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’s not fine.

broken glass

“It’s fine.”

I say that often.

Most people around me have learned that by vocal inflection, that phrase can mean different things.

It really is fine.

It’s not fine, but we’ll deal with it [later].

It’s not that great, but good enough.

And I also remind people that God is working, even when we are not.

Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to have a fully functioning web site or award-winning social media. If a ministry doesn’t get promoted, God will still continue to work in and through that ministry.

But the Bible does instruct us to share His story, to tell others of His greatness, to do our work with excellence – as if working for Him, and to use the gifts, talents, and abilities He gave us to serve,  honor, glorify, and point others to Him. (That was one sentence, folks!)

So at the end of the day, even when it isn’t really fine, it is fine. Because we serve a God that is greater than anything that’s not fine.

But what about when it isn’t fine?

Last week, I edited a response form.

I realized after a few edits that it really needed to be archived and I needed to create a new form.

Because of my knowledge of   love for   neurotic obsession with our church management software, our web site, and other communication channels, creating a form is no small task.

What’s the header image?

What are the automations?

Is it connected to a group or event?

Who gets notifications?

Who are the form managers?

Is this promoted anywhere?

Is it connected to a button on the web site?

Do we need a url redirect?

Is the information correct on announcement slides? In the bulletin?

So, after the form was created, checked, double checked, and linked to our web site, I sent the final product to one of our Elders.

He asked for one update to the web site and said the form was good to go.

Good. To. Go.

On Sundays I get to serve at our “What’s Next” desk. (Your church may call it “Next Steps.”) It’s a place where our guests can register for upcoming events, connect with a small group or ministry team leader, or find out more information about something they saw or read about.

We have three tablets which display quick links to our current response and sign up forms.

The Elder who I had worked with this week walked over and began scrolling through the forms.

It wasn’t there.

A simple setting in Church Community Builder: the box next to ‘display on list of forms’ had not been checked.

I apologized. I could not believe that I had overlooked that last step.

And he looked at me and said, “it’s fine.”

No. It’s not fine.

I asked him to send a text or email to remind me to make the correction.

I decided then and there to stop saying, “it’s fine” when it really isn’t.

It’s time to tackle issues, address problems, fix things that are broken, and work better, smarter, and harder today than we did yesterday.

The next time you hear me say, “it’s fine,” it really will be.

Discomfort

man on crutches

Yesterday I was talking with a friend. Her church had recently implemented a First Time Guest tent – outside the building. At their church, it’s a place where first time guests go, receive a gift, and meet someone who can answer questions and take them to another destination – the worship center, children’s check-in, etc.

They moved their Next Steps desk inside the building to a corner that’s quiet – which lends itself to easier conversation.

The changes they made are nothing new. Many churches across the country have similar designs.

However, her executive team gave her an argument, “we want our volunteers to be comfortable.”

I gave her a counter argument: was Jesus comfortable when he was hanging on a cross?

What we really want to do is equip our volunteers to do the job they’ve been called to do.

So, let’s take a step back and look at volunteer recruitment and WHY we volunteer.

I love our church. I’m grateful to be where I am. Most aspects of my job I get paid to do. There are other things I willingly do as a volunteer. Among my counterparts at other churches, this is common.

I volunteer in these areas out of obedience to God. I don’t do it out of guilt, or to fill a void. I do it because God has called me to do it. God has never promised His calling will be easy. He did promise it would be worth it.

If I were to volunteer in any other area, that area would suffer. (Ask me sometime about my brief stint in pre-school and children’s ministry.)

As part of serving God, there have been sacrifices and discomfort. I’ve sacrificed financially, I’ve sacrificed time with my family, I’ve been cold, hot, hungry, wet, and uncaffeinated.

But I’ve never been hanging on a cross.

 

Ministry and Money

dollar sign notebook

Ministry and money. Talking about the two together in the same conversation sort of freaks people out. For me, it’s like someone talking about snakes. Never okay. Writing about ministry and money can be difficult. But, this time – for me – it’s not.

Because I have a story to tell and, well, as you’ll soon see – it all points to God. And He wants us to tell people about Him.

Please don’t take what I’m about to write as some “prosperity Gospel.” It’s not. It is about choices, commitment, and obedience. Yes, at the end of this story, I received a blessing, but it was long-awaited and I’m summarizing in a short post, a story that could take hours to tell.

A few years ago, I found that sweet spot where ability, affinity, and affirmation all meet. I love guest services, and more specifically, seeing people take their next steps and get connected to the church. The time between first-time-guest to membership class (at our church we call it Partnership Class – you may call it something different at your church) is my absolute favorite! Assimilation is one of my favorite words. Following up with our guests when they “check the box on the card” will drive me to commit hours as service almost equal to the number of hours for which I get paid.

