Monday, June 23, 2008

Tiny Church on Budget #3 - MobileMe

MobileMe is a huge gift to churches. Really it is.

Most churches cannot afford the thousands (or possibly tens of thousands) it costs to put in an email server that can synchronize your contacts, email and calendar and provide the means so that you can access it via your Mac or PC, your smartphone, or online. 

Usually the standard is to put in a Microsoft Exchange solution but with the cost of seat licenses for all your users, the cost in hardware and maintenance, not to mention the security measures, switches, etc. it can eat up a budget.

And be impossible to attain for all except the larger churches.

Or the alternative is to manually synchronize that information finding ad hoc ways to keep all your information the same so that you have the information you need to respond to your ministry's needs.

Now enter MobileMe which is the next evolution of Apple's .Mac service which they are now branding as "Exchange for the rest of us."

What that means is that without buying any hardware or software, you now have a solution that can synchronize your email, calendar, and contacts across your devices, whether it is a Mac, a PC, an iPhone, or accessing this information online.

You're at a coffee shop and an email comes in with a request for a meeting. You reply and confirm a meeting time, enter the event in your iPhone. Your Mac or PC back at the office that is on updates its calendar with the same meeting moments later. 

Or you're at the in laws on the computer and want to check your schedule for the next day, you log onto and check your calendar to see what the day looks like. Because you want to spend an extra day with your family, you drag the next day's scheduled events to other days to clear out your schedule. And your church secretary or administrative assistant can check your updated calendar in seconds.

You also have up to 20 GB of online storage so you can store your critical documents online and securely access them from any Mac or PC with an up-to-date browser. You can even use it to share files with others that are too big to email without giving away access to the rest of your documents.

MobileMe also has a photo component so that you can share your photo albums

What makes MobileMe so great to use is that the online applications for email, calendars, and contacts are so good you might prefer using them than your desktop application. And you get "push" technology as well - which means that changes are pushed out to devices that are to be synchronized rather than the device polling a server on a periodic schedule.

And all this for $99/year (or less if you can purchase discounted MobileMe memberships like you could with .Mac).

At the time of this writing, I believe that MobileMe requires you to have an email address.

Check it out at

Tiny Church Budget #2

In my first post, Tiny Church Budget, I wrote about how the entry-level MacBook with Apple's iWork software can provide high quality output for your foundational media needs. I also promised to discuss some of the additional bonuses that you get for that small investment and how they can help you in your ministry.

In one word - iLife.

In that standard suite of media applications you get a rich and impressive collection of tools. iPhoto. iDVD. iMovie. Garageband. iWeb.

Have a bunch of digital photos that you want to create a photo montage with music? Connect your digital camera to your MacBook, download the photos seamlessly. Highlight the new album, pick your song and hit play. Wow! High quality photo montage with top quality, seamless transitions. In seconds.

Just shot some video and want to put together a polished video story? iMovie makes it easy and has standard high quality themes that a professional studio would use.

Want to record your sermons and create podcasts? Or want to augment your inner musician by adding a variety of instruments, styles, beats, riffs? Garageband is the perfect tool for the auteur on a shoe string.

Now, need a polished looking website that hosts your podcasted sermons, your video creations, photo albums, and blog of things happening around your church? iWeb makes putting together great looking sites and content easily and quickly with professionally designed themes and what-you-see-is-what-you-get layout capability. You don't have to have a cheesy-looking website and pay thousands for your sermons online.

Duplicating this functionality in stand alone applications would cost much more than a few hundred dollars. And none of those applications are integrated like the iLife applications are at any price. In fact, your iWork applications (including Keynote) can also access your content that you created in iLife in a seamless way.

Next in this series I'm going to talk about MobileMe and the impact that it can have on church operations.

iLife. Standard with all new Macs.

Tiny Church Media Budget

If you're a small church looking to make an investment into technology to help with handling media, song presentation, and some form of PowerPoint, you may be wondering which way to go. After all, you have been through the using the old cantankerous PC that someone donated and you're tired of the clumsiness and technology hiccups that occurs, yet you feel that unless you have a big budget, you can't have something of high quality.

Not true!

There are some very cost effective solutions for your church to put some quality in what you do without requiring a technological genius running the equivalent of a Houston space operation center.

