Relieved and Grateful

This is long, but just sit tight. I’ll tell how this relates to Church Management Software.

As I’ve already told you, I was working on 36 hours of relative peace and quiet. I’d made great headway on getting two areas of the house organized. I’d taken my son out to dinner and had some great conversation with the 18-year-old.

And I was definitely planning on church this morning.

What I haven’t told you is that any time any of my family members is away from home, out of town, especially overnight, my phone ringer is turned all the way up and my phone stays charged and with me. I’m available 24/7. I probably have some sort of psychological disorder that is triggered by my kids being away from my presence for more than 38 seconds (yes, I’ve timed it), but that’s for another post.

So this morning at 4:39am my phone rang.

I answered.

The person on the other end identified himself as a county Sheriff.

My heart skipped a beat.

Immediately thinking = worst case scenario.

Hello.

Yes, is this Marcy Carrico?

Yes.

Ma’am this is ______________ from the Wake County Sheriff’s Office…

My thoughts… My mom. Her house. My husband. The kids. Our house. Our cars. My oldest son? Is he still asleep in his room? Our neighborhood? Is everyone okay? Is everyone safe?

…I’m sorry to be calling you at this hour, but…

My thoughts…something is wrong. Something. Is. Wrong. This day. Sunday. We have plans. Now what…?

…we’re at (address of the church) and the alarm has gone off seven times overnight. We’ve tried calling other people on the list, but no one has answered so alarm company gave us your number.

That was it.

Relief.

That was all.

Sarcasm almost kicked in.

You’ve tried calling other people on the list? I think I’m number 287. Right behind the guy who hasn’t been at church in 20 years, but hasn’t officially transferred his membership. And right before last week’s first time guests.

I did NOT say that.

Maybe (or maybe not) I thought about giving them a phone number of someone who lives closer to the church than I do.

But since my adrenaline surge had already kicked in, I decided I’d take this one.

I told him where I lived, when I could reasonably leave my house and about how long it would take me to get there.

I got dressed as soon as I could, taking what I’d need for hair and make-up with me. I was there by 5:20.

The Sheriff walked into the building with me as I turned off the alarm. Just wanted to be sure everything was safe. We figured out it was some ill-placed interior decor that was prone to swaying as the air vents turned on and off overnight. I offered him coffee. He declined.

It would have been so easy to turn this into a time of ‘grumbling and complaining.’ Instead I realize how grateful I am and how much I have for which to be thankful.

No one is hurt. Everyone is fine. And I was reminded that seven is the holy number of God.

So…how does this relate to Church Management Software?

I think a lot of times when we’re looking at user access settings, or other sensitive data, we might tend to jump to worst case scenarios.

This person wants or has access to this information… but… what if…?

What if they make a mistake? What if they don’t do their job? What if they use this information to somehow hurt our church body?

We look at systems and people critically. With a degree of fear. And that fear leads to our own pride and degrees of self-righteousness.

But when we give that fear to God, we can appreciate what each person on the team brings the table and be relieved and grateful that we are not doing this alone.

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How A Church Management Software Got Me Out Of My Comfort Zone

As we’ve already established, this is my comfort zone:

coffee laptop desk

The only thing it’s missing is my phone which is always nearby (skin grafted to the palm of my hand).

Except today.

Oh, how I was looking forward to today.

There are six of us living in our relatively small-ish 3-bedroom, 2-bath house. I love my family. I LOVE MY FAMILY. But, there are times when you crave peace, quiet, a space alone, time to clean out a closet without distractions, and a good chick flick.

Due to different schedules, vacations, and grandparents, I realized my oldest son and I were going to have roughly 36-hours at home alone.

That’s 36 hours of peace, quiet (well, he’s a guitarist with multiple amps, so maybe not so quiet), space alone, time to clean out a closet (or two), and maybe even a good chick flick.

And then the church member.

I am having trouble with my class attendance and follow up report.

I’ll investigate that for you.

Would you come to my class Sunday and help me?

No. I can’t on Sunday.

Why?

I will not be at church Sunday.

Where will you be?

Here:

couch woman laptop

On my couch. Watching a televangelist. Maybe even eating bon-bons.

“Hmmm…” She said, “bon-bons or the WORD OF GOD?”

