Jenna Kutcher covers all things branding on the Goal Digger Podcast and talks about why you need a brand, not a business!
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Cool Tools Show 110: Kevin Rose
(Photo of Kevin Rose by Christopher Michel)
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Our guest this week is Kevin Rose. Kevin is a serial entrepreneur and product builder, having founded the social news site Digg in 2004. Later Kevin pursued a career in venture investing, investing in companies like Medium, Ripple, and Blue Bottle Coffee while at Google Ventures and is now investing at True Ventures.
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Peloton Bike ($1,995)
“I had taken a couple stationary bike classes and the ones that you actually have to go in person, but then I had a buddy of mine, that was like you don’t understand, these classes are a lot of fun, they really motivate you, you can do it your house, and for me that just sounded like, okay, I’ll give it a shot, and I went and tried it at a friend’s house, and I got hooked, purchased one, and for a geek it’s awesome because you get all the really detailed analytics on the screen there post workout, and then it’s all live streaming classes, so like when you’re in a class the instructors will call you out by name sometimes, and there’s all different types of instructors depending on your music style and likes, so I’ve just found it to be a great way — if you have an extra half hour — to just jump on for 20 minutes and get a work out in.” [Note: True Ventures, the venture capital firm Kevin Rose works for, is an investor in Peloton.]
Habitify: Habit Tracker
“I’ve been into habit tracking apps, but they always kind of fall off, but as a data junkie, and kind of a geek, I really like to see and be held to certain habits, so I like to see like completion rate, and progress indicators, and little charts and graphs. This is just a really beautiful and simple habit tracking app. So for me, I set up daily habits that would be say “meditation” and there’ll be habits that I want to happen three times a week, like “cardiovascular exercise”, or taking certain vitamins three times a week, things like that, and so this is just my go to app for all things habit tracking.”
Ledger Cryptocurrency Hardware Wallet ($132)
“I’ve tried both the TREZOR and the Ledger, and I wanted a place to have a physical device that is required to unlock your wallet, so that, that means, you know if I lose my laptop, or wherever I’m storing my cryptocurrency, you have to have this device along with a PIN code to authorize any transactions, any sending of any of your coins or tokens. The reason I went with Ledger though versus TREZOR is just the amount of companion apps and kind of built in coins that they support. I’m looking at their site right now, it looks like they support close to 30 different coins, and that was more than TREZOR.”
Easy Fermenter Wide Mouth Lid Kit ($30)
“A little hobby of mine is fermenting vegetables, and I’ve done this with a whole variety of different stuff. [I] started with sauerkraut, and I’ve done pickles, and things of that nature, but it’s always kind of a pain, it’s difficult in that these things are expelling gases, and you always have to keep everything submerged the right way, and this was a device that I had found probably a year ago called The Easy Fermenter that really makes it easy. You buy these little glass weights that sit inside of any standard mason jar, so it keeps all of your vegetables submerged beneath the brine, and then all you do is just screw on this lid that has an automatic exhaust valve to allow the gases to escape, and it’s as simple as that.”
If such a thing were possible, if such a thing were conceivable â that one could be damned for loving God and loving perishing people enough to be damned for them â if such a thing could be, then Paulâ¦
From their days at Diapers.com to launching their own clothing brands, Galyn and Christina share what they’ve learned about e-commerce and entrepreneurship.
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Today I’m excited to have my friend George Mekhail from EastLake Church again. He’s talked with us before on opening multiple campuses, and today he’s back to talk with another topic his church has recently faced.
George is always thinking about what’s next in life, society, and church. He’s been with the team at EastLake for four years now and has helped the church face one of the biggest issues in today’s society—accepting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. EastLake was recently featured in an article in Time Magazine about this topic. Through this process, the church has strived to make themselves known as “church for the rest of us.” Everyone is welcome and you can come as you are. EastLake currently has five locations in the Seattle area.
But this has not been an easy issue to face and George admits that the church has made a lot of mistakes. Here are some of the things they’ve learned along this path:
Follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. // The biggest question was how to get people connected to the message of Jesus? The wake up call for George came when a friend of his and member of EastLake told him that she was dating a woman. He could see the fear in her eyes as she told him this and he realized she was afraid to be herself at the church. The church was creating hurt and pain, and he felt the Holy Spirit telling him that they had to change this exclusive mindset. The Holy Spirit led them to move forward in letting people know they could come to EastLake and be who they were without hiding behind a mask.
Church has to be a safe place. // Whether it’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” or exclusion, church has created a lot of baggage in people’s lives. At EastLake, they felt that wasn’t part of Jesus’s message of love.
It is a very polarizing topic. // During his experiences with EastLake, George has seen how divisive the topic on sexuality is within the church. Once they came out with their stance on being open and loving to everyone regardless of sexuality, there was a lot of feedback both positive and negative. The major point that EastLake has tried to spread is that people aren’t allowed to be hateful, even if they disagree with homosexuality.
There is no formula. // George admits that EastLake made some mistakes in how they moved forward in this topic. He’s also talked with other church leaders whose churches have also gone through this and heard about their mistakes. They’ve learned that there is no perfect formula to follow. The church can make their own expectations about how they want everyone to react, but nothing is going to go as you think it should. Through it all, just keep moving forward and follow where the Holy Spirit is leading you.
It will be painful. // This isn’t an easy subject to face. As George tells us, you don’t know how deep rooted this issue is until you start facing it head on. People will walk away, friendships will be broken, and churches will lose membership and money at first. But George believes that in the end, churches that are exclusive will be the ones that get hurt the most. And Jesus taught love, not hate, so that’s the message we need to follow within the church as well.
For pastors or other church leaders wondering how to move forward in spreading Jesus’s message and opening the hearts of their church, visit EastLake’s website on this subject at TogetherInThis.net, which contains helpful videos and resources. You can also reach George by email at George@eastlakecc.com or visit EastLake Church’s website.
00:33 // Rich introduces George and welcomes him to the show.
01:08 // George introduces himself and talks about EastLake Church.
02:38 // George tells us the average attendance at the church’s locations.
04:36 // George talks about the church’s journey in relation to the Time Magazine’s article.
11:18 // George talks about the resources available – Together In This.
12:38 // George talks about the process they went through to change as a community.
16:15 // George talks about the challenges experienced during the changes.
18:21 // George talks about expectations, learnings and the impact of the changes.
21:07 // George encourages churches to act on their convictions.
24:03 // George talks about the impact these changes had on their staff.
26:06 // George advises church leaders to “Be in a relationship with people.”
28:05 // Rich makes reference to Jonathan Merritt and his book A Faith of Our Own.
29:16 // George offers his contact details.
Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. My name’s Rich, the host around these parts, I’m so glad that you’ve decided to spend some time with us today. We are in for a fascinating conversation, one that I’ve been looking forward to for a few months, super excited to have George, a friend of mine from EastLake Church on the left coast with us. George welcome to the show today.
George – Hey thanks so much for having me again Rich, it’s good to see you.
Rich – Yeah. George has been on the show in the past and recently, well I guess it’s not recently anymore, I saw their church popup in Time Magazine, in an interesting article and so I wanted to get George’s thought on that and here we are in the summertime talking about this. But George, before we jump in, I thought you could give us kind of, for people who haven’t listened before, a bit of a history of EastLake, kind of your story, what’s your piece in the puzzle and then give us a sense of who EastLake is.
George – Yeah sure. So, let’s see, I’m married, I have two amazing children, one’s actually turned seven today and one’s five. So yes, most of my passion is spending time with them obviously but I’m a futurist at heart. I love to think about what’s next, what’s next for the church, what’s next for society, working, where is all of this going, what are we doing here? That’s where I spend a lot of my brain space, but I’m the Executive Pastor at EastLake, I’ve been on the team for about four years. My wife and I have been a part of the community for about nine years and it’s been an incredible place for us, it’s an unbelievable community. A lot of our friends we’ve met through EastLake and it’s just been a fun ride.
So ten years now it’s existed. EastLake is a place where we like to say that it’s a church for the rest of us and it’s a place where everyone’s welcome. What we try to replicate is just an authentic place where you can be yourself in the truer sense and not have to put on your smiley church face on Sunday, but really just come as raw as you are and as broken and vulnerable and with all the mess of life. So that’s, I think, the best descriptor of what’s the essence of EastLake I guess.
