More People

This week I had a chance to talk to someone who manages the database for what some would describe as a “mega” church. I realized a few things.

She uses the same language that we do at a mid-sized church:

“We need to do better about shutting the back door.”

“As shepherds of the flock, we need to know and take care of our sheep.”

I realized that for some, the term “mega” church has a negative connotation. But your average mega-church Pastor has something in common with the small- or medium-sized church Pastor. And even the church planter. In all scenarios: they were called to Pastor a church.

There’s also nothing “wrong” with being a “mega” church. If we are called to make disciples (The Great Commission), then how will we make disciples without bringing them to Church to hear the Gospel?

Yes, we can (and should) take the Gospel to them. To our workplaces, to our kids’ activities, to the ends of earth. But in Hebrews, we are instructed to not neglect meeting together. Let’s assume the best: every person who walks through the doors of our church, represents another soul in  heaven. With that logic, I want an ultra-mega church – sized XL.

I’ve also realized that it’s possible to preach the Gospel first. No “smoke & mirrors.” No helicopter rides in the parking lot. No cool coffee shops. The Gospel first, foremost, and central. And grow THAT into a mega-church, if the Pastor’s heart is in the right place and he’s truly, one-hundred percent, concerned with pointing his flock in the direction of Jesus.

VBS Attendance and Involvement

VBS can be a great time of year for an Assimilation and Connections person. Think of all of the guests you have an opportunity to reach during this time. It can also be a challenge for your software administrator.

Last year, our registration and check-in system went well and in a few days, we’ll begin this year.

Here are a few tips:

1. Use the software to build your registration form. That way the data is in the software. With a lot of the ChMS, forms don’t always auto-populate profile fields. Which leads to #2.

2.  Recruit help with data entry. Remember all of those people who said they’d help in the office? Now is the time to call them in. Ask them to bring their personal laptops if they are able and give them enough software permissions to update profile fields, even if those permissions. (Also, make sure you provide something for them – order lunch in or get them gift certificates to a coffee shop.)

3. If you can’t recruit data entry help, tell your family you love them and you’ll be back after VBS.

4. Add those visitors and guests to your system. First, you’ll need them in there if you intend to use the event check-in features (and security labels features) of your software (which I highly recommend). And, second, if they do end up attending or joining your church, you’ll be able to track back to their first event (how they originally connected), which will delight your marketing team and accounting team. Utilize membership type codes and have a code of ‘other’ or ‘event.’

5. Don’t forget about volunteer scheduling features of thes software. Use the software to help organize and communicate with volunteers.

Most of all, have fun and remember why we do this. As much as we love organization and connections, there are times when we miss a setting on a software or there’s an error in data entry. Those can seem like a huge detail to us, but when we step back and look at the big picture, they really aren’t that major. We’re helping to point kids in the direction of Jesus and hope this becomes a turning point in their lives. We’re looking at eternity.

Have a few sheets of labels, fun-colored Sharpie markers, and themed stickers as a back-up plan if needed. Smile and let Jesus’ light shine through you. Learn from any mistakes. There’s always next year!

22 Of My Favorite Quotes From “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work With God’s Work” -Tim Keller

I’ve taken a break from blogging. I believe that when you work in an administrative, communications, or connections capacity – especially in the latter two – it is easy to slip into pride. It is so easy to see a facebook post doing well and think, ‘I made that.’ It is easy to see a connection – a person finding their fit, using their talents, being honored – and think, ‘I was a part of that.’ How often has my boss done something awesome and I think, ‘I helped him do that’?

But it’s not about me. It’s always, only, and ever about the God I serve. I don’t need facebook numbers. God is infinite. I didn’t make anything. God gave me the skill, the talent, the ability. And all I can do is humbly use what he gave me to give back to Him.

I recently (re) read the book “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work With God’s Work” by Tim Keller.

Always remember that it’s not what we do that should be most important, but why we do it and who we do it for.

Source: 22 Of My Favorite Quotes From “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work With God’s Work” -Tim Keller

The Software Is A ____________ Tool.

Yesterday, my boss and I had a conversation about what my job duties and responsibilities.

Administration. Communication. Assimilation or Connection.

This led me to think about how we view our Church Management Software.