Guilt trip, anyone?

Okay, okay, I’ll be here. Meet me in the office and we’ll go over attendance.

The guilt trip continued to the next stop until we reached our final destination.

I’ll go to her class. I’ll stay in her class and maybe even participate. I’m even staying for church.

But, truthfully, I don’t think I’d have been happy staying at home this morning.

I’m grateful to be here.

Don’t Do It Alone

baseball teamJust like you can’t do it all; you also cannot do it alone. Being the software administrator, you’re probably also in some type of leadership position at your church. While teaching others how to manage their own areas of the software and not trying to do it all, you also need other leaders around you. Here are some ways that have helped me:

  1. Join/Commit to a church. I was talking to a friend recently who does freelance graphic design for several churches. She considers it a service and charges a very small fee, even sometimes providing services free of charge. Yet, she’s not currently a member of any church. She’s got two small children. She’s struggling with a few issues. She has no church family. (They’ve been visiting a church for about a month, but are finding the membership process to be difficult. I told her I’d write a whole blog post on that. I will.)
  2. Get in a small group. Depending on the size and structure of your church, it could be difficult to develop deeper relationships by just attending church. If you’re not already involved in a small group, do it.
  3. Serve somewhere else. I often joke that my comfort zone is at my desk with my laptop creating a buffer between myself and the other person any other people. It’s not really a joke. To get myself out of my comfort zone, I began greeting on Sunday morning. I started as a door greeter, moved to lobby greeting, and quickly found my ‘home’ at the information desk (or Next Steps area). (The joke then was that I had a table and ipad kiosk between me and the people, rather than a desk and laptop. Again, not really a joke. This is very real.) But that got me out of the office, and with people. And I found that I really, really enjoyed that. I was using the software to see our first time guests move through the system. I was the first point of contact for first time guests – I hand wrote each note and send my business card. Meeting them seemed logical. I enjoyed it so much, that now it’s difficult to NOT serve in that capacity.
  4. Find a peer group. Some software providers have peer groups. I am a member of the Church Communications group on Facebook. Find peers outside of  your church that you can talk to about what you’re doing. If you can’t find one, start one.
  5. Pay for it if you need to. Earlier this year, I participated in Connections Confab at Summit Church in Durham, NC. It was a small group of people. I learned a lot. I have 12 new BFF’s. It wasn’t cheap. It was, however, worth every penny. Join professional groups. Ask your church if it’s in the budget. If not, skip the expensive coffee shops for a few months and save up. You’ll be glad you did.
  6. Find friends and do something outside of church. For me, the biggest struggle. I genuinely like what I do. I enjoy it. I think about when I’m off. I did it for a few years on a volunteer basis (ie, unpaid). This is my thing. Yet, I purposely make myself think about things other than church data. We go camping and to a local comedy club with our best friends – who don’t attend our church. I play video games with my youngest son. (I’m way ahead of him on Angry Birds.) I have a friend I see a few times a year just to go see low-budget horror movies at the $2 movie theater (that sells $17 tubs of popcorn). Two of my favorite authors would not be found in the Christian section: John Grisham and James Patterson. Even if only for an hour or two at a time, stop thinking about church data – and do it with people outside of your church.

Managing the database is not an easy job. Get some people around you that will make you smile and laugh. Get some people who will pray for you when things don’t go as planned. Don’t do leadership alone.

Software Administrator: Don’t Do It All

sound boardAs a software administrator, I found myself in a position that wouldn’t be considered ‘healthy.’ I was managing the software alone. I input events, made sure the event  image matched the print and web site materials (especially if the event was linked to the public web site). I made sure all event information was communicated the same across all platforms. I also checked financials and ran financial reports for our finance team, controlled who had access to the software and at what levels. I managed our physical resources (using the software) – including rooms and other resources (tables, chairs, A/V equipment, etc. I built the check-in system for events. I built forms for registration. Almost no one else used the software, yet everyone knew it was there. Working for them.

That was a long paragraph.

With a lot of “I”‘s.

Something needed to change.

So I began to train people.

I taught our children’s leaders how to build check-in systems. I taught our ministry leaders how to schedule events. I taught our hospitality leader how to manage rooms and resources. I taught our finance team how to run financial reports.  I taught a youth leader how to build sign up forms which linked to events.