Rich – Nice. So you’re a multisite church, I know some people are always nickels and noses, they want to count all of that stuff, so give us a sense of the scope of your ministry, that kind of thing as well.
George – Well, if you’re asking about current reality?
Rich – Yes.
George – We’re five locations all in the Seattle area. Combined, today we’re averaging 23, 24 hundred people combined at all locations. At our peak in 2013ish and even before we were multisite we were touching 5 thousand people on a Sunday itself.
Rich – Nice.
George – Things have changed quite a bit.
Rich – Cool. Well this is going to be great. One of the things I love about EastLake and I said this last time you were on the show, I think Churches from across the country need to be learning from churches like yourself that are in communities like Seattle, around that part of the world, that are decidedly post-Christian in communities. Nobody wakes up… my impression, I feels a certain amount of kindred spirit because I feel the same thing here in Jersey, people don’t wake up on a Sunday morning feeling guilty that they’re not going to church, it’s just outside of their radar. It’s not even a category that they consider and so EastLake is one of those churches that for years I’ve been a fan from afar and said, “Hey you should really follow them, I think they’re doing a great job.” You’ve really been a welcoming community to folks and I’ve seen that and it’s been encouraging to see and so I’m excited to jump in today.
Really recently I would say, in the last year or so, you’ve taken a stand as a church, a more overt stand, of welcoming people regardless of their sexual orientation and today I want to jump in and talk about that, because I think you’re one of the few kind of churches I would label evangelical, not in the like gun-toting, rightwing, evangelical sense but in the sense of people who want to tell others about Christ, who are passionate about, how do we get people connected to the message of Jesus. It’s been interesting to watch from afar, kind of that process as you’ve reached out, specifically to try to articulate being open to people regardless of where they’re at from a sexual orientation point of view. So tell us about that, give us a bit of the story of what’s happened at your church.
George – Yeah I mean it has been a journey for sure and it’s a journey that continues I would say, as far as what we’re continuing to learn and what this topic means right now and then the church specifically. But ever since I’ve come on staff four years ago, this has been an unresolved, I would say, conversation among our team and our Senior Pastor Ryan, he’s been processing for like five plus years now.
So it’s one of those things that has liked emerged out of who we are. I wouldn’t even describe it so much as like a decision point necessarily, as much as it was a revelation. We really do believe that we’ve been following and continue to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit in this, not just in some like mythical weird way, but in an actual like, what’s unfolding right before us, the humanity that we’re seeing, the people who were called to pastor, the pain that we see that the church has caused that we’re not and haven’t been exempt from, just sort of came to a head in the last six months or so.
So that’s been like the big picture journey, as far as what’s happened. Recently, so you mentioned the Time article came out in January and even before that, a couple of months before that, a gal at our team, who had become a very good friend, she let us know that she was dating a girl and I think that was the thing again. We’d had conversations years and years before but I think that was the moment of like, “Okay, this is over, this is done,” because really what it came down to was her having been a part of those conversations and having close friendships with myself and with Ryan and with a lot of our senior leaders, but when she came out to me specifically and her life, she was terrified, she was afraid that I was going to fire her.
She leads music at one of our locations and this was a Saturday night that she came out to us and she literally thought in that conversation that she wasn’t going to be singing the next day and that broke my heart, that was a wakeup call for sure. If my friend doesn’t feel safe to be who she is here and knowing her and seeing the fruit of her life, it makes the issue pretty clear, I guess is the way to describe it. I know for people that come from a traditional background, like myself, I grew up Coptic Orthodox, which is about as traditional as you can get.
Rich – That’s traditional with a capital T.
George – Yeah exactly, it’s a hard thing, like you know, “What about the bible? What about these versus?” [Inaudible 00:07:20] and all those questions are important and they’re ones that we have worked through and come to a sufficient place of conviction and repentance really. I think that’s where the conversation really gets lost, there’s no one who really spends time talking about that piece. It’s not a matter of, “Okay I guess this is where culture’s going and this is what we needed to do as a church,” at all, we need to be really, really thinking about our biology between brothers and sisters, the harm that we’ve done, and be in a state of repentance right now and that’s where feel like we’re at.
Now this isn’t something like, yeah we’re over that now and we have all the answers and this is the future, as much as it is like, no this is a problem, like we’re creating hurt and pain. So that’s where we’re at.
Rich – Now before this would you describe… now I feel like there’s a position that a lot of churches are in where it’s almost like the old ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of mentality, where there’s just a certain vagueness around what either our practice or our belief on this particular front. How would you describe before your took some steps, leading up to this day, obviously she knew, this is a perfect example of here’s a young woman or a woman in your leadership community who clearly saw up close the ministry of your church, knew that you were a grace filled community, a loving community, but there was something that was being articulated that got her to the spot of believing, “Now this could actually go really bad for me.” So how would you articulate kind of how you were before this shift?
George – That’s a good question. I wouldn’t say don’t ask, don’t tell was our operative, though as a bummer as it is right now for me to admit that was a part of what existed. The way that it ended up playing out was case by case for us and frankly there just weren’t a ton of examples. There were a couple that I feel like we handled them gracefully in the sense like, we brought on an intern who identified as having same sex attraction prior to this, but yeah, it was always in conversation, it was always in relationships. There was no policy statements, there was nothing that was like articulated on our website about like our stance or whatever, so this shift was sort of confirmation of what’s always been there.
I think that what’s important about it is that it’s not enough to not say anything, as far as we’re concerned. It has to be said that this is a safe place because people… there’s just so much baggage that the church carries, the unspokenness of like, “Hey you can lead, you can come here, we love you but here’s your lead and here’s how much you can do or you can’t work here, you can’t lead a group,” you know, all these sort of, whether it’s don’t ask, don’t tell or it’s, you know in some of the more conservative churches, more of just an exclusion. The opposite of that I guess is saying out loud the opposite, “You’re welcome here fully affirmed, you can lead just like anyone else can lead.” There’s no limitations on her leadership and so that was sort of the necessary next step that we saw, which is what lead to our first statement in January.
Rich – Okay so now I’m sure there’s people who are listening in who are like, “Rich but you’ve got to ask about all of the theological distinctives,” and would love us to dive into that conversation.
George – Sure.
Rich – Today what I want to focus on is how you processed this change as a community, so what you did. This is a significant shift and kind of the impact from that, but if people want to dig into that conversation, is there a resource on your website or a particular message that you could point people towards? We’ll link this in the show notes, but where would I point people if they want to dig into that particular issue?
George – Yeah, no it’s great. So after we made the announcement in January we hosted two different events called Together In This and we created a website that has all the resources, books, articles and even the video talks from both of those messages. It’s actually a phenomenal resource, it’s togetherinthis.net. So if viewers want to go there I think they would be very well resourced.
But specifically for church leaders, I guess if there’s a church leader who is sort of in the throes of this conversation, trying to figure out how to lead their community and there’s a lot of them is what we’re finding. One of the things that we’re learning is that there are a lot of pastors who are privately wrestling with this and trying to figure out sort of what’s next, but I would say to those guys or gals call me. I’d love to talk to you, it’s an important work that you’re embarking on and Iove to help however we can. Shoot me an email, give me a call and I’d love to have a chat.
Rich – Very good. I hope people take George up on that, he’s a very generous guy for sure and I will link to that resource in the show notes so people can, you know, just to dig in a little bit deeper if they’d like to process that side of the equation, but let’s get back to what actually happened.
So you have this, you know fairly dramatic kind of coming out experience with a key staff member, what happens next? How do you kind of… what steps did you walk through to process this change as a community?
George – Yeah so it came really before that. I think in 2014 we did several messages just about a general theological shift. I mean, a lot of this frankly is centered around the bible and how you approach the bible and so we did several talks around, a lot on just how to view scripture through the lens of Jesus and the crucified Christ, being the ultimate revelation of the holy and loving God. God’s not angry with us, that God is for us, that God wants to see things renewed here on earth as they are in heaven.
It seems subtle and it seems like Christian language, all that kind of stuff, but it’s a radical shift. When we start really, really thinking about the implications of that, what does that do about how we view war and violence and how we view the other and how we view even other religions.
So that was a journey that was started in 2014, and even a little bit before that, but really sort of more directly in messages that we just put out in 2014.
