Don’t spread gossip online. That’s it, that’s the post.

Proverbs 18:8 “A gossip’s words are like choice food that goes down to one’s innermost being.”

This is an admonition to fellow Christians to be mindful of what they believe and spread online. Maybe we think that because we don’t actually know the people, it’s not gossip?  It is gossip. It’s wrong. 

I get that it scores points on “Christian Twitter” to dunk on the Moderates/Libs. It’s always the mega church pastors that get hit, right? Mega churches put out sermons on video. So everyone can see what they teach. 

From time to time you see 1-2 minute clips from megachurch sermons pulled out to prove they have gone soft on sin. At no time is any benefit of the doubt given. The pastor can’t have misspoken, can’t have been taken out of context. The sermon may be 35 minutes of multiple points and sub points, but this 60 second clip is all that matters.

The clips are never plain. It’s never one of these guys saying, “I believe homosexual behavior is not a sin.” It’s never that clear.  The new clip is often tied back to another clip previously used for the same purposes.

The supposed heresy often contradicts what the church has previously, publicly said. Their belief statement on the web likely doesn’t reflect this new theological view.

The position is, the bad church/pastor publicly publishes their teachings where anyone can see them, but are, at the same time, secretly teaching heresy/bad theology. They have secretly decided to call sin holy and good. Not only are they wrong about their belief, but they are nefarious liars, saying the “right” thing in some places, but secretly leading the sheep astray.

This is the claim of some. These people take to social media and trumpet their discovery of false teaching. By all means, let’s get the mob back together. Who’s got the pitchforks and who has the torches?

You know what you don’t see? “I heard this and it disturbed me, so I called the pastor in question…. I reached out to the church highlighted in this clip…” Nope. Why would you ask a liar, right? They might be able to explain away your major issue. You might find out the clip doesn’t reveal the full theology of the speaker.

And then there are the guys who make a living out of doing this. They post hours of video proving some ministries have it all wrong.  You know what you never see? A video where they investigate and find out the critics were wrong. You will never see a headline that read, “We heard there was heresy, but we only found truth!”

Why is that? 

Why do regular Christian people retweet/repost/repeat unproven gossip? Why do people watch these expose’ videos? Proverbs 18:8 has it right. Gossip is so tasty.

Controversy breeds interest. If you feel you are right, or at least “righter” than them, you feel superior.  There’s a bit of allure to this “secret knowledge” that these posts and videos give out. You can be in the know. You can be someone who was not fooled. 

It’s “I may not be perfect, but I’m not that bad,”  combined with “I know things others don’t.”  Delicious, yet rotten to its core.

Here’s 3 problems with sharing these things:

  1. You don’t know anything. You just don’t. Unless the person you’re criticizing said clearly, ‘This is my belief” you cannot know their theology from a few minutes of one sermon. You have to jump to too many conclusions. You don’t have enough information to use inductive logic properly. 
  2. The experts you are listening to don’t know anything either. Every time I watch one of these long videos that “proves” something, it’s filled with conjecture. They have a list of things that, if you tilt your head and squint just right,  will prove what they are saying. But if anything is not exactly what they suggest, the house of cards tumbles down. I get it. They dug up some dirt, they got an insider feeding them info. They connected the dots, they put the jigsaw puzzle together. Those who subscribe to these theories refuse to entertain other possibilities. Because if they think for one second one piece of evidence might not be correctly interpreted, then their entire theory crashes down. 
  3. It’s not biblical. This isn’t how you deal with false teachers. Before the internet you would never jump to public condemnation before you took several more steps. Matthew 18 lays out a pretty good path to conflict resolution. There are 4 steps. Even if you claim that public posts online counts as taking something to the Church, there are 2 steps before that point.  If you are really concerned about this brother, this congregation, then you will go to them and confront them in love. You will get the truth. But, if you are honest, you care more about feeling better about yourself than correcting a brother. 

That’s hard to hear. The tendency to believe the worst about fellow Christians is a cancer in the Church. The habit of attacking people who are wrong (or we think are wrong) rather than lovingly, biblically correcting them is a terrible thing in the Church. Spreading online gossip is spreading lies. Reposting these hit pieces doesn’t do one thing to grow the kingdom of God. 

When I see a post, I’m tempted to reply with “Wow, what did the church say when you reached out to them about this?”

