Google My Business for Churches

Google My Business for Churches

An important yet simple step in raising your church’s online profile is to claim and optimize your Google My Business profile. Here’s all you need to know about Google My Business, important features, and how to claim your listing.

What is Google My Business?

Over the years, Google has provided different products and platforms for local businesses and organizations. Many have failed or have been phased out, but the most recent iteration is Google My Business (GMB for short).

Google My Business is a way for your church to present approved, accurate information to your potential audience. Information from GMB is populated in a Knowledge Graph, which shows up on the right hand side in desktop search and at the top of the search results page in mobile. GMB data also shows up in Google Maps.

Google My Business is great for two types of searches: discovery and direct. Discovery searches are searches for broad answers; examples include “church [your town]” or “christian concert near me”. Direct searches are searches when people are looking for your church; this includes search terms like “[church name]” and “[church name] directions”.

GMB insights

First Impression Ministry

Most churches have a First Impressions Ministry, designed to create a warm, welcoming experience for guests. The problem is that your guest’s first experience with your church doesn’t happen on your campus, or even on your website. Their first impression often happens on the search results page and on your Google My Business profile.

Your visitor’s first impression doesn’t happen on your campus; it happens online.

GMB for Multiple Locations

Having updated and accurate GMB profiles are also important for churches with multiple locations. Each profile should have the right address, phone number, and service hours, along with following a standard naming convention. This way a potential visitor can easily identify which campus is closest to them.

Anatomy of a GMB Profile

The Knowledge Panel can vary based on the industry, with different features for corporations, hotels, and celebrities. Here are the main features found in a Local Knowledge Panel like the one for your church.

Name, Address, Phone, Website (NAPW)

The main features of your GMB profile is your church’s basic information: name, address, phone, and website (NAPW for short). Ensuring this info is correct on your GMB profile and across the internet is a crucial step in search engine optimization for churches.

google my business NAPW

Map and Directions

This is the most important feature of your church’s Google My Business profile. If a potential visitor finds your church and likes what they see on your profile and website, the next logical step is to find out where your church is and to plan a visit.

As we’ll see later, you can see how many people click for directions from your Knowledge Graph. This, along with data like clicks to your website and phone calls, gives you a better understanding of how your profile is leading potential guests into actually visiting your church.

Photos and Videos

Google allows you to upload photos of your church to your profile. I recommend adding your logo as well as photos of the outside and inside of your church. This gives first-time visitors a better understanding of your church’s culture, attire, and worship style.

A recent update to local Knowledge Graphs is the ability to upload videos. Videos must be under 100 MB and should be horizontal, and you upload them in the GMB dashboard like a normal photo. I think this is a perfect place to upload your sermon series trailer.

Hours

The Knowledge Graph often displays two sets of hours: open hours and popular times. The open hours in the GMB profile are typically your office hours and are editable in your dashboard. The popular times is a graph showing how popular the organization is by visits. You cannot edit this, as Google creates these graphs from user behavior.

Google My Business - Hours

Description

Google recently allowed you to add a short description to your GMB listing. This description, which must be under 750 characters, shows up at the bottom of the Knowledge Graph on desktop and in the About tab on mobile.

I recommend adding a short description of your church, including service times and mention any visitor-friendly ministry.

Details and Amenities

In addition to basic contact information and description, your church’s GMB can also feature highlighted details and amenities. Some are editable by you within the dashboard, while others are added by Google when they crowdsource info from local contributors.

Google My Business - Details

Questions & Answers

A recent addition to the Google Local ecosystem, Google’s Q&A platform is a way for individuals to pose questions about a local business or organization. This is a great opportunity for your church to answer questions about upcoming events, service times, and your beliefs.

There are a few challenges with Google Q&A. First, anyone can answer the questions, which means someone else can write an answer – which may or may not be accurate. Second, Google has not set up a robust notification system, so most questions are left unanswered on most Google My Business listings.

Google My Business - Unanswered Questions

My recommendation is to constantly monitor your church’s questions and promptly answer any questions that appear. If you don’t have any questions currently appearing on your GMB profile, you should write some of your own and answer them with your owner account.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • When are your services?
  • What is the style of your worship?
  • Do you offer ministries for children and teens?
  • Where should I park?

Google My Business - Answered Question

More Information:

Reviews

Online reviews are becoming a main way people evaluate and make decisions about local businesses and organizations. According to one study, 97% of people ages 18-34 read online reviews to judge a local business.

Reviews on Google are a way for visitors to hear about your church from others. People often write about your church’s friendliness, ministries, and even the state of your facilities.