That was one thing, the other thing was we released a video, an ethos video that we started to play before every message on a Sunday in the Fall of last year, that had things like, you know, married, divorced or single here, it’s one family that [Inaudible 00:13:56] a beautiful ethos statement that we borrowed from a church in Denver called Highlands. But one of the lines in it is, “Gay or straight here, there’s no hate here.” So that was kind of the best subtle like indication of like, “Our leadership is sort of here and so on.” Then private conversations with key leaders that are in our community.
So there’s a multifaceted approach to this, but I say all that and I guess I would cap it off with, we did not do it perfectly in every way, far from that. I mean the Time article, the way that ended up working, it’s like we put out a press release and then surrendered to do an article.
Rich – Right.
George – They called us and we gave the interview. After the interview it was like, “Hey this is going to go out on X date,” or whatever and it actually ended up getting ahead of us. So by the time our article ended up coming out, a week before we were able to do a message for our church.
Rich – Oh well.
George – So I probably wouldn’t do it that way again if I had to do it over but there’s a lot of second guessing and like, “Oh we should have done this,” and all that kind of stuff. But at the end of the day I think what we’re learning is that there’s people who care a lot about this topic specifically and it’s very polarizing and it’s actually one of the sad things that I’m seeing in all of this is just how intense it is and how dividing it is. I don’t think it has to be that way.
We didn’t say to our churches, “Hey you either need to agree with us or you need to leave,” that would sort of be disciple to the point of inclusion. It’s like we need to include people that we disagree with and they’ll disagree with us too. So we’ve tried to make it a point that you’re welcome here regardless of how you view the bible, how you view scripture, what your opinion is on this specific topic. The only thing that you’re not going to do is be hateful, you know, we need to journey together and we need to have space and dialog and respectful conversations. So that’s been the shift.
Rich – Now I would suspect that there was, and maybe I’m wrong, but I would suspect… So this Time article comes out and then Ryan ends up getting up, you know unfortunately sometimes it happens with the press right, you know, stuff can get away from you pretty quickly, but Ryan gets up and preaches, I’m assuming that there’s somewhat of a tsunami of feedback that comes into the church. Tell me about that process and how did you deal with it.
George – That’s a good way to describe it, I would say it was definitely a tsunami of positive and negative. I think the people who are most supportive are really loud and the people who are most against it are really loud, then there’s this big subset of people on both sides, in the middle that just sort of don’t say much, you know, they leave quietly or they stay quietly. But the extremes are intense, that’s for sure, the feedback both from within our community and outside our community was at times overwhelming, I mean on both ends of the emotional spectrum.
So it’s been a very challenging but fruitful and rewarding season, you know. One that I don’t regret, I wouldn’t trade for anything. I wouldn’t want to do it again, I would want to like start from the beginning and do it again but I think it’s been the most life giving season of my life and of my ministry and I think our leadership team would echo that.
So has it been difficult and challenging? Absolutely, it’s been trialing, there’s been times when we’ve been like wanting to give up and throw in the towel or whatever, but it’s definitely worth it and where we’re headed and the church, the people that are still here and the people that want to continue to build this community with us are what motivates us to keep going.
What we didn’t do is put out a rainbow flag out front and become a gay church, right because our gay friends don’t want that either, they just want a church what they can go to and be normal and be with other people worshipping and trying to figure out what it looks like to join in the renewal of all things here and now. So we’re excited to build that community with these people and hopefully be able to partner with other pastors who are trying to do the same. So it’s a beautiful time, we’re excited.
Rich – So if there were a few things, you know two or three things that you would say, “Okay there’s maybe some stuff I would do different next time,” obviously thinking there’s probably people listening in today that are trying to think about what they would do in this scenario, what would you have done different?
George – Yeah, it’s hard to say because through this journey we’ve gotten a chance to meet a couple of other great leaders who have gone through this process and sort of exchanged notes with them and the things that we said, “Hey we would have done this differently,” we actually did but the result was the same.
Rich – Okay.
George – I think the biggest thing that comes out of the lesson there is that there is no formula really to this that’s clean.
Rich – Right.
George – I think that’s how you know that it comes from a place of conviction versus strategy right? The big accusation is, “Hey you’re just capitulating the culture,” or “You’re trying to be politically correct,” or whatever and it’s like that’s dumb, because first of all, in order to be politically correct there has to be a benefit to you right? Politicians don’t flip flop on issues because of any reason other than they’re going to get more votes or they’re able to raise more money.
So it’s not like by doing this we’ve made a ton more money and we’re growing, no the opposite in fact, the church is down about 35%-37% budget wise and around the same number attendance wise. So there’s no direct benefit to this other than it’s right, other than we believe like we’re following our convictions.
So I think by the very nature of that truth, there is a just a realization that there’s no formula. So I think I would have done that differently in that I think we tried to sort of control it, the outcomes and have certain expectations at the organizational level, the staff level and even at the congregational individual levels, like there’s certain people you know that, it’s like, “Hey I think this guy will do,” or whatever.
Rich – Oh right, right, right.
George – So I would say having those expectation of anyone or anything to fall into place or not fall into place was probably the biggest mistake, because you’re just going to be let down, because you just don’t know how deep seated this is for a lot of people and people will surprise you.
Rich – Yes so you kind of hinted on there a little bit, it sounds like you’ve had a bit of erosion of attendance and finances and you talked through that piece. I think we can live and I can be accused of this, you know I sometimes wonder, I think when I get before Jesus he’s going to sit me down and say, “Hey so you spent a lot of time worrying about getting more people to attend your church,” and you know, I think there’s going to be part of it, I can picture him saying in my imagination, “You know there’s a part of that that was really good, I appreciate you trying to reach people and then there’s some of them that maybe wasn’t so good.”
So I have the humility to realize that but I think there’s some church leaders that are listening in, they hear that, they hear you throw out that stat and for that alone they would say it’s just not worth the risk. So could you talk through that a little bit for us?
George – Yeah and this is something that I think about a lot because it is such a bummer because it is a reality and it is a hesitation for a lot of the folks that we talk to and the intension and the motivation behind it is pure right? Like these guys are thinking about their livelihood, their families, their staff and their families and the implications and the stakes, the stakes are high. So on one hand I get it, I understand that it’s a huge risk.
So on one hand it’s like how deep is the conviction, what is the motivation and how well are you pastored to sort of weather a storm that will come? Because a storm is going to come, you’re not going to grow, you’re budget’s not going to grow, certainly not immediately. What’s going to happen immediately is that it will be painful and people will lock away and people will accuse you of things that you didn’t do and people will speak poorly of you and you’ll friends and you’ll lose money and all that and that sounds terrible right? Like on the surface it’s not a very attractive… which is again why the whole notion of political correctness is hilarious.
Rich – Right.
George – But if there is conviction there, I think first of all that has to trump, which isn’t to say, “Hey just shoot from the hip and be like, “Oh I’m convicted, I’m going to go,” it’s to say still figure out what strategically you can control at some level, you know, have money in the bank and make sure that you’re staffed appropriately as is, all that kind of stuff. They’re all practical things that you can do to prepare for this and I think and I think it’s optimistic view and a long vision, I said I’m a futurist. So looking ahead I think that eventually churches that are exclusive will be harming themselves more, it will cost more essentially to be exclusive than less versus. So there will be a tipping point right, and actually after that tipping point happens I think it will be a lot easier to accuse churches that have come out as affirming after the fact of cultural capitulation because it will actually be beneficial at that time.
Rich – Right.
George – So I guess I would say, don’t wait for that. If it’s conviction it’s conviction and at some level, if you have good leaders around you and you have people who are doing their best to follow Jesus, they’ll come. That’s been one of the most encouraging things about this, is our incredible team and how inspiring it’s been to sort of watch them lead in this season.
Rich – Yeah just on the practical side, one of the things that’s so… This comes a bit from an Executor Pastor point of view what I’m about to say, because I had heard that there was maybe a bit of contraction there. So I went on your website and looked at your staff listing and I’m like, it seems like they still employing a lot of people.
George – Yeah.
Rich – Did you end up having to contract a little bit or where you able to kind of weather the storm financially so far?
George – Yeah, so we’ve had to cut in a lot of different places. One of the big implications of this, just on a practical level for us is that we’ve had to close one of our campuses in Monroe and for a couple of different reason.
One, it was already sort of in our most rural remote communities, a beautiful community, amazing people were a part of it, but it represented an asset that we had equity in and so we are in the process of selling that, so that we have a little bit of cash to function with and our campus pastor at that location was transitioning.
