro UI", consisting of constantly updated squares to launch apps and display information. It's as easy as it sounds. I've also installed Windows 8 on a tablet device, and the possibilities for this operating system to work smoothly on tablets is simply amazing. If Microsoft's hardware partners can get their tablets to a low enough price to compete with the iPad, it could be a very interesting holiday season this year.

3) Stop saying "software" and say hello to "apps." It appears that the aisle of boxed software in your local store may finally go away, as Microsoft will be pushing their Windows Marketplace. Just like Apple's App Store for Mac and iOS, developers will be able to use a digital store to distribute their apps to consumers. Simply click the button to buy, and it will start downloading.

4) Everything will be based on your Windows log-in. Just like if you sign in to Google Docs and all your settings are there, you will actually sign in to your Windows Live account when using Windows 8. You get to customize which settings carry over from device to device -- from simple things like display options and browser bookmarks to app settings and customizing your keyboard. In other words, if you want, every Windows 8 machine will be customized just the way you like it when you log in.

5) Microsoft is looking at all kinds of input supports. Of course there is the traditional mouse, keyboard and touch screen inputs, but there is a whole host of sensors that developers have access to for tablet devices. Microsoft recently talked about tablets being required to have an accelerometer, magnetometer and gyro sensor in the device. However, there will also be operating system level support for near-field communication devices, so you can do things like simply tap your credit card on the device to pay for things online. And, just this past week, there have been rumors of prototype devices with a Kinect sensor built in for voice control and body gestures.

Windows 8 is shaping up to be the big tech story of 2012. Of course, there may be plenty of announcements that Apple, Google, Facebook and the others are all holding on to, waiting for the right time to announce. No matter what, we've got a fun year of tech news and excitement ahead!

So, your church wants an app?

Originally written for BP News

Sometimes, the hardest part of any action is simply knowing where to start. Perhaps you've been thinking about branching out and having a mobile app developed for your church. It might be intimidating -- apps are the new, hot thing and you don't want to get it wrong. So let's look at a few options to get you started.

-- YouVersion.

If you've got a smart phone and a Bible is on it, more than likely you've played with YouVersion's Bible app. Having been installed on more than 30 million mobile devices, and completely free, YouVersion is the king of mobile Bible apps. And while you can't create your own YouVersion app, you can utilize it as a first step into the app world to see how your church responds.

YouVersion has a great feature called YouVersion Live. By visiting YouVersion.com, you can go to the Live Events section and create your own live event. With a growing feature set, you're able to create a basic order of worship and/or sermon outline for display within the app. There are some feedback options, too. By first experimenting with the app you can do research to find out how many people in your congregation are apt to use their phones for things related to your church before investing in a deeper tool.

More information about YouVersion is available at youversion.com.

-- The Roar App.

The Roar App is a customizable app that is cheap and easy to get up and started. The app basically pulls from your church's content, like blogs and podcasts, to create your mobile presence. Roar does not host your podcast or RSS feed, instead it simply pulls in the content you are already creating. With its cheap price and strong reliability, Roar is a great place to start for creating a church information and content app. More information about Roar is available at roarapp.com.

-- The Church App.

The Church App is very similar to the Roar App, but with the ability and options of much more customization. Though more expensive, the team at the Church App will work directly with you to fully integrate your church's online presence into the app. If you are looking for dedicated, long-term support and custom development for your app, the team at The Church App is the place to start. However, the more hands-on approach means that you need to be more dedicated to the success of your Church's own app as well.

More information about The Church App team is available at thechurchapp.org.

-- Completely Custom Development.

You want to be unique and different -- I understand. You've got a knack for design and want your app to be the next big thing. There's always the option of creating your own from the ground up. It's going to be the most expensive and most time-consuming -- but what's worth doing if it's not worth doing to the extreme, right? There are now services out there that can help connect you with a development team. A few of the more well known ones are:

-- elance.com

-- guru.com

-- freelancer.com

I don't recommend you start here if you've never done any kind of digital development before. It's a long and very detailed process; if you don't know what you're getting into it can be very discouraging. Of course, seeing your app icon in the store is totally worth it once it's released to the wild.

Enjoy the journey of creating your church's first mobile app.

3 amazing new tech innovations

Originally written for BP News

In October, the world subtly changed very dramatically for our children. It was subtle because there was no major news coverage, no pomp and no circumstance. It was dramatic in that our children's lives, children of the age 5 and under, will grow up in a world surrounded by what our ancestors could only have conceived of as being magic.

