Weathering A Storm

man old church

Our area is facing a major hurricane in a few days. Stores are sold out of bottled water, bread, and canned goods.

Yet, as my daughter pointed out, there was plenty of dry shampoo.

People who would normally survive on coffee and Coca-Cola are buying enough bottled water to feed a small church plant, but they are not buying dry shampoo.

So, our only assumption is that they are using all that bottled water to wash their hair.

I’ve seen churches put their church management software to good use during times like these.

If you’re tracking gifts, talents, or abilities, and you have customized your options as needed, you could potentially run a report on all people who have the ability to board windows or use chainsaws.

I’ve seen churches use their forms feature to give people a way to communicate needs. I’ve seen them use their needs feature to organize help.

Today, though, I want to talk about what we should expect from the local church during this time.

If you’re a church member, or even if you haven’t been to church in  years, you may have expectations of the church.

They should be a shelter.

They should provide food.

They should provide water.

That’s not the role of the church.

The role of the church is to connect you to Jesus.

While, many churches have great facilities to shelter people, there are just as many with no kitchens, no showers, and facilities that would make sheltering less than ideal.

What churches should do is offer prayer. They should offer to tell you about a God who will sustain you. And, if able, directions to the nearest official county shelters.

County officials are paid to monitor weather and road conditions.

Hospital employees get paid to treat your medical conditions.

Church employees get paid to help you know Jesus – and make sure there’s soap and toilet paper in the bathrooms. But mostly to help you know Jesus.

Churches should use their social media channels to provide ways for you to connect with Jesus and provide quick links to official news sources.

I have a friend who works for our city government. I’ve been told that their priorities for power restoration are official shelters, hospitals, and police and fire stations. Churches aren’t on that list.

It’s important to realize that church employees also have homes (despite popular belief, we don’t live at the church), and that they may not have power or ability to communicate.

But it’s also important to realize that church employees are probably losing sleep. Because it’s more than a job – it’s a calling. A calling to serve and love people.

Your local church may look different during a disaster. Church leaders may not be able to navigate flooded roads. Downed power lines may make it impossible to print a bulletin or follow normal communication channels. A few years ago, a hurricane hit our region and several churches were closed the following Sunday morning. The churches that were open operated with “skeleton crews” and limited resources, but it didn’t stop them from sharing The Gospel.

We’ll weather this storm. The effects won’t last forever.

God is steady and unchanging.

And the church will do what it takes to give you what you need. You need Jesus.

It Only Takes A Spark

sparkler

It only takes a spark to start a whole blaze.

That’s not an original thought. I stole that line from song lyrics in this song.

This blog post is going to stray a little bit from just talking about church management software to talking about the overall theme of the blog: the process of progress.

A few years ago, a leader at the church our family was attending told me about a Facebook group: Church Communications.

At the time, I was just beginning to see how the database could be used as a tool in our overall communications and connections strategies.

To remind you, I began this journey with a focus on connections. It also began with a lot of spreadsheets, documents, and emails, before I realized that a database could do a lot of the work for me as the church grew.

As I got more involved in our overall communications and connections strategies, my responsibilities grew to include some graphics, web site design and content, and social media.

One morning this week, I purposely took my time getting to the office. I’d been serving a lot of volunteer (ie, unpaid) hours at the church and my kids needed some attention. We had the morning news on t.v. and the reporters were talking about IHOP (The International House of Pancakes), temporarily changing it’s name to IHOB to promote the fact that they also serve burgers.

That’s a lot of talk over one letter. It was trending on all of the morning news shows and all over social media.

Our church is fun. Really fun. Our Lead Pastor often interjects humor into his Sunday morning messages and we try to convey that in our communications. We also try to keep up with what’s happening in the world around us.

Remember Yanny vs. Laurel? I created a social media post that referenced that subject and our social media audience liked it.

What could I do with IHOB?

The spark.

I created a social media post using a stock photo image and a free on-line program. I didn’t overthink it. My daughter was with me at the kitchen table. She shook her head and chuckled.

