Graphic Design Tips – For Churches On A Budget

I’m not a professional designer by any stretch of the imagination. Calling myself an amateur designer is probably an overly generous designation. This article is by an amateur for amateurs.

So why would an amateur write about anything: Because most churches simply can’t afford to hire out every little design project needed. Churches are fueled by passionate well-meaning amateurs who do their very best on a shoestring budget.

Not every church is blessed with a member well versed in graphic design. Meaning, someone is forced to wade into the murky confusing waters of amateur graphic design. If that person is you (or you know someone who fits that description), stick around (or pass this along) because listed below are several free resources that will make your (or their) life a lot easier. And as a bonus, the finished projects will be substantially more astatically pleasing than copy and paste clip art collections.

One caveat, amateur designers need to know their limitations. Many projects require more expensive computer software and/or skills then we possess. For those situations, you should bite the bullet and pay someone who really knows what they’re doing. For example, it’s probably best to have a professional design your church logo.

If your church isn’t connected to a good designer I highly recommend Joy Mills at Savvy Design Solutions. SDS is Apostolic owned and operated. The prices are reasonable, the work is completed promptly, and the finished product always exceeds expectations.

Social media has made the need for basic graphic design skills more necessary than ever. As I’ve written in the past, churches should do their best to have a presentable online presence. However, the general rule of thumb is that it’s better to have no online presence than a tacky online presence. Also, bulletins, flyers (digital and printed), sermon slides, announcements, and much more are often made much nicer with a few minor tips. And most of those things work best by starting with a high-resolution image for the background (if you don’t know what resolution means familiarize yourself with it here).

Image Resources 

You may have noticed that stock images aren’t cheap and media resource memberships are pricey too. Listed below are five websites that provide free high-resolution stock images.

  1. www.creationswap.com

Creationswap.com used to be 100% free. Recently they added a subscription package that unlocks every resource. However, they still have free images, videos, and motion graphics available for download.

  1. www.pixabay.com

Pixaabay.com is probably the most popular of all the free stock image sites. It’s now integrated into many of the popular design apps listed below.

  1. www.unsplash.com

Fewer people seem familiar with Unsplash.com. Probably because its collection is smaller than Pixabay.com. But they provide a beautiful and unique selection of free images.

  1. www.freerangestock.com

Freerangestick.com is one of the most practical free image sites out there. It’s less artsy than the others, which is nice for bulletin and announcement projects.

  1. www.stockvault.net

Stockvault.net is my least favorite of the five listed here. But it has been useful on occasions so it made the list.

Font Resources

Regardless of the computer program, you’ll add more oomph to your project by having great font options. The standard fonts pre-loaded in most software programs are pretty boring. Choosing the right font can make even a simple black and white flyer pop. Thankfully, the internet has made downloading free font varieties super easy. It’s a little overwhelming at first because there are so many neat fonts to choose from. But take heart, once you download a new font it will show up in your programs font window automatically. Over time, you’ll have tons of neat choices right at your fingertips. Below are three great free font resources that every designer should have bookmarked for quick reference. Oh, and they add new fonts regularly so check back from time to time.

  1. www.dafont.com
  2. www.urbanfonts.com
  3. www.fontspace.com

Video, Graphics & Slideshow Resources

These next two websites are also available as apps on your tablet or smartphone.

  1. www.canva.com

Canva.com is completely free but priceless for the inexperienced designer. Basically, Canva.com provides free design templates for a wide range of projects. There are free customizable design templates for social media posts (literally all social media outlets), business cards, flyers, postcards, invitations, letterhead, programs, bulletins, and email headers. Or, if you know the necessary dimensions of your design there is a custom dimension option available too.

Unlike other competing free design sites, Canva.com allows you to upload your own graphics (like a church logo) and pictures to use within your project. It’s very user-friendly and they help take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation for amateurs like me. Also, they save all your projects and uploads for future reference.

One negative about this resource; there is a free Canva app available for download (Apple and Android), but you lose a lot of features in the app. The website itself is much better than the app.

  1. www.adobespark.com

Adobe Spark is a terrific resource for churches. The website is great but the app is even better (especially on a tablet). Among other great features, Adobe Spark allows you to create cool videos very quickly. It has integrated templates, fonts, and instrumental music. You can use it to create announcements, slideshows, tutorials, or even teach an illustrated lesson. It’s easy and fun to use. Plus, it stores all your past projects for you in their server saving you lots of space on your computer or devices.

App Resources for Phones & Tablets

For quick projects like social media announcements, sermon slides, or blog titles apps are time savers. But sorting through all the apps can really get annoying. In my humble opinion, below are the top ten must-have apps for anyone involved in church media design.