As generations come into our world, they are born into it with no real appreciation for what the world was like before their entrance to it. For you and me, it is likely inconceivable to think of a world not crawling with cars or without the ease of traveling overseas via planes. And yet, in the grand scale of time, those world-altering additions to our life are barely a blip on the planet's radar. The rising generation, now entering the workforce, have lived a life connected to and on display via the Internet.

But our children? They will grow up not just playing and interacting with what we see as technology-driven, inanimate objects. No, they will grow up with toys and entertainment that play back. Let's take a look at a few of the technological innovations released to consumers in October.

-- "Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures." Skylanders is more than just a video game available for all of the current game systems; it's a collection of toys and playsets that interact with the game. Typically in a video game, you save your character's progress via the console's hard drive or memory card. Skylanders does that, but takes it a step further; the game also saves your character's stats in the toy itself! This way, you can take the toy of your character over to a friend's house and play with that toy on their game system. The toy is no longer a piece of plastic that you surround with imagination during play; the toy keeps the time you've played together saved inside it.

-- "Cars 2 Appmates." There are sure to be cultural studies in the future about how growing up with touch screens and iPads have changed the way the newly born generation interacts with and even understands the world around them. (Have seen the YouTube video where the baby thinks a magazine is broken because the images don't change when she touches it?). But even today, available right now, there are toys that augment playtime with interactive apps. It used to be that a child would take a toy car and drive it around the edges of the couch or up the legs of a table. Now, your child can take a toy and just place it on an iPad to drive around a city.

Simply put the car on the iPad, push in on the sides, and your car is driving around town. The iPad becomes a playmat; if you drive the car up a ramp, the background pulls away to make it look like you just made a sweet jump. If you pull up next to another Cars character, they will talk to you. Today, this is new and amazing to us. To our children. they'll never remember a time when toys didn't just do that.

-- "Sesame Street TV" for Xbox Kinect. Sesame Street has always sought to engage children by asking them to count along or answer questions during the program. Up until now, Elmo never really knew if you counted correctly or got the answer right. But what if you got it wrong, and Elmo encouraged you and gave you hints on how to get it right? In October Microsoft announced that, through the Kinect (a device that tracks your body movements and responds to voice), they will be releasing a series of special interactive episodes of Sesame Street and "Nat Geo TV." Through the Xbox and Kinect, children will get to interact directly with Big Bird or the Cookie Monster as the Sesame Street TV show goes fully interactive. You will be able to talk back to the characters and even play games with the lovable characters. The key is that this isn't a "video game" with "computer graphics" -- this looks and is filmed just like a regular episode ... except now the characters can hear and respond to your child's voice and actions. Our children will grow up not understanding why some cartoons don't actually react and talk back to them.

Three major consumer releases, directed specifically for children, all released or announced in the month of October. Three releases that will fundamentally change the way that our children play with the world around them -- and they will never know that the world was different. We live in such a fast-paced, constantly changing culture that these kinds of technology innovations almost seem normal.

If all this happened in the past 30 days, what will next year bring to the newly born generation? And what will one of them invent 20 years from now, having grown up surrounded by this deep interactivity and connectedness? How will you react to the next, magical thing?

5 ways tablets will change church & ministry

Originially written for BP News

In September, Microsoft revealed the developer preview version of Windows 8 -- a milestone shift for the Windows platform as much of the improvements have been made to making the operating system optimized for a tablet experience.

The boot-up time is superb (from pressing the power button to using the system is almost as fast as turning my iPad on), there is a custom user interface that encourages touch, and Internet Explorer 10 intentionally strips out all plug-ins so that sites run faster and more secure. Microsoft is staking a claim to the future of the tablet space.

Of course, they aren't the only ones betting on handheld devices. Apple is currently king, with the vast majority of the tablet marketshare through the iPad. If you haven't used an iPad yet, it's well worth finding at your local Apple store. The device is built perfectly for media consumption, browsing the Internet and playing games. Unless your work depends upon a deep graphic design, video production, or office suite, the iPad may stand to be the best choice for your next computer.

Amazon's Kindle Fire -- which will be released in mid-November -- made a huge splash with an announced $199 price tag. And then there's Google, whose Honeycomb tablets are slowly trickling out. While they haven't made a giant dent in the market yet, the ability for device manufacturers to completely customize the operating system is going to be leading to some great experiences in the future. The next developer release of Android from Google aims to fix some of the development issues facing Android tablet apps, and pull together the experience of phone and tablet apps for better development times.