Should I do it?

Yeah, mom, go ahead.

I shared it on our church’s Facebook page and Instagram account. I didn’t think it would go too far.

As I was waiting at the bus stop with my youngest son, I shared the same graphic with the Church Communications group on Facebook.

I got to work and showed our Executive Pastor. He liked it and even made a comment on the post.

I joked: the good news is that our Lead Pastor can’t fire me because he’s on a plane right now. I have my job for at least another two hours.

But something happened.

Not only did our social media audience respond positively to it, by the end of the day it had roughly 800 likes in the Church Communications group.

We even got a shout out from Fishhook. (Check out Fishhook’s Instagram.)

The whole blaze.

I never imagined that outcome.

But I am grateful. I’m grateful for our Lead Pastor who has set a tone – not just in the office, but also church-wide – that’s easy to follow and helps us relate to the community around us. I’m grateful for the gifts and talents God has given me and I’m grateful for the place where I get to use them. And I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made through the Church Communications network.

I think sometimes, as we’re looking at our communications, and helping people connect with our churches, it’s easy to establish systems, processes, marketing calendars, and social media post schedules. Routine is comfortable. Boundaries and schedules are safe.

But, be open to the times that you feel a prompting – a spark – to break the routine and step outside the boundary. The spark can lead to a whole blaze.

 

 

Let’s Reconnect

busy blurry shopping mall

It’s been awhile since I last blogged. I’ve been busy. Like this picture, life’s been full and a bit blurry.

I’ve worked for an accountant during tax season. I’ve worked for an orthodontist on a school holiday. But I’ve never been as busy as I am now – working for a large church and trying to be a relatively decent wife and mother.

And – let’s face it – what I do with church management software isn’t that interesting to most people. I could blog about it every day. Most people probably wouldn’t read it that often.

So, grab some coffee and let’s catch up.

First: the CCB People Reimagined update. Do you love it or hate it? I love it. I’m learning a few new things about it every day. The rest of the staff was divided at first. I think I’ve helped tip the scales, but the first day one of my co-workers sent me a text that said, “What happened to CCB?”

We’re using some new technology  – some that integrates with CCB. We were looking for a texting option (ie, someone could text a keyword to a number and we would have the option of setting up an automated response). We went with a company that we could link to CCB. Because of that integration, we now have the option of connecting all of that to a process queue.

I’m finally at a stage where all form responses are linked to events and also feeding process queues. It means a little extra work for anyone (um… me) setting up forms and events, but the end result will be more accurate report data.

And we’ve got almost all of our volunteer positions updated – including gifts, talents, passions, ability, personality style, etc.

Of course, there’s technology we use that is outside of the church management software.

We’ve installed a chat feature on our web site. It’s not connected to our church management software, but it is all a part of ‘communications’ and ‘assimilation.’ Two of my favorite words.

And I introduced our staff to Church Metrics. We can get most of our metrics data from CCB, but having a secondary platform will help us find any holes in the first platform.

Our Lead Pastor has allowed me to design a few new pieces of literature – all aimed at getting people connected – and further connected. He also didn’t fire me when I used the word ‘poop’ in a social media post.

I think we’re caught up for now. Comment and let me know how you feel about the CCB changes.

 

 

Lead With The Authority You’ve Been Given

smartphone mobile hand coffee

While I write this from the perspective of a database administrator, this could apply to any communications role.

I walk into our Lead Pastor’s office.

“Question. In CCB…”

Before I can finish, his facial expression is changing…

He doesn’t care.

He understands the need for the database.

He may even want to understand the database.

But, he doesn’t love the database.

In fact, he understands enough, just enough, to know he doesn’t have time to learn more.

But me? I love the database. Maybe a little too much.

Not only do I understand it, I understand it’s inner workings. I joke in the office, “if this gig doesn’t work out, I’ll go into Church Management Software Forensics.”

“Is that a thing?” my co-worker asks.

“I could make it a thing.”

CCB has an online platform for other software administrators. They call it The Village.

My co-worker calls me The Mayor.