Brother and sister, I implore you. Don’t share these posts, don’t spread gossip. I know it’s “choice food” and it feels so good. Resist. If you are truly concerned, reach out to the pastor, leader, congregation in question. I know that takes more time than hitting retweet, but it’s the right thing to do. 

If you can’t reach out, then pray. Everyone can do that. 

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Facebook Ads for Indie Filmmakers: Using Facebook’s Funnel with Larger Audiences

I recently wrote about attempting to use Facebook’s funnel to drive sales of my recent documentary film. And about developing Lookalike Audiences.

My first attempt did not go well. But I think that’s because my initial audience is too small. To find out if this was true, I ran a similar funnel for my church’s Vacation Bible School, to see if this funnel would work with a larger audience.

Here are the basics:

We have over 8400 fans on our FB page, plus over 1100 Instagram followers. I also built lookalike audiences for both FB and IG followers. I have a FB Pixel installed on our website. I was able to track some behaviors specific to this funnel.

My ultimate goal was to get more kids to attend VBS. I was trying to do that by driving people to register online through our event web pages.

The Facebook Funnel is a 3-week plan That builds audience the first week, primes the pump the 2nd week, and moves toward conversions the last week.
I was employing this plan with a $200 total spend.

  • Week 1– Brand awareness. I only used the lookalike audiences within driving distance of our campuses. $30 Budget.

  • Week 2– Video interactions, separate ads by campus. The ads were geo targeted t with 25 miles of the church location. There was significant overlap. $80 Budget

  • Week 3– I mixed this up a bit. One campus I had traffic to our registration page as the only goal. The other I split the goals with traffic and conversions. Conversions I set as a lead- someone clicking to register from our website. $90 budget.
  • Results of the ads:

  • Week 1– I had a reach of almost 4,00 and Fb said we saw an increase of our audience by 260. Frequency was about a 2 (Meaning people saw the ad an average of twice.) In my previous attempt with a smaller audience the frequency got up to 7. That’s far too high.
    During this time we had 23 link clicks.Not bad considering I wasn’t trying to get any link clicks.

  • Week 2– Campus 1 had a reach of almost 1500 reach and a frequency of 1.92. 55 link clicks. Campus 2 had a higher budget and we saw a reach of almost 2500 with a frequency of 3.49 (a little high, but acceptable). 130 link clicks. Both campuses reported higher than normal online registrations.

  • Week 3– Campus 1 running a traffic campaign saw a reach of 1279, 54 link clicks with a frequency of 1.88. Campus 2 was running two campaign. The traffic set saw a reach of 2752, 129 link clicks and a frequency of 2, while the conversion set reached 1528 people, with 38 link clicks, a frequency of 2.41, and 13 people clicked to register. As I said before, there was a significant overlap in the geo targeting. There is a community between our 2 campuses that has people who attend both campuses.
  • Both of our campuses said they saw about a 25% increase in online registration. We had never had so many kids preregistered before.

    Using the Pixel tracking functions, I set up some tracking funnels in analytics. I tracked these across both campus location event pages, regardless of campaign.

  • New Visitors Entering at VBS Event Page
    Number People who had not visited the site since the pixel was installed (several weeks ago) who entered the site at the VBS event page: 144,
    Number who from that page initiated registration: 66 initiated registration.
    Conversion rate of 46%.

  • New Visitors Entering on Any Page
    Number of people who had not visited the site since Pixel was installed who entered at any page: Over 2,100
    Number of that group that initiated check out: 169
    Conversion rate of 8%

    But of course, the real measure of success was how well we hit our goal. Did we see an increase in attendance?

    Attendance of kids and adult workers on the first day of VBS was up 17.5%

    In the end we had 1184 kids and adults. The previous year’s high attendance was 981. We increased by over 200. But that number included adult volunteers. Our promotion could have impacted the number of adults as well as kids, but we don’t do this event for adults.

    I dug a bit deeper and pulled numbers from the previous year to compare kids attendance. In 2018 we had 675 kids in grades 1-6. In 2019 we had 826 kids in grades 1-6. That’s an increase of 22.37% in attendance.

    On one campus we had 110 more online registrations than the previous year. I was pointing people toward online registration. I’m sure some of them were found by other promotion. But it’s hard to argue with these numbers when the major difference this year was the focused advertising on Facebook and Instagram.