  1. Typorama is the absolute best text on photo editor, typography maker for the iPhone and iPad (sorry Android people it’s only available for Apple users). It is by far the easiest to use without sacrificing features. One of my favorite things about this app is the integrated ability to add tasteful overlays (like bursts of color or light leaks) to any image. Often, I will edit an image in Typorama, save it to my photos, and cycle the newly saved image back through Typorama a second (and sometimes a third time) adding new touches each time.
  2. WordSwag is very similar to Typorama only with fewer features. Even still, WordSwag is a must have app.
  3. Word Dream another app in the typography, photo editor family. I find it’s font choices a little too outrageous most of the time. Word Dream does have a superior filter selection than the others. Sometimes I will create a graphic in Typorama, save it to photos, and add a filter in the Word Dream app.
  4. Tangent advertises itself as an app that helps you easily turn your photos or graphics into one-of-a-kind works of art. But it’s also great for quickly adding a custom look to sermon slides, announcements, or social media posts right from your phone or tablet.
  5. Back Eraser allows you to literally erase the background right off any given picture. By erasing the background off, for example, a guest minister you can layer the image over another image and give a more professional look. There are several apps designed to erase unwanted backgrounds off of images. This one is the most user-friendly I’ve found so far. Warning, you’ll want a stylus for best results when using this app. Also, remember to save the image as “transparent” or your finished product will have a white background.
  6. Photoshop Mix is a powerful free app from the famed Adobe ecosystem. It can do many things but I use it primarily for layering images. For example, I’ll often use the Back Eraser app to remove unwanted background from a person and use Photoshop Mix to merge that image with a new announcement image created in Typorama.
  7. Pixlr is deservedly the most popular photo editing app across all device platforms. But it can be used for more than just editing selfies. If you create an announcement in Typorama (or anywhere else) you can add a neat filter to it in Pixlr for added color or texture.
  8. Aviary is just like Pixlr with fewer bells and whistles and a few different filter options.
  9. Dropbox is a cloud storage service that still provides free service up to a certain point (depending on how many gigs of storage you need). If you are creating things on your devices it really becomes important to save them to the cloud for quick access from all your other devices. Also, it keeps the storage on your phone and tablet from clogging up. Dropbox gives you the ability to share specified folders with other users so you don’t have to email files or pass them around on a thumb drive. Dropbox has a lot of great competitors to choose from but it just happens to be my cloud storage service of choice.
  10. Evernote is one of the most personally helpful services in my tech arsenal. Simply stated, after downloading Evernote on your computer, cell phone, and/or tablet you can write a note and it will be saved to each of those devices for future reference. In the bad old days, I would write something in iPhone’s notebook and wish I could magically make it appear on my desktop. Evernote does just that. You can save images, pictures, videos, websites, and written notes in Evernote. All these can be organized by topic and even favorited for quick reference. Most of my sermons begin as seeds of prayerful thought quickly jotted into Evernote to be revisited later.

I hope you found something helpful in this post. I’m sure the mega professionals quit reading a long time ago. Probably right after the word “amateur”. For those of you that stuck around, you might think some of these resources sound complicated or difficult to use. And they might be at first, but if you will play around with them it will become easier and easier. As you work, often with little to no thanks or remuneration, remember whatever you do for Christ is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

img_1664

File Jul 12, 6 21 21 PM

file-jan-12-1-51-50-am

If We Are What We Post (What Are We Saying)?

While we used to think that people mostly misrepresented themselves on social media, studies are finding more and more that the opposite is actually true. Studies are discovering that people represent themselves more accurately on their Facebook accounts than they do in person. This is encouraging and distressing at the same time. We have known for over a decade now that people’s inhibitions are lowered when using passive-aggressive forms of social interaction, that’s why so many inappropriate relationships and affairs have begun on places like Facebook and MySpace (back in the day). Similarly, that’s why people become bullies on Twitter who would never pick a fight in person. Studies used to argue that social platforms were influencing bad behaviour, but now experts are suggesting that who we are on social media is who we have really been deep down all along. So how should we Christians view this information and apply it to our lives?

1. What you post about and talk about the most on social media is probably what you care most about in life: if you never talk about God and family than those things are probably not the highest priorities in your life.

2. Your social media posts (or lack of them) say a lot about your marriage, your faith, your future, and your real priorities.