As a church, you should encourage visitors and long-time attenders alike to leave a review on your Google profile. Ask them to leave their honest opinion, with potential visitors in mind. There are some rules to follow when you ask for reviews, so be sure to follow them or else the reviews can be removed.

Sometimes, the Knowledge Panel brings in reviews from other platforms, including Facebook. That’s why it’s important to establish an online reputation management plan to generate more reviews on the most important platforms.

More Information:

Extra Features

There are some additional ways you can extend your GMB profile to get even more features.

Events

Google is now incorporating upcoming events into the Knowledge Panel. Most of this data is being produced through structured data and Schema. More on Schema for Churches in a future article.

Google My Business - Event

Google Posts

Google Posts is a game changer for local businesses. Since launching in the summer of 2017, Google Posts are small social-like posts published by the business and reside in the Knowledge Panel. Most posts are up for 7 days, while event or offer type posts can stay up for longer.

More Information:

GMB Insights

Within the Google My Business dashboard, Google shows helpful stats and insights into how people are finding and engaging with your profile. For churches, the most beneficial stat is the graph highlighting where people are searching from. When you zoom in, you can see the most popular zip codes people are searching for directions to your church. As you zoom out, the data is segmented by community.

With this data, you can see at a glance where people are most interested in your church are coming from. I’d use this data to inform community outreach, Facebook ad campaigns, and even campus expansion opportunities.

More Information:

How to Claim & Optimize GMB

Are you ready to optimize your church’s Google My Business listing and attract more visitors? Great! The first step is to claim your profile.

If your church is older than a few months, chances are there is already a Knowledge Panel for it. Find out by searching for your church’s name. If a panel does not pop up, search for your church’s name and your community’s name.

When you find your Knowledge Graph, you may see the words “Own this business? Claim it now.” This means the listing is unclaimed and needs to be verified. The verification process is pretty simple, though it usually requires a phone call or entering a code from a post card Google mails to you. Once claimed, you can then edit and optimize the listing.

Google My Business - Unclaimed Listing
Proof that even the largest churches forget to optimize their GMB Listing.

If your church’s GMB is already claimed, chances are someone else in your organization has already claimed it. You’ll need to find the email address that owns it so you access the dashboard.

Like your church’s Facebook page, you can add multiple owners and managers of your GMB listing. I recommend you make a universal email address to claim and own the listing – something like webmaster@ or contact@yourchurchdomain. You can then add your own email address as an owner or manager so you can make updates on the fly and on your phone.

Do you Qualify for a GMB Profile?

Not all churches or locations qualify for a GMB profile. To create and claim a Google My Business listing, your church needs to have a phone number and an address where you can receive mail (PO boxes and UPS boxes do not count). This may limit church plants and campuses that rent space on Sunday from creating a listing.

Got Questions about GMB for Churches?

Have questions about your church’s Google My Business listing? Feel free to reach out; I’d be glad to help. The best way to connect with me is on Twitter: @brandonschmidt

Read More

SEO for Churches

SEO for Churches

More and more churches are discovering new opportunities for outreach through digital channels. They invest time and money to create a great website, slick graphics for the next outreach event, and maybe even an app. But few have taken the time to focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is a simple way to make sure these digital efforts perform their very best.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to SEO, what is involved, and how churches can leverage it to reach more people.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization is a method of improving the search visibility of a website or organization within Google and other search engines.

There are dozens of tactics and strategies for improving your search ranking, depending on the type of website, audience, and goals. For most churches, the SEO tactics that work for local businesses would also work for them. Called local SEO, these tactics will raise the visibility of your church within a target geographic area.

Should Churches Invest in SEO?

Having been in full time ministry for a decade, I understand how valuable resources like time and money are to a local church. So why should a church invest in SEO?

I think there are several important reasons why SEO should be seen as a valuable Kingdom investment for a local church.

Get Found By People As They Search

People search for your church online in several ways. Sometimes they search by typing in your church name (“First Baptist Church”); this is called branded searches and are typically performed by people that already know your church. Other searches are much broader (“church in [community name]”); these are discovery searches and are performed by people that might not be familiar with your church.

I was working with a church who was proud of the fact that they showed up #1 in Google Search for their church name. I said “That’s great, but where do you show up when people search for “church [community name]”?” They were on page 2, which means hardly anyone new to the community would find their site.

With SEO, you can increase your church’s search visibility and target these broader, community-focused keywords. Since these searches are done by a portion of your community that does not know about your church, this is a great ministry opportunity to take advantage of.

Avoid Confusion

Do you share a similar name with other churches in your area? Are there more than one church from your denomination in the community? Do people get your church confused with another?