    The funnel works. At least if you have a big enough audience to begin with. Now, to adjust it to work with smaller audiences…

  • The New Black Friday, Or How I wasted Too Much Time on Amazon’s App

    We spent this Thanksgiving at my parent’s house. It was great fun with family. I barely left the house the whole time we were there, and I never left the property. But I still got some Black Friday shopping in.  Since the break in I have been in the market for a few replacements. And I hoped to luck into a great TV deal. My extended family doesn’t live close to a major retailer, and I was not planning on driving and camping out for any Black Friday deal. I didn’t need to. I did all my shopping online.

    This year more than ever before retailers were offering major discounts for online purchases. I woke up Thanksgiving morning and placed an order with Best Buy, to be delivered next week. This item wasn’t available for my Early Access sale last Monday, but was a “doorbuster” for Thursday/Friday and available online. As with the early access sale, not every doorbuster was online. Just a few.

    The online retailer Amazon changed up their Black Friday approach. This year they threw out “lightning” deals seemingly at random. They released a short list of what would be available, and a time period for which those deals would appear over the next several days. One deal, a 50″ Led 1080p TV for $150 was only going to be available through the Amazon App. There were several deals that only people who used the app would see. And almost every deal was made available to Amazon prime members 30 minutes earlier than to the general public.

    This strategy of randomly dropping new deals online kept bringing shoppers back again and again, throughout the day. Sometimes the app would tell you what was coming. You could “watch” the deal, and get a notification when it was about to start. Other times the deal just popped up. The hotter the deal, the more likely it would show up without notice.

    Catching one of these hot lightning deals was a matter of luck.I actually had the $75 32″ TV in my cart, and decided not to buy it. I saw the “waitlist” for their 55″ 4K TV deal, right before it was filled. If you missed the initial offering, you could join a waitlist. If a shopper failed to check out within 15 minutes of placing the item in their cart, it would be offered to the next person on the waitlist. You would have just a few minutes to make your own purchase, or it would drop to the next person. Many of these deals would be gone and the waitlist filled within seconds of showing up on the app.

    Because we had our TVs stolen and have not replaced them yet, I was hoping to snag a TV deal. I really wanted the cheap 50″ deal. Not because it would have been a great TV, but because even a “cheap” TV of that size is a good deal for $150. I confess I spent way too much time waiting for that deal to drop. Not knowing when meant that I would have to be lucky. It’s not quite as bad as waiting in line for days, but it was actually very annoying to keep checking the app. In between activities with my family I was pulling up Amazon and scrolling through the deals.

    That’s what they wanted people to do. They wanted us to keep looking and keep checking, in hopes that we would see other things we wanted, and buy those as well. That worked for a couple of hours. My kids snagged a game they had been wanting for a very cheap price. I ordered a microSD card at 80% off the normal price. But very soon I just didn’t care. When the 50″ TV deal went live I just missed seeing it, and it wasn’t until 20 minutes later that I knew it had appeared. I assume it was available for just a few moments before it had sold out.

    I had begun to wonder if it would ever appear. As did others from what I read online. This new random drop tactic was not a huge hit with online shoppers, from what I could see in he forums and comments I read. I won’t ever do it again. My time is worth more than any deal like this. This felt too much like work. I am deleting the app from my phone. I only got it to see if I could get this one TV deal.

    The method that Amazon, and others, should use if they want me to keep coming back to their website is to post what will be for sale, and when the deal goes live. Both of my purchases from Amazon this year were on deals like this. I knew what was coming up for sale, and when I should be ready to buy. Both were available at different times, and both times I looked at other items for sale while I was there buying my “watched” deals. Hopefully more retailers will offer their deals online.

    Everyone wants a deal. Some people will camp out for days to get one. Others will spend too much time checking an app for a sale. I’ve never camped out, and I won’t check the app like this again next year. I will be happy to buy things online as long as I know what is for sale and when the deal begins.

    Creating Our Own Reality on the Internet

    IMG_6055Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16 ESV

    I saw the headline in this picture posted on Facebook. Since it wasn’t your normal clickbait title, I followed the link. In that article, which was on a super-uber-ultra-conservative-just-short-of-KJV-Only-kind-of-vibe website, I was shocked by the comments of the pastor of Hillsong NYC and one of the people in the picture, who seemed to be on staff as part of the worship team, at least as far as this article portrayed them.

    I was deeply troubled. I met some of the Hillsong people from Australia when I lived in Orlando. I know a guy who attends Hillsong NYC. I wondered just how connected the NYC church was to the rest? It just didn’t sit right. Not just because the website was pretty opinionated. But it didn’t fit with my own experience with Hillsong’s people or ministry.