Microsoft used to have the goal of a computer on every desktop. Now the industry is racing to have a tablet in every pair of hands. Let's look at five ways tablets are going to be changing your church and ministry in the coming years.

1) Face to face conversations.

The iPad 2 ships with a front-facing camera, as do most Android tablets. The tablet is just the right size to fill the screen with a friend's head, and have them feel like they are there in the room with you. Now your missionaries will be able to easily call to their home church on a Sunday morning over WiFi and give an update on how things are going. Discipleship on the Internet can begin to be more real; in a face-to-face conversation you can tell if that person is paying attention or playing a game. Facial expressions will have meaning again, and not have to be driven down to little emoticons.

2) Easier access to text resources.

Missionaries can't afford to ship their entire library overseas, but they can bring along a slim device that carries $5,000 worth of commentaries downloaded on it. Was there some great text that influenced your theology when you were in college? It may be out of print, but -- now -- it might be readily accessible through one of the plethora of digital reader apps. When it's Saturday night and you're putting those final touches on the Sunday School lesson, you might not be able to head out to the church library for the commentary set you need. But, you might just be able to pull it up right away from your digital book collection. Tablets create such a better reading experience than either a phone or a computer screen; holding a tablet feels like holding a book. Tablets will be the natural method of reading for the rising generation.

3) Owning your church's app.

You just got done with you awesome new website, I know, but have you started on your app yet? As the operating system companies continue to look for competitive advantages over their competitors, we are going to have a new norm of cyclical change. Web browsers and online sites will catch up to the abilities of tablet apps (like we're seeing with HTML5), then tablets will improve and the flow will go back to apps being more advanced that browsers can hope to be, and so on. If your church doesn't have an app in the coming years that is constantly updated like your website, the rising culture (not just the rising generation) might feel disconnected. A website is your billboard for the church attendee; owning the app means that they are a part of something.

4) No more guest cards?

Windows 8 has announced support for NFC (near-field communication) and the Nexus S 4G (an Android device) is already out with it. NFC allows you to share basic information with other NFC-enabled devices, just by being close to them and tapping. Want to leave your personal information for the church to contact you? Just tap your phone on the church's information tablet in the back. Are you a member and want to tithe through your credit card? Just tap that, too.

5) Your pastor may not need an office.

That's what we do with our pastor at Mosaic Nashville. We've never rented office space for our pastor. Instead, he goes to different coffee shops each day to meet with different people and be a part of the local community. There are only four things that tie a pastor to an office: their computer (it's portable now via the tablet), their library (it's in the tablet), knowing where the pastor will be (now broadcast via twitter and Facebook), and privacy.

As tablets become more available in more flavors, there are going to be feature sets and price points that exactly match your ministry's needs. The goal of a computer on every desk will be quickly forgotten, just as the art of handwriting begins its exit as well. So ... have you picked up a tablet lately?

Attention techies & creatives

originally written for BP News

I'm not so good with my hands. I own a tool set, but the tools are scattered throughout the house and the case is hidden under our bed. Yes, I own a lawn mower -- but it's the electric kind because I don't care to have a gas can in my garage. I don't own any nails, that I know of. If I had to use a level, I'd get an app on my phone for that.

In other words, on missions trips where physical labor is involved -- like building a house -- I'm pretty much useless.

This past week I met with Cleve Persinger about an initiative he helped lead this summer: Creative Missions. If you're like me (and, well, you're reading this column, so I assume you might be), you'll be glad to know that Persinger has approached service-based missions in a unique way: gather a bunch of tech geeks, design creatives and communications specialists to volunteer to help teach churches how they can better communicate with their surrounding cultures.

This summer Persinger led a team to Albany, N.Y., and donated over 7,000 hours of teaching, training and optimizing the tech and communication teams at local churches in the Hudson Baptist Association. Like an Extreme Home Makeover, Church Communications Edition, the Creative Missions team built six websites, redesigned church logos and implemented sustainable solutions for nearly 20 churches to effectively communicate an ultimate message of God's never-ending love for each community where these churches are involved.

"We didn't want to give the church a fancy Ferrari that they'd have to spend time and money to upkeep," Persinger said. "Some churches had websites that hadn't been updated in, literally, years. Not because they they didn't want to, but because they didn't know how."