SEO helps clarify Google’s understanding of your church, including alternative or past names, your exact location, and denominational affiliation. This, in turn, allows Google to present more accurate information about your church in the search results, so your audience can better find you and not the church down the street.

If you have multiple locations or campuses, local SEO provides clarity to Google, so that searchers find the location nearest to them.

Advertise your ministries, events, and outreach opportunities.

With SEO tactics like on-site updates, structured data, and additions to Google My Business, you can better advertise your upcoming events and outreach opportunities. In some cases, you can even have your next event show up when people search for community events in your town. This is a great way to connect with people unfamiliar with your church and build relationships within your larger community.

What is involved with SEO for Churches?

While you might already be familiar with the term SEO, you might not know what it looks like for a local business or organization. Here are 5 key areas to focus on for local church SEO:

1. Google My Business

Google My Business is a free service from Google that allows local businesses and organizations to provide relevant information. Once you verify your account, you can add images, hours, links, videos, and Google Posts to your Google My Business (GMB) account. This information shows up in the Knowledge Graph for branded searches (right sidebar on desktop searches, or top of mobile searches) and in the Map for broader searches.

Google My Business for Churches >>

2. On-Site Improvements

Your website is your church’s online home base for reaching your community. You should make it as easy as possible for your potential guests to find your site and find the information they want.

There are plenty of on-site improvements you can make to increase your website’s rankings and search visibility.

A. Title Tags & Meta Descriptions

The easiest is to craft unique title tags and meta descriptions. The title tag of a page shows up as the blue link in search results, while the meta description is the 1-2 sentence description that appears below the link. Both are crucial elements that can make the difference in whether a person clicks and visits your site or does not.

B. Internal Architecture (IA)

Make sure you have the right structure to your site, including the most important pages being easily accessible in your main navigation and footer. If you have an important page – like your contact or visitor pages – buried in your site, it’s less likely that Google and your potential visitors will be able to find it. For most church websites, it should only take 2-3 clicks to get to any page on the site; any more and the page might as well not exist.

C. Clear, Concise URLs

Have you ever visited a website with strange looking URLs? Most users think that weird, unrecognizable URLs are either for safety (like financial transactions) or are spam sites. Creating page URLs that are easy to read and understand help build trust in your church’s site, plus they make the website more SEO friendly.


Depending on your website platform, you may or may not be able to make these changes to your church’s website. While some church website platforms are easy to work with and can make beautiful website experiences, if they make it hard or nearly impossible to rank well, I would stay away from them.

3. Off-Site Updates

The internet is filled with thousands of directories that list out local businesses and organizations, much like the telephone once did. Some (like Facebook and Yelp) are the most popular websites on the planet, while others are rarely visited by humans, and still others are extremely specific – like ones for your denomination or local directories for your community. All these online directories provide important SEO value for your church.

Very often, these directories can have inaccurate or missing data. If you’ve ever changed your church’s name, address, telephone number, or website address, chances are this old data is still out there. Moz provides a free resource [tk]

4. Schema & Structured Data

Structured data is a type of code that helps Google better understand specific information about your church. With Schema or structured data, you can give Google very accurate info concerning your office hours, associated social profiles, campus locations, job openings, events, and more.

5. Reputation Management

In communities of any size, churches can establish a reputation within Christian circles: the hip one, the traditional one, the one with great worship, the one with awesome children’s programs. Nowadays, the reputation of your church or organization can be found digitally in the reviews left online. Google, Facebook, and other platforms allow for unsolicited reviews of your church through star ratings and comments. And your potential visitors can see the ratings and reviews and make up their mind about your church – before they even step foot on your property.

While it might be unfair and not right for people to make a snap judgement on your church based on a few star ratings or the words of a stranger, but it is the culture we live in. That’s why reputation management is so important: it gives you a chance to create a better first impression of your organization online.

Reputation management involves asking your church members, attendees, and visitors to leave honest reviews of your church online. I recommend starting with Google and then Facebook as the two places for people to leave reviews.

Learn More about SEO for Churches

In this post, I’ve provided a brief overview of what churches can do to improve their search visibility and connect more with their local community. Look for some additional posts, scheduled to publish in the next few weeks, which will dive deeper into how to make these updates for your church’s website and online presence.

Read More

Celebrating the Empty Tombs of Jesus

Mausoleum_MuhammadThe Empty Tomb(s) of Jesus

Medina, Saudi Arabia is the 2nd holiest city in Islam. It is where Muhammad went during his flight from Mecca, and in this city he received portions of the Quran. In the heart of this city is the Mosque of the Prophet, a place of worship established by Muhammad in 622 CE.