Your foundational media needs will typically comprise four areas:

Lyric presentation
Music/audio playback
DVD play
Speaker slides

For a church starting out, one of the best options to address these four foundational areas is a MacBook notebook computer with the iWork suite ($79). That's it. You can even get by with the basic MacBook for $1099 US and do all these things fairly well. 

Now, could you do this with a PC? Yes. But you would have to purchase additional software and perhaps go with additional options that in the end, may end up being a hodge-podge of software and hardware that can work, but probably won't work as smoothly as you would like it to in the end. And probably only save you a couple of dollars up front in trade for a lot of headaches in the end.

So let's talk about this solution. 

While many churches start out with PowerPoint for lyric presentation, you can use Keynote (Apple's equivalent to PowerPoint) that comes with the iWork suite. One advantage of Keynote is that the Hollywood quality transitions are very smooth so you can gently fade from one slide to the next. Keynote can also easily use nested slides so that when arranging a song list, you only have to move the first slide and all the other slides of the song come with it.

There is also an open source, free lyric presentation called OpenSong, which gives you not only lyric presentation, but also the ability to download lyrics from CCLI, and can print out guitar chords, etc. OpenSong runs on Macs as well as PC's. I don't know if OpenSong can handle video and I didn't find it intuitive but you might find it useful.

After either of these two solutions, I would jump to ProPresenter by Renewed Vision. One cool thing with ProPresenter is that you can take an audio track and match the words to the audio track so people can sing along. You can assign backgrounds as well so all the user has to do is press the play button and you get a full visual/audio presentation that can rival larger churches (if done right).

For audio and music playback, you have iTunes and QuickTime on a Mac which are amongst the easiest to use. I've used Windows Media Player on a PC and just found it to be messy and sometimes couldn't get it to do what I wanted it to do. With a $29 QuickTime Pro license, you can import and convert many types of media, both video and audio. I use Handbrake to rip a chapter from a DVD and then use QuickTime to crop the video to exactly what I want. Then I can drop the movie file on a Keynote or ProPresenter slide and you can smoothly launch it.

DVD playback is excellent on a Mac. It comes with high quality DVD player software that allows you to quickly sort through chapters. It handles playback gracefully, especially when connecting to an external projector. Most PC's come with a low-end, generic DVD player from a company that paid to have their software come pre-installed. Apple designed their DVD player to be an integrated component of the overall system and to provide a high quality user experience that has an intuitive controller, not some hokey looking interface that was designed by an offshore electronics company.

For speaker slides, I prefer Keynote. Again, smooth transitions for one. But even more importantly, Keynote discourages putting tons of text on a slide, which inexperienced presenters so love to do. Keynote is designed by people who understand visuals and presentations wasn't designed for engineering presentations as PowerPoint was originally. Keynote seems to want you to do things in a classy way whereas PowerPoint allows you to be as garish as you want.

Okay, so here is your tab:
MacBook - $1099
Video Adapter - $19 (for projector connectivity)
Apple remote - $19 (for Keynote and also Front Row media software_
iWork - $79

Total - $1,216 retail price.

Not bad for a media station that can run the top media software when you're ready as well as provide you with some additional tools that I'll cover in a another post that can really assist with your church's media needs.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Staging Backgrounds

At our church, we don't usually have a single background slide for all slides. At times, we will change up the backgrounds to match the songs.

When I first started with ProPresenter, I would assign a background to a particular slide so all I had to do was cycle through the slides as the worship progressed. But this turned into a painful exercise because after the service, I would have to remove the backgrounds for the song because we didn't want the backgrounds to be stale always playing the same ones.

So now what I do is I create a new Library folder where I will drag the different types of pictures and moving clips that I want to use for that service and keep that media folder available. This is really useful now that when you click on a background slide, the arrow keys still advance the lyrics. 

(In older versions of ProPresenter, when you clicked on a background slide, the arrow keys would then advance the backgrounds instead of the lyrics.)

Now, after a service, I no longer have to delete the backgrounds slides - only the new library folder I created.

And just for fun, sometimes I will change a background while on the same slide for lyrics so that the background matches the words. If done right, it can really help with the visual of what is being sung. If I do this, it is usually at the end of a song where the same words are being sung again.

But remember the golden rule - less is more!