As creatives and techies, we take so many things for granted. Because of the "curse of knowledge" -- the idea that because we know something we assume everyone should -- we forget what it's like to not know what an FTP is or why someone couldn't figure out how to change just a bit of HTML. Or we argue over the benefits of Flash vs. Silverlight when so many pastors would be happy just change the basics on their site. We may not know how to lift a hammer, but there are so many ways we can help the church through the gifts the Lord has given us.

Persinger is the web and external communications strategist for The Chapel in Chicagoland (Chapel.org). Through Creative Missions, his goal is to help churches remove the barriers for outsiders looking in and help churches be effective communicators of the Gospel. "Image, sound reinforcement, video production and social media are all basics of American society," Persinger said, pleading, "In a media-driven world we need to be doing things first-rate.
"It's still and always will be all about Jesus and His people devoted to growing in their faith and reaching out to others, but if your church has some basic understanding of technology, if everything is done with excellence, your church's message will not be overlooked," he said. "Churches need to be relevant and stand out among the noise of the world."

Creatives and techies often are lost in the church. We have spent our lives studying complex theories of audio feedback loops. We cringe when the speakers squeal. We have won awards for our design projects, but have to settle for "clever" word art in Microsoft Word in creating our bulletins. We want to be involved; sometimes it's very hard to see how we can help our own local churches, let alone be effective with our talents on the mission field.

There is an art and a need for churches to have well-designed invite cards, relevant signage and audio cables plugged into their right spots. We also need to remember that when we work with churches, we're working with people who might be struggling with how to even turn on the equipment -- your pastor went to school for deep theological training, not to learn how to record a podcast. There are needs all around us where we can pitch in.

Sean Pierce of the Hudson Baptist Association complimented the work of Creative Missions, saying, "Thank God for Creative Missions. We've had dozens of teams but none were better or had bigger impact. Their servant heart and expertise was a huge blessing to pastors."

If you would like to learn more about Creative Missions, visit http://CreativeMissions.to

Making online Bible study more helpful

Originally written for BP News

Reading the Bible. It is a chance to learn the history of our faith, to discover the great mysteries of our Lord, and to read of the love that Christ lived for us. It is all these things, and yet it is so much more; it is a chance to commune with the Most High God.

In late June, LifeWay released the latest update to MyStudyBible.com which introduced more translations and, perhaps the key to a modern study of the Bible, more integrated content. There is an inherent problem with the way our rising generation learns and studies; we jump from link to link as we run through the Internet. As a culture we Google and train our brains to pick out what the most promising link is; we hit it, we scan the page, and decide in moments if this is the content we were looking for. Then, we hit the back button and search again.

A psychological test from 2001 is referenced by Nicholas Carr in his Internet-themed book "The Shallows," where two sets of readers were given the same story, but presented in different ways. One was presented straight forward and linearly, the other included links for more information throughout the text. The hypothesis was that the enriched text would create a better experience for the readers. But the study found something different:

"Hypertext readers again reported greater confusion following the text, and their comments about the story's plot and imagery were less detailed and less precise than those of the linear-text readers. With hypertext, the researchers concluded, 'the absorbed and personal mode of reading seems to be discouraged.' The readers' attention 'was directed toward the machinery of the hypertext and its functions rather than to the experience offered by the story.' The medium used to present the words obscured the meaning of the words."

The challenge is to find a way to enable the modern features and familiarity of the web to enhance biblical study, not distract or overpower. As a part of the leadership team for MyStudyBible.com, the question was asked: What if we take the need for data mining away, and let the discovery of relevant content happen naturally? What if, instead of jumping around the page to search and hitting the back button when you found the wrong thing, what if you always knew you found the right thing first?

It's not often that nine months after a project is released you can look back and think: That just might be right. Something may have been created here that is truly beneficial to the church.

At MyStudyBible.com, the default study space is divided into two sections: the main reading pane and the cross reference pane. In the main reading pane, a reader can travel through the biblical text at their own pace, reading verse-by-verse in a linear fashion. But on the right hand side, keeping constantly updated with what's being read, are a series of content tools that update to show additional content that references the reading location. So, if the user is on John 3:16, off to the side of the reading pane will be a deep list of content that can help further explain the verse. The user gets to preview the content before ever opening it. When something needs more explanation, a glance can show how much deeper all the content can go.