So it was sort of in the midst of this season, where we were trying to hire someone and sort of reboot any sort or energy and that just seemed untenable. So as a result of that our… a couple of other things, two or three other staff, who were either offered other positions or I think one of the positions ended up being eliminated. So that was really the most negative staff implication that we’ve had to move through, through this transition.
Other than that though, things have a little bit self-corrected. We’ve had just like random things. A couple of members of our team got opportunities in other places, other states, just sort of disconnected from this issue. So things kind of worked out in that sense from a staff perspective where we’ve been able to [Inaudible 00:25:29] amazing people on our team came forward and took voluntary pay cuts to weather this, which is just unbelievable. It’s really, really inspiring to be around these people. So we really feel like we’re doing this together.
Rich – Right. Well just two last questions. What would you say to another church leader, we’ve kind of talked a bunch about this, who is maybe wanting to be more open but is feeling caught in that zone? You know, I’d say reach out to you, that’s a great thing to do, listen to your story. Anything else you’d say to a church leader that’s out there today who’s thinking that?
George – I think the more that you get this “issue” out of the clouds and out of hypothetical and out of like the talking about it or them, even worse and the more you can humanize and just be in relationship with people and ask them their stories, that’s really where the change happens, that’s more than any like book or video that you watch on that Together In This website or whatever, those are going to be helpful resources and tools and they’ll give you handles. But the relationships that you have with real humans, who are doing their best to follow Jesus and to look them in the eye and sort of, I guess, decide what as a human, what do you do with this person? The answer becomes pretty clear as a follower of Jesus, it’s you love them and what does that actually mean, how does that play itself out?
So for me, I guess the moment in which that reality came to a head was when, I think the perceived decision, like in hindsight, as my friend tells the story, is that she was feeling like she was going to be fired and that didn’t even cross my mind, like I was going to fire her, it’s ridiculous to think about, but the fact that she was thinking about it shows that there is an impasse there right?
So I guess most people don’t have to come to that place of decision, they can have a theological idea about something that doesn’t have any practical implications in their real life. So for those people it’s a lot easier to sort of have a traditional view on this, but it gets really messy once you’re in a real loving relationship with people.
Rich – Well George I really appreciate you coming on the show today and talking through all this. It’s been super helpful and hopeful insightful to people who have been listening in. A couple of years ago we have Jonathan Merritt, he’s an author, come and speak at Liquid, it was a great day and we got talking about this particular… he wrote a great book, A Faith of Our Own which is a fantastic book, if you haven’t read it you should read that.
One of the things he said that stuck with me from that day, because he’s kind of a polestar, he is kind of a cultural, he’s trying to kind of take temperature of the culture and one of the things he had said when asked about this particular issue is he said, “You know, in 30 years from now people are going to look back at exclusionary churches in the same way that people look back at folks on the side of the civil rights argument that didn’t end up prevailing in the end and saying why were those people even there? Where there were Christians that actually didn’t want civil rights to pass through, who are those people and what were they thinking?”
That stuck with me where I’m like, that is something we need to wrestle with for sure. So my hope in today’s interview, as people have been listening in, that it’s been thought provoking and you know, even just what you said there at the end, that we would put a face on this issue even if it’s just, “Here’s another church leader who’s trying to wrestle with this.” So George I really appreciate you being on today.
If people want to get in touch with you or with EastLake, how can they do that?
George – Yeah, shoot me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to get back to you and support you. So if you’re on that journey definitely don’t hesitate to reach out, I know it can feel lonely in that place, so we’d love to be a resource if we can.
Rich – Thanks so much, I appreciate that.
George – Thanks for having me Rich.
Lightning Round Highlights
Helpful Tech Tools // YouTube/Vimeo
Ministries Following // Elevation Church Charlotte, NewSpring Church in South Carolina
Influential Book // “Start with Why.” By Simon Sinek, “Die Empty” and “The Accidental Creative” by Todd Henry
Inspiring Leader // Bob Goff
What does he do for fun? // Antiquing and Paint Balling!
Interview Transcript //
Rich – Alright everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. Happy Thursday, hope you’ve had a great week because you kind of countdown to this weekend at your church. Today, we’ve got a real treat, a church leader that I met years ago who’s a real expert in the area that we’re talking about today. So, I’m excited for this. We’ve got Steven Murphy on the line today. Steven, welcome to the show.
Steven – Thank you very much for having me. This is awesome.
Rich – I’m so glad you’re here. We bumped into each other a few years ago when you were at a previous engagement, when you were working at Sea Coast which was a great experience. Sea Coast is a great church. Currently, you work at Joyce Myers Ministries. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background, give us the Steven Murphy story.
Steven – The nutshell side of it is that I got into television when I was actually a full time, hardly full time, just high-capacity volunteer in youth ministry and we actually toyed with the idea of doing a public access show for teens. Me and one of the other guys went done and took an eight-hour training course at the cable company. With those eight hours of training, you were then authorized to use their stuff. Honestly, that show never came to fruition but that was the kick-starter that what became a hobby and then ultimately a career and that’s been over 25 years that I’ve been in television production. I’ve did a lot of live sports when I was living in Phoenix Arizona, traveled all over the world doing that for all the big networks. Then in about 2004/2005, my wife and I just got to a point we said, “How can I take what I’ve always done with TV and video into the church world.” I took my first church gig in 2005 and worked for a couple big churches, as you mentioned Sea Coast was one of them.
How’s this for a segue? In my church experience was tasked with putting together video announcements. What started off as, “What do you want? What are we doing with this?” became a passion of, “Alright, how do we do this well? How can we use this medium to the best and just communicate well?” That’s why it became a passion for me. I don’t want to just phone this in. I want to do it well.
Rich – Right. You know it’s so funny, the video announcement thing, I think in the last few years and again you’re the expert on this but it seems like over the last even five years, it’s become a more and more standard practice in churches. A lot of churches are doing video announcements. Is that your impression as well?
Steven – Very much so, in fact I tweeted a crack that video announcements have kind of become the church clip-art of 1990’s. Sadly, I feel like so many churches are doing video announcements because all the other churches are doing video announcements. I think that’s where it kind of degrades a little bit. It’s like, “We’re the last church that’s not doing them. We should do them.” I think churches jump into them with little or no research, little or no expertise on their staff. To me, that is one of those areas where it’s like this is part of the first impression that visitors are getting of your church. For that matter, I’m a metaphor guy and when I look at a church service, I look at it as real estate and that you’ve got about 60 to 90 minutes to use well. First of all to foster an environment where people can encounter the power and presence of our God and secondly, to really give them a postage stamp version of what the life of your church looks like. So, it just kind of grates on me when I see churches dive into that haphazardly and take 3 to 5 minutes of very valuable real estate and misuse it. That’s the part that kind of gets me, “Come on. You can do better.”
Rich – It’s funny, last spring, I was on a missions trip, a clean-water (our church does a lot of stuff with that kind of clean-water efforts around the world) and had the privilege of taking a team to Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. On the Thursday night, we had an incredible privilege; we got to go to Thursday night church just outside of Granada in Nicaragua. We pulled up. It was a great service. I speak about as much Spanish as I do Russian; I don’t speak every much at all but, it was a wonderful experience. The whole was just great. It’s interesting, we’re out in this kind of a barn of a facility, it was really nice super-well-kept but not a fancy location but in the middle of all that, here was video announcements. This church had found we actually knew the guy who uses a little camcorder and pulls together video announcements every week at their church. I was like clearly the video announcement thing is wide-spread.
Why don’t we dig into it? What are some of things that when you talk about some of the things that go wrong in video announcements or some of the things that kind of pit-falls maybe a church should avoid when they think about video announcements.
Steven – Like I was saying, I feel like a lot of churches just dive in, feeling like they’re behind so they just go for it with little or no plan. I’m very much a why-guy. Read a good book about a year and a half ago called Start with Why and it really helped crystalized my thoughts on, “Okay, this is what makes sense. You can’t just read the bulletin for 5 minutes.” I think if you’re going to go with video announcements, then you’ve got to start thinking visually. You can’t just move a talking-head from a podium to a screen. That’s what I think really one of the first things that happens is, “We just read the bulletin and we put it on video.” Then, you’re not really maximizing what that medium is good for. Be visual.
