Tech Grants to Fund Digital Ministry for Local Congregations

10/20/2020

Rev. Scott Brown preaches to an online congregation at Douglasville First UMC.

By Rev. Blair Zant

Pray. Plan. Pivot. Persist. This is the 2020 Strategy. And we’ve come to love/hate it. For months now, churches, ministries, and leaders across our North Georgia United Methodist Connection have demonstrated courage and creativity as they’ve made tough choices, let go of best-laid plans, and adapted important faith and contextual traditions to socially distanced, digital landscapes. And we’ve learned. A lot. As much about the resiliency of our communities as we have the best streaming platforms to use given their broadband connection speed. Ah, the things seminary didn’t prepare us for.

This kind of pivot requires significant investment: of time, talent, skill acquisition, and of course money. To assist churches in this work, the Center for Congregational Excellence and the NGUMC Congregational Development Board wish to announce the approval of 25 grants, valued at up to $2,500 each, for North Georgia United Methodist churches trying to pioneer and expand digital expressions of ministry for long-term impact and disciple-making.

Tech Grants

Having now had months of experience experimenting, researching, and prototyping digital expressions of ministry, you may recognize a need that could be filled with a North Georgia Conference tech grant. If you are interested in applying for Technology Grant 2.0, please read through the following criteria, information, and instructions:

WHO CAN APPLY
  • Any North Georgia United Methodist Church who did not receive a similar grant in Spring 2020
Other qualifications:
  • Churches who have demonstrated a good faith effort in paying 2020 apportionments
  • Churches pastored by full-time or part-time ordained clergy, commissioned clergy, or licensed local pastors. Please note, licensed local pastors must be current on their Course of Study requirements. This information can be confirmed with the District Office or the Conference’s Center for Clergy Excellence.
APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS
  • Applicants must complete and submit a digital application by deadline. Applications will be read and approved by a subcommittee from the Conference Congregational Development Board. Applicant will be notified of application status within 60 days of submission. If approved, funds dispersed to the requesting church within 30 days.
  • Application must list both a pastor and a lay member of the church, one as applicant, one as advocate.
  • Applicants should be prepared to list the key metrics they use or will use to measure ministry impact.
  • First Application Deadline is Nov. 15, 2020.
  • If applicable, Second Round Deadline is Dec. 1, 2020.
  • The Application can be found and submitted here.
APPLICATION
Click here for the application.

AMOUNT
  • Single awards up to $2500, limit one per church
  • Maximum 25 awards available for distribution if awarded at the full amount.
MEASURES OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Churches who receive a grant will be expected to submit updated reports to the Congregational Development Board in the form of digital surveys at the 3 month and 6 month marks after grant is received. In these reports, churches will update the Board on their progress via narrative and contextual metrics.
 


Background

1.0: ROUND 1 of TECH GRANTS
In March and April of 2020, as church leaders sprinted to figure out ministry in the digital mission field, the Center for Congregational Excellence staff and Congregational Development Board moved quickly to secure resource funding to help. In a matter of weeks, from late April to mid-June, 120 churches were invited to apply for $2,500 Technology Grants. Churches were pre-selected for application based on several criteria: a. pre-COVID strength as an anchor church in their geographical area, b. eagerness to share expertise and resources with others,  and c. quick in this season to try digital innovations of ministry, no matter the production value.

In total, $187,500 was distributed to 75 congregations. The funds were drawn from Congregational Development’s apportionment-budgeted funds, as well as a grant from the Conference’s Windfall Fund. Recipient churches represented all 12 districts. They ranged in size from a pre-COVID average worship attendance of 1200+ to around 60. Forty-nine percent of recipient churches are located in communities beyond metro-Atlanta. Twelve percent of them are or serve communities of color.

The Center for Congregational Excellence would also like to thank the following Connectional partners who lent their expertise to consult with churches in digital resource investment: 1.0 IMPACT: GROUPS
In addition to the grant, and networking access to resource partners, recipient church leaders, volunteers, and staff were also invited to form cohorts to discuss key issues pertinent to digital expressions of ministry. Ultimately, all these groups were posted on the NGUMC webpage and made available to anyone in the Conference to participate. The “Pastors Flying Solo” group swapped ideas for new weekly rhythms for worship design and how to train volunteer support for new technologies. Both the “Tech Experts” (pre-existing, dedicated church tech staff) and “Staff +” (staff who have had “digital content” responsibilities now added to their job descriptions) generated recommendations for hardware, software, and streaming applications. They have also become Go To networkers for colleagues with questions. Conversation Groups with interests in Metrics, Analytics, Marketing, Worship Design, specific software and streaming programs, ReGathering Best Practices, and Digital Hospitality also met to exchange ideas.

Recipient Churches:

(***Plus Chamblee First UMC.)

CAN WE QUOTE YOU?
Below is some of the feedback we've received from this initiative:
 
We can now worship live rather than pre-recorded which enables us to address things that arise within the community or in society that otherwise we would be a week behind in addressing. Made it possible to livestream for funerals and baptisms as well. – The Way Woodstock

Our first 2 weeks live-streaming we streamed from an iPhone, and now we've got a near-professional setup with two camera angles so that we can safely distance our in-room team. – Eastside UMC

We have stepped up to level three from level one. Without this grant we would have poor image, poor sound, and limited access to the community. Thank you so much!! – Rock Spring

I've made connections with a couple of other churches my same size. It's been so helpful to swap ideas and feed off each other's creativity. Makes me feel much less lonely in my work. – Local Church Pastor

We have assisted other smaller churches in our area in filming and uploading to our Vimeo and website so they can email out to their congregations. We have also consulted with other smaller churches as they have begun to do their own Facebook live and filming. – Covington First

We have plans to do a virtual pulpit exchange in the next couple of weeks. – Church Leaders in Bartow County.

HIGHLIGHT
Cumming First used the money to purchase the necessary equipment to begin a Bi-weekly podcast, “Tell It On the Mountain,” and to facilitate weekly "Encounter the Word Conversations,” featured on the church website. Additionally, they purchased an FM transmitter that has allowed Drive-In Services to take place in the church parking lot, and a speaker/mic to facilitate now-weekly services in the parking lot of an assisted care facility. Did you catch that? They broadcast from the parking lot of an assisted care facility and the residents listen via the lobby radio.

As crisis innovation has transitioned to long term reality, church ministry has transformed. Our mission field is now certainly in-person and digital. Likewise, the church must mobilize in both worlds. And we’ve learned that we can! Churches can worship Christ, form communities where disciples are made, and raise up leaders. We can and are reaching new people online. This does not mean that every church must do everything. Remember, at our best, United Methodists are one church in limitless missional expressions. But hopefully, you are part of a congregation that sees incredible value in integrating something online into the way you do church: a streaming service, zoom small group, Dial-A-Sermon, an improved website and/or social media presence, video spots to accompany a sermon, baptism, mission celebration, or upcoming outreach event, etc. And of course, doing something in collaboration within the connection.

So what new idea are you considering? What digital adaptation are you working toward? How might a piece of equipment or software upgrade or streaming license enhance the way you make disciples of Christ and help people experience transformation? And not just until you can return in person. No. As a long-range expression of how you will engage people in ministry moving forward?
 
QUESTIONS?
Technical Questions re. Application Process: Melody Brown, mbrown@ngumc.org
Contextual Questions re. Digital Ministry: Blair Boyd Zant, blair.zant@ngumc.net


Rev. Blair Boyd Zant is director of the North Georgia Conference Center for Congregational Excellence.


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