As an administrative tool – it can be used in all areas. Some programs available offer, not only a way to track contributions, but a full accounting suite, with the ability to track both accounts payable and receivable. It can give your Administrative Assistant the ability to run custom reports (with accurate data) in minutes without having to look over and assimilate data from paper different data sources.

As a communication tool – it can be linked to your public web site. Calendar features can display images for events. Links can be added to register for events. It can be used to all ministry directors to schedule services and people.

As an assimilation or connection tool – it can be used to see who is attending – where and when. From a first time guest getting connected, to the new church member making a commitment, to a long-time member being commissioned to the mission field.

What is the primary way you use your Church Management Software?

If you had to fill in the blank, what would you choose?

(If my boss is reading: Communications.)

Have An Exit Strategy

Recently, I learned of a church that had several ministry team leaders with advanced access to the software step down – all at the same time. Church leadership was faced with adjusting several levels of access on short notice.

There will be times when a staff member leaves or ministry team leaders are called to a different church or ministry.

Here are some things that can help you.

  1. Have a written policy in place to address potential situations. Whether the church is staff-led or congregationally-governed, it’s important to have a written policy of who has access and at what level. Include what actions or behaviors will dictate immediate removal privileges. Having a written policy, approved by necessary parties, will help guide you when making somewhat difficult decisions. Let’s face it – it’s a church. These are your friends. There are times where it will be difficult to separate business from friendship.
  2. That written policy should include who has access BEFORE a potential problem arises. There should always be an application process for software access. Include who has the authority to approve access.
  3. Have one or two 24/7 people. Emergencies don’t always happen Monday-Friday 9-5. The people with the highest levels of access should know they may be on call 24/7.
  4. In a case where people are leaving a ministry on good terms, have open communication and dialogue about their levels access and a timeline for phasing out their access.

People leaving your church or ministry is never easy. The need to make split-second decisions during what could be an emotional time can be easier if have a plan in place.

What access situations  have faced and how have you addressed them?


Easter Guest Follow Up

Congratulations! You may have just finished up your first Easter weekend experience – Good Friday. And chances are you’ve had guests. (I hope so!)

But you’re not sure you want to enter them into the Church Management Software with profiles. Those relatives who only visit once a year or the “chreasters” (people who only come on Christmas and Easter) could really skew your metrics if you don’t have a contingency for a membership type code.

There are two things that can save you.

  1. Membership type codes – if you’re so inclined, develop a membership type code for occasional regular visitors. This means managing and sorting based on membership type codes when sending system-wide emails and eliminating those codes from metrics reports. This is an option, but not necessarily the one I recommend.
  2.  Forms. I love forms for this purpose. Create a form within your software for internal use. In our case, we are having an Easter Egg Hunt and I’ll name the form “Easter Egg Hunt 2017.” We’ll be having a door prize give-away with registration cards to capture information. My form fields will match what’s on those entry cards. I’ll input as much information as I’m given into the form for each card. I’ll make sure no form submission verification emails are sent to the person submitting the form (the software won’t recognize me as filling out the form, but instead will try to pick up the email field as I’m transcribing information from the written entry cards). For marketing purposes, we’ll always be able to track who came. Appropriate leaders will have access. And if that event guest ever becomes a first-time guest on a Sunday morning, a regular attender, or – even better – a member, I’ll be able to link that original form back to their new profile.

Another benefit to a form submission is that we’ll have information on our neighbors and visitors to invite them back for future events. For example, guests at our community Easter Egg Hunt might also be interested in our summer VBS.

How are ways your church follows up after a community event?

Where We Are Now

So…where is Fairview now in our onboarding of our new Church Management  Software?

Still learning.

All of the former paper membership records have been input into the new software.

We are still establishing guidelines for use, and developing systems and processes. We are still discovering new ways it can be used, be linked to the public web site and other features.

We are happy with Breeze customer service and their response to our questions.

There are still times when we discover the software can’t do what we want at the time. Breeze is good about responding to feature requests and we’ve accepted that not every software works the same – each has it’s own unique features.

Overall, we are happy with the software and what it does to help us.

Next week, with Easter approaching, I’ll tell you some ways you can use your Church Management software to help follow up with guests at Easter and keep track of data on who is connecting through your community outreach events.

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.