At the Mosque is the Green Dome, which marks the burial tombs of many Islamic leaders. Muhammad is buried there, along with the first two caliphs or leaders of Islam (Abu Bakr and Umar). There is also an empty grave next to Muhammad, which is reserved for Jesus. Yes, even within Islam there is an empty tomb for Jesus.

Significance of the Empty Tombs in Islam and Christianity

Islam rejects the belief that Jesus, an important prophet of God, was killed. Instead, they believe that Jesus will return and be buried next to Muhammad in Medina.

On the other hand, Christianity teaches that Jesus did die on the cross, and he was buried in a borrowed grave. While there might be some debate over the location of that tomb in Jerusalem (either the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Garden Tomb), the essential truth is that Jesus was buried by his followers after the execution, and Roman centurions guarded the tomb, and early on the third day, the tomb was empty and a risen Jesus began appearing to his followers. For Christians, this isn’t just an interesting story or feel-good ending; it is the fact upon which all our hope and faith is based.

Importance of the Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a core tenant of Christianity. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes clear how crucial this belief is to the rest of his teachings. We believe that Jesus died for the deliverance of our sins, and that he was buried in a grave (1 Corinthians 15:3–4a). But Jesus did not remain in that grave; on the third day he was raised (v. 4) and appeared to hundreds of his followers and skeptics alike (v. 5–8).

Paul goes out of his way to say that this belief in the death and resurrection of Christ lines up with the ancient prophecies and teachings preserved in the Old Testament, with his frequent refrain “in accordance with the Scriptures” (vv. 4 & 5).

He also argues in the following verses that the entire trustworthiness of Christianity resides on whether Jesus rose from the dead. In verses 13–17, he explicitly states:

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:13–17, emphasis mine).

In the death of Jesus, the sins of mankind are paid for and the evil forces of this world are put to death. In the resurrection of Jesus, even death and the grave are shown to be no match for God’s love. By raising Jesus, God is reversing the effects of the fallen world and beginning his process of renewing and redeeming Creation, which will eventually result in New Creation.

Celebrating the Empty Tombs of Jesus on Easter

Today, as we celebrate Easter with our church, family, and friends, let us remember that the god that we worship is the one who has conquered death and sin forever. What started with Jesus that Easter morning will continue into New Creation, so we will all taste the glory of resurrected life.

Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen (Luke 24:5b-6a)

image credit

Read More

Amazon Music Unlimited: A Review

For the last few years, my wife and I have become dependent on Amazon and their amazing Prime service. In case you haven’t hear of Prime yet, it’s a pretty simple premise: for $79 a year, you get free 2 day shipping on any order from Amazon.com. That in itself is well worth the price of admission; in fact, we now consider it as important as a utility bill.

Over time, Amazon has added some impressive perks to their Prime Membership to get more people to sign up. Some are brilliant (like Daniel Tiger on Prime Videos) while others are duds (ahem Prime Day). For me, I view them as the icing on the top for the core value of Prime: fast, free shipping.

Last month, Amazon added another service to their Prime offerings: Prime Music Unlimited.

The Landscape of Music Streaming Services in 2016

As a content writer for an internet marketing company in Lancaster, I spend almost 8 hours a day with music piping through my ears. So music is important. And since I can get easily distracted when I’m in the writing groove, I hate ads.

I have tried many of the free and paid music streaming services out there: Spotify Premium, Rdio (RIP), Pandora, and Apple Music. Each has their advantages and disadvantages, with Spotify clearly the best of the bunch. But the price for the service ($10 a month) was just a tad bit too high for my tastes (and budget). So when I got an email last month from Amazon introducing their music service, I was intrigued.

About Amazon Music Unlimited

Like the services mentioned above, Amazon Music Unlimited allows you to stream millions of songs from most artists. With apps on all my devices (iOS, Windows, and web app, though I haven’t tried it on Roku yet), and offline listening, it allows me to listen to my favorite albums and artists when I’m at work, driving, or in the workshop.

Two differentiating features of Amazon Music Unlimited: Alexa support and the price. If you have an Alexa-compatable device, like an Echo or Dot, your Music account works seamlessly with your devices. And if you only want to play music through a single device, a subscription only costs $4 per month.

Cost is the other way Amazon sets its service apart from the rest. If you are a Prime Member, a subscription only costs $7.99 month or $79 per year. So for as little as $6.58 per month, you can enjoy millions of songs anywhere you are.

Amazon Music Unlimited: Well Worth The Price

While it doesn’t come with some features found on Spotify (like Discover Weekly), the lower price of Amazon’s music service is great for anyone looking for a more-affordable music streaming service. Over the last month, I haven’t found any music that I’ve wanted to play that is not on the service. And I’ve found the different apps easy to use.