You were just talking about mission trips. Well, it’s one thing to stand up and say, “We’ve got a great mission trip coming up to Nicaragua. It’s in six weeks. If you want to go, you should sign up.” You haven’t really communicated other than a date and time. Give people a reason why you are going. Give them a reason why your church is passionate about serving the people of Nicaragua and then mix in some photos or some video from the last time you went. For that matter, I’m very much a fan of story; get a quick 30-second synopsis from somebody who was on the last trip. Obviously, they’re going to speak very passionately about what that trip meant to them and why they’re going back. These are the things that are going to wet people’s appetite more than just calendar fodder. I think very much in our churches, we’re very much about what. We’ve got plenty of stuff to do but we rarely give the why. We rarely give the reasons why our church is giving things like this time and the calendar space to happen.
Second to that, if you really want to do video announcements, identify somebody on your staff or start thinking about a hire. One of things that that’s really occurred to me lately was that you wouldn’t just grab somebody off the street and say, “Hey, why don’t you lead worship in our service. I don’t know anything about your background or your skill but this is just something that we really want to do.” I feel like that’s one of the things that happens in churches. “You know the youth guy, he knows a little bit about video.” Well, that youth guy is probably really strapped in his schedule and now you’re putting this on his plate. You go in without a plan. You go in without any real long-view as to what things look like for the next 6 months and you start them.
Rich – In our world, we do video announcements every week. I think our guys do a really good job just to underline a couple things there. We don’t want to just transfer the talking -head thing, like we had one person just standing up there. We want to actually show as much, (the term I’d heard used before) the B-roll or footage from, actually seeing things happen. Let’s actually illustrate what it’s like to be in this whatever event or that you’re promoting. Obviously it’s a little of a bottom-less pit like television commercials are 30 seconds long and they can take half a year to put together. What would a rule of thumb do you think that a church when they think about how long it might take between shooting and editing to pull together a decent video announcement?
Steven – I think that the reasonable time-frame is a good day and a half. That’s just because, I look at that you’re usually talking about a four-day work week (and I hope that churches either given their staff a Monday or a Friday off) that you’re really trying to cram a whole lot into that four days. So, you’ve got a day’s worth of work as far as planning, scheduling, shooting and then the edit and I would always throw out that you’ve got to throw in a little extra that I hope that somebody gets to review that things and you may have to go back in and do a reedit, tweak something before you actually kick it out and have it ready for the weekend. That’s just one of those things to where I just don’t think a lot of leadership knows what it takes to put together a video. It’s like, “What? It’s just 2 minutes, how hard could it be?” There are a lot of hours that come out to making that 2 to 3 minute video and it’s not so easy. It’s just tedious and time-consuming at times.
Rich – I found that part of my role has been internally, trying to communicate with people when they ask for video stuff from our video guys to just articulate how long that takes. Coming up with some sort of calculation that’s like, “Well, if the video’s going to be 3 minutes long, generally, it’s 3 hours per finished minute so that’s going to take 9 hours work for us to do.” Every editors going to be a little bit different and very situations going to be a little different but it’s good to kind of figure out what that is because a lot of times people all they see is the finished product and it actually takes longer than you’ve ever anticipate it taking. What else should we be thinking about when we think about video announcements?
Steven – One of the things that occurred to me in the last year, even though I’m out of having to do it week to week, I just like to watch and see what’s happening out there. The propensity to have a boiler-plate section, do a search on YouTube or Vimeo for church video announcements and you’ll find this in 90% of them, “Hi, welcome to Such-and-such Church. We’re so glad to see you this weekend. If you could take a moment and please fill out the visitor card, it’s in the seat in front of you and drop it in the…” Okay. We get that part. To me, that’s something that should actually come from a human. I think that we again started to look at video announcements as this weird catch-all for those kinds of things. I would just much rather see that from a pastor or a staff member that’s up on stage and right in front of the people. Video is a great way to get messages across, it’s a great way to be visual but, something like that to me should be more personal. That’s should come from a human right in front of you that’s making you feel welcome as a new person or as maybe somebody who hasn’t been at church for a year. Save that real estate for actually announcements, save that time for making things stick.
Again, you mentioned mission trips, that is one of those things that I think that is a great medium because you can be so visual with. At Sea Coast, we had this on-going relationship with Habitat for Humanity that we had teams going out on a regular basis. Don’t just give a date. I grabbed one of the guys and said, “Let’s go shoot on the site.” Just the location itself becomes a part the announcement. You’ve got 2X4’s and hammering and nailing and stuff going on behind and that to me is all the more enticing than just somebody giving dates and times. Let the medium work for you instead of just, “We know that video announcements is 3 minutes this week and here it is.” Then, everybody down the line is just kind of phoning it in and my heart goes out to the video guy who’s got to make that work every week.
Rich – Have you kind of encouraged churches or seen churches, they might get into a regular pattern and then take a break. We’ve done this actually two weeks ago; we didn’t have any announcements at all. I remember in the Monday meeting going into that next weekend, I was like, “Yeah, there’s no announcements this weekend at all,” and people were like, “What?” I was like, “Yeah.”
Steven – “Can we do that?”
Rich – “Are we allowed to do church without it?” I said, “Listen, I want times in our schedule where we just are not constantly shilling for stuff and give a bit of break, a bit of a breather, a bit of a Salem-moment.” Obviously, the same is true with video announcements, right? Taking a break every once and while is a good thing just to kind of keep it fresh.
Steven – Absolutely, I’m all in favor of, I always call it, going dark. If you don’t have some real meaty things that you need to promote that week, then go without. I dare say if you did an exit poll of people walking out of your church, “Did you miss video announcements?” “Didn’t even think about it.” I think that all too often our video announcements may end up being way too internally-focused. “That one ministry really wants their thing on.” I remember one time, we didn’t have anything going on and I was asking around. I was like, “You got anything?” This one guy said, “We’ve got a financial seminar.” I remember thinking, “I can’t make that real visual. That’s the only thing that we have? That’s going to be tough.” I don’t think that your service will suffer any if you go without for one week.
Rich – That speaks to connecting to the broader communications strategy, right? Like you said earlier, you let the why drive first. Why are we doing this? What piece does this play? How does this fit into the overall mix? What piece of our strategy does this fulfill? Let that be the preeminent thing rather than, “Okay, we need to fill a time-slot. Let’s watch paint drying in the senior’s room because we have to.”
Steven – They think that they just get this kick that, “We have to have video announcements this week.” I’m never going to be a proponent of that, to do it just because you can. You’re wasting somebody’s time.
Rich – Are there churches that you think do a particularly great job, if people want to look at or kind of explore what other people are doing, who would you point them in the direction of that you think do a great job on video announcements?
Steven – The real easy one right off the top of my head is Elevation Church in Charlotte and they post their stuff on Vimeo. They blow everybody out of the water. Early on, one of the big sparks for me is that I went to a service at North Point in Atlanta and they do a phenomenal job. They do a 10-minute announcement thing that starts well before the service but that’s because they’ve got full seats and a captive audience and an amazing team. Elevation just has really done a great job of capturing the story element and just really telling what the church is doing on an ongoing basis as opposed to, “Here’s a thing coming up.” It’s like, “Look what your money has been doing. Look what your involvement is doing in changing our community.” It’s a great unifier in a church like that that’s got a good dozen sites that really shows people what that church is all about. I’m just a big fan of that. When you switch it from calendar fodder to, “This is our DNA, this is what our church is about,” I think that’s something that’s just got teeth as opposed to just spouting dates and times all the time.
Rich – Definitely, is there anything else that you want to share with our listeners before jump into the lightening round?
Steven – Yes, honestly it’s just, be strategic. Figure out what you want that thing to look like and not just this week. What do we want the next 6 months to look like or the next year to look like to where you’re really maximizing what that medium can do for your church instead of just spouting calendar, instead of just taking up several minutes. It just cracks me up sometimes when I come across video announcements that are 7 and 8 minutes long. That to me says, “This is a church with no strategy whatsoever.” Pick the top 2 or 3 items that you really think are going apply well to your church and then go after them with a fever that says, “We want to tell this story. We want to really sell this to our people in a way that lets them know, this is what our church is about.”
