You may remember a commercial that DirecTV ran back in 2002, touting its then state-of-the-art DSL internet service. The ad featured a guy sitting in front of his huge desktop computer. He supposedly was able to surf online so fast that a message popped up on his screen: “You have reached the end of the internet. You have seen everything there is to see. Please call back.”
The commercial was good for a chuckle, but it also harks back to a time when the internet seemed much simpler and smaller. Maybe you couldn’t finish the internet, but you sure could see a lot of it. Fifteen years later, the internet is expanding faster than our universe, with new sites and services being launched each day.
Summertime is a good time to catch up on some of these new sites and some hidden treasures. Here are some sites and services you might want to check out.
Podcasting has exploded in popularity in the last couple of years, due to the portability of podcasts and the ability to listen to them on demand. (Surely, binge watchers of television shouldn’t have all the fun … ) Here are a couple of my favorites:
Start Up takes you behind the scenes of how Alex Blumberg created his podcasting network, Gimlet Media. Start back all the way at Season One, Episode One to hear Blumberg stumble over himself as he pitches to his early investors and confides in his wife about his doubts regarding his new venture. Continue listening to learn how he overcame some of the challenges that every start-up faces. The podcast is funny, insightful, and, at times, quite moving. There is a lot of inspiration here for ministry leaders seeking to revamp their congregations for the 21st century.
A complementary, newer podcast that just finished its first season is Masters of Scale, hosted by Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn and a partner in the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Greylock Partners. Hoffman’s podcast explores his principles for how companies can scale or grow successfully. Interviews with Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Nancy Lublin of Crisis Text Line, and others provide behind-the-scenes stories about some of our most popular digital platforms, as well as guidance for those trying to grow their projects.
This year my congregation launched a new ministry for young families called “Faith at Home,” which started as a once-a-month email about spirituality, parenting, and family life. Each month we share blog posts, videos, reflections, and activity ideas to help support and enrich our families, and then we post them on our website.
Some of the great digital resources for faith and family life that I rely on the most for Faith at Home are Building Faith from the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary, Grow Christians from Forward Movement, and Practicing Families. They all contain practical ways for families to engage faith together.
Design Thinking, which has been popularized by the Stanford Design School, is filtering its way into how we think about designing ministry in 21st-century contexts. It emphasizes understanding user experience, practicing empathy, and designing things that people actually want and need (as opposed to what we think they want or need). One of the people bridging the worlds of theology and design thinking is Bethany Stolle, who has created and curated resources—including original podcasts and guides, as well as links to other resources about design thinking for ministry leaders—on her website, Stolle Creative.
In search of high-quality, easy-to-use church resources that are theologically sound? Well, look no further than one of my favorite sites, The Salt Project. The Salt Project is an Emmy-winning production company that offers resources ranging from customizable short films for your church (my church has done two of these) to downloadable and printable resources that are not only accessible, but beautiful. Examples of Salt Project riches include not only a DIY Advent calendar for individual and/or congregational use, but also a “You Are Officially Awesome” certificate. (And who doesn’t need that?)
One of the websites I return to again and again is Dollar Store Children Sermons. Each week, Pastor John Stevens from Zion Lutheran Church in Oregon City, Oregon posts a short video with children’s sermon ideas that are inspired by items he buys from his local dollar store. The sermon ideas are clever, fun, and theologically sound. Stevens follows the Revised Common Lectionary as well as the Narrative Lectionary.
When the Metropolitan Museum of Art unleashed its collection to the public, Eileen Daily—director of the Doctor of Ministry in Transformational Leadership program at Boston University—jumped at the chance to create a daily devotional based upon classic works of art. The result is Christian Art Daily, a YouTube video series of meditations based on The Met’s collection. Use it for your own devotions or share it with a group.
Another great YouTube series, this time from Soul Pancake, is “Have a Little Faith,” hosted by Zach Anner. The series, like its host, has real soul. Anner visits various houses of faith and interviews people from many different faiths and denominations. Sometimes ministry leaders fall into the trap of thinking that all of our resources must come from church publishing houses or have some kind of denominational stamp. But it turns out that Soul Pancake and other media outlets also are creating high-quality (and free!) resources. If you are feeling stuck in your selections of resources, look further afield. They are out there.
Finally, who doesn’t like free stuff? One of my favorite sites for free resources is Poddington Bear, which offers a huge catalog of rights-free music that is especially helpful for podcasting and video projects. If you’re looking for pictures, Unsplash provides a large rights-free photo library. Remember: it’s nice to give credit where credit is due, even if you’re not legally obligated to do so. Finally, I like Canva’s web-based, easy-to-use graphic design tools. (There is a fee if you use Canva images in your projects, but you can also upload your own images and use the service for free.)
Well, we haven’t reached the end of the internet, but maybe we put a little dent in it. Good luck exploring these and other online resources this summer, and blessings on your planning for the coming program year.