If you’d like to try out Amazon Music Unlimited service for yourself, Amazon gives you a 30-day trial of the service for free.

Read More

christmas scene it

Christmas Scene It

The students in our youth small group love playing Scene It – the movie trivia game. So when the youth leaders and I were planning for our youth group Christmas party in 2011, we said we wanted to play Christmas Scene It. No one we knew had the game, so I took a look on Amazon to find it. No luck. They have every other variety of Scene It imaginable: Harry Potter, Disney, James Bond, and even Twilight. But no Christmas Scene It.

So I decided to make one. It is a modified version of the game: it shows clips from movies and then asks a question about those clips. It is available as a Keynote presentation that includes all the video clips: Christmas Scene It – KeyNote[ZIP]. The students loved playing it, and so will your group.

Feel free to use this for your youth group or small group Christmas party, or even for your extended family’s Christmas gathering. Be sure to let me know how and where you used it.

UPDATED LINK November 28, 2012 – For all those asking, here is an updated link for Christmas Scene  It – Keynote. It is on my public file in Dropbox, the best cloud storage system out there!
UPDATED December 10, 2013 – I just made the file available in PowerPoint too: Christmas Scene It – PPT [ZIP]. Let me know how it works!

Read More

Purchase a Pastoral Library

Are you a seminary student, young pastor, or Christian book collector? How would you like to buy a complete pastoral library for just a fraction of what it’s worth?

UPDATE: July 2018

I have sold most of my library. If you are still looking for a great deal on ministry books, consider shopping my store on Amazon.

Shop Amazon >>

pastoral-library-for-sale

The Details

  • 757 books in 28 file boxes
  • Including commentaries on every book of the Bible, study Bibles, theological works, journals, and ministry books.
  • Buy for pennies on the dollar

If you want to grow your pastoral or theological library in one fell swoop, this is the deal for you.

The Backstory

After 10 years in full-time ministry, I am currently working in the online marketing world. Without the weekly demands for writing or preaching, I am finding the burden of these books to be too great and want them to be better used.

Also, in past ministry contexts I lived hours away from the closest seminary or theological library, so I created my own selection of research resources for whenever I needed them. But now that I live a few minutes from a decent theological library, I don’t need all these resources in my library.

Finally, while I was building this library I was also building my Logos and Kindle libraries. I’ve now come to prefer the ebook format over physical and am downsizing the physical library as a result.

The Collection

img_7714

img_7719
img_7711

img_7710

img_7709

img_7708
img_7707

This library features 757 books, journals, and commentaries covering every aspect of pastoral ministry. Since I come from a slightly reformed background, you’ll find books by many of the popular authors, including Beale, Packer, Piper, Schreiner, Grudem, Calvin, Carson, Keller, Bavinck, Berkhof, Tozer, Owen, and more. Plus, there is a large selection of popular evangelical commentaries. I don’t have time to list out every book, but here are some highlights of the collection:

Theology

Collection of systematic, biblical, and specific-topic theological books. Most from a Reformed or Baptist perspective.

Includes books by Wright, Packer, Grudem, von Rad, Brueggemann, Beale, Piper, Berkhof, Tozer, Warfield, Bavinck, Bird

NT Wright’s entire Christian Origins and the Question of God series in paperback (New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, Resurrection of the Son of God, Paul and the Faithfulness of God).

Several volumes of the helpful theological series, including Four Views, Counterpoints, and the New American Commentary Studies in Bible & Theology (NACSBT). There are also some journals from the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) and Bibliotheca Sacra.

Study Bible

  • ESV Study Bible
  • ESV Gospel Transformation Bible
  • NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Commentaries

Individual commentaries for every book of the Bible. Includes volumes from top evangelical commentaries, including:

  • New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT)
  • New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT)
  • Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT)
  • Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (TOTC)
  • Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (TNTC)
  • Expositor’s Bible Commentary (EBC – whole series)
  • NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC)
  • Exploring the Old Testament
  • Preaching the Word
  • Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (ZIBBC – whole series)

Church Ministry

This set includes a large selection of ministry books covering a variety of topics, including:

  • Youth Ministry
  • Preaching
  • Missions
  • Counseling
  • Leadership
  • Church Governance (9Marks books)

Condition

This was a working pastoral library, so the books are in various states of wear. Some are practically brand new, while others have writing and markings in the text. Due to the size of the collection I can’t go through each book and determine the condition.

How Much Will It Cost

I’ve thought long and hard about this, as these books reflect a significant investment on my part. I know I can recoup more of the investment by selling the books individually on Amazon, but I don’t have the time or the energy to do that.