3. Are you a “Lurker” or a “Liker”? We all know the social media user who lurks around but never likes or engages with anything. Studies are suggesting that this imbalance gives a window into the soul. If you lurk and never like but you feel angry when no one likes your posts; you are likely a selfish narcissist. However, if you lurk and never like but don’t care if others like your posts; you are probably just cautious, private, and curious. There’s a big difference between the two. There has been much debate about the narcissistic side effects of social media. Needless to say, the Kardashian worshipping, selfie-obsessed, fame seeking mindset has no place in a godly heart (check out my very first blog post entitled Living Selflessly In a Selfie World and Clothed In Humility).

4. Speaking of selfishness and narcissism; the sheer amount of selfies and how you pose in said selfies is very telling as well. This is my personal observation, the amount of Christian woman (especially married ones) who are constantly taking seductive selfies is staggering.

5. So I think as Christians we should examine our social media “footprint” and ask ourselves are we a reflection of Christ, or are we allowing carnality to run rampant in our online presence. If the studies are right and our online presence is becoming the truest reflection of our inner selves than shouldn’t we be expressing our faith, our joy, our salvation, our love, our gratitude, our reverence, and so on?

6. If it is true that our inhibitions are lowered on social media and that our media footprint is a true reflection of who we are then we must use it as a platform to share the Gospel and evangelize the world. I know there is pressure (even within the Christian community) to remain quiet about our faith on public forums. I’m not advocating being obnoxious, mean-spirited or argumentative. But the cold reality is this; if you won’t share your faith on social media you definitely will not share it in person. Hollywood, advertisers, atheists, politicians, salesmen, and secularists impose their beliefs and preach at me every day on social media. Why should we be ashamed to speak publically of the single most important thing in our lives, the Gospel?

Similar articles The Pros and Cons of Facebook (Part 1) and The Pros and Cons of Facebook (Part 2). For further reading check out You Are What You Post: What Your Social Media Engagement Says About Your Personality, Stanford Scholar Findings, Psychological Stress and Social Media Use, and Social Media Posts May Be Indicators of Personality, Potential Health Risks, and Cultural Differences.

3 Revival Killers

The Christmas season is upon us with all the hustle and bustle that it brings. The busyness of the season can distract us from the important work of the Church that Jesus came to establish in the first place. From the moment that Jesus was born the institutions of this world have been trying to snuff Him and the message that He brings out. But the message of Jesus is not a candle in the wind it is a raging fire that no human can destroy. When they couldn’t kill his message they settled for killing Him instead. Unwittingly, they had fulfilled the ancient prophecies and made the Gospel complete by enabling a powerful resurrection.

The forces of darkness are still intent upon killing the work of the Gospel at every opportunity and will use whatever means necessary to do so. It is the high calling of the Church to protect, preserve, and promote the Gospel, especially during the Christmas season when commercialism seeks to compete with the true reason for the season. And so rather than be distracted, we must keep revival ever at the forefront of our thinking.

People who’ve experienced real revival know that revival is hard work. I had a wonderful godly man confide in me one time that he felt guilty because he didn’t really want to see his church grow. I asked him why and he said, “Because I have lived through one revival and it wore me out.” I knew what he was trying to say. If you visit the birthing wing on a busy day at any hospital, you’ll see a perfect illustration of revival. A church goes through the process of pregnancy, and the pain of labor, and finally gives birth to spiritual babies in the Lord. All those babies need constant care and constant attention or they’ll perish. Let me share with you three things will kill revival just as surely as Herod tried to kill baby Jesus.

  1. CONFLICT & COMPETITION

Technically these are two things, however, usually conflict within the Church is directly related to competition. That’s why Scripture instructs us to prefer our brethren over ourselves (Romans 12:10). Pride, self-promotion, a heart that is easily and quickly offended, and competition will destroy the work of revival and hinder the flow of the Spirit. Refuse to participate or fall into the trap of these revival killers.

  1. COMPLACENCY

Complacency is the state of being satisfied with how things are and lacking any desire to make them better. In a spiritual sense, there are varying degrees of complacency, but the bottom line is that the Church is mandated to be constantly reaching, reaping, preaching, and growing. We can be satisfied with nothing less. Laziness, selfishness, self-righteousness, lack of passion, lack of compassion, and small-mindedness are all contributors to the dangerous prevalence of spiritual complacency.

  1. COMPROMISE

There is an overwhelming trend towards diluting the Gospel placing a stranglehold on churches around the world. Tragically, when you dilute the Gospel it ceases to be the Gospel. Cafeteria Christianity does not save, it does not deliver, and although it will initially attract crowds it ultimately fails to sustain. Easy believe-ism does not endure when the rubber meets the road. Those unwilling to buy the truth and sell it not (Proverbs 23:23) will abandon the cross like a child discarding a broken toy on Christmas night.