Back to our Lead Pastor.

He listens to my rambling question, and my proposed solution. I’m pretty sure he only pretended to listen.

Then he says, “yeah, that’s fine. Go ahead. I trust you.”

Every. Single. Time.

I’m pretty sure I could start any conversation with “Hey in CCB…” and it would end with “yeah, that’s fine. Go ahead. I trust you.”

“Hey in CCB, I want to buy a new car and book a vacation to a tropical island.”

“Yeah, that’s fine. Go ahead. I trust you.”

He doesn’t care. He doesn’t have time.

But I don’t want him to care, nor do I want him to have time. I don’t.

Because, in reality, he does care.

And that’s why he hired me.

He knows I understand the structure of the church. He knows our family fully supports the vision and mission of the church. And most of all, he knows that on a scale of 1-10, my knowledge of CCB is a 12.

He also knows, a Pastor’s primary role is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.

I want him to make time for that. I want him to care about that.

I also want him to care about his wife, his children, his neighbors.

There are church members with real hurts and real needs. I want him to care about those. But I don’t want him to care about a database.

I often tell our Pastor, “go preach, pray, and write a book.”

He’s the leader.

And, every single Sunday he’s got to bring a message to a wide audience. Young, old, non-believers, new-believers, and strong-believers. Any given Sunday.

Why would I ever – ever – expect or even want him to be thinking about the database?

I was faced with a problem recently and I knew the answer. In my gut, I knew what to do. Yet, I sent a support ticket into the software company. Their solution was my solution. I’d been right.

Our Pastor has given me (his words), “a pretty big sandbox to play in” when it comes to the software. That just means he’s given me some authority and has promised to back up any decisions I make.

God has gifted each of us differently. For me, that means discernment, leadership and administration. Our Pastor is a Pastor. I am not.

But I hesitate before making the final decision…

And each time I walk into his office with a database question, the facial expression changes.

It’s fine. I trust you.

Today, church communicators – whether your primary role is with the database, social media, the web site, first impressions, or any other communication role – lead with the authority you’ve been given and support others as they do the same.

 

My Favorite Tools

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This morning I was talking with a client about a strategy we’re going to use in promoting an upcoming conference. One of the things I told her was that I wasn’t just going to do everything, but that I was going to include her in the why and how of everything I was doing.

I don’t want to just DO – I want to leave her with the tools she’ll need if she ever needs or wants to do it herself. I want to give her all-access to all of my tools. I want to leave her and this ministry better than I found it. We’re working on a conference for 2018. If she needs me for 2019, I’m happy to help. But even better would be if she is empowered to not need me for the 2019 conference.

Some would say I’m working myself out of a job. Maybe. Our real job is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19).

So, other than the database (by far my favorite tool I use for church connections, assimilation, and organization), here are a few of my other favorite tools.

1. Mission Insite. Empower your faith-based or nonprofit organization with the tools to answer today’s most difficult strategic challenges. You may already have access to this. Check to see their current clients: http://missioninsite.com/our-clients.

2. Canva. Create graphics, apply for a free business plan and upload your brand colors, fonts, and create templates. I love Photoshop, Lightroom, After Effects, and the entire Adobe Suite. It’s not always practical. There are a lot of churches that only provide programs like Microsoft Publisher to their admin. staff. Canva is great for creating and also team collaboration.

3. Heatmap tools. Real time analytics for your web site. This will help you see where and how people are interacting with your web site.

4. Ministry Designs. WordPress is awesome, but not always easy for the staff of a small-to-medium sized church. Ministry Designs helps me empower my clients to work on their own web site. I told my client today, I am going to hold your hand through this initial process. Soon you’re going to be able to say, “I do web sites.”

5. YouVersion Events. (Any of Life.Church’s resources are great.) Upload your event, add information about your church, Bible verses, a sermon outline, weekly announcements, a link to an online connect card, etc.

6. Google Keep. With Google Keep, I can create daily to-do lists and share the with collaborators so that they can see what I’m working on and add, delete, or comment on items. You can create lists with check boxes or in ‘note’ form.