I’m willing to entertain offers on this collection. I know what I’m looking to get out of it, which would be pennies on the dollar for what it’s worth. If you are seriously interested in learning more about the collection, fill out the form and we can talk price.

Conditions of the Sale

I’m looking to sell these books before the end of October. That’s because we bought a house and are moving. I know this might be a tight deadline for some, but that is my reality.

Second, I’m not looking to piecemeal this collection out to several people. I’m moving and don’t have the time or capacity to sell individual books. If you buy the collection you can do with it what you want, including selling copies on eBay or Amazon.

Third, you’ll need to pick the books up yourself. For obvious reasons, shipping this entire collection is out of the question. I live near Lancaster, PA, which is a short drive from Philadelphia. The collection will need to be picked up by the end of October.

Finally, payment can be done via Paypal or cash. I’ll need the payment to process on or before you come to pick it up.

Interested? Contact me today

Are you interested in this collection? The best way to find out more or to schedule a visit is to fill out the form below. It will go directly to my inbox and I’ll be in touch within the day. You can also send me a DM on Twitter (@brandonschmidt)

Read More

No God But One – A Review

Nabeel Qureshi was raised in a strict conservative Muslim family in the United States. While in college and medical school, he began doubting Islam, testing its claims and finding them wanting. In his first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (one of my favorite books I read in 2014), Qureshi tells readers this experience of converting to Christianity from Islam and the emotional toll it took. In his new book, No God But One: Allah or Jesus?, he provides readers with a look at the claims of both religions and what evidence caused him to convert.

Studying Islam and Christianity

In this book, Qureshi seeks to answer two major questions:

  • Are Islam and Christianity really all that different?
  • Can we know whether Islam or Christianity is True?

To do this, he provides a methodical look at the claims of Islam, comparing them to both the claims of Christianity and the historical record. His evaluation of Islam is thorough, covering Muhammad, the Quran, and sharia law.

For Christianity, he engages in discussions on the Trinity, the Crusades, Paul, the Bible, and several questions about Jesus, including his divinity, his claims of being God, and his death and resurrection.

Investigating the Claims of Islam

Qureshi presents the discussion like a seasoned investigator, weighing evidence and factual claims, and revealing when the claims do not hold up. While he is trying to be objective, he admits his own biases, as he is a former Muslim turned Christian.

That’s why it’s helpful that he frames the discussion in terms of his own conversion story, suggesting that these questions were the same ones he asked on his own journey, and here are the answers he found.

Qureshi has done his homework for this journey and this book; he regularly cites verses from the Quran, the Bible, and ancient sources from both traditions. His years of debating and discussing these topics along the speaking circuit pays off, as his arguments and counterpoints are sharp, incisive, and easy to understand. Overall, the book was a solid, fast-paced tour of the major historic tenants and beliefs of the world’s two largest religions.

One weakness I saw was in his criticism of oral traditions and exaltation of written traditions, all the while there are sizable portions of the Old Testament that went through an oral process. He rightly points out several areas where the oral tradition of the Quran is likely corrupted – like when Muhammad forgot verses. But his argument is weakened by the Old Testament being formed in a similar way. By being more precise in his discussion, highlighting the apparent discrepancies between the claims of the Quran and the Islamic tradition while not putting down all oral traditions, he would have made his argument stronger.

Who Is This Book For?

In some ways, this book is an excellent primer on Islam for Christians. As a former pastor, I’ve seen the ignorance most Christians have towards knowing what Islam teaches. This book will serve as a primer into the beliefs, teachings, and historical claims of Islam. It also allows for deeper study, with notes and citations to Quranic and other Islamic texts for further reading.

And, for those outside of Christianity, I think it is fair evaluation of both religions. While he is not unbiased, he carefully explains his findings and his beliefs, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions. I think it will be a helpful guide for anyone either questioning the teachings of Islam, or looking to evaluate two of the most popular religions in the world.

Conclusion

In No God But One, Nabeel Qureshi has given us a closer look into his conversion story, in hopes that we too can learn more about these two great religions. Part memoir, part history of religion, and part systematic theology, this is a solid book that I would recommend to all and will give out to many.

Thanks to Zondervan for a review copy of the book!

Read More

Win a Free Book from Nabeel Qureshi

I recently read Nabeel Qureshi’s new book No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (releasing later this month).

