A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post on technologies demanding a new relationship be created between missionaries and their supporting Churches or prayer partners. The idea was that with the wealth of technology at our fingertips we have no excuse for a letter every one or two months being our only form of communication with those who are praying about or financially supporting our ministry.
I don’t think anyone would argue that technology doesn’t help missionaries communicate with their supporters. The problem is with so many websites, applications, and forms of communication software out there finding a tool to develop that close relationship can be incredibly hard. That’s why I wanted to share a few websites that have been useful in creating that relationship with friends back home.
1. Create a Blog: In my opinion having a blog or website is the most important thing a missionary could do to make sure prayer supporters, pastors, and friends can be updated on their ministry. A blog could be easily be created by going to a website like wordpress, all you have to do is create a name for it.
They are useful because it allows you to share stories, thoughts, prayer requests, praises, and updates that wouldn’t fit in the monthly prayer letter. Usually its a good idea to keep your letters to a page which doesn’t give much room for all the information you would like to share, and more importantly the things that supporters and loved ones back home would like to hear about.
Blogs can also be used to share a more personal side to your ministry…a place where you can share frustrations, setbacks, or urgent prayer requests with those who follow your updates. Seeing this more personal side of your ministry will help others know how to pray and encourage them to remember those specific needs in prayer.
2. Facebook: I must admit that until last year I didn’t care about Facebook at all but during 2011 realised that it is a vital tool for communicating with those who want to learn more about my ministry. For those of you who may not know about Facebook its a website where people can post updates about whats going on in their lives, as well as share pictures, and videos. For those in ministry its a great way of sharing short ministry updates, prayer requests, or praises during the week.
I usually try to post on Facebook once five days a week (sometimes a bit more, sometimes less) and share something that people back home can either pray about, or praise the Lord for. This website also allow us to share a story about how the Lord is working, or something funny or exciting that happened to our family. Sharing this personal side of our lives may seem unimportant but we must remember that those who support us with prayer and finances want to truly know whats going on in our lives.
Those who are interested in learning more about using Facebook to share our faith or encouraging others can read the book @sticky Jesus by Tami Helm and Toni Birdsong, an check their website stickyJesus.com
3. Twitter: Twitter and Facebook are very much alike but with Twitter your messages (or Tweets) are only 140 characters which includes letters, spaces, and punctuation. I actually prefer this to Facebook because Twitter makes it incredibly easy to send pictures to anyone who follows you (this is like Facebook friend but with the Twitter website).
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and for missionaries this is very true. its one thing to tell supporters that you had a great discipleship session with a friend that afternoon, but sending a picture of you and the friend along with that message gives it an added emphasis. Tweets can also direct people back to your blog where they can find stories, updates, or more pictures.
I use both of the websites together using Facebook to share an update (“loved working with my seventeen first and second graders today”) and then sending a picture of all those young people using Twitter.
4. MailChimp: The majority of prayer supporters today prefer receiving their prayer letter in an email format which makes it easier since you don’t have to fill and stamp dozens of envelopes. At the same time we do have a responsibility to send updates that could be printed out and shared on a Church missions board. Unfortunately its hard to create an email that has lots of colour, pictures, looks professional, and most importantly is easy to make!
That is where websites like Mail chimp come in, they provide templates (emails that already have all the cool colours and backgrounds) for your emails. That way you just have to type in the text, upload pictures (which is very easy by the way) and your done. This website helps me by sending 110 emails with one mouse click instead of sending the same email eight or nine to times to small groups of people like I used to do.
I also like Mail chimp because it allows you to read how many people opened your update, who they where, who clicked links, and even rates everyone in your list based upon how many emails they open. There is also a unsubscribe button at the bottom of every ministry update so people can get off your email list if they like.
Once you send each email it can also be shared on our Facebook page and through Twitter as well so your basically sharing the update on three social media sites at once! If Mail chimp isn’t right for you check out constant contact another good email service.
5. Smartphones: I realise that most missionaries like myself don’t have lots of money to spend on technology which is why the all the above tools are free. However there are some items that are worth the money because of the way they revolutionise your communication and a smartphone is one of them. There are a number of these on the market the best known being the iPhone from Apple and Samsung Galaxy which put the social media tools above and many others in the palm of your hand.
The beauty of having a smartphone is it allows you to send messages no matter where you are by pressing a few buttons. This is how most people use social media since its known that almost every Facebook update and Tweet doesn’t come from people sitting at their computers but a phone instead. These items are expensive but almost every mobile phone or cell phone carrier will allow you to upgrade to a new phone when signing a new contract (in Australia a contract lasts two years). So this means for a cost of around $30 a month I receive not only cell phone service but a top of the line phone as well.
6. iCloud/Cloud: One of the most amazing technologies that came out recently is the Cloud (for PC) or iCloud (for Mac) which allows you to send text messages to people anywhere in the world. Since I use an iPod touch for this I can only explain how Apple does it but am sure that Microsoft has a similar service.
The message service on the iPod allows me to send a message to my father in the US which will show up in his text message inbox, but instead of using phone lines it uses the iCloud (a online tool that takes the information and shares it with my dad). That way I send it as an email but it shows up in his phone as a text, and he can respond in real-time. Currently this can only be done with iPhones but it can probably be done with other phones as well, either way this technology means you can send a text to anyone in the world who has an iPhone as long as they have signed up for the cloud service.
I know that this is a lot of information and by no means expect every missionary to use each one of these tools in their communication with supporters. To be honest I myself don’t use each of these tools and will go days without sharing anything or writing a new post for the website. However its necessary that we understand how the tools of social media allows us to create close relationships with those who support us financially and remember our needs in prayer. My recommendation would be to take one of these six tools and begin using it once a week to connect with loved ones and friends back home, you would be amazed at what a difference it can make.