Napkin #1 – This American Life
Bradley Campbell says drawing story structure is like using Google Maps for directions. Structure offers a path, a way to figure out where to go… what to do with all the tape. To help him plan out his stories, Bradley thinks pictorially. He makes story structure drawings in his head. I asked him to make a few napkin drawings of how he sees structure. Indeed, that’s how he first learned about structure — in a bar on a napkin.
Many years ago, Bradley was a print reporter. He says everyone he worked with kept talking about structure. He knew they meant the way in which a story is organized, but that left him with a question: Organized how? So, he asked a friend of his from the Village Voice “What’s structure?” The guy grabbed a napkin and a pen and made a drawing. “Click!” Suddenly, it all made sense.
Now, Bradley’s a radio reporter for Rhode Island Public Radio. (Update: Now Bradley works for PRI’s “The World.”) He says he’s listened long and hard to stories on public radio to understand how they’re configured and to create skeletal renderings of their structure.
“Napkin #1″ is Bradley’s drawing for This American Life, a structure Ira Glass has talked about ad infinitum: This happened. Then this happened. Then this happened. (Those are the dashes.) And then a moment of reflection, thoughts on what the events mean (the exclamation point).
On this edition of HowSound, Bradley talks about his napkin drawings for TAL, All Things Considered, and “The e” (on a napkin below labeled “Transom”). And, as a bonus for you because you’re reading the blog, I’ve also included his napkins for Morning Edition and Radiolab.
Napkin #2 – All Things Considered
To be sure, Bradley’s drawings are not approved by the shows they represent. These are not official. Nor are they the only way stories are told on these shows. But, for Bradley, they depict frequently heard story arrangements.
Here is his All Things Considered (ATC) napkin. It starts with a straight line. That’s the opening scene where the reporter introduces listeners to a character often in action. Bradley gives the example of a story about ticks he produced for ATC. In the opening minute or so of the piece, we meet a biologist plucking ticks from shrubs in Rhode Island.
The dip down and up is what Bradley calls ‘the trough.’ “Throw whatever reporting you have into this middle section,” he says. In the “trough” of the tick story, Bradley included info on tick biology, lyme disease, and lyme disease research.
Then, the final line is a return to the original scene. Perhaps time has passed and the character is doing something new. But, it’s like book-ending a story — end close to where you started. Bradley’s tick story ended back out in the woods with the biologist.
Napkin #3 – The e
Bradley named this napkin “Transom” for Transom.org. It’s fair to say that’s a misnomer. The stories featured at Transom vary widely and can’t be summed up on a single napkin (which is true for all the shows listed here).
However, I teach at the Transom Story Workshop and since “The e” is probably my favorite structure, you can hear that approach to story in a lot of the pieces produced by Transom students, hence Bradley’s label.
“The e” is what the Village Voice reporter drew for Bradley many years ago. The beginning of the line is the present or somewhere near the present. (Frankly, you can start wherever you want in terms of time, but the present or recent past is fairly common.) And, typically, there’s a character doing something — a sequence of events.
Then, at the point where the e loops up, the story leaves the present and, perhaps, goes back in time for history and or it widens for context.
When the loop comes back around, you pick up the narrative where you left off and develop the story further to the end. Somewhere in that second straight line the story may reach it’s climax then the denoument or resolution of the story.
Napkin #4 – Morning Edition
Even though this napkin looks different than the others, Bradley’s Morning Edition structure overlaps with the others.
The first line is the opening scene. Then, it’s followed by history, context…. a widening of the story. Then, a return to the opening scene only further along in time. Then, that’s followed by several characters each of whom have a connection to the story. That’s what the horizontal lines on the right represent.
When I spoke to Bradley about how a story might play out using this structure, he suggested considering a story about Lutheran ministers advocating for same-sex marriage in the church. In the first line, we meet a minister who is in favor same-sex marriage and he’s in church preaching. In the “V” we learn about the history of the issue in the church and the proposed changes. We return to the minister, perhaps at a meeting where he’s advocating his position and that’s where we meet several people linked to the issue and their perspectives.
What’s cool about mapping structure like this is that the pieces are moveable. You can rearrange the parts like they’re Tinkertoys. In the Morning Edition structure, for example, you could open in a scene, then introduce two people with other views (like the lines on the right of Bradley’s napkin only on the left). Then the “V.” Then a return to the first character and the lines again. Or, maybe you start with the “V” then meet a character…. See what I mean?
Napkin #5 – Radiolab
If nothing else, the Radiolab napkin looks cool, right?! Here’s what Bradley told me about this drawing:
“Radiolab! Oh man…. I mean, who hasn’t spent an evening driving in their car and all of a sudden Radiolab pops on…. And you’re just listening to it and the stories just get, you know, they start to build out kinda small and then it feels like you’re going on a roller coaster and you approach this one sort of “Whoa!” and then it gets even cooler and then it’s like KSSSHHHSSHSH!
“…And all this chaos comes through and there’s all sorts of sounds and noises and excitement that’s building… and then it starts to get even bigger and it builds on top of that…
“(You know when) you approach the final incline of a roller coaster and then you shoot down and then it ends? Sometimes it feels like when I listen to Radiolab it’s like the roller coaster is just shooting off a ramp! And it’s like the whole coaster goes “whoosh!” and they just launch you!.. and you’re like “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Where am I? Where am I?”
Looking for more structure in your storytelling life? Try this link to a Google Image search I did for “story structure.” It’s crazy.
And, John McPhee, a master of narrative non-fiction, recently wrote an article about structure for the New Yorker. It’s worth the read.
Oh, and here’s a link to the song by They Must Be Russians featured in the podcast.
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If you’ve just been put in charge of making a site or app works for everyone, the most daunting step might just be the first one. Sure, there are standards, but sometimes they raise more questions than they answer.
What you need is an easy way to get started. And Easy Checks may be just what you need.
Sharron Rush heads the Easy Checks project at the Web Accessibility Initiative. These simple steps help you get an idea of whether a site meets some of the basics for good accessibility, without any special technology or tools. She joins Whitney Quesenbery for this episode of A Podcast for Everyone to answer some of these questions.
What are the Easy Checks, and why are they needed?
Can anyone use the Easy Checks? Is there special equipment needed?
What’s the best way for a project team to get started with accessibility?
How do usability and accessibility fit together when you are evaluating a web site?
Sharron Rush has been an advocate, a learner, and a teacher of accessible technology for 15 years. She is Executive Director of Knowbility and an Invited Expert to the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative where she co-chairs the Education and Outreach Working Group, which wrote the Easy Checks.
Resources mentioned in this podcast:Easy Checks – A First Review of Web AccessibilityKnowbility’s Access UWeb Accessibility Initiative
Recorded: February, 2014
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Whitney Quesenbery: Hi everyone. Welcome to this episode of “A Podcast for Everyone.”
Whether you are in charge of the user experience, the development or the strategy for a website, our goal is to help you make your site accessible, without sacrificing design or innovation. I’m Whitney Quesenbery. I’m the co-author with Sarah Horton of a new book from Rosenfeld Media, “A Web for Everyone.”
Today, I’m talking to the extraordinary Sharron Rush. Sharron is the Director of Knowbility, home to projects like the Accessibility Internet Rally, AccessWorks, they do projects to help companies make their sites accessible, and they run the annual AccessU conference. We’ll talk about that at the end.
She’s also a part of the education and outreach group at the web accessibility initiative at the WC3. She joins us today to talk about Easy Checks, and how they can help you get your site on the road to part of being a web for everyone. Welcome, Sharron.
Sharron Rush: Thanks Whitney. It’s great to be here.
Whitney: Great to have you. Before we dive in, I want to just mention the URL, so we make sure we get it in the tape, that URL for Easy Checks is www.w3.org/WAI/eval/preliminary, and the full title of this page is “Easy Checks – A First Review of Web Accessibility.” You know, Sharron, that sounds almost practical, and this is from a standards organization.
Sharron: [laughs] Are you surprised? You sound like you’re very surprised at that. That was our goal, in fact. We wanted something that was practical, and that really truly was easy.
Whitney: Yes. It sounds like we all know what we need to do, what we don’t know is know where to start. It’s great to see some material out there that will help. Tell me about who created the Easy Checks and how you worked on it.
Sharron: You mentioned a minute ago that I was part of the W3C’s Education and Outreach Working Group for the Web Accessibility Initiative. That’s a group of volunteers and invited experts who take all of those fabulous very technical documents that are developed around HTML5, CSS, and all the accessibility standards, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, all of those things.