By presenting not just the biblical text, but also a targeted, intentional and ever-adapting next layer of content, digital study tools like MyStudyBible.com become an exercise in enriching, understanding and discovery. Learning is no longer about finding the right complementary text -- it's about understanding and approaching all of the relevant texts.

Of course, MyStudyBible.com isn't the only digital Bible out there that can be used for deeper study. Software companies like WORDsearch, Logos, and BibleWorks have been building different ways of presenting and interacting with biblical content for years. I would encourage you to give them all a try, as each service has its own styles, pluses and minuses. The key here is that there is a world of content out there, ready for deep experiences.

The Bible -- and oh-so-many things written to help understand it -- are literally a webpage and a keystroke away.

The video game industry is too big to ignore

Originally written for BP News

When talking about tech, there are a few events throughout the year that you simply cannot ignore. One of them is E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Each year, this convention hosts all of the major news and announcements in the video game industry, an industry that is now as large -- if not larger -- than the movie industry. In 2010, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" had the largest opening day with $72.7 million while "Call of Duty: Black Ops" broke $360 million in its first 24 hours.

As leaders in the church and culture we must be aware of the culture that surrounds us. We as the church are not the only influence in the lives of people; we are all regularly connected to new content, ideas and, in our fast-paced tech drive world, new technologies.

This year at E3, there were a number of new games and hardware announced to be released in the near future:

-- Playstation Vita. The successor to the Playstation Portable, this is the second portable gaming device by Sony and will launch with key titles like "Uncharted: Golden Abyss," "LittleBigPlanet," and "Little Deviants."

The device has an OLED screen and touch screens on both the front and back of the device, allowing users to play in what Sony calls "three dimension-like motion." Perhaps the most interesting feature is the system-wide integration of social connectivity. The device will have a service called "Near" that will notify game-players of other players that are nearby and share content between the gamers.

-- "El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron." El Shaddai is an action-adventure game releasing in July, and it is one of the few games to tackle Christian mythology in a video game setting. Derived from the apocryphal book of Enoch, this game's plot revolves around seven fallen angels who have taken command of the Tower of Babel.

-- "Kinect Disneyland." Microsoft has announced a new virtual experience in Kinect Disneyland, available this fall for the Xbox 360 and Kinect. In this game the entire layout of Disneyland has been recreated where kids can walk through the streets and virtually hug their favorite characters. In place of the rides, you get to go on an interactive game inspired by the ride, such as flying with Peter Pan.

-- Wii U: Nintendo announced a new gaming system for release in 2012. The follow-up to the Wii, which has sold more than 80 million systems worldwide, this system will introduce HD graphics and a new controller. The new, 6.2 inch touch screen will be used to both enhance games played on the TV as well as enable the playing of games without the TV being on.

According to a recent release from Aggregame.com, there were more than 500 million videos games sold worldwide. Clearly, video games are having an unprecedented cultural impact unlike any they have had before. But there is a giant void in the games, which for the most part lack messages of hope or family friendly values or ones that -- in any way, shape or form -- point towards the Gospel. While there are Christian messages being found in books and movies, there are very few game development studios looking to actively create content for modern gaming systems.

Every year, I hope that at E3 some stellar new game will be revealed with at least Christian undertones. I hope for even a mediocre game, but nothing is announced. We have web developers, artists, film producers and authors all spreading the Gospel through their chosen fields; how dominant of an entertainment force must the video game industry be until there is a place for games with a faith-based message readily available and on par with the blockbuster titles that come out each week?

5 tips for using on-screen lyrics in church

Originally written for BP News

You are the unsung hero of Sunday Morning worship. You have no voice, no one sees your face, and there is no training program to help you refine your skills. You simply go with your gut: You are the person who puts the lyrics on the screen.

Knowing what words to sing during a song used to be a very personal thing, flipping the pages through your Baptist Hymnal. The worship leader would tell you what song number to turn to, and you'd see the words and notes -- even the bass line. But now we have software like MediaShout and ProPresenter, allowing volunteers the chance to help lead worship through visual elements and textual display of the verses.

Just like playing a guitar or even preaching a sermon, there is no "right" way to present the lyrics on any given Sunday. And yet, people are always opinionated and what seems like a mundane job can either help people freely express their worship to God or, unfortunately, cause them distractions. Here are five quick tips for a better visual experience.