My son and I go to Guatemala on missions trips. They cost money. In Guatemala, I serve with our medical/dental team. Medical and dental supplies cost money. My kids like to go to church camps and retreats. Those cost money.

So when I told our Pastor I’d like to take the hospitality at some of our connections events to the next level, I also told him I’d commit some of our own personal funds to make that happen.

Why? Because I’m passionate about the ministry – I’m committed to do whatever it takes. And I know this is the ministry to which God has called me. Even when I’m tired, I’m committed to it – out of obedience to Him. When I know a Partnership Class is coming up, I budget for small things – bottled water, k-cups, chocolate, mints.

So a few weeks ago, at the grocery store, I was buying our family’s groceries and a few extra things for a church event and I maxed out my weekly budget. (I actually went $4 over budget, so if you know my husband, don’t tell him. Oh wait, he might be reading.)

Anyhow, after leaving the grocery store, I realized I had to pick up prescriptions. Funny thing – a stroke leads to several new medical expenses. We don’t have the best insurance. For some reason we have both high premiums and high deductibles. That doesn’t lend itself to a lot of margin in our budget.

So pulling into the pharmacy, I had a dreaded realization: I may need to use the credit card.

The cashier said to me, “it looks like you’ve met  your deductible. Your prescriptions won’t cost you today.”

Yes. I walked out of the pharmacy holding what should have been $250 in prescription medication without paying a dime.

If I told you these things happened all the time, I’d be lying. They don’t. Over the years, we’ve made a lot of sacrifices for ministry-related items and church-related expenses. It’s taken a lot of faith, trust, and sacrifice.

But that day God gave our family an unexpected blessing.

Take your next step. Give. Serve. It may not be easy. Do it anyway. God’s already given you the ultimate gift of his son, Jesus. We couldn’t ask for anything more. But maybe – just maybe – you’ll have a cashier say to you, “this won’t cost you today.”

Rewind: A Recap

repeat remote rewind

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to lead Digital Bootcamp for my friend, Tom Pounder. Tom decided to have me revisit an article I wrote over a year ago for another friend of ours, Kenny Jahng.

I talked about using all of our digital assets to get people connected to, and assimilated into, the life of our church . But not just to church – we’re getting them connected to Jesus.

Here’s a recap:

Make sure your digital first impressions match what people will experience at church. If your church is fun and high energy, reflect that on your social media and your web site. If your church is a little more traditional, reflect that. Make sure you listen to each sermon and let your Lead Pastor set the tone for what you’re doing.

Use all of your digital assets available. We recently launched a texting service that allows us to connect with guests from the moment they walk in the door. We launched an online community group, and we have live chat available on our web site.

Make sure your internal communications (ie, workflows) are in order so that what you share externally is accurate. For example, if you share on social media that it’s time to sign up for an event and share a link, make sure that link is live and active.

Equip your volunteers. You’ve worked hard all week to make sure your web site and response/RSVP forms are live and active. You’ve created social media posts to promote events. Make sure you give all of your volunteers the information they need to answer guests questions on-site on Sunday. Avoid the “I Don’t Know” factor.

And finally – remember it’s about people. And getting them connected to Jesus. Stay on top of trends and listen to your guests’ stories. A few months ago, a printing error resulted in the ’email’ line being omitted from our response cards one week. No one caught it until after service on Sunday and I was moderately stressed. But just last week, a guest brought me a card with the email line blank. When I asked her for her email she said, “I don’t check my email, can you text me?”

In this fast-paced world, we have to be willing to adapt accordingly.

Our Pastor preached an amazing sermon this morning about what our church will do reach people. One of the things he said was, “we will leverage everything within our reach to help people find and follow Jesus.”

“we will leverage everything within our reach to help people find and follow Jesus.”

I’m grateful for a church that embraces technology, change, and people.

 

 

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.

 

 

Serving Others

lift moving box

99.99 (999999999)% of my job is serving others. I’m either helping our Pastoral staff and ministry team leaders run statistical reports – attendance, assimilation, etc. – or preparing items for our guest services team to use on Sunday.

During times that we don’t have a front desk volunteer, I get to greet guests and answer incoming phone calls in the office.

And I get to assist our Lead Pastor and his wife with some of our special events (things like dinners with church partners and Partnership classes).

I like serving others. And I don’t mind that my boss has never put me on stage – or screen (have I ever mentioned how smart he is?).

We even have a database field for ‘how they heard about our church’ and one of the things I get to do using our forms feature is track how people first got connected to our church.