    So, I contacted my friend who goes there. He gave me the low down. Yes that couple attended. One of them may have been in some sort of quasi-leadership in the choir as a volunteer, but once the church leadership found out about the two men they approached them privately, and after that conversation the couple left the church.  Apparently the couple went on the show Survivor, and when the audition tapes were released by CBS, church leadership became aware of the situation and went to the couple.

    That’s a little different than “Hillsong NYC Church has an “Engaged” Openly Homosexual Couple Leading the Choir” isn’t it?

    I did a little digging and found that they were pulling quotes out of different articles from all over the place, from as far back as October 2014. And many of these posts were on conservative news or opinion sites.

    I later found an article from the Christian Post from back in October of 2014 where Brian Houston, the pastor of Hillsong, had issued a statement correcting some quotes that were in a New York Times article from the same time period. The NYT quotes were the ones used in this new August of 2015 post. In the statement the pastor released he says (among other things); “”Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage… I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.”

    Then I ventured into the comment section because I wanted to let them know what I had found out. Obviously this is an opinion site, not a news site, but the story they had cobbled together for their opinion was factually wrong. The site was making some strong allegations, but had not contacted the church for any statement. Several people in the comments were talking about the inaccuracies of this article.

    When I posted my information, the author of the post replied by reposting one of the same quotes from his article. This quote was from January, and said some weird stuff. Things that needed to be addressed by the church. And according to my friend who attends there, it had been addressed. Context and timing matter. They refused to accept that their version of reality was wrong. I intentionally did not include a link to the article because of that fact. You can search the title and find it if you really want to see it. There is at least one more article on the same subject that appears to have gotten all of the content from the original-incorrect post.

    So, here’s a very conservative website, quoting from other conservative websites and cherry picking quotes from other publications to create their own version of reality. They are creating a story from information that is more than 6 months old. Any information that differs with this story is either not mentioned, or denied by the authors when mentioned in the comments. I noticed that there was quite a bit of traffic on the post, and there were no less than 11 advertisements running down the side of this little webpage. And from the comments, a lot of people were eating it up. I guess an article on a church that actual does biblical discipline wouldn’t generate the page views they needed for ad revenue?

    This is not healthy. No matter what kind of views you have on any ideas, generating content in this kind of echo chamber is bad news. And it’s very common online.

    Recently there were a rash of false news stories that Christians shared without bothering to find out if they were true. Remember that one from “NBC(dot)CO” instead of .com? This sort of thing has been going on for a long time. I used to get 2-3 emails a year saying that a famous atheist (who had been dead for years) was suing to get all religious TV off the air. That was actually a lawsuit from decades ago that was filed by someone else. and thrown out of court. But someone had put the hoax together and well-meaning, but flat wrong, Christians kept falling for it.

    Please, please, when you read something online, look at the source. Do some research. Do not just accept anything that comes along. It’s way too easy to see a controversial post that feeds into your own views, and fears, and just adopt it, believe, it, share it, and propagate it without doing any critical thinking on your own.

    Think about it before you share it.

    Update: New statement by Hillsong Senior Pastor Brian Houston about the article mentioned above.

    [I updated this post with new information regarding articles in the New York Times and on Christian post, and additional articles on this subject.]

    Limiting eBay: A Tip to Save a Headache

    The other day I was selling an old lens on eBay. I’ve been using eBay for a long time, mainly to sell electronics and camera equipment I don’t need anymore. While I don’t always like the way they do business, generally it’s an easy way to make some quick cash from stuff that would otherwise just sit in my closet. You can definitely make more than you would selling it to a pawn shop or similar.

    But the most annoying thing happened on this particular auction. I had chosen to limit shipping to the USA only. I checked that box in the listing process, and mentioned it very plainly in the auction itself. I only ship to confirmed Paypal addresses in the USA. I have some reasons for that I won’t go into here, but that is my choice as the seller. You would think that by checking a box that says you won’t ship internationally, that eBay would not show the auction to potential international buyers. That is not the case.

    My lens was won by a guy from Canada. Should he have read the listing and looked at the terms for shipping before he bid? Absolutely. He knew he had made a mistake and kindly agreed to cancel the transaction. But why would he have even been able to see it? eBay refunded my final auction value, but not the listing fee. I tried to offer a second chance to the second highest bidder, but they declined. So now I have had to pay to list the item again. This time I found a way to limit who can see the listing.