Without giving away too much of my upcoming review (Spoiler Alert: I like the book), this book will be a beneficial read for Christian and Muslim alike. If you have wondered about how similar — or how different — two of the largest religions in the world are, this book will interest you.

no-god-but-one-book-cover

Pre-Order Nabel’s Book for Bonus Content

As part of a pre-order promotion from Zondervan, you can receive some great bonus content from Nabeel if you order a copy before it is released on August 30th. Bonus content includes workbooks, online videos, and audio content — all of which you can only get through this deal. To receive this free bonus content (valued at $140), order the book through your favorite online retailer (Amazon offers paperback, Kindle, and Audible audiobook). Then visit the pre-order page on Nabeel’s site and enter in your pre-order information.

nabeel-qureshi-book-bonus-content

 

Win a Free Book

Zondervan was kind enough to send me a few additional copies to send to readers of this blog — before it is released to the public!

To become one of the first people to get a copy of Nabeel’s new book, follow these 3 steps — the more steps you follow, the better your chances at winning one of the copies:
 

1. Sign up for my email newsletter

I don’t publish frequently, but when I do, it is with interesting content that’s similar to what you love here on this site. Visit the email signup page and submit you contact information.

2. Share on Social Media

We want to get word out about this book and contest. To do that, simply share this contest on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll make it easier; you can share my original tweet here:

3. Take a Bible Reading Survey

I’m working on some exciting future stuff that’s related to reading the Bible. By taking this survey, it will go a long way in helping me make this resource even more helpful. It will take you 5 minutes and one entrant will be selected to win Nabeel’s book.

And be sure to return to this post on Monday, August 22nd to find out if you are a winner.

Good luck with the contest! And whether you win a free copy here, or you pre-order Nabeel’s book, I hope it helps you gain a better, more nuanced understanding of the beliefs of Christianity and Islam.


Contest Details: For US residents only. Contest ends on Sunday, August 21. Thanks to Zondervan for the free books.

Read More

why-bother-with-church-book-review

Why Bother With Church? Book Review

For many people who have grown up in a Christian church, and most people outside of Christianity, the local church can seem like an odd, outdated institution that is long past its shelf life. And, in some ways, the critiques are true: churches are filled with

why-bother-with-church-sam-allberry-book-reviewBut this does not change the fact that the local church is a key method of God changing lives and bringing about his Kingdom. This is the argument of Sam Allberry in his new book Why Bother With Church: And Other Questions about Why You Need it and Why it Needs You. Allberry, an associate pastor in the UK, writes this book to those who have grown disillusioned from years within the church. In this short book, he answers common questions about the nature and purpose of church, including Why do I need church?, What makes a good church?, and Can I view my small group as a church?

In the last few years, I’ve been every single one of these questions by friends, family, and congregation members. And while I was able to cobble together a passable answer, I was neither so articulate nor concise in my answers as Sam is in this book. With a pastoral tone, the author is able to provide a compelling case for why church matters in the 21st century, and how, despite her flaws, is still having a tangible impact in local communities.

Allberry does a fine job of explaining the importance of corporate worship, accountability, leadership, and discipleship — all components of a healthy local church — to the spiritual formation of every Christian. He also spends time describing the role every Christian should play in his or her local church, including attending, involvement in, praying for, serving, giving to, and submitting to the local church.

Why Bother With Church? by Sam Allberry is a handy little book that provides a simple yet compelling defense of the local church. I think it would be a helpful gift to young adults who are disillusioned with the church they grew up with, giving them several reasons to stick with it.

Book Info

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews for the review copy!

Pick up your copy from Amazon: Paperback | Kindle

Read More

evernote and pastoral ministry

Organizing a Pastor’s Life in Evernote

evernote pastorBack in college, I remember taking a class that helped you with practical advice in ministry. One week, we were told to create a filing system for your office, something that was expandable, yet easy to navigate and search. The reason is simple: pastors need to collect and save a lot of info—from journal articles on a specific passage, quotes, and sermon illustrations. Our professor stressed the importance of having a filing system; otherwise you would collect all these pieces of information and never use them. He said this system would become your brain, storing all the info until you needed it.

For this class, I created a rudimentary filing system on my laptop. Using nested folders, I could separate categories and topics; inside each folder was a scanned picture or text document. This simple setup met my needs; as I added more ideas, I simply added folders. But in 2008, these folders were permanently replaced by Evernote, my new digital brain.

About Evernote

Evernote is a collection of apps that allows you to store, access, and search any type of file from any device. Their motto is simple—Remember Everything—and they succeed in helping users do that. What started as a desktop and web-based application has expanded rapidly to virtually all platforms, and has even developed an ecosystem of additional apps that can interact with your Evernote account.

How I Use Evernote

Since Evernote is such a flexible system, you can use it however you want to; there is no “right” way. Here’s some examples of how I use Evernote as a young pastor, in hopes it might help you think of a new way to store and access your information.