I’ve found that many people get connected through service. Either people from our church have reached outside the walls of our church to serve someone and that person decides to come on a Sunday see what we’re all about. Or someone has a gift, skill or talent and they want to donate their time to one of our service projects (this happens sometimes even if they don’t already attend our church). During the time of serving, they get to know us and decide to come on a Sunday and see what we’re all about.

See how serving can work in so many ways to help lead people to find and follow Jesus?

I get to see that through data entry and attendance reports.

But there’s nothing like coming out of the office, out from behind the computer screen, and serving people.

I get to do it by serving with our Guest Services team each Sunday. I serve at the check-in desk, welcoming new families to our Children’s Ministry, and I serve at our What’s Next Desk – helping people take their next steps at our church.

Serving on Sunday mornings wasn’t part of my original job interview, and I doubt our Pastor would fire me if I told him I just needed a break on Sunday mornings. Serving on Sundays is something I GET to do and I look forward to doing it.

But now that you’ve read how I feel about serving, I want you to read what our Pastor says about serving. I know I’ve already referred to him as smart. He’s also a very gifted writer. Read about serving others and what our church is doing here: www.claytoncrossings.com/dayofservice. (While you’re at it, pour some coffee and take time to read his other blog posts. They’re pretty darn good!)

How do you serve your church?

Digital Bootcamp: Recap

computer coding

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.

I Am Not Getting Fed

spoon candy

As the Master Administrator of our church management software, it falls within my scope of duties to make people inactive.

When I talk to my other friends who work in connections and/or database management at their churches, I know I am not alone in what I am about to write.

It actually hurts to fill in the data in the profile fields: “membership stop date,” or “reason left.”

The exact wording may be different from software to software, but – in general – it’s the same concept. There may be a date field, or a text field, or both. But it all boils down to: someone has left the church.

Believe it or not, in our church and in talking to my counterparts at other churches – the senior leadership cares about each person. In a larger church, it may be difficult to form deep relationships with each person, or even know each person by name. But Monday through Friday reports are being run and attendance in classes is being reviewed.

I know this because, not only am I asked to run these types of reports, but I am in regular communication with people at other churches who are also running these reports and discussing how we can do better at connecting with people.

And yet, this still happens – for many reasons. People move. God calls people with different strengths in ministry to different places to serve Him. But, the ‘reason’ that hurts is when people say, “I’m not getting fed.” (disclaimer: I haven’t dealt with this at my current church – yet.)

If you are mature enough in your faith to understand that statement, then you are mature enough to feed yourself. When my children were babies I fed them pureed baby food. On Easter Sunday, I watched them feed themselves prime rib roast.

On (rare) occasions, I will cook a large meal for my family – roast, sides, dessert – I labor over those such meals and it hurts when my family doesn’t like it.

Your Pastor (and mine) labors like that each week to bring a message to the congregation and while I have not confirmed this with my own Pastor, I would imagine that it hurts when someone leaves the church with the reason ‘I’m not getting fed.

In talking further to my counterparts, it is common to miss services on Sunday because someone inevitably has a database question, a communications question, or we just love serving with our guest services teams and helping people get connected. But most of us don’t need Sunday mornings to get ‘fed.’ We are connected in other ways – through small groups and listening to sermons online.

So now that we’ve determined that ‘not getting fed‘ can cause your database administrator to have a stroke (stroke jokes are flying around our office right now), hurt your Pastor, and that you have options to feed yourself, here are a few things to do if you feel like you’re going down that road.

1. Talk openly to your Pastor. Ask him (or her) to help you in your spiritual journey. Believe it or not, your Pastor cares about you. If it’s really time for you to leave, do so gracefully and do nothing to cause division or strife within the church.

2. Say no to anything that is keeping you from worship service for awhile. I am a huge fan of serving in the local church. Serving takes sacrifice, and you may miss a worship service or two (or eighteen), but when you feel like you’re not getting fed, talk to your service leader. Ask for a temporary break from service. Take some time to fill up before jumping back in to serving others.

3. Attend another church. Find another church that has alternate service times and visit every once in awhile. I, personally, would and could NOT do this regularly as I would feel too divided. I would also worry that I would eventually run into people I knew and rumors would get started. Ouch. But visiting another church can be good every once in awhile – not just to sit and listen – but also to talk to their leaders and get some ideas you can take back to your own church.

4. Listen later. Our church uses Facebook live video during each service and also has a podcast. I often listen to our Pastor as I drive to work Monday morning.

While I agree that it’s important for us to be ‘fed’ and to stay ‘filled up’ so we can pour into others, I also think that as we grow and mature in Christ, we need to take some responsibility for our own feeding.