1. Read the lyrics out before the service. More than likely, the lyrics in your song database are perfect. There are no typos, no mistakes, and your worship leader always sings the words as they were originally written. But, just to be on the safe side, take a few minutes before the congregation arrives and read through all of the lyric slides. You would be surprised how a word might sneak its way into your lyrics slide here and there, or the lyric "sit with you a while" can become "sit you with a whale."

2. Justify or center? Your choice. Within the confines of a song, all of your lyrics slides should have the same layout. It doesn't matter if they are justified left, centered, or right -- just be consistent. You should also check to see if there is an image or video that will be looping behind the lyrics. The background image can give you a clue how to position the text. If the image is a close up of a candle, and the candle takes up most of the bottom left corner, it might be visually appealing to make the text justified right.

3. When do you change the slide?

This is probably the most debated issue with presenting lyrics: When do you change them? Philosophically, there are two ideas:

The first is that you should change to the next slide only after all the lyrics currently on screen have been sung. This way, the congregation is not distracted by what's coming next but can, instead, contemplate upon what they just sang. The other is that the lyrics should be changed on the last word or two of the currently displayed lyrics. This way, the congregation knows what to sing next.

In my opinion, both philosophies are permissible, so long as you do two things. The first is to be consistent. People will adapt to however you present the lyrics, but you must choose one way or another. Otherwise, they will get frustrated by not knowing when to look at the screen. The second is, if at all possible, make the change on the beat. Music is about the anticipation of change; if you are able to make the change with the music, everyone will be more comfortable as your change becomes a part of the worship experience instead simply a mechanical display of text.

4. Remember that you are helping lead people in worship.

Perhaps more so than anyone on stage or anyone else in the tech booth, you are the one enabling people to understand the worship that is taking place. Even if they may not be singing along, they might be reading the words. Even if they know the words by heart, seeing them on screen, at that moment, might trigger in them a deeper understanding of God's truths. Presenting the words of worship on a screen is never, ever a duty: It is an honor.

5. Know how to edit on the fly.

The lyrics are on the screen, when someone looks up to the tech booth and scowls. You didn't read the lyrics beforehand, did you? There's a "whale" on the screen, isn't there? Did you know that most presentation programs now allow you to edit on the fly? Try it someday, before a service, and see how quickly you can make a quick edit. There will come a day when you will need to make that quick change from a mistake that's been typed in, and you'll be glad you knew how. And then, next week, you'll make sure you read those lyrics out loud before the service starts.

Marketplace competitors, united with one goal

Originally written for BP News

The development of language, writing and our interaction with it is a fascinating study. Whether the culture is moving from oral histories to tablets, scrolls to books, or placing, for the first time, spaces between words, the impact that language has upon a culture is undeniable.

If there is any truth to Benjamin Lee Whorf's suggestion that "Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about," and we introduce Marshall McLuhan's famous phrase the medium is the message, how do we as humanity in the 2000s discourse upon the medium, the message and the very language itself?

If these elements are so core to our understanding, the building of ourselves and our culture, how do we relate them to the most important
message: the Good News of Jesus Christ?

In March Logos Bible Software hosted the fourth annual BibleTech conference. First, I have to thank Logos Bible Software for being so boldly Kingdom focused. Every year Logos invites their competitors and partners in ministry to share stories, secrets and what they've learned with each other. It is so exciting to be a part of a community of believers who have the freedom not to worry about how our products might compete against each other, but instead, how we can all learn to better support the Kingdom through sharing of knowledge and technology. Many thanks to Logos for making this yearly event happen.

This year's BibleTech was host to around 150 attendees and more than a dozen makers of Bible software -- from mobile software specialists Olive Tree, to veterans like WORDSearch, to companies just entering the game with specialized tools, like LifeWay's MyStudyBible.com (full disclosure: I am a part of the MyStudyBible.com team). Of course, the largest presence was from Logos officials, who openly discussed their experiences and what they're working on to make an even deeper study experience.

A few of the highlights from this year's BibleTech included:

-- Neil Rees from the British & Foreign Bible Society challenging the gathered technologists to find a better way to build digital Bible tools for the deaf using various sign languages. The room was admittedly humbled as we all learned the challenges present in the sign languages and were encouraged to find that there are ways to do it better ... if the church and digital experts are willing to invest in the resources to do so. You can read a deeper review here:
http://churchcrunch.com/bibletech-the-challenge-of-sign-languages/

-- Stephen Smith from Zondervan presenting a stunning data set, giving insight into how people search on BibleGateway.com. Smith's analysis was incredibly compelling, diving into the most popular verses and search terms -- information that is the digital equivalent of gold.