Other tools I will use are TechSoup, GSuite for e-mail, Google/MyBusiness for business analytics, MailChimp, Asana, and graphics from graphics.church, Church Butler, and SundaySocial.tv.

Now it’s your turn. What are some tools you love to use?

Balancing Act

Balance girl bridge

In addition to the database, there are some other things I like: strategy, connections, social media, web content management, and graphics. I really focus a lot on visual consistency.

Someone recently asked me how I merged the visual side of my brain with the analytical side of my brain.

Here’s the answer:

I try to understand both sides of the table. I’ve worked with people who are 100% ‘analytical’ people. Some of our best friends serve in Executive Pastor roles. I get where they are coming from and don’t disagree with them.

I also understand that we live in a ‘visual’ oriented world and statistics show that people want their information in 140 characters or less.

The great thing about most of the current Church Management Software programs is that most of them offer integration with the public web site and other integration areas.

For example, CCB will give you the option of publishing an event to a public web site. When creating the event in CCB, you also have the option of an event-image. You can then share that event on social media. The CCB event image should be a 16:9 ratio so I usually create a second image square to share on other social media channels. In addition to your event image, you can have an image on the sign up form and sign up forms can be directly shared on social media. With small changes, you can have the same image for the event, and the sign up form, as well as other social media channels.

For your CCB forms page, you can further edit the image so that rather than a great wall of text, your sign up page displays a ‘clickable link.’ You can even create small buttons that will display on the confirmation page.  These buttons can direct people back to the forms page, back to your church web site, or back to your CCB log-in or home/welcome page. Using a graphics program, create the buttons in whatever size or color you need to meet your branding specifications. This makes it easier if you’re using ipad kiosks to sign up for events.

Not only do these create visual consistency for your end user, they can  help save you time. Once an event is entered in the software, it will automatically go to your web site, saving you valuable time and reducing the chance for errors that could come from either using ‘cut-and-paste’ or typing the same information twice.

What are some ways you’ve synced your ChMS with your web site and social media?

When Process Stops So Progress Can Happen

A lot has happened in the last few weeks. First and foremost, I am no longer employed at Fairview Baptist Church. I’ll be seeking future employment. But in the interim, I am treasuring some time with my family and investing in them. I had put them on hold for a few years, serving a church in a high-capacity volunteer role (which took a lot of hours some weeks), then working as paid staff member.

I thought I was teaching my kids lessons on serving as Jesus served: selflessly and unconditionally. What I was really teaching them was that the church was more important than they were.

I still believe that serving the church is important. I still believe that even as paid staff, there are times when you will  have to work longer, unpaid hours, and in order to further God’s Kingdom, sacrifices will need to be made. In some ways, it’s good for our kids to see that.

But we have to find balance.

Balance is a tough word for me. Most leaders will struggle with balance because they cannot stop thinking about what drives them. (Read the blog post just before this one.)

I realized this week that some processes in some areas have to stop so that progress can be made in other areas.

I’ll be looking for a new job one day (hopefully with a church or ministry). I’ll even be doing some remote work from home on social media and web sites. Most of all, I’ll invest in my husband and kids.

I’ll be blogging about a different sort of process and progress. The process of loving your family, and the progress that makes at home.

Forms Are Our Friends

forms checklist

Forms are our friends. Why? Funny You Should Ask…

Deciphering Code

I have known medical doctors who have better handwriting than some church members. All of that handwritten information has to go somewhere. It’s usually entered into a database. Is that an ‘l’ an ‘i’ or a ‘1’?

A System Uncluttered

Forms allow us to gather information without creating another profile in our system. If you have 400 church members, but 800 people registered for an event, you don’t have to create an additional 400 profiles in your system for people who only came to one event. In 1978.