What we try to do is digest them, and do outreach that will help lay people use them, understand what they are, and be able to really use them in a practical way. One of the things that we kept hearing was that…I just feel overwhelmed when I come to the W3C. I’m interested in accessibility, but I really can’t even begin to know how to apply those Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). What we decided was, why don’t we make a really easy way for people who aren’t technical, who don’t necessarily have automated testing tools or any of that, but just to get an idea of what does accessibility mean and how do I know if I’m even in the Ballpark.
Whitney: Cool. So, you see why I was a little surprised about something called the easy connectable standards, but it’s really great to hear that kind of project. I have a really big question with just how did you decide what you should include. I assume that Easy Check are things that are really important, but how did you decide what to include?
Sharron: That is a good question. That part wasn’t an easy thing to do because there are some things that create great barriers for accessibility but that aren’t really easy to check. We start by developing a framework that says, here are the requirements in order to be an Easy Check. It has to be all these things, but paramount was, it has to be easy to make a decision, it has to be easy to make a call on whether or not it passes or fails.
We weren’t always successful, and I think you’ll find, if you look at the Easy Checks, that we say, “Here’s what you can do. You can take this step and you can do this, but, even if you get a green light on this, you’ll probably want to go further. If you get a red light on this, at least you know that you have a problem. It’s not all black and white either, through the Easy Checks.
Whitney: Two things. They have to be things that we could do, like someone like me who’s not very technical could just look at the site and be able to pretty easily tell…maybe not if it met the guidelines, but it certainly could tell if it fails.
Sharron: That is correct.
Whitney: Also, these are things that are important to get started with accessibility, so if it fails these, then maybe some of the deeper things don’t matter them much because you haven’t even gotten the door open.
Sharron: That is exactly correct, too.
Whitney: So, let’s pick one of them apart, and talk about how it works and why it’s important. The first one on the list is ‘Page Title.’ It seems pretty basic, doesn’t it?
Sharron: One of the reasons that we put that as the first one is because it’s relatively easy to check, and it’s the first thing that you often encounter when you come to a website. We thought, “We’ll start with the page title. Does it have a page title, does it not”? And also relatively easy to understand the importance of, because people who are listening to the Web need that for orientation, to understand where they are, “Am I on the right page? Am I where I thought I was going to be”? If the page title is announced and it’s clear, and gives that information, then they have success.
Whitney: Are you talking about the title that’s up in the title bar or the title that might be a big display title on the page.
Sharron: The title that is shown in the window title bar.
Whitney: If you’re listening to the Web with a screen reader that gets read to you as you enter a page?
Sharron: It does, yes. That’s the first thing that you hear.
Whitney: So, you know that if you clicked on a link, you’ve got to the place you wanted it to be.
Sharron: That is correct.
Whitney: The second one is ‘Headings.’ Again, that doesn’t sound like a really technical thing.
Sharron: No. Checking for headings, but now what you have to do there is to make sure that you’re not just looking at the page to see if there’s big, bold text. In this case, you have to actually do a little bit more investigation and see, has it been marked up as a heading? So, before people get really scared about, “My Gosh! I have to know code,” we do also introduce in the Easy Checks some easy tools that you can just put in your browser and use to help you find those things.
Whitney: Cool. So, I don’t have to have a web editor or a technical development environment.
Sharron: Right. And you don’t have to open a source code and start digging through the source code. You can download some of these tools and, that’s one of the first things we take you through, how do you chose the tools that will work, that will be easy to use, and the results of which you can understand also very easily.
Whitney: This sounds like you’re really addressing something that I hear a lot when I talk to project teams, which is that they say, “We want to do it but the whole thing seems daunting,” and they don’t know where to start. You’ve told us that someone who isn’t that technical could use Easy Checks. Here’s my real question, if you fixed the things that were in Easy Checks…let’s say you found out that you didn’t have good headings or good page titles and you actually fixed them, how much of a difference does that make?
Sharron: It makes a huge difference because those are the ways that people even orient to the information on the page, to begin with. You used the phrase earlier about opening the door. You definitely are, then, opening the door so that people know where they are, know how to get among the different sections, where they’ve landed, and they just have a really useful way to interact with the information that they’ve come upon.
Sharron: Yes, Absolutely. That was our goal, to make sure that anyone…and also regardless of the tools, if you are using WordPress, Drupal or some content management system, these Easy Checks still apply and you can use them really sequentially or you can jump around and see what…”Well, I just added some multimedia. I just want to check that out.”
Whitney: If you’ve just added something new…
Sharron: If you’ve just added something new to your site and you just want to check on that particular part of it…
Whitney: You said something really interesting which is, this isn’t a sequence, so it’s not a process, it’s a series of checks that you can use. Tell me how you would decide when to check something.
Sharron: Certainly, you’re welcome to…and people have used this sequentially, just gone one ride after the other and done all the checks. In some cases you may have just added a new feature, and you’re not sure if you can reach that or activate that with a keyboard. So, you might use a keyboard access check, all by itself.
If you’ve added a new sidebar and you say, “I wonder if that text contrast meets the requirement for people who have color blindness or low vision,” and you just want to check that one thing. Then, you can really segment this out and check whatever it is that’s of concern or maybe that you have responsibility for, if it’s media or some other aspect.
Whitney: That’s nice because I think often…I know there are sites where one person does everything, but a lot of times I would think that the people in charge of multimedia might be different that the people in charge of, say, writing forms. So, this lets you get the right check to the right person.
Sharron: Exactly. That was what we were hoping for. Now, for people who are going to be at CSUN, the Assistive Technology Conference, we’re going to be trying to corral some people to really do some usability tests on this Easy Checks itself. If people are at CSUN, and they want to find us and do that, Shawn and I…Shawn Henry is my coach here at the Education and Outreach working group. We have a couple of different sessions.
Just come find us, because we’d love to get feedback from people about the way that they use it, how they found it to be useful, or how it could be more useful.
Whitney: Since you mentioned CSUN, that’s the CSUN Conference. That’s CSUN in San Diego, from the 18th to the 21st of March. You actually gave me a great lead into what I was going to ask you next. For those of us who work in UX, working with real users is an important part of developing any project.
First of all, I’m really glad to hear that you’re actually testing the Easy Checks, but I want to actually ask you about where you think usability testing fits into accessibility.
Sharron: Oh, Whitney. I think usability testing is so important, because there’s a difference between conformance to a technical standard and usefulness to a person with a disability. I think Education and Outreach, our working group, most definitely has the human perspective. We want to give people resources that certainly, by all means, meet the standards and conform to the standards, because that’s really important in terms of technology interoperability.
But, ultimately, the most important thing is whether someone with a disability can get the information, interact with it, and perform the same functions and do it in an efficient way. I’m so much a fan of your work, because of the fact that you understand that intersection as well as anyone, and it’s an important thing for people to remember.
Conformance, by itself, is almost secondary.
Whitney: Yeah. When I started in usability, we used to do heuristic or expert evaluations, and the way I was taught to do them is, first, you did the expert evaluation, you fixed all the problems that you could see easily, and then, when you had something you really thought was working, you took it to users, and you tried it out with them to make sure that it really worked.
You would really find different things. We would find technical problems, but the usability testing would find problems like, “Yeah, it works, but it doesn’t work the way people want it to work,” or, “It doesn’t really do the things they need.” I think it’s great to hear that getting into accessibility as well.
Sharron: Yeah, and, often, that it doesn’t work the way that they expect it to work. User expectation is something that, I think, in the accessibility field, you have screen reader users who they’re managing some pretty complex interactions with the screen readers in the way they use the keyboards for certain things.
Then, if the designer decides to introduce a keyboard command that contradicts that, maybe, technically, it doesn’t interfere with accessibility conformance, but, when it comes to use, it’s going to be a different story. Fortunately for us on Education and Outreach, we have group participants in the working group who have disabilities of various kinds, so we get that feedback immediately.
We hope that we’ve integrated that into…one of the things you’ll find on the Easy Checks is we have different sections that expand and collapse in order to talk a little bit about the tools that you might use here, or give you some more tips of some more definitions. We had to really fiddle around with that expand-and-collapse function because of the way it interacts with its various assistive technologies and what were the expectations of people with disabilities who would come on the expand-and-collapse function.
Whitney: I also noticed that one of the links on the page links to another page that talks about involving users in evaluating Web accessibility. I think that’s really helpful to have some guidance there as well.
