Not Hanging On A Cross

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“You’re not hanging on a cross.” I have a friend who says that to me any time I decide to whine or complain. She reminds me that I’m not hanging on a cross and that somebody did hang on a cross. For me.

I’ve used her exact words with other people. Life sucks sometimes. Get over it. You’re not hanging on a cross.

Earlier this week, I called a friend of mine who lives in another state. It had been way too long since our last phone conversation. She reminded me of a lesson she and her husband (an Executive Pastor) learned several years ago: there’s a difference between being called to ministry and working for a ministry.

Today was a day I was grateful for these friends. And my family.

Ministry isn’t easy.

You’ll lose sleep, cry more than you thought possible, and sacrifice times with your family. Times like nights, weekends, holidays, major holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, sporting events, and Sunday afternoons.

You’ll have minor wins – like finding a way for your church to get some free custom printed mugs.

You’ll have setbacks – like forgetting to save three hours worth of work on a major graphic design project. (Ask me how I know?)

You’ll make mistakes. And you’ll realize that there are some people  who equate the church with Jesus in such a way that when the church makes a mistake they think Jesus makes mistakes.

Then you’ll lose more sleep, cry more, and find something else to sacrifice – all because Jesus is perfect. And your goal is to be more like Him.

I have a great job. I have an awesome boss. I get to be a part of helping people find and follow Jesus and I get paid to do it.

My workload is heavy right now and I’ve got stuff [still] on my to-do list from last week last month four months ago. Take my neurotic obsession with our church management software and website content and development, combine it with my goal of perfection, and the result is my current to-do list. Make that an ‘overdue’ list.

And, yet, Sunday comes.

Every. Single. Week.

And as much as I try to get ahead, I find myself printing bulletins later in the week.

So there I was today – bulletins not printed, trying to pull information and correct image sizes for some other communications assets – and I get a call. A sick kid. My cell phone rang. My daughter’s voice on the other end, “Mom…” A. Sick. Kid.

Give me credit. I didn’t cry. I didn’t scream. I didn’t throw anything. I did read Exodus 20:13.

I did email my boss.

People over process.

People. Over. Process.

We’ve been talking a lot this week about processes and what needs to change to meet the needs of a growing church.

I wrote: we need to work on changing some processes because I don’t ever – ever – want to have to choose between a sick kid and printing bulletins.

I called my husband, who fortunately had enough margin and flexibility in his schedule to work from home.

In ministry you’ll lose sleep, cry, and make sacrifices.

But you’ll also realize how blessed you are to have a family and friends.

And at the end of a difficult day week four months, you’ll be thankful that you’re not hanging on a cross, and that you’ve been called to ministry to help people know the one who already did: Jesus.

It Only Takes A Spark

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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.

 

 

Digital Bootcamp: Recap

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Last week my friend, Tom Pounder, had me lead a week of Digital Bootcamp. If you’re on Facebook, here’s the link to the page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/theDigitalBootcamp/

Check it out and ask me any questions about church management software.

I’ll give you a quick recap of bootcamp. But first, I wanted to thank Tom. Tom and I had talked about me leading a week prior to my stroke. (I blog about the stroke in another post.)

To catch you up, I had a very small,  minor stroke on Good Friday. As strokes go, if you’re going to have one, I had the kind you want to have. My “deficits” are minor. But one thing that was affected is speech. It’s not super noticeable. My oldest daughter said there are days when she doesn’t notice it at all.

With speech affected, I was hesitant to do live video.

But often God calls us to do things that we can only do with Him so that He’ll get all the glory. (Which He should get anyway, but we aren’t always good at that.)

This was one of those times. So I went live each weekday and talked about the most exciting of all church communications topics [read that with sarcasm], church management software.

Most of my peers don’t love software like I do. To them, it’s a necessary evil. But I get it. I’m somewhat of a data/metrics “nerd” and the software (and all of it’s glorious features) are right up my alley.

Here’s a recap of the daily topics Monday – Thursday.

Assimilation. It’s why I started using the software. Getting people from the first visit, to the second visit, the third visit, and then to full engaged in the church – connecting them to small groups and meaningful service opportunities.

Public access areas and graphics. There are areas of the software that require a username and  password and there are other areas that are accessible to the public. We need to pay attention to what the public sees, and upload graphic/image files where we can.

Customization. Use custom field features wisely. Determine what your church will need and make it yours. We have fields for whether someone is approved to drive a van and we also have a field for t-shirt size.

Custom reports and administration. A few of our reports include an Assimilation Process Report and weekly attendance metrics. We also use the software to track use of our rooms and resources.

On Friday, I went a little “off topic” and talked about the importance of putting people over processes. A Pastor once told me, “I can train anyone to do data entry, but only you can do what you do with people.” (Remember, I first began using the software as part of an assimilation plan.) He was right. As tempted as I am to spend long hours behind my computer, I have to remember that this is not just a business – it’s a church – and church is about people. Fortunately, I get to work at a church I’d attend even if I didn’t work there with people I love.

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

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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?

Forms Are Our Friends

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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

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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.

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.