And they began to work together. Each person saw that their actions within the software didn’t only impact their area of ministry, but how it impacted others. Soon, a team began to form.

I was always available for back up. They know that I still am available for back up.

I was watching band practice one day and watching the sound board operator.

“Hey [guitarist] could you adjust your amp?”

No. Not quite right. Another adjustment.

The guitarist adjusted some pedals.

Good? No.

The sound guy made some adjustments on the board.

They each worked together making adjustments until it was right.

The sound board person continued to make adjustments with each person in the band – checking each instrument individually.

Then the band began to rehearse. Together. Each person playing a different instrument.

The sound board operator stopped them. More adjustments.

They all worked together until they got it right.

What struck me in this was the person with the most control was the sound board operator.

He didn’t jump on stage trying to be the lead vocalist. He didn’t play guitar. He didn’t play drums. He didn’t play any instrument at all. And he didn’t tell each of the band members how to play.

But he made sure that in the end, it sounded right to the audience.

I think software administrators are a little like sound board operators. I recognize that I’m not a great leader in many areas. There are a lot of instruments I cannot play. Most of the time, people are not going to see my name or know I’m there. But I want to help all of my ministry leaders get the most out of the software. I want them to know that I’m always there to help them make minor adjustments or back them up if needed.

First Time Guest Follow Up and Change

I want to revisit the “why we use it” question. Admittedly, I can get so caught up in the application of the process, that I forget why the process was developed in the first place.

To connect human people to our church.

There are a few times a year that we visit other churches. We purposely want to take a break from the norm, but I also want to observe their guest services process.

Recently my daughter visited a church. When she came home I didn’t ask about the message, I asked about her first time guest experience. Parking? Approach? Clear directions? Connect area? Connect cards? First time guest gift? Did anyone say hello and introduce themselves to you? (I wonder what database they use. I kept that thought to myself.)

You see, as much as this blog is about databases, it’s also about the process. The database should reflect our church’s process.
At one church, the Next Steps Director writes a hand written note card to welcome the first time guests. Guests are entered into the database and entered into a process queue (new entry > hand written note card > alert to Next Steps Director).
At another church, a formal letter is emailed, authored by the Senior Pastor. Guests are entered into the system and a a “follow up” is assigned to the Senior Pastor who then sends the email and checks ‘complete.’
Some churches send first-time-guest surveys. Some do not.
One church may ask guests if they’d like more information. Another church sends it – whether it’s been asked for or not.
I once visited a church that sent an email, but then called later in the week. The sole purpose of that call: thanks for coming and we’re praying for you. Do you have any prayer requests? What was missing: they didn’t specifically invite me back. They didn’t invite me to a group or a class. They thanked me for coming and they prayed for me. No strings attached.

In our database, we have categories of visitor, attender, member. I love watching people move through that process.

But there is that dreaded list of first time visitors who didn’t come back.

I’ve tried to look at things through the lens of a first time guest. What is their experience?

Through most of our lives, we have been blessed that God has specifically called us to a church for His purpose and reason. However, there was one time, when He called us to leave a church with no clear direction or next step. We were (gasp) “Church Shoppers.”

Three weeks into visiting a new church. Our third Sunday morning visit. We arrived early and found our seats. No one approached us. As we sat in our seats, we sat alone. We watched other people reach across pews to tap people on the shoulder with the sole purpose of introducing themselves. None to us.

Temptation to leave crept in. We stayed. We heard a great sermon. We don’t regret that we stayed. Would we return? Would the average first time guest return?

Several years ago, as a new Christian, I attended a church with seemingly no clear path to membership. I’d attended. I’d accepted. I’d said the prayer. I got it. But membership seemed elusive. Or exclusive.

How hard would I try to become a member? Or would I be content with simply attending? Giving sporadically. Not serving. Not invested in my church. Because if I’m not a member, it’s not really my church.

I share each of those experiences not to criticize each church. As a matter of fact, I’m grateful, still, for each of those churches and the positive impact each had on my life. But those experiences helped shape and guide how I view my ministry today.

If I called each of our first time guests over the past six months – the ones who didn’t return – what would they say? Am I prepared to hear what they would say?

