One of my favorite things to do is get away in a coffee shop, find a corner table, order a strong, dark roast, and create. I pull up stock photo sites, I browse my fonts, I listen (and re-listen) to our Lead Pastor’s sermon, I look at our upcoming events calendar, I people watch, and I create.
Some people use services that provide social media content.
I use services that provide social media content.
I don’t like using services that provide social media content.
I like dreaming. I like creating. I like pushing boundaries. What do I do in my spare time? I study systems and processes, I play with demo versions of church management software (yes, really), and I create.
Is that what I do for fun? Yes.
Legit? Fun? Yes.
Recently I spent some time with my son at his summer job. He plays guitar at youth camp. At the beach. He’s 20 years old and he gets paid to live at the beach and play guitar 2-3 times a day.
Plus he gets some spending money for groceries.
I need a new job!
While I was with him, he seemed tired. He wakes up 15 minutes before he needs to be ready for the day. He naps whenever possible. On Friday morning, his roommate said they were getting ready to leave their room and they looked at each other and said, “I can’t.“
They did. They did with excellence.
God got them through.
But it struck me…
Even when you’re getting paid for what you’d likely do on a volunteer basis…
You can still experience burnout.
Burnout doesn’t always look like stepping down. Burnout doesn’t always look like a moral failure.
Burnout sometimes looks like getting paid to live at the beach and play your guitar… or sitting in your favorite coffee shop…creating.
Up next: how to recognize burnout and what to do when you’re there.
Over the last 3-4 weeks, a few very kind, friendly, and overly-excited people at our church have set out on a mission: to make me a people person.
It’s working, but don’t tell them.
I have a reputation to uphold.
Let me give a brief history. I like people. I do. I really do.
But how I show this like for people is through how I structure a database or how I lay out a web site. You’ll see my like for people in some of my designs. You’ll see it in how I design a response form. You’ll see how I like people when I get to set up a room for one of my boss’ meetings. Then I get to quietly sit in my office – working on database updates or web site updates or social media posts – while someone else stands before the people.
But one thing I do love is helping people take their next steps.
This actually started several years ago with the database. (Yes, really.)
I was setting up systems and processes in the database and watching people (there’s that word again) move through our system.
Seeing people go from first-time guest to being fully-connected at our church.
But I also got to see the part I didn’t like. Seeing people’s names remain in the first time guest category that went unchanged. The people who didn’t come back.
Where are they? Was there something our church could have done differently? Are they connected to a church – if not ours – somewhere?
I began to implement systems and processes designed to help people move from first-time guest to fully-connected. I went from data entry to developing and being part of the process.
Because it’s more than just a database. It’s people. People getting connected to church. People getting connected to Jesus.
And thus began my transition from Database Administrator to Next Steps Director.
I tried to stay focused on the database. People won. Every time.
A few years later, I now serve as our Lead Pastor’s Executive Assistant. Each week I get to serve at our What’s Next desk. I get to help introduce people to their next steps at our church. Also every week, I get to hand-write note cards to each of our first-time guests. I use the verbiage “get to” very intentionally.
You might argue that I get paid. It’s my job. I have to do it.
You’d be partially correct.
I do get paid. It’s a privilege. I get to do it.
So a few weeks ago, one of my kind, friendly, and overly-excited friends saw my stack of hand-written note cards awaiting their trip from my desk to the mailbox and asked me, “do you actually meet and know those people?“
I locked my office door, crawled under my desk, and ate carbohydrates.
“Go away.” I said it nicely and in a joking tone of voice, although I may have been serious.
“How big is your circle of friends at this church?” she asked.
“I like my co-workers.”
“Really…how many people do you know?”
“Five. Maybe six. Okay, four.“
“That is not enough. We need to get you out of the office.”
“I like my office. I keep carbs in here. Here – have some pretzels.”
Little did she know, God was also at work.
One of the other things I get to do: if someone is interested in serving, but isn’t quite sure where or how to start, I get to follow up with them.
Some people naturally know where they’d like to serve.
Others have no idea where to start. And it’s important to find that place where ability, affinity, and affirmation all meet.
So there I was: scheduled to meet with someone who wanted to serve, but had no idea where to start.
She came into my office and we talked about her – what led her to our church, how long she’d been coming, and what she liked about church. We talked about her family and her history, and what issues were important to her.
She wanted to serve…
In the nursery or with children?No…not really…
With our guest services team.Her brow furrowed.
We talked about some local missions opportunities.Her eyes lit up. The corners of her mouth turned up. And I knew, we’d found it.
And then I got to update the database…
This blog is about the process of progress. But I might need to edit to add a word: people.
Helping our college-aged children make decisions about their future, and one of our younger children starting a new school, and planning a family vacation, and and and…
…wasn’t enough change.
Nope. Not enough change for our family.
Earlier this year, God also called us to a new church. And sometimes, even when you know it’s God, and even when your joy is found in following His will, it’s tough.
Very rarely on this blog will I mention a church by name. I know a lot of people at a lot of churches and para-church organizations and because of our professional relationships, I get to know things about their churches and organizations and we talk about what’s happening and how they are navigating their own challenges.
But I’m about to mention this church. Because they are setting an example.
We began attending in June,
However, we have not taken the next step to join with the church as members.
And then this week…
There was a death in my family. And I was faced with booking some last minute travel and making some last minute schedule changes.
So here we are: having left one church; not yet members of another. And I had a second moment of feeling alone.
But unlike some other areas of my life, the church we are attending is displaying Jesus and showing his love. This church – these people – have reached out to me in so many ways.
I sent an email to the Pastor around 11pm on Monday. On Tuesday morning I woke up to emails and texts (he had used the database to email the prayer team…since this blog is all about databases and processes). One person actually wrote out a prayer for me and my family in an email. Throughout the day on Tuesday I received calls, more emails, more texts.
My boss himself is stepping in to handle some things that should fall directly on my shoulders. He’s picking up my responsibilities. Servant Leadership.
So thank you, Fairview Baptist Church. Words cannot express how much I thank you for what you have shown our family and how grateful we are to know yours.
Recently God called our family to make a change. It many ways it wasn’t an easy decision. It meant taking a new look at things we’d always felt were right or wrong. It meant going someplace we said we’d never go.
But in other ways it was easy. Because after a lot of prayer, counsel, and discernment, we knew it was where God was calling us.
This change also meant a new routine and thus, I find myself not regularly seeing the friends I had been seeing regularly.
Yet, I haven’t really connected with a new group of friends.
The old group of friends can’t understand why we’d make this decision.
The new group people seem like they already have their circles.
And I feel like this:
And I remember, that with God, I’m never truly alone. He’s got a plan, a purpose and a reason for this season.
Does this happen in our churches?
What about our church guests?
When I run a report of first time guests who didn’t return for a second visit, I want to hear their voices.
I want to ask:
Did you feel welcome or unwanted?
Was there confusion and chaos or did you feel calmness and clarity?
Did you feel alone or did you feel like you were among family?
Every Sunday we have first time guests who are doing something they’ve never done before: coming to our church. Which means, they aren’t doing whatever it was they did any previous Sunday.
Any change has the potential to cause someone to feel alone.
As 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.
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.
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 humanpeople 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.
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! 2 I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!