 

The Number One Reason Small Churches Stay Small

Let me make a few disclaimers right from the beginning. First, not all big churches are healthy and not all small churches are unhealthy. Big churches are not necessarily better than small churches and the reverse is also true. However, if the body is not growing it is dying. This is true spiritually and physically. That’s not to say setbacks, sicknesses, and dry seasons won’t temporarily stunt growth, but the key word there is “temporarily”. Long-term stagnation or decline is a sure sign of an impending downward spiral if something drastic doesn’t take place to fix the problem.

I grew up in a small church plant that my father started in 1983 (the year of my birth), and I grew up alongside the growth of that church. Churches must grow into maturity just as a child grows into maturity. If a mother church grows strong she will give birth to daughter churches that will repeat the process over and over again.

The number one reason small churches stay small is that they want to stay small. This reality is often hidden stealthily beneath the surface making it difficult to spot. But if you watch carefully you’ll see it manifested in dozens of little ways. They literally have no desire to grow. Again, I love small churches, but small churches are in direct violation of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) if they have no desire to see new souls added to the church. And if a church doesn’t want to grow it will not grow.

One final clarification, 99.9% of the time the pastor desperately wants the church he oversees to grow. The lack of desire for growth typically comes from the congregation, not the clergy. In best case scenarios, the church (or an influential portion of the church) is simply complacent towards the churches growth. In worst case scenarios, the church (or an influential portion of the church) actively tries to hinder the churches growth. Regardless, this is a problem that must be addressed head on or it will choke the life out of a small congregation. Here are nine contributing reasons that small churches often don’t want to grow. 

  1. The church simply doesn’t want to suffer through a building program. This usually stems from either a faith problem or a stinginess problem. Sometimes well-meaning church members confuse good stewardship with stagnation. A small building that’s been paid off for 20 years is a wonderful thing, but if you can’t continue to grow in that building (or the location hinders growth), it’s time to take the necessary leap of faith. For other less sincere saints, they simply don’t want to commit financially to the vision of revival (think Ananias & Sapphira).
  1. The church has lost sight of its purpose. Many churches gradually forget the urgency of the hour. They become content with their own salvation and forget that Hell is still a reality for their community. They forget that God has placed them within that community to reach the lost. It doesn’t matter how many missionary plaques you hang on the wall if you aren’t being a missionary to your own region. I often hear people say, “some give by going, and some go by giving.” I know what they mean, but it gives the impression that only certain elite people are called to reach the lost. Wherever you are right now, that’s your mission field. Far too often we allow our giving to replace going into our own harvest field.
  1. The church has lost its love for people. Many times, it is that simple. Bitterness, pride, harshness, and unresolved anger can rip the love of Christ right out of the hearts of a congregation. At its peak, it results in a harshness so severe that it rejoices rather than weeps at the lost condition of “reprobates” and “sinners”. Hell, is a reality that should move us to tears, not cheers.
  1. Spiritual lethargy, exhaustion, and laziness. I understand that revival and evangelism are just plain hard work; emotionally, spiritually, and physically. People who have participated for many years in the process can easily grow weary in well doing (check out my writings on this subject here and here). Some folks are just lazy by nature and this bleeds into their spiritual life as well. Revival and laziness are like oil and water; they just don’t mix.
  1. Institutional racism or a clique mentality. I’m truly afraid that the church is still one of the most segregated places in America (click here for a related article). But God has called the church to be multicultural and accepting of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures. Some congregations want revival only if all the new people look and sound just like them. Yikes, that’s a big problem. I’m just glad the apostle Peter allowed God to change his heart so a Gentile like me could be a part of the Body of Christ.
  1. Rampant carnality and materialism. When a church grows carnal they just don’t have room for spiritual concerns. They’re too busy with sports and movies to care if their neighbor is going to Heaven or Hell. Financial blessings are a wonderful gift from God, but we should never squander that gift on trivial things that constantly distract us from the Kingdom of God. Churches fraught with carnality and materialism would rather talk about anything other than spiritual things. They don’t have time to be inconvenienced with revival, and they do the absolute minimum they can do for God (check out this article entitled You Might Be a Carnal Christian If…).
  1. The church doesn’t want to lose constant or immediate access to the pastor. This one is very common and even understandable to a certain degree. Saints instinctively know that as a church grows it will become harder and harder to gain immediate access to the pastor for counseling or anything else for that matter. In many ways, it’s like an only child who resents the idea of a baby brother or a baby sister. They grow jealous of the attention that their parents must devote to their new sibling. This is understandable but only to a point, if it turns into outright aggression towards new babies in the Lord it must be dealt with lovingly but firmly.
  1. A certain element within the church desperately wants to maintain power, position, and influence. Ah, this is a big one. It’s very insidious, extremely dangerous, and usually carefully disguised. It can be anything from worship leaders and singers who feel threatened by new people who are talented or lay ministers who feel threatened by young babes in the Lord who feel called to preach. It can be anyone who feels like their position might be threatened by an influx of new people. It can be a wealthy saint who enjoys being perceived as the wealthiest saint in the church, or a talented musician who enjoys being perceived as the most talented person in the church, or board members that want to keep their authority consolidated. It can even extend to the entire congregation and their desire to keep a strong influence over every aspect of the church, therefore, they perceive new people as a threat to that power. This is almost never articulated out loud but the signs are there if you are paying attention.
  1. The congregation has an institutional bias against the culture of growing churches. Some people are just conditioned either by their upbringing or their preconceived ideas of how a church should be to dislike large churches. In extreme cases, people like this consider big churches evil, but they’ll usually use code words like “full of compromise” or something of that nature. The reality is that small churches and big churches alike can fall into the trap of compromise. Some people fear that large churches are incapable of being friendly or warm. The reality is that small churches and large churches can fall into the trap of being unfriendly and cold. A church shouldn’t desire to grow just to be large, but it should want to be large because it wants everyone to be saved.