Sharron: Yeah. We also want to not just include that in our own group of people but encourage other people to understand that it’s really not that difficult to include users with disabilities in your testing processes.
Whitney: It sounds like we’ve got a great thing here. We’ve got a strong standard that’s an international standard with some choices about where to start, some tools to help you get started, that’s been informed by actually users with disabilities as well as experts, and also guidance to help people who are evaluating their own website, include people with disabilities in that testing.
Just to say it again, you can find the Easy Checks two ways: if you go to the home page of the Web Accessibility Initiative, you can look for Easy Checks under “Evaluating Accessibility,” or let’s repeat the URL, it’s: www.w3.org/wai/eval/preliminary.
Before we run out of time and wrap up, Sharron, I would love you to tell us about AccessU, your conference is coming up May 13 to 15 in Austin, Texas. Full disclosure: Sarah Horton and I, are both really excited that we’ll both be presenting at this year’s event.
Sharron: Oh yeah. We’re very excited that you’re coming. The whole usability track at AccessU this year is going to be one of the strongest that it’s ever been, thanks to the work that you, Sarah, and others who are doing so. Yeah, we’re very excited about AccessU this year.
It’s the 12th annual AccessU. We get the run of the St. Edward’s University campus. It’s a beautiful campus in South Austin, looking right over downtown, and they’re in between classes, so we have the full run of the campus for those three days. We really tried to provide very practical…just like the Easy Checks. Something that’s practical, that you can take home and use right away.
We have tracks in usability, we have technical tracks, policy and managing tracks, and really hope to see as many people as possible come to Austin in May. We haven’t turned on the big heater yet.
Whitney: Who are some of the other stars that’ll be there?
Sharron: Derek Featherstone, from Simply Accessible, is going to be there. Glenda Sims — she’s the stalwart, always a great contributor to AccessU. Estelle [?] is going to be there. We have quite a bit of expertise of HTML 5, CSS, all the new techniques that people are using, as well as some very basic and very introductory classes as well.
Whitney: So, to work for someone just getting started and for someone who’s trying to do innovative design.
Whitney: Excellent. I really look forward to seeing you there. Sharron, thank you so much. This has been Sharron Rush, from Knowibility, talking to us about Easy Checks and getting started with accessibility.
Sharron: Thanks for having me, Whitney. It was my pleasure.
Whitney: And thanks to all of you for listening in, and, of course, a special thanks to our sponsors, UIE, Rosenfeld Media, and the Paciello Group, for making this series happen. Be sure to follow us at A Web for Everyone on Twitter. That’s @AWebforEveryone. We’ll be posting information about future podcasts there.
Of course, if you go to our book site at Rosenfeld Media, we have lots of resources available for you as well.
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Jason: There is a lot of that, that can be done, and there are businesses that are amazing at that. Etsy does, in their annual reports, they now have a performance section, because performance is such a big part of what they do and such a competitive advantage that they’re reporting out on these things.
And trying to make improvements in performance all the time. I think that there are a bunch of businesses that are really, really smart about this stuff and are looking at it across the whole spectrum of what needs to be done.
That’s awesome. I’m glad that they’re doing that. That is not the stuff that I spend my time worrying about or talking to people about, because what I find over and over again is it’s the simple things that aren’t getting done.
What I’m looking at in responsive design is really about, “OK, well, what is the approach that you need to do to make responsive design performant? What are the five things that you really need to keep in mind? Where do you get the most bang for your buck?”
Generally, I think, even if we weren’t talking about responsive design, maybe if we were just talking about Web design in general. There’s just a handful of things. This isn’t something that’s responsive-design-specific.
It’s not something that we end up talking about in the workshop or anything, because it’s not responsive-design-specific. There’s this simple instruction for a server to turn on Gzip, which is a form of compression, and it is in Apache, which is the most popular Web server.
It’s three lines of configuration. It’s not even code. It’s just three lines saying, “Turn this thing on.” It’ll take text files and reduce the size of them 80 percent.
It’s brain-dead simple, right, but I’ll bump into sites all the time that don’t have that on, and then designers that don’t know that that’s a thing. They don’t even know how to check to see whether their back-end developers have done it.
The designer doesn’t have to know those three lines, right? All they have to know is, “Hey, this is something that I should look for,” and there are tools to check to see whether your page is doing this.
They need to know that it is really, really simple, so that they can’t get somebody telling them that it’s more difficult than it is. Just say, “Look, this needs to be turned on. It would make such a big difference for our users, and it would save us money because we don’t have to pay as much for bandwidth.” All this sort of stuff.
The things that I focus on are really at that level. They’re either things that designers should know, particularly when it comes to responsive design, how do you handle images, how do you do mobile-first responsive design, why is this important.
They’re not designed to be like, “OK, let’s go calculate things and let’s go figure out the nitty-gritty of performance.”
There’s something really satisfying about performance, because it’s the one bit of design that you do that you can actually measure results on, so it can get a little addictive. It’s like it’s got its own built-in gamification to it.
If people were to start thinking about it from a responsive-design perspective and then get excited about it and go do other things, that would be awesome.
That’s not what I focus on. I’m just like, “OK, you guys are going to do responsive design. Here’s how to do it well. Here’s, big-picture, what you have to keep in mind. Here are the challenges you’re going to bump into.
Here’s how you do it in a way that works well and is per-formant, and here’s why you should care about performance. Here’s why it’s actually something that, as a designer is actually, impacts your job and you have the power to change it.”
Sorry. That was a little rant. I just think that people get turned off of performance, for some reason that I don’t quite understand, when you don’t have to get into the nitty-gritty to just understand some big stuff that will make huge impacts.
Brad: Yeah. I think that, yeah, more or less, that’s it.
Molecules are a couple tags stitched together. You might have just a search form that’s comprised of search label, an input, and a button, and that is a self-contained little assembly of stuff that does something.
Atoms by themselves, the tags are all really abstract and floating around in space. You don’t really see, inherently, just from looking at that level, how these things might be useful. It’s like, “Well, that’s nice.” It’s helpful at an at-a-glance sort of level. Then you start combining them into these little packages, these little molecules, and now they could actually start doing something.
You might have your primary navigation as a molecule, your search form as a molecule, and stuff like that, and then you put those molecules together into a header organism. Now your header organism contains your logo atom and contains your navigation molecule, it contains your search-form molecule, and all those things operate at this standalone, reusable component.
From there, then you start stitching these organisms together and finally start building these sort of page-level things, like templates and then, ultimately, pages, which we don’t have to get into.
The idea is that you have these little clusters of elements, and then you combine those together into more complex clusters of stuff. The whole idea is to basically establish this really sound, really deliberate interface, where everything is being built up with the intention of creating a system that’s built for reuse, built for scalability.
Certainly helps with responsive design because, again, you’re able to treat these problems at the component level rather than at a page level. Also, just from being future-friendly — you’re establishing these nice rules and guidelines and constraints, and this goes inside of this, which means that the new hire you hire four months down the line can understand how things are put together and why things are put together in the way that they are.
I think that in my experience using this and helping create this, what we’re doing now, why we’re doing this, is that it’s no longer feasible to just throw over a handful of page templates to a client and just say, “Here’s your site. Have a nice day. Make sure I get my final paycheck.” It’s not enough to do that anymore. We have to be a lot more deliberate with this.
We have to give them better tools, better resources, so that we don’t come back next year and, all of a sudden, they’ve changed the color of green and they’ve put this thing next to this thing and they’ve created a bunch of new code all on their own, in different patterns and stuff, and it all looks like a big, giant, Frankenstein mess.
In part, that’s your fault if that happens, simply because you didn’t give them the library of components, you didn’t give them the building blocks, the LEGO bricks, so that if they need to add a new section to the site. If they need to add another widget, or an organism or component or whatever you want to call it, they have a language to choose from and make informed decisions. I think that that’s really, really cool.
In fact, one of the clients that we first did this on — actually, the very first client that I introduced this whole atomic-design, Pattern Lab concept — was TechCrunch. I was actually just on their site last night and noticed that they had added a different component to the site. You read the article, and then there was an extra little “You might also like” sort of thing.
Now, we had our own version of that, and that’s still there, but then they added a separate “You might also like these stories.” What I found is that they used the interface patterns that we provided them to construct an entirely new module.
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