-- Tiffany Chase of Project Ebenezer introducing us to her concept of theology training through a TED-like model of scholars presenting short, understandable video segments tackling core topics of our faith. Project Ebenezer aims to be a place for all denominations to have a conversation and can be visited at http://www.projectebenezer.com/.

-- Eli Evans of Logos basically stealing the show with his presentation on "A Life in the Clouds," paving the way for the future of Logos Bible Software. After walking through the struggles and designs that Logos went through to start moving their tools and resources to an online environment, Evans introduced us to ProclaimOnline.com, a church presentation software running off the Internet.

It's safe to say that simply because technology is changing, the way we study the Bible and ingest learning is changing, too. Few will ever recognize the power and majesty and honor of unrolling a scroll to read the Torah; instead, our children will grow up touching a screen to jump between Hulu and their favorite Bible study tools.

So long as we have this continued sense of unity, that we as marketplace competitors can come together and share in the mission of spreading the Gospel and sharing the Good News as partners in ministry, it will be oh so exciting to see what new tools and experiences arise. Never before have the possibilities and tools for understanding, communicating and simply reading the Word been so limitless.

For such a time as this we were born; let us study with the riches around us and share these tools with the nations however we can.

In this realm, youth can lead

originally written for BP News

With the announcement of the iPad 2, Steve Jobs gave some very clear statistics that herald our move into the post-PC world: more than 200 million iTunes Store accounts, 15 millions iPads sold in 10 months, and more than 65,000 apps available. These are touch points for just one company; it doesn't include all sorts of gadgets and applications that are coming out from Google, Microsoft and the hundreds of companies we've never heard of from other countries.

The speed of technology adoption is moving faster than we can comprehend; it's moving so fast that we're not even seeing it even though we're a part of it. Amazon recently announced that they are selling more Kindle books than paperback books; before the end of the year we can likely expect them to announce that they are selling more Kindle books than physical books total. 

Features are being added to devices at an incomprehensible rate. Do you remember your first cell phone? Children under the age of 5 likely won't remember their first video call on a cell phone. They won't remember using devices that didn't have 3D screens. They won't remember using screens they couldn't touch.

continue reading at BP News

But here's the good news: we, as the church, are not being left behind. We are at the forefront of the digital revolution, and we are creating new technologies and finding ways to help the Gospel reach the world like it never has before.

Some key stats you might be interested in: 

-- NIV Bible BibleReader by OliveTree was in the Top 5 iOS grossing apps as listed by Apple for much of 2010.

-- TheNextWeb.com, a leading tech blog, covered the YouVersion app in November 2010 when they saw it had crossed 10 million downloads in 2 years and growing at a rate of 1 million users a month.

-- Churches are growing rapidly on Facebook, with large churches ranging from 10,000 likes to nearly 70,000.

-- Social media uses have ranged from simple prayer requests to spreading the word of Christians being tortured and abused in closed countries for their faith.

Here is the beauty of technological advances: they provide us with the perfect means to disciple and love on the rising generation of believers and disciples in our churches. If you are reading this, by the very fact of its origin, you are unlikely to be a teenager. And yet, they are the natives that can help us navigate the technological shift we find ourselves in. Not because they know more about it than we do, but because they don't know anything else. This world of tech that moves faster than we can discover is all they know -- it is their life.

We grew up on clipart; the rising generation has grown up with Adobe Photoshop on their computers. We grew up with VHS tapes; the rising generation has been posting videos to YouTube from their cell phone since they were 13. We grew up hiding our sins and secrets; the rising generation has been posting them on Facebook and other websites for all to see.

So when we need the new design for our church website, where do we turn? When you needed to set up a Twitter account for your church announcements, who did you ask? When you couldn't get the download to work for your small group, what did you do?

The rising generation is desperate for a calling. They need to know that life is about more than just change and the newest gadget. They need to know they have a place in our church, or they will leave. Can we be so bold as to ask the rising generation to teach us their ways? To let them lead? And, in doing so, in those times when we ask them the seemingly trivial questions of why did you choose that color, what software is best for this, perhaps we can stop and teach them the value of prayer, share a verse we've memorized -- and why we memorize things instead of just Googling them -- and take a moment to ask how their day was.