    Unless you tell eBay not to show your auction to people from primary addresses that you will not ship to, they will show it to anyone. Toward the bottom of the listing form there is a section where you can limit who can see/bid on your item. In this list there is a box you can check that does not allow people from other countries, from countries you have said you will not ship to, to see your item.

    I would prefer this was automatic, but at least you can do it. I don’t want to sell this lens a third time.

    Lessons From Lifechurch.tv

    Yesterday I sat in on a marathon session with Bobby Gruenewald from Lifechurch.tv during the Saturday sessions at NRB. He told some of the history of their church, what they do, and answered about a million questions. It was a great afternoon, and I took a huge amount of notes. One thing really stood out.

    Life church never decided to do huge things in streaming or app development. They just fostered an environment where ideas could develop. They simply built on what they found to work. They didn’t decide to be a multisite church, but rather needed to be one because they could not build or buy a building fast enough to match growth.

    Today they have about 32,000 people attending 13 campuses, and over 140 network churches and stream services around the world over 50 times a week to a combined audience of over 80,000 unique computers. Their huge media team started with 1 volunteer but now creates content that over 52,000 churches have accessed for free. (open.Lifechurch.tv)

    The idea for Youversion came while waiting for a flight. They wanted to use tech to intersect scripture. They built a website around the Bible, where people could post their insights and associate images and media with scripture.

    In July of 2008 Apple opened the app store for the iPhone, and they had a simple desire to have a version of the Bible available as one of the first couple hundred apps. They hoped that being in on the beginning they could reach several thousand people with a free mobile app of the Bible.

    Over 80,000 people installed the app in the first 3 days. Now the Youversion app has been installed on over 15 million devices and has been used to read the Bible for over five billion minutes. They didn’t have any major strategy for mobile apps. They had an idea, and they just did it. They started with small steps. A local church has had a major impact on how people interact with the Word of God.

    Why? Because they fostered an environment where ideas could be tried.

    One of the ways they make this work is by setting up multiple opportunities for feedback. It’s a culture of feedback. They get feedback during the creative process, and after they try something. It’s not personal, it’s just a part of what they do. They have the highest expectations for their staff and their volunteers. And from that feedback loop they see when something is working, they resource it.

    There is a lot more detail from the session, but one last thing I will share is about their staff hires. They didn’t go looking for the best of the best, the experts in multiple site campuses and mobile apps and web development and video production. They look for intelligent people who are lifelong learners.

    “Anyone who thinks they are an expert today won’t be tomorrow, unless they are a learner.” – Bobby Gruenewald

    The only way Lifechurch.tv could have done what they have done is to allow God to lead them and teach them, to be open to new ideas and new ventures. Not everything works out, but successes cannot happen unless you try. So take small steps, create and try.

    Then see what God does.

    So What Happened When We Killed the Magazine?

    A while back I wrote about how we communicated a change to our congregation. I promised I would let you know how it went.

    The change was moving from a print magazine to an online “news” section of our new website. We printed about 10,000 copies, and mailed 8,000 out every two months. The print and mailing cost was almost $40,000 annually, with postage prices on the rise. It took 25% of one of my staff member’s time to design it. Every indication we have about print is that more and more people are turning to electronic delivery for information. We made arrangements to print out a dozen or so copies of the stories and have them available for people that refused to view them online. Our welcome centers have computers which can be used to view our website.

    Plus, we had just launched a new website that could handle the needs of an electronic “news” section. The amount of information we could release, compared to a bi-monthly magazine, would more than quadruple. And the response is immediate; click here, register now, find out more right away. There’s no need to put down a paper magazine and go to the phone or computer to take action. You can take action right then.

    So, we pulled the trigger. We communicated the change and our last issue was all about the change to the online format. The bulletin had my contact information so I could take any questions or complaints. While we heard several stories of people that expressed sadness at the loss of a nice magazine, they understood and agreed with the reasons for the shift.

    To date, my office has received only 5 real complaints. One was from a very angry 80-year-old that called me personally. She was very upset until I reminded her she could get the same content at the welcome centers if she wanted it. Two were from people that work in the print industry.

    The news section of the site has seen excellent traffic. At one point, every two days we were seeing 8000 unique visitors which is as many addresses we used to mail magazines. we are still in the “new” phase of the website, so I don’t want to say this kind of traffic is what we can continue to expect, but the content is being read.

    5 complaints out of 8,000 subscribers. I can live with that.