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Online Ministries Community Blog

Apr 23

New Projects; Times of Beginnings

Posted by Bill Anderton

The very beginning on an online ministry project is the time for taking delicate care that the balances between what you wish to build and the realities of what you can build are correct. Having written that lead, I am compelled to also write that, absolutely, one’s reach should exceed one’s grasp. Challenging yourself and your whole ministry is a good thing. However, don’t aspire to something so grand that you are setting yourself up to fail, particularly if you are new to these technologies and processes. Like I said, it is a balance that requires delicate care!

times_of_beginnings_thinker_400w.jpgI always counsel churches and web team leaders to take a bit of time for reflection before starting a new project; to do some critical self-assessment before diving in.

If you are just starting a new project, either building a site for the first time or upgrading your existing online assets, take a close look at the list I wrote about in yesterday’s blog, “Common Characteristics of Successful Online Ministries.” Using this list, before you actually start the wheels turning on a new project, assess where you and your church or ministry stand. Evaluate your resources and capabilities. It is important to be honest with yourself; you won’t be so much as scoring yourself but rather looking for any missing competencies that you need to put in place or beef up in order to be able to deliver a successful project. Look for gaps and places where you may lack strengths.

The list I wrote yesterday will show you what is needed for a successful project. If you do a good assessment of yourself and your resources then you know where you stand going into the project, you will know what you have to work on to be successful in your online endeavor.

This is a “pre-work” thought-experiment-type phase that is done before you actually begin your project. It can be done formally but I usually don’t like making this too big of a deal out of this pre-work phase. Usually this is more of an “up-close-and-personal” informal assessment. However you do it, formally or informally, just be sure that you do it.

It doesn’t have to take long; an afternoon is usually plenty or, at most, a day or two.

Don’t worry if you find gaps; almost all projects do in the beginning. Also, don’t let the fact that you do have gaps discourage you or prevent you from start. Just think through how you are going to turn weaknesses into strengths; how you will bridge your gaps.

Once you have identified the gaps and weaknesses that you must bolster, think through how you will build strengths in these areas. You don’t have to fill all of the gaps or strengthen all of the weakness before you begin; this is only an assessment phase so you know where you stand and what type of team-building activities you are going to have to do in your planning and execution phases.

In filling gaps and turning weaknesses into strengths, I like to use just-in-time processes for weakness-to-strength objectives. You don’t have to complete these processes before you begin your project; you just have to make sure you have filled the gap when it is necessary. I suggest just-in-time processes because working on a team, even in its early phases, provides on-the-job training. Many of the gaps are best learned by doing so on-the-job training can be very effective. If you integrate some on-the-job training activities in the early phases of a project, the early work can be learning stepping stones for later phases of the project.

You will find that you can fill the gaps in a project very rapidly if your first training is in how to learn! Locate some good learning resources. Use resources like this community and other places to increase your education, formal or informal. Be prepared to read a lot. Think about getting your team (even before it is constituted) into some sort of learning cycle. Also, think about using professionals to not just do some of the work but to act as trainers and mentors for your volunteer team.

If you only have a few gaps, they are typically easily addressed as you progress in the project. If your gaps are wide and/or you have some major weaknesses, starting thinking about how you will addresses your issues first. Addressing these issues may be the first step in your project.

If you assess your gaps and weaknesses to be too great to easily overcome, consider using outside professional assistance. If you do your planning (as suggested in the Nine Pillars methodology) and scope the project to fit your resources, you might find that using professionals isn’t that expensive IF you are well-planned and have set an appropriate scope for the project BEFORE you engage the professionals.

Having a checklist like the one in yesterday’s blog may fill your biggest gap: that of simply having a roadmap to follow. Many newbies (people brand new to the processes of building a website), don’t have a clue about how to properly begin or execute a project. This is absolutely normal and natural for a beginner without experience. Their lack of experience with building websites means that they will have no insight into even the simple things that experienced people take for granted.

This is the uncrackable code I wrote about yesterday.

When shown this list, I often hear, “Oh, okay, we can do that!” Then, even when these same folks turn out to have gaps and weaknesses (as would be expected from beginners), they will at least “know what you don’t know” and can begin from there to address their issues and fill their gaps. To a beginner, the list may seem logical and even simple, but only after they have been exposed to it; until then, it is typically a mystery.

After you think about filling gaps and strengthening weaknesses, reflect on commitment to the project that you, your church and your team will need. While attaining and maintaining balance between reach and grasp, it is always very important that the team be committed to the project. Commitment can go a long way to bridging gaps and achieving excellence because commitment will lead to doing the actions required. However, commitment can’t just be lip service; you really have to have it. Commitment, having it or lacking it, often plays a large role in determining outcomes. The type of commitment I’m talking about includes:

  • Feeling that you are being called to do this
  • Having the desire and will to fulfill the calling
  • Willing to learn what you may not initially know
  • Committing to do it correctly
  • Committing to do it over the long term
  • Committing to excellence

The leadership of an online project must certainly have this level of commitment. Additionally, it is the job of leadership to try to teach and instill this type of commitment into the whole team. I usually counsel churches to find a leader with this type of commitment that also has a high degree of passion for the project and make them the project’s “champion.” Empower the champion and then let them use their passion to develop the rest of the team. A good passionate leader can often build that passion in others on the team.

Once you have prepared yourself, begin your discernment process. Certainly the leadership cohort needs to participate in discernment. However, it is also good that your whole web team participate too.

With your discernment completed, do your initial envisioning process.

As you begin envisioning your project, don't feel that you have to do everything all at once; in one grand step. I believe that you shouldn't; too big of a scope can be too dilutive of your efforts, particularly if you are a beginner. Instead, in your envisioning phase, indeed, make the grand vision, BUT plan its execution as a series of smaller projects (stepping stones) that can be implemented incrementally as you gain experience. Use the first steps as foundations for the next. It is great to have a grand vision but temper it with the reality of your resources and capabilities and break up your grand vision into realistic steps.

As an example, I have seen a church begin with building just a "good" website first (as the first stepping stone) and then add additional dimensions to the website in a planned series of upgrades. Somewhere in its first year their good website became a GREAT website. From there, the church expanded into other facets (social media, streaming media, e-campaigns) to form a comprehensive Internet presence and then, ultimately, into a full online ministry. This full journey took three years to reach this level. Yes, they started with the grand vision of what they wanted at some point in the future (three years as it turned out) but they were realistic about their resources, both money and people who could work in their online ministry. However, they executed the grand vision in steps and phases, growing along the way. Their first work produced positive results in the first three weeks of launching the merely “good” website and built up from there, increasing their results every month and adding new facets to the website!

As this church went along this path, their Board of Directors rewarded these efforts by doubling the budget for this project every year for four straight years. What started as a modest financial commitment became very significant over time.

At every Board meeting, the web team leader presented reports showing the progressive growth in the results of the efforts to date. This built transparency and confidence in the team and that the process was working. It removed any risk perceived by the Board to increase their commitment to this ministry.

All along, the team learned more and more about how to efficiently use their processes. Think of it as long-term on-the-job training. Processes are best understood when experienced in active operations. With the team was using these processes in real-world applications (joined to them and flowing with them), they gained understanding. This team grew into their expanding roles and worthy of the Board’s increased investment in the ministry.

Not a bad way to do something significant when starting from nothing.

Category: (04-13) April 2013   Tag:

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