Forced Conversation With Friends and Forced Following God

No longer can you walk up to a sign up list and take a sneak peek to see if your friends are going. First: what has God called you to do? Does God want you to attend that event? Or sign up to bring a casserole? Each and every decision should only be about following Him. So if God’s calling me to do something, it doesn’t matter if my friends are doing it or not. If that’s not enough reason, then (second) talk to your friends. A real, live, in-person, conversation. “Hey, I was thinking about signing up for _________. Did you sign up?” Or “I just signed up for _________. I’d encourage you to do it as well.”

We’re All On The Same Page

In a real life example, I had a social media manager publish a post that an event was ready for registration. However, the event wasn’t on our facilities calendar, it wasn’t listed on the web site, and the person who ran the database thought she had another week to get the sign up form link activated. A form, with specific dates, and information about the event, keeps everyone on the same page.

Everyone Who Needs It, Has Access

Just like keeping everyone on the same page, a form ensures the appropriate people have access. I’ll use our own church (Fairview Baptist Church) as an example. I usually do the weekly printed bulletin. Our Senior Pastor also has access to publish the bulletin. (In a church largely overrun with with PC’s, we use InDesign on Macs.) Earlier this year, I created a church communications & event form so that all ministry leaders could submit communication and event information via this form. The form initially comes to me, but all Pastor staff and deacons have access to it. Frequently, I pass car accidents on the way to work. Accidents happen. Medical emergencies happen. Life happens. Gratefully, I’ve had very few issues that  have impacted my ability to get my job done. But if that ever happens, knowing that our Senior Pastor has access to the information and could potentially take care of the bulletin in my absence, is comforting. If someone simply emails me their information, the only person who has access to that is me. And if I’m ever in a situation where an emergency impacts my ability to check my email, then no one knows that information.

What are your favorite uses for forms? What are some ways you use forms in your software with your church?

Focus and Perspective

lego camera

In late 2016, Fairview started using Breeze ChMS. Breeze is easy to use and their customer service is outstanding.

In early 2017, we went with Ministry Designs for our web site. Easy to use. Great customer service.

We have a theme.

I decided I really wanted to use Breeze as a central “hub” for all church scheduling. I can list our rooms and other areas on campus, enter all event information, and display graphics. Plus I can give all Pastors, Deacons, Ministry Leaders, and Church Members access to view the calendar.

Unfortunately, my other idea to create a separate Breeze Calendar for events that would be displayed on the public calendar wasn’t so easy.

Embed codes weren’t doing what I anticipated and I couldn’t get Breeze and Ministry Designs integrated. I joked: Fairview Baptist Church, Breeze, and Ministry Designs were NOT forming a holy trinity.

Then a few weeks ago, we had integration success. I was able to directly integrate our Breeze calendar to display on our web site.

Success. Fireworks. National Holiday. Happiness.

I literally emailed our Pastors, IT Committee Chairman, and the guy who heads up the Greeters/Connections team at 10pm on a Friday night.

This was going to be great! Now, when I entered an event in the ChMS, and I published it to the public calendar, it would automatically display on the web site. No longer would I have to copy and paste information from the ChMS over to the web site and vice versa. No more chances for typos, different information on the two different sources. If the date and time was changed or updated, if the event description changed, if the location on campus changed…if anything was updated or changed in the ChMS, it automatically went to the web site.

It would also free up some time.

You see, it’s quite common in the ‘church communication world,’ to work long, often-unpaid, hours. A majority of my peers (and I) consider our jobs more of a ministry and less of a ‘job.’ We use the term ‘serve’ rather than ‘work.’ And most of us genuinely enjoy what we do. Because we know we’re serving someone greater (Jesus Christ). Our bosses are usually Pastors – sometimes our own Pastors if we’re blessed enough to also attend the church where we work serve (who sometimes list Jesus Christ as the ‘contact person’ or ‘event coordinator’ on our communications request forms). You can laugh at that, but it’s true. The web site, social media, and ChMS are just tools we use in getting to play our small part in connecting people to a church family and to Jesus Christ.