If I called one of our attenders who hasn’t been to church in several weeks, what would they say? Am I prepared to hear what they would say?

You see, as much as I love our church. And believe I’ve clearly communicated our next steps, I want to be open to change. I want to find the balance between adapting to our ever-changing society while helping our Pastor preserve the integrity of our church.

As you are building your database, make sure it reflects who and what your church is. But always be willing to re-evaluate what you’re doing and be open to change.

Understanding Why We Do This

Our Pastor spoke Sunday about the dangers in having zeal for God without understanding His Word.

It is possible to have a passion for God and be all in, without truly understanding His Word.

It won’t surprise you to know that I’m a ‘Next Steps’ person. There is nothing I’m more passionate about than seeing people take their next steps in their walk with Christ. From that first time guest to new members class. From unbeliever to Baptism. From lost and lonely to small group involvement. From searching to serving. Seeing that wakes me up in the morning and keeps me awake at night.

But wait! Is it possible all of this could be happening without them having true understanding of His Word?

Our Pastor was preaching from Judges, but the verses he cited there came straight from Romans 10:1-3.

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them[a] is for their salvation! I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. Because they disregarded the righteousness from God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves to God’s righteousness.

Wow! I thought about how often I’d been guilty of just wanting to see those ‘numbers’ increase. Yes, I wanted them to increase for all the right reasons. My primary goal was to see people know Jesus and take their next steps in their relationship with Him.

But how often did I just want those numbers alone? Those percentages?

If we have 100 new first time guests, then we want at least 75 in the new members class. That gives us a success rate of 75%. Of those we want at least 50% to commit to joining – including serving and giving.

I once told my boss, “when we added [this portion] into our new members’ class, we had a 100% follow up rate after class. When we took it out, that dropped significantly.”

Of course, it’s for Jesus. Of course, it’s to see people connected to a Gospel-centered Church. Of course it’s because each person that walks through our doors represents another soul in Heaven. Of course to all of that.

But do we have systems in place to assure that each of those people – each number – truly knows God.

I don’t want to be in the business of making ‘fans.’ I’m not moving people through a system to create ‘yay-God cheerleaders.’ Zeal itself is not enough. Along the way, I want to make sure each of those people is truly learning about God. About His character and nature. I want to make sure they know His Word.

This blog isn’t just about databases. It’s not just about systems and processes. It’s about our hearts as we see people connected to Jesus and His Church and the great privilege we have been given to play a small part in that.

 

Grade Promotion

It’s hard to believe that it’s July. It’s hot (ridiculously hot!). And I’m about to talk about fall grade promotion.

Here in North Carolina, some year rounds schools have already “gone back” to school. This seems like a strange use of words (‘gone back’) when talking about ‘year round’ schools.

Let’s talk about how this plays out in your church management software. A few software programs now offer automatic grade promotion (I know Breeze does). In Breeze, you can set your date for auto-promotion. So that one the given date, all grades move up.

In CCB, you’ll have to tell it to promote everyone from one grade into another.

Here are a few tips and factors to consider.

  1. What grade did you ask for from kids who registered for summer events (missions trips, camps, VBS, etc.). If you asked for what grade they were entering, you do not want to promote those kids.
  2. Create a “holding” group or tag and reverse the promotion. Put all kids in grade 12 into a holding group. Then move from 11th to 12th, 10th to 11th, 9th to 10th, etc. By doing that each group will be cleared before you move new people from the previous grade into it. If you went in reverse and moved everyone from Kindergarten into 1st, then when you moved 1st into 2nd, you’d be moving all of your former Kindergarten students into 2nd grade.
  3. Consider a fall data-drive. At one church, we handed out paper forms to each family or individual over 18. We handed out the forms for 8 weeks to make sure each family had one. At the end of those 8 weeks, we drew a name from all the forms submitted to win a $50 gift card to a local family restaurant. We were able to update over 100 family profiles in our system that year.
  4. Consider separating each class into a separate event. Rather than children checking into ‘elementary’ or ‘kids’ ministry, they check into their class – K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.. Use that data to cross check their profiles for correct grades.

Those are just a few things that have helped me verify and update data over the years. I’d love to hear how you’re cross-checking your data and keeping it updated.