Grace, Trust, and Forgiveness

Our next implementation phase required (and continues to) require a lot of grace, trust, and forgiveness. Basically, it just requires everyone to be Christ-like. Which shouldn’t be too hard for a Christians, right? Sure.

As the software administrator, I wanted a second-in-command. Someone who could figure this thing out if I dropped dead. At the moment I realized I needed this, I was sitting in the back of a mini-van, on a winding mountain road, sandwiched between a cement dividing wall and a semi-truck, with my 17-year-old son at the wheel. I texted my bosses and said, “Hey guys, someone else should have full access to this software other than me. Who – other than me – do you trust 100%?” They both gave me the same name. I upgraded that person’s permissions immediately. This isn’t someone I see day-to-day at the Church, but if I happen to run into him, and ask him about the software his usual response is he doesn’t check it. He doesn’t need to. He trusts me to manage it. I  have the confidence that if something tragic were to happen, there’s someone who can step in and have full access to everything I’ve done.

Although I don’t attend the Church where I work and serve, I have told them I’m accessible to them on  Sundays – on site if ever needed – and since the software is cloud-based, I can make most edits from my phone or laptop. However, if there’s ever a time when I can’t be accessible on a Sunday, I know there’s a back up person who I and my bosses can trust.

I’m also continually learning new things about the software.  Since I only had the trial version, plus a few weeks of the full version before implementation, I am still learning new things. I will sometimes call on one of few people I know to test a feature for me. I trust that they will give me helpful feedback on whether or not a feature is working and displaying correctly.

Grace and forgiveness. Sometimes – even when a feature has been tested, and re-tested – something just won’t look right. The ‘send’ button doesn’t send. The image doesn’t display the way I thought it would. There are people not in the system because no one told you those people existed and they hadn’t been on any other forms or documents that you’d entered. Something just doesn’t go perfectly. During those times, all I can do is ask for grace and forgiveness.

I’m grateful to have received both as we go through this process of progress together.

Initial Implementation

I’m not going to sugar-coat this. The first week did not go well. I expected that. I welcomed that. I also cried.

Let’s go back to the first decision.

I wasn’t convinced this software was going to meet all of their (our) needs. I am still convinced that we will outgrow this software. Already, I’m getting questions about it’s functionality and my only response is, “this software won’t do that.”

When it was time for our first day of implementation, there were some church members who had unmet expectations of the software (I took this personally).

The problem I had to address was that I had unrealistic expectations of some of the church members. My mind naturally thinks like a Church Management Software. So I assume that everyone thinks like I do. They don’t. That’s okay. But, I forget that sometimes.

One of my biggest challenges then (and continues to be) is that I don’t attend the church where I work. It was going to be difficult to train and guide them through software implementation without some hands-on training.

Initially, I spent 2-3 weeks manually entering names in the system, using a prior church directory and cross checking it with an export list from the old church management system. I asked my bosses 18,000 questions about who went with each family, if people were still around, still members, or if they should even be entered into the system. I created a form that people could fill out online to give me names of family members, dates of birth, and other demographic information.

I created test events and checked in our one and only “fake” user (we named him Crash Test Dummy and if you print out a church directory, he’s in there). I needed to make sure I was comfortable enough with the software and had enough familiarity to introduce it to other people.

Even after that, I had limited connections to the Church. The circle of people I know is limited. I had spent one Sunday on campus, but my circle was (and is) still limited to the people who check in children, the men who serve in the office, and a handful of others.

So, I once again, asked my bosses if it would be okay if I was there on a few Sundays. Once again, I was grateful they allowed me to be present. For seven consecutive Sundays, I was allowed to serve them on their campus.

I spent time with the children’s check in volunteers and when children had been checked-in, I switched gears and met the men in the office to help as they entered weekly financial information.

The first Sunday did not go well. There were problems. I expected them and I was grateful for the opportunity to address them. I still wondered if we’d made the right decision. And I cried. As the weeks went by, the problems became less. Finally, after seven weeks, everyone felt comfortable enough to be on their own without my presence.

I have talked to other churches and feel like the ‘proud parent’ when I realize we implemented in seven weeks.

If your church is in the implementation phase, here are some things you should remember:

  • There will be mistakes and problems. You need to find those cracks in the system. If you don’t find them, you can’t fix them.
  • You will lose sleep. You may also lose your sanity. And a few friends.
  • You will work more hours than you could ever possibly imagine. No one may ever know how many hours you work. You probably won’t get paid for most of them. But God knows. And the rewards you are reaping will be eternal.
  • You. Can. Do. This.
  • It’s okay to tell someone, “this software doesn’t do that.” You had choices from the beginning. Not all software packages offer the same features. You chose the one you have and you need to work within in it’s structure.
  • In the end, it will be one of the most rewarding things you do. If used appropriately and to it’s fullest extent, will make one of the biggest impacts on your church.

I didn’t know it all then. I still don’t, as I’m learning some aspects of this software along with everyone else. And software companies will continually release updates, and make changes to features. We also have recently launched a new web site with a new host and design company (don’t check it today. It’s not final until March 15, 2017), and email provider.

I’m grateful for a Church body that extends grace and allows me to learn new processes along with them.


Building The Foundation

Once we had decided on a new Church Management Software. It was time to start structuring it to meet our needs. Some ChMS systems are group-based, meaning events and people are always tied back to a group. Some are people-based, some are event-based.

Events needed to be entered into the calendar, rooms and room numbers needed to be added for scheduling purposes and people needed to be ‘tagged’ (the term that Breeze uses) based on their group and ministry participation.

My biggest challenge then (and this continues to be a challenge), is that I don’t attend the Church where I work. I probably know fewer than ten percent of the people who attend the Church. To put that in perspective for you, in a Church of 300, I would know fewer than 30.

I felt like a custom home builder who had been charged with building a home for a family they had never met.

So I set out to get to know the family. I asked my bosses if it would be possible for me to spend a Sunday on campus getting to know them and observing their ministry structure. Because my position description states that the person holding my position should not be a member or attender of the Church, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to truly get to know them and their processes. I was grateful when my bosses said I was welcome to join them that first Sunday morning. (I have had the privilege of being with them several Sundays since then. Although, here’s an interesting fact: I have never heard my boss preach live and in-person.)

I talked to the people checking-in families in the children’s area, and I watched the men in the office go through their normal procedures after taking up the offering.

After that initial Sunday morning visit, I spent the next few weeks reading about them as a Church body. I studied their by-laws and poured over past Church records and historical documents. I learned the correct verbiage (ie, small groups are called “Life Groups” and the sanctuary is referred to as the “Worship Center.”)

I was also intentional with my own language. ‘Their church’ or (to my boss) ‘your church’ became ‘our church.’ ‘You’ became ‘we’ as I set out to structure the software in a way that would best serve their (OUR) needs.

Spending this time, intentionally getting to know them, helped with organizing the software.

Having a good foundational structure, no matter which Church Management Software you are using, will help you as  your church grows and new people profiles and groups are added to the system.