And while I certainly don’t mind putting in an extra 10-20 hours a week in ‘service hours,’ there are weeks that it’s just not practical. I do love what I do. In many respects, it’s my hobby. Some people like knitting or horseback riding. I like working with the church management software and the web site. But sometimes, other things (and people) need my attention. I have a husband. I have four kids. I have friends. I’d like to keep all of them around for awhile and not become the crazy cat lady (except instead of cats, it would be fonts).

Plus, it can lead to burn out.  Just Google ‘church Pastor burn out.’ You’ll find a lot of articles on not just Pastors, but church staff and volunteers who leave their churches often because of burn out. Nobody wants that. I like my job. I like my church. Since I know what can cause burnout, I’d like to avoid that.

So there it is. This awesome integration that is going to increase accuracy in information, possibly reduce errors, and increase productivity. This is good for the church. This is what’s best.

This sounds like I just won the Church Communications Lottery.

But wait. Take a step back. What else happens?

We’re going to  have to retrain group leaders how to take attendance. We’re going to have to take a fresh look at the events page on our web site and how that’s displayed. We’re going to have to look at how small groups are listed (right now it’s publicly displayed as one single ‘Life Groups’ time on Sunday mornings; this would force us to take a look at listing each group separately/individually). [For the record, I’m a fan of listing each group separately.] But this changes what group leaders see when they log in (display). This changes ease-of-use and aesthetics.

So, I decided to pull the plug and keep doing what I’ve been doing.

Wait! What!? Why!? Why pull the plug on the possibly the best software update and integration to date?

A few reasons. I’ve already addressed. It changes ease-of-use and aesthetics. It requires (re) training people who aren’t entirely comfortable with what we have. We’ve had the software less than a year. Not everyone is using it. Not everyone is trained. Those that are, are just now comfortable with it. A few are just now understanding why we use it. It’s too soon to pull the rug out from under them and replace it with a new rug.

Next: why should they trust me? Everything I do is guided by my relationship with Christ. Every decision starts with prayer. I have a few very trusted peers at other churches who work with their ChMS and web sites. I have to use wisdom an discernment and at the end of the day, I believe that the Church is the Bride of Christ and we have to play a part of presenting her blameless and spotless. Unblemished. But – do the church members know that? Do they trust that? I’ve worked there just over a year. Have I earned enough trust to make a change?

I love software updates. I understand why software companies make them and I understand how they (usually) benefit their clients (the churches). But do the church members I serve know that? Have I successfully communicated that to them?

And while organization, administration, accuracy, streamlined productivity, and reduced possibility of burnout is important, there is something more important.

And that is earning trust, setting examples in leadership, and truly loving and caring about the people we get the privilege to serve.

My prayer for all of my church communications peers is that we can know when to look past the processes and procedures and focus on the hearts of the people and recognize our jobs as ministries.

A Few Of My Favorite Things

desk computer phone smartphone coffeeThis week I had a video chat with some people of Breeze. They asked me what my favorite part of the software is? I went with what we use the most: sorting and emailing.

But the more I think about it, those might not be my favorite things. Here’s a few things I really like. Not just with Breeze, but also with CCB, and any church management software.

Profile fields that offer ways to help people connect.

Most people profiles are going to contain very basic information: name, address, phone number(s), email. But I love it when we go deeper with custom fields: gifts, talents, abilities, interests. By running regular search reports on those fields, we can help people connect to areas of service – and to other people. Most software companies offer ways to customize your profile fields. Take advantage of those. Then regularly run those reports and make sure people are getting connected.

Forms.

I’m about to do a whole blog post on why forms are important, but here’s a few key points:

Ensures everyone gets the same information.

Helps with pre-planning and organization

No more “lost” emails. Saved digital record of form submission.

Follow-Ups and Process Queues.

Whatever your software calls them, I love them. When a first time guest is entered into the system, a follow up is assigned to a pastoral staff member (the youth pastor for any new students in the youth group; our senior pastor for any new families). Once that follow up is complete, the Pastor can add notes, and check the ‘complete’ box. Then we run regular reports on completed follow-ups, in conjunction with event attendance reports to see how people where people are connecting.

What are your favorite things?