Collect Everything

First, I see Evernote as being a large bucket with which I can collect everything. From articles I find interesting, to youth group game ideas, to all my research on a particular passage, all of it goes into Evernote.

This is made easy by all the ways you can put info into Evernote. With browser extensions, I can clip any webpage with just a few clicks. If I download a PDF onto my desktop, I can easily drag the file into the desktop app, creating its own note. Several of my iOS apps can send info directly into Evernote, including my scratchpad (Drafts), my read-it-later app (Instapaper), and my RSS reader (Mr. Reader). If there is a tweet I like, I have set up an IFTTT recipe to copy that tweet and send it to Evernote. I can even forward emails into Evernote, using a personalized, secret Evernote email address all members are given.

Organize Everything

While the search functionality in Evernote is stellar, I still like to organize my notes. This is done by creating Notebooks (think categories), using Tags, and even creating a table of contents note. Here are a few ways I utilize these tools in my system.

Notebooks as Categories

I have created 38 notebooks in Evernote, divided into large categories. I view these as big buckets in which to dump all related notes. Categories like Old Testament, New Testament, Church & Ministry, Personal Stuff, and Culture are large notebooks, containing hundreds of diverse files—but all fitting under each general headline. I also have an @inbox notebook, which serves as a catch-all. It is the default notebook which all new notes first appear in, before I sort and move them into the proper bucket.

Receipts

In my Personal Stuff, I place all my tax-deductible receipts from ministry—whether they are forwarded from email or scanned in. But I need to distinguish between receipts from different years; this is where tags come in handy. I use descriptive tags—like TD 2013—to tell what tax year this receipt came from. So when I prepare to meet with my tax guy, I can simply go to the Personal Stuff notebook and search for all notes tagged with TD 2013. Super simple!

My Own Commentary

Warning: this might get really nerdy!

A few years ago I tried compiling all my notes and thoughts on biblical passages in Word documents—one document per book of the Bible. However, I found this to be clunky, hard to scan through, and annoying to maintain. Then I listened to a lecture by D.A. Carson on preaching, in which he gives a glimpse into his note-taking system, comprised of looseleaf notebook paper. It was then that I came up with the system in Evernote that I use now.

Template for a chapter of the Bible.
Template for a chapter of the Bible.

First, I created a template note for a biblical chapter, featuring room for an outline, verse by verse exposition, and a list of sources. Second, I duplicated the template enough to create a file for each chapter of each book of the Bible. Next, using the Copy Note Link feature, I created two large documents, sort of like a table of contents for each testament of the Bible. Now, whenever I am working on a passage, I can keep all my notes and thoughts in the Evernote note for that chapter.

Each chapter of the Bible is just a click away
Each chapter of the Bible is just a click away

Two advantages for this system: First, it is completely expandable. Each note can be as large or as small as it needs to be. Second, I can link other notes easily to the chapter note. So if I find a helpful journal article on a passage, I can add it to Evernote and link to it in the footer of the relevant chapter note. It may seem like this would take a long time, and let me assure you it will take 3x longer than you think! But having a system in place pays off immensely in the long run, especially if you plan on using your system frequently.

Recall Everything

The final strength of Evernote is the powerful searching feature. At the top right corner of the desktop app, there is a search bar. With this bar, you can search for any word or phrase found in your notes. But you can get even more specific: you can limit the search by Notebook, Tags, and even by when the note was created. And the real power comes in Evernote’s OCR technology, which means you can search through PDFs and other files (a Premium only feature). So if you are looking for that Word document you placed in Evernote two years ago, you don’t need to remember the title, or even the notebook, if you remember and can search for the subject of the document. This is immensely helpful to me; often I am pleasantly surprised by what a search returns to me, as I had forgotten about a file.

Conclusion

By now I have spend so much time and energy placing articles, thoughts, and ideas into Evernote, I can’t imagine ministry without it. If you are looking for a way to easily store and retrieve your myriad of files, articles, and illustrations, or if you are looking for a digital replacement for a paper-based system, I would encourage you to check out Evernote.

One word of advice for younger pastors or seminary students who are about to start with Evernote: be sure to stay on top of your organizing. You get what you put into your system. If you don’t spend the time, your system will not be as helpful as you hoped it would be. Take the time—like a free Saturday or a few open evenings—to develop and organize you system. Your future self will thank you.


 

organizing-pastors-life-evernote-screenshotFree eBook!

I have put together an eBook with additional tips on organizing a pastor’s life with Evernote. Click here to sign up for your free eBook.

Read More