Final caveats: I realize there are other reasons small churches stay small. Local economies, transient locals, spiritual onslaughts, poor leadership, tragedy, rapid leadership turnover, seasons of sowing, difficult locations, and more can all be relevant factors. Also, churches go through seasons and holding patterns that are temporary conditions. I am talking about chronic conditions. However, it would be unwise to casually ignore these points without at least considering the very real possibility that one or more of these problems could be at work.

Building The Kingdom

I know in my life it can become difficult to keep the right things in focus.  We live in a world where so many things are fighting for our attention, our time, our money, and our devotion. There are moments when I have to slow down and think about my priorities.  Consider for a moment what Jesus said in Matthew 6:23, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  A powerful spiritual principle emerges as Jesus shows us, that when we put God’s Kingdom first, the rest of life’s moving pieces begin to fall naturally into place.    

TO DO LIST

Sadly, many people place God’s priorities near the bottom or the middle of their To-Do-List.  This creates a life that is constantly out of sync with the benefits of God.  If you are peace-less, than you probably have a priority problem.  If you are joyless, than it’s probably time to reevaluate who’s kingdom is first in your life. 

Everybody instinctively longs to be loved (by the way, love itself is a phenomenon that the atheist simply cannot explain scientifically), but our fallen nature tricks our minds into believing that love is something that we must search after selfishly.  Our human default settings look for love in all the wrong places, in all the wrongs ways, and with all the wrong resources.  Looking out for “me first” is not a strategy that invites God’s Kingdom to rule our individual world. 

In actuality, true love is only accessible when we humble ourselves, seek God’s plan first, and allow Jesus to be the Lord of our lives.  And Christ’s lordship must apply to every area of our hearts; that includes the secret places that no one can see or hear.  We must allow His lordship into the things that we grasp tightly onto: finances, time, family, relationships, attitudes, lifestyle, culture, and behavior.  Deception tells us that we know best, and that we should simply follow the desires of our hearts; but God warns us that our hearts are not to be trusted (Jeremiah 17:19).  Like the song we cry, “Lead me Lord, I will follow.”

2012-09-24 15.14.32

Consider another Scripture found in Mark 1:15 as Jesus preaches, “…the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel.”  Thus, we see that God’s Kingdom is only available to us through repentance and obedience to the Gospel (for a brief description of the Gospel which requires: repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ name, and Spirit baptism visit Acts 2:38).  If we are Kingdom minded, than we must realize that it is not enough to be satisfied with our own salvation; we are called to reach others and bring them into the Kingdom as well. 

The Apostle Paul demonstrated admirably how a Kingdom minded individual operates with those who are lost, “…there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the Kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.  And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not (Acts 28:23-24).”  It is, I think, important to remember that we can reach for the lost, but we cannot impose God’s will upon them.  Even God does not impose His will upon us.  However, we are mandated to lovingly reach for every single person that we possibly can. 

So as we rush through the busy month of August, let’s intentionally seek the Kingdom of God first.  Let’s refocus our minds upon spiritual things, rather than allowing the busyness of our daily lives to be an overwhelming distraction.